“a long obedience in the same direction”

From Eugene Peterson’s book of the same title taken from a quote yes by Friedrich Nietzsche, this phrase evokes something vital for Christ-followers. We must follow on no matter what, yes in obedience.

It is great to have breakthroughs along the way, to have answers to prayer over what troubles us. And we need to continue to ask God for such. Many of us are going to have plenty of days when fear rears its ugly head and fills our hearts and minds with troubling or at least distracting thoughts. Which in part is why we have to just learn to plod along, no matter what we’re experiencing with “a long obedience in the same direction.”

This isn’t going to be easy. We do need to hold on even at times to just the memory of the light we had when it seems like there’s little or no light left for us. We wish it was always light, but no, it just isn’t so. That’s the reality of the experience in which we live. We have to accept that, and settle into the commitment to follow on come what may.

Part of our problem is that we want life to work on our terms. But God knows what we need, and is working on us to complete that. Though even when it’s our own weakness that makes it more difficult, we just have to keep going. That may not seem helpful, but it’s necessary and part of the grace given to us by God to see us through to the very end. In and through Jesus.

not being distracted from God’s leading

Abraham’s story in Scripture and recounted elsewhere is classic. I mean it’s unique and unforgettable. But true to life, it’s rather clunky at certain parts. God calls Abraham from his country and culture into something brand new. And it really didn’t make much sense. Sarah and Abraham had no children, and she was past the age of childbearing. But God’s promise remained, that they indeed would not only have a son, but that through him and his offspring all nations would be blessed. That Abraham would become the father of all nations. Just breathtaking stuff from what was more than hard to believe in the first place.

I think the same can happen to us. We may pick up some sense of God’s leading and direction. But there’s an elephant in the room. And we get distracted by that. Instead of just trusting in God and God’s promises, we begin to flounder because we just can’t see beyond the one issue or problem.

Whatever that might be, we need to trust God. How do we do that? We quit focusing on what troubles us, and instead seek to remain in God’s leading, focusing instead on the big picture. Often when we’re troubled by this or that, we need to give it over to God. God will more than take care of it. The point is that we need to keep moving in the direction God has given us. God is faithful and will work it out. Yes, for our good, for the good of others, and all of that good resulting in God’s glory. What was true of Abraham is true for us today. In and through Jesus.

nothing fancy, just pray

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

A lot of times I don’t feel like praying, although I’ve learned to ask God for help just for that reason. The special times I do, if I’m wise, I want to make the most of it, and just keep on praying. But by and large, truthfully, for whatever reason I often feel too overwhelmed or weak to pray. Those are the times we should consider it a necessity, because after all, don’t we need God all the more then? Of course we need God all the time.

There really is no end to the prayers that need to be made. Isn’t there a list of loved ones, of family, of friends, of acquaintances that we ought to be praying for by name? And this is especially crucial for certain periods of life, like when children are growing up during their formative years. Praying for their parents as well.

Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that they had to meet any special qualifications. That rather, they just need to pray and not faint, lose heart, or as the above translation says, not give up. Sure, our hearts need to be in it. For some that’s easier than others. For many of us, we’re too easily overwhelmed by the setbacks and challenges of life. But that’s when we need to lift up our prayers, even when we can do so only with a whisper.

God is good. God will answer. We can trust in him to do that. God wants us to express our dependence on him, and to learn to live in that active dependence. We are doing something: praying. An act of dependence. So we are part of the equation for God showing his justice and mercy on earth. A privilege given to us. Through simple praying. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:1-4

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:1-4

getting over worry(?)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7; NLT

Years, even decades ago I called in to a radio program on a local Christian station to talk to a wise man, Herb Vander Lugt. I was frustrated over my lifelong problem of worry. I asked him something like what if I just made the commitment not to worry, period. Would that work? With whatever else I had in mind, maybe just a firm resolution that direction. As I recall he chuckled, and then gave his wise mature pastoral advice from Scripture. Not sure what my response was. Except that I really didn’t learn to apply Scripture well in the way he said. Sure, there were times when I applied the above passage and experienced God’s answer, probably a fairly good number of times. But too often, sadly more than not, I would get hung up really badly on some point, and when that was over it wouldn’t be long until my next anxiety bout hit. This didn’t really amount to panic attacks, nor anything I couldn’t live with. But it did put me under a cloud of gloom, or contributed to that, where I lived far too much of the time.

Fast forward to now. I think I manage my worry issue better than I used to, seeking to apply Scripture, and trusting, no matter what my experience. But lately it’s amped up again. And unfortunately having been conditioned so long in this, it’s like the bottom drops out so that almost as soon as the next worry hits, I can be sure to experience a huge down drag. 

Today I was working on some house project, and realizing that a nagging worry about this and that was taking hold. The thought came, yes, I basically worry about everything. What if instead I refused to worry about anything? Of course resolutions won’t help, that is if it’s just self-effort. But resolve is not altogether bad, certainly not wrong in itself. It is good to say no, I won’t worry about anything, but rather pray about everything because of what we’re told in the above Scripture.

We need to think of all of Scripture, and of life itself. Worry and anxiety are something of an act, but a condition as well. Some of us all too easily are anxious about this and that, often overcome by worry. Googling can help, but it can also hinder. The more you know, the more you wonder. And can remain uncertain about so many things.

It would help us if we would simply realize that bad things do happen in this world. And that even with our best efforts, we just don’t know it all. And this life is certain to be full of problems. But at the same time, remembering God and God’s promises, that God has it, God knows and is able, and we’re at best limited and dependent.

We ought to do the best we can especially in concern for others, as well as taking care of responsibilities. We should keep working at that, knowing it will never end. And that even our best efforts may not prevent what we want to avoid. 

I think it is important to practice what Paul tells us above. Then regardless of what happens, God’s peace will see us through, guarding our hearts and minds. Better than getting what we want, and in view of the reality that often won’t happen anyhow.

first things first

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

I too often have the experience of getting through one thing or another that troubles me, finding inward peace with the freedom to think beyond troubles, only to be assailed by a new problem. I think there’s some serious wisdom in seeking kind of a monastic existence apart from the cares of this world. In my case it would be a married monastery. Yet in having to go through the extra difficulties one can grow in faith and wisdom. I suppose if I were to choose, unblinkingly I would take the former. But I am stuck in the latter, at least for now.

There’s a good word for us from Paul that relates to this, I think. Paul had plenty of serious concerns, but they were all more or less related directly to the kingdom of God. He filled his mind with good things, which is more than evident in his writings. And remember when he said in what is allegedly his last letter that he wanted the parchments and the scrolls (2 Timothy 4:13). He was a reader, or he had someone read to him due to what seems to have been an eye condition. At any rate, he kept himself occupied with truth, knowledge and beauty both from God’s revelation of Scripture, and from other sources as well, evident in the terms used here.

For me that means I need to major on what is major, do my best to take care of the rest, but not let go of what’s most essential. In fact even in addressing problems, we can do so hopefully through ways which will actually add to our well being, instead of tearing us down. While we don’t let go of what is helpful and edifying, from Scripture, and from other sources, all part of God’s revelation, as we sift though those things.

And we must act. Paul says to look at his life, and do what he does, to follow him as he follows Christ. That is so important. We need people who have learned, or at least are learning to walk the walk. To learn from them over time, just to be around them. Sadly the way it is, church life is hardly church life at all in so many good places. You have to really take initiative in looking for small groups, maybe even a house church, and develop relationships. I’ve gained a lot from that in recent years, even though it has been limited in the numbering of gatherings. Faithfulness to Christ in love for God and for others in God’s grace must be lived out, yes in our imperfect sometimes broken ways. But that must be our priority, indeed passion.

So we need both commitments: To occupy our minds with good things. And to live in the faith God gives us, following the good example of others, that we might in turn be an example. In and through Jesus.

looking for the good

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Back to a difficult favorite passage of mine. I say that, because it just seems like an important passage for me to return to again and again because of my own weakness. I’m not sure at all, in fact I doubt it, that I can equate my weaknesses, like anxiety struggles and the like with Paul’s thorn in the flesh. They can feel tormenting, and I’m trying to manage them better in terms of Scripture, what I have called over the years, God’s written word. We do return again and again to Scripture, because that’s where we hear God’s voice, and where God’s revelation to us in Jesus begins to take shape for us. This passage from Paul is definitely an important passage for me.

The thorn in the flesh served Paul in helping him appreciate his weaknesses, all of them. Not just that of the thorn itself, but others. This is not easy, because weaknesses and struggles can seem crippling. It can seem like we can’t go on, at least not well, not cheerfully, and we have to watch ourselves, lest we come across offensively to others.

Finding the good in what itself is not good is part of what is going on here. Paul felt more than ever his utter need for God. You can see that throughout this letter (2 Corinthians) right from the start. It is important for us simply to realize that this is a part of our condition in this life. Paul found Christ’s power in the midst of his weaknesses. Not an easy place to live, and I have to return to this passage again and again. Who wants to live in that experience, sometimes even torment? No one, really, certainly not me. That part does not get easier for me. But I have settled better into it. And God’s help does become evident along the way, so that the experience is not always bad.

We need to look for the good, at least the needed humility that comes, as well as the sense of lostness helping us seek and find God and God’s help. In and through Jesus.

“we all need a home”

Someone recently told me that. It is wonderful, the family settings we can live in. But even the best of them is not without some hurts and wounds along the way, even with some cracks and brokenness. And tragically, sometimes those fractures are not mended and there can be a parting of ways. Home together as family does involve a commitment.

When it comes to church, we Christians at least here in America I think have some difficulty seeing it as family or being comfortable there. Why? It could be in part because of our own experience as family. And churches in our society are like a dime a dozen. Unlike days of old when there were parishes, and you had your church according to your location, in which you may well attend and be part of for a lifetime, now people so to speak go shopping for church. Wherever it’s the right feel, or serves the needs of one’s family, or their own needs, we stop and shop there. Maybe for a few years, maybe more, but often less. Until we move on to our next church and church experience. The older I get, the more I value the practice of those who have been in one church for decades, even entire lifetimes. Unfortunately not true of myself. Though there are times, sadly, to leave a church.

But the church in Jesus is meant to be our primary family, in a certain sense more family than our own family. Though of course each have their unique special place. Jesus made it clear that his sister, brother, and mother were those who did God’s will. And we find in the New Testament letters an emphasis on a community held together in the bond of love in Christ, with the fruit of the Spirit moving that fellowship, and the gifts of the Spirit helping it, all toward growth together into maturity in Christ.

We need a home where we don’t have to perform and have it all together. Where we can be our honest, even broken selves. I’m not saying at all, excusing our sin. But really being honest with ourselves and others. Just that sense given to us together by the Spirit who leads us to the broken body and blood of Christ for us individually and in our relationships with each other.

We need a place where we’re at home. Where people really care for us. Grace-oriented, so that by and by we can start measuring up, but not at all about measuring up, even while there is loving accountability. Where we realize that we’re all in this together, that when one suffers with whatever, we all suffer. Where when one rejoices and is happy, we all are happy for and with them. The sense that we’re indeed not in this life alone. But we’re present and in place for each other. And together for a broken world. In and through Jesus.

back to the basics: communication

For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand.

2 Corinthians 1:13

Yesterday I kind of tried what amounts to a thought experiment which I felt was over my head, but shared anyway, at my wife’s insistence. But today I’m back into my comfort zone, trying to work through things which are more or less clear to me. If we would seek to be faithful in what we do understand, surely God would help us understand more.

Communication to me is so very basic, and something I want to take pains to do. What’s at stake here is my own understanding, then along with that, the understanding of others. I’m not sure if this came from years and years of listening to the New International Version of the Bible being read, or if I preferred that version because of its emphasis on clarity and accuracy. Supposedly it gives up some accuracy for clarity, and depending on how you look at that, I suppose you can say that’s so, though I might try to argue against that. It really ends up being just what you’re looking for in a translation. I hope for retaining as much of the sense of the original as possible, but communicated in the way we speak and think. After all, it seems like at least most of the Bible was written in vernacular, the spoken language of those who received it.

But more important than any of that is just the priority of simply understanding, and not letting go until one does understand. Though I have to admit that along the way sometimes I’m still a bit puzzled at what’s actually being said. I am in Proverbs right now, and that’s certainly the case with a number of sayings there. But proverbs are often intended to be somewhat of a puzzle that we’re to turn over and over again in our minds, for more reasons than simply understanding them.

Understanding itself is definitely not enough. We then need to respond in faith and act accordingly. We need to ask how it applies to ourselves, and us together as God’s people.

There is the sense of mystery that should be honored. We need to realize that we’re not going to understand everything. Even though God makes his thoughts known to us, we will never plumb the depths of them, or fully understand and know as God does. And it does seem like God wants that to be a part of our faith journey now. Like Abraham, we go on by faith, even when we don’t know where we’re going, just what the future holds. Leaning not to our own understanding, but trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, submitting to him in all our ways. So when we don’t understand, which in some respects is all the time, we bow to the Mystery, to God.

In the meantime I’ll continue to try to translate God’s directives into my life, into my involvement in the community of Jesus, and in the world. I’ll keep working at that, because I often am at a loss. For the goal of hopefully following Jesus in this world with others, and being faithful to the good news. Beginning with myself. In and through Jesus.

not seeing the forest for the trees

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Everything is meaningless!”

Ecclesiastes 12:8

It’s easy, as they say to miss the forest for the trees. We can get so hung up on this or that detail, seemingly important to us, maybe even important in their place, but in doing so we often fail to see the big picture. And the matter of us seeing is about perspective.

If you’re like me, you can become easily lost in this or that detail of life. Some good, bad, or maybe in some gray hard to see area. And we struggle to make heads or tails of things, to even do well or be well because we’re so honed in on the one matter, be it a problem, or maybe even more subtly dangerous for us, what seems good. 

We might do better, might start moving in a more healthy direction if we would step back and try to see the larger picture, even the big picture. Only God can help us do this. We need discernment when considering details, to hopefully begin to see them in light of the larger picture.

Qoheleth, translated “the Teacher” spent a lot of time looking at not just one detail, but many, “everything…under the sun” (8:9, 9:3). And what probably he could make out from it all was that it added up to no sense at all, “utterly meaningless” (1:2).

The one who shared Qoheleth’s thoughts then moves the readers/listeners to something more of the bigger picture. What can get lost in the details needs to be brought front and center. When we do that, then maybe we’ll see more clearly so that the details themselves begin to have a new meaning to us in light of the whole, maybe even more clearly understand the details themselves. Their place in God’s painting.

here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

That is truth, but as Christians we can’t, we dare not stop at the end of Ecclesiastes. We have to see even that in light of the fulfillment, the light that has come in Jesus. Only God can make that reality, but in faith we have to step into that possibility. When we do, we’ll find a God of all grace as well as truth who helps us begin to see, then live in what is given to us as the fulfillment toward the final end- in and through Jesus.