keep on praying

Are you hurting? Pray.

James 5:13a; MSG

Prayer, simply praying to God is underrated. Or at least it seems that way to me. Though the further you grow in maturity in Christ, the more likely you’ll agree with that thought. But it’s another thing to do what we know we should. It’s something we have to deliberately practice.

James’s directive here when we’re “in trouble” (NIV) or hurting is to pray. When we have God’s peace and joy, it’s just natural for us to praise and thank God. But when our hearts are heavy, or we’re carrying a heavy burden, sometimes seemingly unbearable, or we’re concerned about this or that, we’re to pray, pray, and keep on praying.

By and by we’ll find that in a way prayer itself is the point. And in the parched, dry places where our soul is deeply hurting, that’s where our prayers might ascend and hit pay dirt more than we imagine. We know that when we have the sense of God’s Presence and peace, we also have the sense that our prayers are effective. But when we can feel nothing but heaviness, then we won’t have that sense, and may not pray at all. Instead we should pray all the more.

Such experience humbles us, and hopefully our roots grow deeper into God, into our dependence on God, and commitment to him. And that can help our prayers all the more, even if we think they’re not making a difference at all. Gradually we’ll begin to sense and see in small ways that our prayer is being heard, being answered.

So trouble and hurt while in themselves not something we want, can actually be a help so that we pray all the more, as well as deepen us in our relationship with God. In and through Jesus.

in trial

They came to an area called Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”

Going a little ahead, he fell to the ground and prayed for a way out: “Papa, Father, you can—can’t you?—get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want—what do you want?”

He came back and found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, you went to sleep on me? Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert, be in prayer, so you don’t enter the danger zone without even knowing it. Don’t be naive. Part of you is eager, ready for anything in God; but another part is as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”

He then went back and prayed the same prayer. Returning, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t have a plausible excuse.

He came back a third time and said, “Are you going to sleep all night? No—you’ve slept long enough. Time’s up. The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up. Let’s get going. My betrayer has arrived.”

Mark 14:32-42; MSG

This is not really written for us when we are experiencing our very worst days, or difficult moments. Jesus did for us what none of us could ever have done for ourselves. And this was at the heart of that. He endured the hour of trial, so that we’ll never have to.

But as followers of Jesus, we indeed can, and should learn from this. First of all, when we face trials our first resort should be to do what Jesus did: pray. Yes, Jesus prayed alone, but he also had his disciples nearby; Peter, James and John just a stone’s throw away, close enough to hear and see him. It’s as if he needed their special support during this time, borne out in the synoptic gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke) when you compare the ideas that they’re to stand and watch in prayer with him, as well as for their own sake. There are times when we need to carry each other’s burdens, which will include others helping us carry ours. That can be a tremendous help. In this case Jesus’s disciples were nearby, but he had to carry it alone.

For us, yes, we need trusted friends, and likely one we can see as either a mentor, or alongside with us to help us through our struggles. But above all we need to be in prayer ourselves. Committed to doing God’s will regardless of what we’re experiencing, believing that God will help us through, even as was true with Jesus.

deal with today’s concerns, not tomorrow’s

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:34

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matthew 6:34; NLT

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

Matthew 6:34; MSG

Yesterday at work I had a crushing burden which just seemed to be beyond all common sense about something which is going to happen soon, not earthshaking, but detailed. I thought of our Lord’s words inviting us who are weighed down to come to him and take his yoke on us, an easy yoke. And I thought of the passages telling us to cast our burdens on God. So I did my best to cast my burden on the Lord in my poor prayer.

After some period of time, the above passage came to me, and the weight was lifted off, and I felt a peace, and with that the longing to live in the Lord’s peace that he gives us. I was reminded how it’s not just enough to take our Lord’s yoke on us. But that part of learning from him as we take on that yoke, is receiving his words from other parts of Scripture. Taking them to heart and life. Seeking to live there.

Something I’ll be continuing to try to do and keep growing in along with others in and through Jesus.

becoming Jesus’s disciple

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

If there’s one thing we need above anything else as Christians, I think it’s to learn to become followers of Christ. It is a false division, the idea that we can be Christians, yet not followers of Christ. That’s actually baked into Christendom, in which Christianity was more or less a part of your cultural heritage. You were Christian because you were born in a certain nation-state, infant baptism the sign of that. Or it was a part of your heritage to go to church every Sunday. It actually would be better if we would see ourselves less in individual terms, and more as individuals who are part of community in Christ. Too often in the United States, we see ourselves as individuals whom God is working on, with our personal devotions, etc.

Be that as it may, we’re faced with things as they are, not as we would like them to be. And besides, if we’re honest, we have our hands full with our own problems, beginning with the one we see in the mirror. So how do we really know what’s best?

Jesus’s invitation was to those of his day and for all generations to come. It is as someone put it, the idea of being yoked with an older experienced cow, and thereby not only beginning to learn the ropes, but being helped along. In fact Jesus calls his yoke easy, and his burden light. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t make this work. Only Jesus can do that.

But we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. Jesus first tells everyone who is weary and burdened to come to him for rest. That’s where we must start. We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, thinking we can launch right into the serious part. We must start at the beginning. We need to come to him for rest. Yes, with all our agitation, indeed restlessness, burden, worry, whatever it might be. We simply come to him. That’s where we begin in really being his disciple. In and through Jesus.

 

mourn and weep, then laugh and dance

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    …a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…

Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

In this life there’s always plenty of good reason to mourn and weep. Plenty. Right at our doorstep. Not only around us, but over our own mistakes and failures. And there’s a time for that.

But saying there’s a time for that implies that it is meant to be only so long. There’s also a time to laugh and dance. Notice that these two opposites: grief and mirth are juxtaposed in the poetry of this passage so that one indeed can’t miss the contrast.

As humans we can’t carry the weight of our own burdens forever. We’re meant to cast them on God in prayer, and to carry each other’s burdens.

There is a time as well for us to carry our own burden. In taking seriously the harm we’ve done, or being weighed down by our concern for others.

And the time to relax, to let it go only in the sense of no longer stressing over it. Not that we let go of the actual concern. But even with that, through trust in God, we’re able to relax and enjoy God’s gifts, and especially God himself as we seek to contemplate on him.

In and through Jesus.

 

 

come to Jesus just as you are

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

It seems to me that Jesus’s invitation here is clearly to all, and it’s an invitation into rest in a yoke beside him. So it’s a call to discipleship.

Jesus terms it in conditions of being beaten down, tired, weary, worn out. So it’s not like somehow he is calling those who are prepped to go on all eight (or more) cylinders, those doing well because they somehow deserve it, or as if he’s looking for the elite. Not at all. He is looking for the broken and downtrodden, those who may have failed along the way, and who of us hasn’t failed in some ways?

And Jesus doesn’t set any qualifications. Remember who he said is blessed: the poor in spirit, the poor, the meek, yes, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart (disposed to one thing), etc. So it’s not like you think you can dabble in the world, do your own thing, yet come at the same time, like include Jesus in the mix. It’s a call to come as you are, whatever that is, but it’s a call for all of life. Not that life isn’t to be enjoyed. In fact it can only be life to the full in Jesus.

No qualifications are set here by the Lord. He simply invites us to come to him, to take his yoke upon us, and learn from him. Not complicated, but something we must do.

I don’t know about you, but I know I don’t feel qualified. But it’s the ones who think they’re qualified and deserving who actually are not and often not disposed to heed Jesus’s invitation anyhow. Remember the parable of the Pharisee who thanked God about how good he was, and the tax collector who beat his breast and cried out, “God have mercy on me a sinner!” The latter was justified or considered acceptable by God, but the former, not.

This is my goal, to come to Jesus just as I am, and it’s honestly not much except what is broken and lost and disheveled and on and on. But at the same time I come as one who is willing and realizing that this is a call into an apprentice kind of relationship no less with Jesus himself by the Spirit. In and through him.

 

Jeremiah’s sorrow

Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
I mourn, and horror grips me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
for the wound of my people?

Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.
Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people.

Jeremiah 8:21-9:2

I remember a wonderful seminary professor telling us that pastors’ life spans are probably cut short due to all they have to go through, not the least of which, carrying the burdens of people in their hearts. Jeremiah is a most interesting, surely complex prophet. His book is actually the longest in the Bible, and he endured years of suffering both internally and externally.

Jeremiah shared in the suffering of his people, forbidden by the Lord to marry because of God’s judgment to come (Jeremiah 16). He suffered much, and is rightfully called “the weeping prophet.” The book of Lamentations, at least in his tradition if not written by him is remarkable in both its pathos and what is actually said.

The ability to enter into the suffering of others, to even share in that suffering, and especially so when it is the consequences of their own terrible choices is indeed a gift from God. It is much more likely that one shakes their head, with maybe a hint of grief, then carries on with their own life, maybe putting it out of mind on purpose. After all, who can carry such weight? And I know there are Christians who think that to do so is somehow not spiritual. How it is done may not be all that spiritual or Spirit led, but the idea that it’s done at all is surely marked with firm precedent in Scripture. And is not our Lord rightly called a man of sorrows, who wept over Jerusalem and its judgment to come?

Jeremiah had to carry a heavy burden. The Lord surely helped him, and enabled him to do it for so long. And not only people in his day were blessed because of that, but so were generations which followed right up to the present day who can read his writings and the account of that time. Lamenting is a part of life, even the godly life. Some are more inclined to it, but it is a gift for us all. Entering into something of the heart of God for people. In and through Jesus.

one of my go-to books and passages to help me when I feel either on edge, or overwhelmed

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.

2 Corinthians 12

Life can seem overwhelming to me much of the time. People around me may not know it from simply watching or interacting with me, but if they get to know me well at all, they’ll realize that I feel pressure about this and that. Challenges are of course a part of life. Some people don’t seem to struggle any with ill feelings, but I’m not one of them.

2 Corinthians starts out with Paul acknowledging despair for good reasons, even to the point of giving up on life entirely. But with the helpful twist that he felt the sentence of death in himself, so that he might no longer trust in himself, but in God, who raises the dead, and who would deliver them from any deadly peril which faced them. The letter ends with the same theme, highlighting Paul’s own weakness, and then that of our Lord’s in his crucifixion.

I find it most helpful again and again and again, world without end, to accept the difficulties, and hard places. To simply accept them, period. Not radical in understanding, but radical in meaning, indeed. But for the same reason spelled out by Paul in the passage above (click the link to read it all): to help us be more completely dependent on God. I would like to add from other places in scripture, also more interdependent on each other, for that is the way God would have it. Even in 2 Corinthians, Paul is working with others, so that it’s a team. We do well to share our struggles, or what we might call over-burdens with each other for needed empathy, possible counsel, and prayer. At the same time learning to carry our own load better, while casting on the Lord the things which weigh us down. Above all, as 2 Corinthians makes clear, and especially this passage, we need to learn to accept and even come to delight in our weaknesses, in order that we might experience the Lord’s help and strengthening.

Something I can easily forget, but which I need to remember more.

toward greater things

I sometimes wonder, and this is true even when I read the psalms, but all the more true when I look at my own life, just what value there is in being taken up with troubles so close to home, when the world at large is suffering so horribly. The problems I’m absorbed in can be just as threatening at times, but by and large they pale in comparison with the trauma the world is suffering in so many places.

And yet I believe that God wants us to do well with the problems at hand right in front of us, in faith and reliance on him. With a special emphasis on loving God and loving others, especially those God has entrusted to our care.

Although we should bear the weight of our own responsibility, we can’t carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. And we’re not even required to carry any burden at all which weighs heavily on us. We’re told to cast our burdens on the Lord, and to cast all of our cares on him as well. To come to him when we are burdened and weighed down, with the promise that he will give us rest. That is hard for some of us, because we can be prone to take more responsibility than is reasonable. It is not always easy to figure out just what responsibility we have, and where it ends. And we are told to help each other at times, to carry one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ which is love.

Nothing is foolproof in this life, except seeking to live in God through Jesus. Although that in itself seems deceptive to us, since we’re at least prone to be bent in the wrong direction. And we never arrive in this life, as if its struggles and dangers are over. We await our Lord’s return with God’s promise of a different world in which all troubles will be gone.

What is certain is God’s promise of help for us now in and through Jesus. We keep pressing on, even in the midst of trouble, believing that God is good and is at work, and that we can be recipients of that work. And as we receive God’s help, our heart can be set free to yearn in prayer for the help of others in the world. And especially for the salvation of all, beginning in this present life in and through Jesus.

can we pray too much?

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5

No. We can’t. In fact we likely don’t pray enough.

Charles Spurgeon was known as a busy man, going from one task to another. But he was also known as a prayerful man, always praying, always talking to God, as I recall it from a book, his lips moving.

Life can be overwhelming with its challenges, and with the expectations that come with it. We surely take too much of that on ourselves, and the burden can seem overwhelming. But we can never talk too much to the Lord. We can never pray too often.

At the same time we may well have to put hands and feet into those prayers. Oftentimes God will make us in some way to be part of the answer to our prayers. And we find in the psalms that seeking God is part of our salvation. We do long for the answer, for relief from our troubles, for salvation. Somehow in the process, God is often, if not always at work in ways far beyond our limited scope. God’s answer is not only about changing circumstances at least ultimately beyond this life, but also about changing us more and more into the image of Jesus.

And so yes, we need to turn all of our cares into prayer, along with many praises. To the One who as the Triune God will help us, and bring relief. We pray. God answers. In and through Jesus.