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.

the invitiation to the Sabbath rest in Jesus

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“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

Recently on Discover the Word, Elisa Morgan helped me see the possible connection in the above passage between Jesus’s relationship with the Father and our relationship with Jesus. You have to sort of read between the lines and gather it in, but actually it is clear when one reads all of the gospel accounts, particularly the gospel according to John.

I love the fact that just as Jesus, the Son was completely dependent on the Father, even while being deserving of equal honor with his Father (John 5:23), so we too are to be and actually completely are dependent on the Son (John 15).

In the passage quoted above from Matthew 11, Jesus is alongside us, pulling the weight himself, thus making it light to us. And yet we’re alongside with him in God’s work. Amazing.

Of course it’s an invitation in the first place. An invitation to everyone who is weary and burdened to find rest. And in that rest we somehow find the work we’re to do. Instead of trying to rest one day out of seven, which actually is a good thing, and I think we do well to try to practice that insofar as that’s possible, this is the Sabbath rest scripture speaks of (Hebrews 4). Something I want to understand and learn to live in better. Of course in and through Jesus.

when the burden is too heavy

When the burden is too heavy, we certainly need to go to the Lord in prayer, and get into his word, scripture. And we need to look to others, to brothers and sisters in Jesus, who in some way will be able to help us with our burden. We’re told both to cast our burdens on the Lord, and to bear one another’s burdens.

I am experiencing this right now. Last evening I went to the nearby outside stations of the cross, walking through it a couple times, in the word and prayer, and seeking to listen. And I am trusting that our church can help us through this time, since there is a special need which has become evident. We know we can only do so much, that it is the Lord’s work which is needed. And yet we need to be present in love and in continued prayers.

It is a burden which perhaps is placed on us for this time for good reason. And so we trust the Lord will help us through and bring blessing especially to the troubled. Together with others in Jesus. For the world.

accepting the burden

It may seem small, if I was to share it, and perhaps even irrelevant to some, not at all something to be taken into consideration, or to be concerned much about. And that may be well and good. After all, God does not call us all to the same tasks, which really are to be works from the heart.

I do carry a burden, and it seems too heavy to bear at times. I struggle to make sense of it when I consider Jesus’ words of invitation, that when we come to him, with our burdens and heavy loads, he will give us rest. That we’re to take his yoke on us and learn from him, since he is meek and lowly in heart. And that we will find rest for our souls. I consider that, and think I haven’t sufficiently come to Jesus.

But one of our pastors suggested to me that perhaps what I experience is like Paul’s thorn in the flesh, even a messenger of Satan which tormented him. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to take it away from him, but the Lord finally answered Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness.” In Paul’s case he had the surpassing great revelations, and Jesus himself had appeared to him more than once. In my case I have nothing at all of the sort, and yet the Lord may know that to keep me humble he has to do something, though really on a much lesser scale all the way around than what Paul experienced.

Another consideration is the thought from Mordecai to Queen Esther that she may well have been brought to her position “for such a time as this.” And the place and circumstance I find myself in can become part of God’s answer to my prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The issue I face is something I can prayerfully work in regard to, do what I can, and look to God for his answer.

I would love to see the day come when the burden might be lifted and gone. I think in a significant respect I need to learn much better how to cast my burdens on the Lord, all my cares on him with the knowledge of his faithfulness and care. And I don’t approach this only by myself to look to God for his grace and wisdom. But I do so in the community of the church, my wife knowing about it along with our pastors.

I am thankful for all the relief the Lord does seem to bring most everyday from this suffering. As we look forward to the day when all of that will be past. Even as we continue to groan  with the Spirit in our prayers, that God’s will might be done, with others in Jesus for the world.

when sad

Emotions are a part of life, and to be taken seriously. They can actually be a help or a hindrance, depending on what we do with them.

I have struggled more or less much of my life with depression, probably would be classified mild in clinical terms, since I’ve always been able to function and do what was required of me.

I find times of sadness in my life can be opportunities to seek to draw near to God. Sometimes I know at least in part what troubles me, and while one thing may be paramount, often I’m saddened over a number of things. That can be helpful in giving me much pause to stop, be still, be silent, and seek to come into God’s presence anew and afresh, or really “just as I am”, in and through Jesus.

On the other hand, sadness can be a danger as well. I can listen to another voice other than the voice of the good shepherd. That other voice will put all kinds of troubling and indeed perturbing thoughts in my mind which will eat away at my soul, making me struggle with anger and bitterness. And if something happens especially unexpectedly, what is in me may well spill out. Which then I’ll have to repent of.

Emotions are not to be despised and shunned, or buried within us. The Psalms over and over give testimony to the faithful being open and honest to God about what they are thinking and feeling, even when that is not good. Sadness along with other emotions can be our call to be still before God. To seek God and his face. To pray to him. Of course all in and through Jesus.

And while we need to go immediately to God, we can share our heart struggle to some degree with trusted friends when that is appropriate. That they might pray for us. And we for them, if they should ever share their own struggles with us. As we bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ, which is love, that unique love we find in God through Christ. And we do this ourselves and with each other with a heart by the Spirit of Jesus for the world.