the breakthrough we need

A David Psalm

When I call, give me answers. God, take my side!
Once, in a tight place, you gave me room;
Now I’m in trouble again: grace me! hear me!

You rabble—how long do I put up with your scorn?
How long will you lust after lies?
How long will you live crazed by illusion?

Look at this: look
Who got picked by God!
He listens the split second I call to him.

Complain if you must, but don’t lash out.
Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking.
Build your case before God and wait for his verdict.

Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say.
“More, more.”
I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day

Than they get in all their shopping sprees.
At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,
For you, God, have put my life back together.

Psalm 4; MSG

There are times when we may have quit in your spirit. Where there seems no where to go. When one feels hopeless. That is partly what is so great about the psalms . We encounter real people living in the real world. The psalms speaks our language, sometimes in ways that are uncomfortable, and probably a bit off the mark, sometimes more than a bit. Sounds like us at least in our private spaces at times, doesn’t it?

But we find just like the psalmist here, David, that God answers us. We may have to keep reading in the psalms before we land on one that meets us where we’re at. That was the case with me last night. So I opened my The Message Bible to Psalm 1 and began to read. But stopped after reading Psalm 4. And sought God’s help in prayer from that. And God helped me, removing the complete discouragement with a sense of peace, as well as an imagination for something that was encouraging.

So we need to find our space with God. The psalms are perhaps the best in helping us do so. Meeting us in our various circumstances and moods, God helping us as we enter them to find God and what we need from God. In and through Jesus.

cheerfulness, regardless

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; MSG

I am finding Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible interesting and helpful, even illuminating, though I still don’t really get well the instructions in regard to the tabernacle and priestly things, etc., in the Old/First Testament. But I get a new sense even of those things.

I found particularly helpful lately the rendering above that we’re to be cheerful no matter what. I never really connected well with the idea of rejoice always, since I’m not really a celebratory, high five kind of person. I would rather sit huddled with a book, listening to classical music, then be at a modern day praise and worship service, though admittedly in the past, I have enjoyed some of that. But rejoicing just isn’t much in either my vocabulary, or makeup. 

But cheerfulness, or at least refusing to be dour and down in the mouth about something, now that makes plenty of sense to me. When Paul tells us to be cheerful no matter what, okay, I can take that home, even if such an idea seems far fetched, just not what I do in every circumstance. 

I take cheerfulness as both an attitude and action here. It is an expression of faith, and part of how we’re to live. I like too the way The Message renders that thought, because that probably gets closer to what Paul actually means than the way I took it in the past: More or less something we’re almost swept up into in our life in Christ Jesus. Instead this brings out the necessary thought that it’s up to us to do it. We have to do it, although yes, the Spirit will help us.

So we don’t live as those left to ourselves with our normal often unhealthy, unhelpful reactions to all the difficulties and problems which come our way. Instead we want to take the way God has for us. To be cheerful no matter what, pray all the time, and thank God no matter what happens. Yes, something we do. Of course in response to what God has done, is doing, and will do for us in and through Jesus. 

 

just keep praying no matter what

Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’

“He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.’”

Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”

Luke 18:1-8; MSG

If there’s one thing true about life it is that we’ll face challenges aplenty. In all kinds of ways from circumstances, and at least in our imagination from people as well. And as much as anything, and probably more, just from ourselves, or I can speak for myself, in my own weakness.

What we need to do is get in the posture of prayer and remain there. Not be moved, but keep on praying. With all kinds of prayers including just being present before God in the mess.

That needs to be developed and practiced as a way of life with us. Something we do when times are hard, and when they’re not. There is always plenty to pray about in this world. All kinds of concerns which have seemed to intensify this year. But no matter what year or day, we need to begin and keep on doing it.

None of us in ourselves by the way, know how to pray. We just determine to do that, and begin. Many times in silence. But in the noise as well. We pray, and look to God. That will make the needed difference in time, if we stay put doing that. In ourselves if nothing else, God making himself known. In and through Jesus.

trusting God moment by moment

For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion
or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”

Psalm 62

It is one of the hardest yet most important things we can do, to seek to live in the moment in dependence on and rest in God. There are so many factors which make this challenging. We can be weighed down by past failure, present circumstances, and seemingly dim future prospects. Of course if we’re just looking at the troubles apart from faith, then we’re sure to be overcome with fear or whatever we do to deal with such situations ourselves. But when we turn to God with the determination to trust and obey in the moment by God’s grace just as the psalmist does, we’ll find God’s help. And hopefully we’ll become more and more steady, as we learn to find our rest in him. In and through Jesus.

joy, peace and overflowing hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

Interestingly, this more or less ends a section in which Paul is dealing with Christians weak in their faith and how Christians who are strong in theirs are to deal with that. Yes, with a word of instruction to the weak, as well. Much to be said about that within its context. But I’ll just say this about myself. I know I can feel exceedingly weak for one reason or another in my faith. Which is all the more reason to rejoice with Paul’s words of benediction or well wishing here.

Yes, God has this for all of us in Christ: the weak as well as the strong. We’re going through a decidedly difficult season now, with uncertainty ahead about the health and well being of our loved ones, of neighbors, of people in general, and with the economic fallout which is accompanying this.

But this wish is not dependent on our circumstances, but in God filling us. As we learn to trust in him more and more. In and through Jesus.

don’t be anxious

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

If there isn’t one thing to be anxious or worried in this life, there’s another, and plenty others. There’s really no end to the number of things we can be upset over or worried about. Some are more prone to worry than others. There are people who seem to take life in stride, everything in stride, though often enough, if you would really get to know them, underlying that appearance is a cloud of anxiety within.

Remarkably believers in Christ are told not to be anxious about anything. Though it’s imperative tense, I take it to be more of loving directive as from a father. But it does come across as an absolute with a promise.

I have found over and over again as I do this in my own broken, disheveled way, but sincerely do it, God does in time meet me with his peace, a peace here which is experiential, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Of course not just not being anxious, but praying with petitions and thanksgiving.

God has it all in tow. We don’t and cannot. We can rest assured in God’s provision for us regardless of what circumstance we’re facing. God’s peace will see us through that and everything else. In and through Jesus.

 

faith is ultimately never on our terms, but God’s

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Genesis 22:1-2

I usually don’t care too much or even enough about titles for blog posts, which are more or less important to the overall post. But in this case, I think the idea that faith is never on our terms, but God’s, is actually crucial, the point of the post. What I’m wanting to get at is simply the idea that faith to really be mature biblical faith has to venture out into territory that none of us left to ourselves would do. Think of Jesus’s life on earth. And the passage above, where God tells Abraham what is infinitely awful, and just as infinitely makes no sense.

This doesn’t mean in the least that we shouldn’t bring all of our troubles and cares to God, because indeed we should. We need to come to God as the Father God is, and let God know the details that we are concerned about. Of course for our benefit and faith, thanking him for blessings, at the same time (Philippians 4:6-7). God as our Father does care about our wants and needs (Luke 11:11-13).

Faith finds God’s answer which oftentimes is simply God’s rest and peace through the most difficult circumstances, when we refuse to take matters in our own hands, and instead, put them in God’s good hands. Casting all of our cares on God, since he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). But this requires a faith which holds on regardless of what the situation looks like to us. Oftentimes a big part of our problem is our focus. We are fixed on the problem itself, instead of the God who can fix the problem, and help us go through it. Of course sometimes the answer is simply to let it go.

And we either struggle or are weak in believing in both God’s greatness and goodness. Somehow we think it depends on us, when God in God’s infinite wisdom and grace, is going to work everything out for good somehow. The best we can do is far from foolproof. But what God does in his wisdom is ultimately meant for salvation.

We know how the story of Abraham and Isaac going to Mount Moriah ends. Abraham is pushed to the brink in trusting God, ready to plunge the knife into his son. God intervenes at that point. But when it came to God’s Son, Jesus, God did not intervene, not even in answer to Jesus’s plea to take the cup from him if possible. For Jesus it was a matter of not his will, but the Father’s will. For the joy set before him, enduring the cross, even scorning the shame. In and through Jesus, faith believes in God, therefore committing everything to God in trusting and obeying him.

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Hebrews 11:17-19

 

holding on to God’s peace

Life is lived in experience. The Christian life is not an exception to that. But life is also lived in faith. We assume and basically take for granted a good number of things. And there are contingencies to be sure.

Experience is important, but it’s not what should direct us. Yet when by faith we enter into an experience of God’s peace over a certain matter, we do well to hold on to that. And hold on we will have to. I think of one of the beloved servants of God, pastors, and writers of my generation, Chuck Swindoll who said something to the effect that if we have peace about something in answer to prayer, we should never let go of that.

One element of the life of faith is that we are led by God’s peace. If we don’t have peace over something, that’s a sign that somehow we’re off track. But if we have peace about it, that’s a sign that we are in sync with God, or trusting God to take care of it.

In my life I’ve so often gotten in the way. I’m always investigating and asking questions. But there comes a point when one just needs to let go of all of that, praying and making the best decision one can, sometimes in the midst of that breaking through into something of God’s peace to go one direction or another. And then not going back on that when the inevitable doubts come. That can be a test of our faith. Are we trusting God or not? Or are we relying on ourselves and our own understanding?

Something I have to keep working on, but in recent years have grown a lot in through experience and remaining in the word and in prayer. In and through Jesus.

faith: it’s not psychological, but embedded in reality

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Romans 4

I have noticed for my faith to take hold, I have to let go of thinking it depends on my own reaction or thinking. Not to say our reaction and thinking aren’t important, but that’s not the bedrock of or what’s behind our faith. If we’re depending on ourselves, good circumstances, fortune, whatever, other than depending on God, we’re leaning on a stick that will inevitably break. It is a false hope.

We either depend on God, take God at his word, and believe as in trust and obey, or we hang on to something of that kind of faith plus our own response. I often in my life have struggled to have everything lined up according to what I think is good, right, best, or acceptable compared to what is not acceptable or even considered bad, perhaps dangerous. I could trust in God as long as I was alright with everything myself. And I would seek faith in God to either get things alright, or accept the fact that things won’t always if ever be completely right. That last thought is getting us warm to the kind of faith we need.

The kind of faith we need is simply dependent on God and on God’s promises, period, end of thought. Not on anything else. And we find God’s peace in that. It’s not like we simply throw out our minds as being unimportant. God is concerned about the renewal of our minds, but that renewal involves a knowledge and acceptance of God’s good and perfect will (Romans 12:2). And it involves a commitment to trust in the Lord completely, and not on our own understanding at all (Proverbs 3:5-6). God’s peace transcending as in going above and beyond, leaving the other behind, so that in spite of whatever understanding we have, God’s peace can prevail (Philippians 4:6-7). I don’t mean to say our thoughts are not factored in at all. Read the Bible, and you’ll see otherwise over and over again, including in the life of our Lord during his life on earth. But our trust must be in God and the gospel alone as our foundation, with a willingness to let go of our own thoughts and fears, whatever, and really trust in God, instead.

So our faith is not psychological, but real, dependent on God no less, and God’s promises to us, in and through Jesus.

 

where does our confidence lie?

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1

Oftentimes, especially in this world, we really can get out of sorts, because of all the evil going on, along with the nagging problems which are not easily resolved. We can see so much depending on this or that entity, or even ourselves, and we can become both overwhelmed and afraid. Add to that our own struggles, probably in part coming from that, so that at times we may seem to be suffering spiritual setback.

Jeff Manion in his new series on the book of Philippians, “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” “Week 2/The Partnership” adeptly led us through that passage. This was a relatively young church, around 10 years old in the Lord, faithful to the gospel, but struggling under some persecution and internal conflicts, with the danger that some might become discouraged to the point of completely losing their faith. Hence this great letter from the imprisoned Paul. Well worth the listen and watch.

The gospel is both the heart of our witness, and the heart of our existence. How in the world do we think we’ll make it? And how is the world itself going to make it? Ultimately only through the gospel, period. Other things are good and important in their place, but there is only one “good news” which will prevail while everything else falls to the wayside. That of Jesus and his death for us, out of which comes the new life for us and for the world.

God who began his good work in us through that good news/ gospel will complete what he started. We only need to hold on in faith to that good news in Jesus for ourselves, for others, indeed, even for the world. We can have confidence that whatever else might happen, this gospel in and through Jesus and his death will prevail, changing us into his likeness in this world, even becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3) toward the children of God in Jesus which we were created to become in the new creation all in him are destined for.

Something to celebrate, look forward to, and rest in, even in this life, when so much else can be up in the air with no certain outcome. What matters most is in process even in the midst of a world which at times seems to be unraveling, and is not eternal in and of itself. We can rest assured that God’s good will in Jesus will prevail. Confident in that no matter what else happens. In and through Jesus.