a believing faith(?)

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:1-8

The title, “a believing faith” may seem redundant. Isn’t faith enough? The fact of the matter though is that our faith can be exceedingly weak. What James seems to be even railing against here is not the weakness of faith so much, as a lack of commitment to trusting God. Eugene Peterson’s rendering is helpful here:

People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

James 1:6b-8; MSG

We might struggle, even with doubt, some of us more than others. In spite of that we need to press on with the desire to be committed to faith in God, looking to God for the help we need in any given situation. I included the entire passage above, because though there may be and sometimes is value in taking a verse out of context, it’s always best seen, understood and applied in context, with the full intent of the passage in view.

So what we’re looking at here are the trials of life, any trial, which we’re to consider nothing but joy because of the endurance God wants to work in us through it, for our maturity toward full development as Christ followers. We are so prone to old default practices like taking matters in our own hands, hardly if at all looking to God. Trying to solve the problem ourselves, even if we pray to God to bless our efforts.

Instead God wants us to take what for us is the radical commitment of complete trust in God. In the words of Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

What God would be after here in part, it seems to me, is an entire renovation of heart, mind and practice. Much more for us than just trying to manage the next crisis, barely holding on, sometimes the wheels clearly falling off. No, God wants to change us over time. James does make it more abrupt than that, so that evidently, and quite frankly I think, we need that word. We’re so inclined to excuse ourselves, rationalize, and not change at all.

What we need to do is look past the present difficulty, be willing to walk through that instead of trying to escape on our own terms. And thus find God’s help, all the help we need in the process. Not only short term, but medium and long term as well. Toward the maturity God wants for us. In and through Jesus.

God’s protection

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest,
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

Psalm 116:5-7

This entire psalm is a testament to God’s protection in faithfully taking care of God’s people. The protection goes down to the last details, but when we think about it, it doesn’t mean that God’s people might not experience all that befalls humanity and worse. Somehow in the midst of all of that, God’s protection is present for us.

I like the thought that God protects the simple. The NET says it refers to those who are in formative learning stages. Even though that’s long past for me, I still am quite “simple” in a number of ways. Still learning, something which will go on until the end of life. So this applies to all with an open heart to learn from God directly and indirectly.

God’s ongoing protection makes little sense in a world where random accidents and worse go on (consider Job). People take advantage of others and worse. And Christ followers are not exempt from that. We must never forget that nothing in our experience can ever separate us from God’s love in Christ (Romans 8:35-39). We can rest assured in that. No matter what our experience or what we’re going through, God will see us through. We must hold on to that, not let go of God. God won’t let go of us. We will receive all the help we need to bring glory to God. In and through Jesus.

in praise of being lowly (and my change in my main Bible translation)

Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

James 1:9-11; NRSV

At first when reading this from the NRSV, I disliked the rendering “lowly.” I preferred the NIV‘s “the believer in humble circumstances” which after all, I’m quite used to. And a side note here: I am switching for the time being anyhow, to the NRSV as my own main translation. All of my opinions are gathered from experts. And I especially appreciate discernment formed within community. The NIV is great at what it does, both accurate and clear, good English basically accessible to all. The NRSV seems to be very good at what it does. But not good English and that’s because it gives us more exactly the way it was said, maybe the more precise meaning without trying to put it into the way we might say it today like the NIV attempts to do and I think does quite well. The NIV has been my main Bible the vast majority of my years (now decades) as a Christian. So I do grieve over the change, though I still always can and will at times refer to it. The NIV and especially the 2011 revision (in part from the TNIV, which used to be my favorite) is quite good. This seems to me to be a good take on a few current Bible translations: Choosing a Bible Translation.  We surely have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to English Bible translations. But now back to the main point of this post.

Lowly at first came across to me poorly, like an outcast within different cultures. It’s not necessarily more accurate than “in humble circumstances,” or the way the CEB translates it, “Brothers and sisters who are poor…” Maybe the last two more precisely catch what the issue is: those in need compared to those who have more than enough. But lowly also captures something of the twist James makes, that such are raised up or exalted. It is interesting how many of the poor have faith, whereas many of the rich struggle with faith, or so it seems. We see this in life, and it’s noted on the pages of Scripture, our Lord himself making that clear. So lowly here probably does mean those who struggle in this life, either not having enough, or just scraping through to make it day after day.

I like the term “lowly” because it seems to me that this can be a benefit for those of us who for one reason or another, probably a number of reasons are not well set compared to others. When compared with the rest of the world, like someone wisely said, those of us living here, at least the vast majority of us have won the lottery. So it’s relative of course. But the sense of being lowly is surely a blessing. It speaks of dependence on God, healthy interdependence in a give and take relationship with others, and the realization that all is a gift from God. In and through Jesus.

against an all too common inappropriate response in life

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.[a]

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Proverbs 3:5-6; MSG

We can’t control what actually happens in life, nor can we avoid mistakes which occur for many reasons, or the many questions and concerns we’ll have. But we are responsible for our response to all of this.

This passage tells us in Proverbs that we need to be intent on one thing: trusting in God. The Message refers to God’s voice, and that lines up with the standard translation as seen in the NIV. All too often our response is to react as if God is not in the picture, or as if God might be present, but not in a way that makes any difference.

Instead we’re to see every situation as an opportunity to trust God anew. Do we really trust God? We trust God only to the extent we’re willing to lean on God and submit to God’s will when either something difficult happens, or when we’re troubled with doubts or questions over something. Do we have our hands on the controls so to speak, as if it all depends on us, maybe asking God to help us, but really believing it’s up to us? Or are we willing to leave everything in God’s hands, including letting God’s hand move our hands, the point being that even though we may be quite active, God is the one in control?

This is part and parcel of being a follower of Christ. Jesus tells us to totally trust the Father, to trust God without reservation (Matthew 6). We won’t like everything in life, indeed there are some things we should hate. It’s not a matter of denying reality. But it’s a commitment to put and leave everything in God’s hands. As if anything and everything depends on God, not on us. When we fail to do this we are essentially on our own. But when we truly, inevitably with much weakness, but truly put our trust in God, God will give us the exact help we need. In and through Jesus.

pray for yourself

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.

Psalm 6:1-4

In the morning and evening offices in our new hymnal, Voices Together (985, 987), there is the part toward the end when we’re offering prayers.

We pray for ourselves and those dear to us…

At first, when I was beginning to do this every morning and night, I gently resisted the idea of praying for myself, especially first. But I dutifully did it, knowing that I’m not as wise as the collective wisdom of others. And I began to more and more see the wisdom of doing so. If God doesn’t help me or I receive little of that, I certainly can be of little or no help to others. James tells us that we don’t have because we don’t ask God. And I’m reminded of the African-American spiritual,

It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

This really has been a tremendous help to me. We pray for “those dear to us,” “our community and…our neighbors,” “for the church,” “for the world,” “for other concerns we carry in our hearts.” But it begins with us. We can see that in Jesus’s high priestly prayer on the eve of his crucifixion. He first prayed that the Father would glorify him so that he could glorify the Father (John 17). I can’t help but think that when Jesus used to break away early mornings to pray to the Father that he lifted himself up for the help he needed, as well as praying for his disciples and others, whatever else he might have prayed. Certainly enjoying his fellowship as God. Yes, he is God, but fully human, too. And in this life in which he lived, he did so in full dependence on the Father.

But again, this practice is helping me immensely. I have not done this on a regular basis, as far as I know, ever. Just here and there, when I felt in need, which was a lot. But to do so regularly helps me find the help from God I need. In and through Jesus.

Note: In the morning and evening offices mentioned above, toward the end we also “Pray together the Prayer Jesus Taught: “Our Father…”

faith is not sight

For we live by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

These words from Paul are in the context about living, dying and pleasing the Lord. And a distinction is drawn between seeing and faith. Someday we will see what we can’t see now. That is faith. Faith involves going on when the promise is not yet realized (Hebrews 11:13-16).

This kind of attitude is valued by God. Jesus said that a wicked and adulterous generation seeks a miraculous sign, something they can see. But faith acknowledges that we really can’t see and understand on our own. That our dependence is solely on God, not on ourselves at all. For some reason God seems to want us to live in the dark so that by faith we can push toward the light, it breaking through at times, but the full light of day to come only when Christ returns.

So we press on. Tired. Not getting younger. With trials and questions. But finding even in those things an encouragement to genuine faith, different than seeing. In and through Jesus.

wait for God’s answer

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Matthew 7:7-8

Jesus tells us here to ask, seek and knock. In other words not to let go until we have God’s answer. We need to look to God for answers to problems we have, as to how we’ll go about them. And wait until we get God’s answer. And then proceed accordingly. With the answer will come God’s peace. And we’ll need to continue to look to God in prayer as we go about resolving the issue, what to do, and what not to do. God will help us as we do that. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s blessings and woes

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:17-26

Perhaps an echo of the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy, Jesus gives his version, which like almost everything Jesus did was surprising, often turning expectations on their head. And even to this day, though we’re used to the idea that these words exist, we hardly take them seriously, much less live by them.

We want to live in the full flourishing of the kingdom now. We want everything to be okay, good, great. And at least we want to have our slice of “the American dream.”

But Jesus calls us to accept something entirely different. Really, just how he lived. It’s not like he didn’t take responsibility. We can see that he did, the first thirty or so years of his life. I mean responsibility in the way we think of that: earning a living, providing for one’s family, etc. But when it was time for him to fulfill the Father’s calling, and his ministry, then it was done in complete dependence on the Father. Jesus’s words here are not something he didn’t live out himself. God’s riches we’re not meant to be hoarded, but shared with others. There was never to be a moment of self-sufficiency, but instead an utter trust in God for God’s ongoing provision. We see this all through Jesus’s life along with his teaching, including the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.

The blessings and woes are meant to encourage and warn. Encouragement to those of us who struggle from day to day, maybe due to no fault of our own, or more likely with some fault, but seeking to live in God’s will. And warning for those who are self-sufficient, well able to take care of things themselves, often with their own agenda. The woes are meant to be warnings that the rich would hear so that they would change. One classic example that comes to mind of a rich person changing is the story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus.

So we need to take heart, regardless of where we might fall on the spectrum. God will take care of everything as we endeavor to follow Jesus. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

“in acceptance lies peace”

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 12:7b-10

It is not fun to live in weakness. Ask someone who suffers migraines, or some other physical pain. Or those who suffer from depression or whatever other malady.

One of Amy Carmichael’s poems I think provides some wisdom, entitled, “In Acceptance Lieth Peace.” That is what Paul had to do. Naturally he asked the Lord, even pleaded with him to remove the thorn in the flesh, even a messenger of Satan to torment him. Who wants to live in torment?

But God taught him a deeper lesson. Unfortunately for many of us who probably live with something far less than what Paul experienced, we can easily give in to despair. Or just plain refusing to accept the difficulty we experience, whether inwardly or outwardly.

Instead we need discernment from God to accept what we can’t change ourselves. I have found over and over again in my life, when I finally accept the brutal rough patch, God’s comfort and peace, yes God’s help comes.

I like the fact that the door seems so wide open as to what the weakness might be. We’re not talking about actual sins, though in the weakness the temptation to sin in one way or another is certainly present. We have to learn to embrace our weakness, and weaknesses which surround that. For example my weakness might make me want to isolate so as not to be exposed when God instead wants me to learn a healthy interdependence with others. And above all, a new dependence on him. In and through Jesus.

trust God in everything

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

If there’s anything we humans need to learn first and foremost, it’s our need to trust in God. The problem in our thinking can be that we suppose we’re not to trust in God about everything. That some things for one reason or another depend entirely on us. Just one problem with that is we can end up not trusting God in anything.

When we think anything depends on us, then we’re pushing God out of the equation. Actually all depends on God, but for us to receive God’s superintending work, it does depend on us to simply have faith. To look to God, to seek to trust him in everything. We need to start there if we’re to go on to what God has for us, yes in everything, in all our ways. Then we can experience God’s work in making our paths straight as we continue to trust God. In and through Jesus.