the little things (which can either make or break, hinder or help)

Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways and be wise.
Without having any chief
or officer or ruler,
it prepares its food in summer
and gathers its sustenance in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O lazybones?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want, like an armed warrior.

Proverbs 6:6-11

We can do only one thing at a time, and there’s always plenty to do. Of course, we can’t do everything, and we don’t do well berating ourselves because of that. We need wisdom from God to know what to do and to know what can be left undone. It’s better to do a few things well, than try to do everything.

There are things we really shouldn’t do. I’m not thinking of moral issues, though they’re certainly included, but rather what we know is not helpful for us in the long run but is hard to resist when we really should. Okay, I’ll say it. For me it’s snacking on a little something just before I go to bed. I feel better, do better when I have at least (or around) a twelve-hour gap between my last meal of the day, and first meal of a new day. And nothing to eat close to bedtime.

There’s the obvious from the above passage. We keep at it day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Just humbly plodding along. Doing everything we’re supposed to do. That adds up and accumulates over time exponentially, at least in shaping our character along with the provision God gives us through that.

The little by little of good is so important. No less important is the harm we can cause by a little of what’s wrong. Yes, we will fail along the way, and there’s always the necessary confession of sin, of letting others know we’re sorry. 

It really doesn’t have to be much, and sometimes really is not, but a little bit, and little by little of that can and will go a long way if we keep at it.

 

slow down

therefore thus says the Lord GOD,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
“One who trusts will not panic.”

Isaiah 28:16; NRSVue

There is so much to get done! But we can only do one thing at a time. And are we really meant to do everything? Yes, certain things, okay. But we’re limited. And often we take on more not just out of noble purposes, but maybe at times even ignoble.

Israel of old at large was not being faithful. They did not heed God, having their own agenda, and therefore did not care about God’s promises, much less believe them. Or at best their faith was weak and vacillating. When it came right down to it, they felt it depended on them, their agenda and program they were bent on fulfilling.

But life and we should add God doesn’t let people off the hook so easily. Real life presses in and challenges us, at least eventually, and at every turn. We can’t ignore it. In the case of Israel they felt pressed to be in a hurry, to panic (see NET footnote). They were left to themselves, or felt all depended on them. Eventually panic set in.

Faith rests in God and in God’s promises, God’s promise in Jesus. We need to slow down, to trust, to rest. I find that as I simply purposefully do that, I am much more inclined to trust. One might want to argue that we need to trust first, and then we’ll slow down. That’s true. But sometimes stopping what we’re doing when we’re recognizing that it’s not helpful, and doing what we ought to be doing instead can help us into a better rhythm, and gives us the chance to really hear and understand what God is doing and how we fit in that.

At any rate this is important for me. If something should be done, I find that ordinarily I need to do it deliberately, more often than not, slowly, seeking to keep in step with God, doing so in faith, and not as if all depends on me. Something we do ourselves and would do well to learn to do together as well. In and through Jesus.

a peace that’s not only personal

On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
he sets up walls and bulwarks as a safeguard.
Open the gates,
so that the righteous nation that maintains faithfulness
may enter in.
Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for in the LORD GOD
you have an everlasting rock.
For he has brought low
the inhabitants of the height;
the lofty city he lays low.
He lays it low to the ground,
casts it to the dust.
The foot tramples it,
the feet of the poor,
the steps of the needy.

Isaiah 26:1-6;  NRSVue

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (KJV) is a well known verse turned into song. That this applies to us as individuals is wonderfully and blessedly true. But to be faithful to the biblical text, we need to read the context, the whole. We’ll then discover that it indeed has societal, global implications. It’s about a nation that maintains faithfulness. And that faithfulness as we see also in the context is with reference to justice, and specifically justice for the poor.

Yes, we can personalize and enjoy this passage ourselves. But we’ll miss a lot, even the point of this passage, if we focus only on that. One of the most serious weaknesses of precious promise books, whatever good they actually do have. It’s a city no less, given to justice for the poor. Something which needs to be heard loud and clear today. What churches should be about. A central part of the expression of our faith. In and through Jesus.

“be instant in season, out of season”- KJV

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound teaching, but, having their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, be sober in everything, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

2 Timothy 4:1-5; NRSVue

I love the King James Version‘s rendering in this passage, “be instant in season, out of season.” The idea as we read above is to keep doing what we’re called to do no matter what. Whether it’s convenient for us or not, or for that matter even convenient to others. Of course, we want to be helpful to others, but the only help they’re going to get which matters is help from God. It can be through us, but definitely from God. Just as all help we ever receive ourselves is from God, though often through others.

We need to be ready, prepared, above all in our spirit, in our heart, through prayer, through trying to walk day by day, every moment, through every time whether good or bad, whatever the case may be, we need to always be ready to do whatever it is that God has called us to do. The gospel is at the heart of that, but the specific calling, though we might divide it in general categories such as speaking and serving and for many of us, some combination of both, will be as different for each of us as each of us is different ourselves.

The point though is to be ready. And the test of that will come when we’re especially feeling not ready, maybe under siege, under spiritual attack. We must not give in then, because that actually can end up being the time of greatest blessing. God can pour out God’s Spirit in answer to prayer, and never forget that the Lord’s power is made perfect in our weakness. It’s never about us, but only about what God has given us to do, and the love of God made known in the good news of Christ.

In and through Jesus.

don’t be distracted: Anna

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:36-38; NRSVue

It seems like there’s nothing easier than being distracted. My spiritual mentor and director and good friend has told me that in his experience there can be a thousand screaming monkeys. All the more true for me as well. I can count on something distracting me from meditation on scripture, from listening and hearing God’s voice, receiving God’s word.

Anna was not one who lived with distractions. Oh, I’m sure that she had to deal with possible distractions. But interestingly we’re told that “she never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” She had been married but devoted herself exclusively to God after her husband died. Maybe she never had children. We’re not told. But it reminds me of what developed later, the monastic orders.

But as followers of Jesus, it seems to me that we’re called to be entirely devoted to Christ in normal life, just as Jesus did in his thirty-three or so years on earth. Yes, 1 Corinthians 7 tells us that one can be more totally devoted to God when unmarried and Jesus wasn’t married. But he did work in his “legal” father’s trade, and perhaps as the oldest son looked after his mother Mary after Joseph passed. There are responsibilities and concerns that come with marriage and family, to be sure. Anna knew all about that. What is needed is total devotion to God, something we can always give, even while we’re busy fulfilling family along with other responsibilities. In fact we show devotion to God in part by giving ourselves fully to the responsibilities at hand. But at the same time, when and where we can, we regularly want to be attentive to God by being in scripture and prayer. In Anna’s case, fasting as well.

Because of this, Anna was ready when Christ appeared. She was primed and afterwards pumped, telling all about this child. Something for us as well, in our time and place, yes, even today in the midst of all the distraction of the season. This should be what we’re all about, our very heart.

In and through Jesus.

the humdrum and Advent

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Luke 2:8

We disregard the humdrum and what is boring at our peril. When we think we have to fill our lives with this or that, we can miss what God wants to give us. Only to the empty does God come with God’s filling, with God’s abundant, more than enough plenty. But to the full, God cannot. They are already full of something else, no room for God’s gift.

Let’s neither underrate nor despise the necessities life presses on us. And let’s remember that God in love works with us, with all our idiosyncrasies and conundrums. We simply need to press on which includes plodding on. God will help us as we seek in God’s will to do that. In and through Jesus.

sleep can give us more than just the needed cushion after the hardness of a day

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.

Psalm 127:2 Or for he provides for his beloved during sleep

Psalm 127:2

How often after an “evil day” has sleep given us just a new breath and fresh start to life, as we awakened? Of course God is in the details of that. And not with us just being passive, although that can happen. As our intent is to be fully obedient to God and follow our Lord completely, no matter what we’ve gone through and how lost and out of sorts we are by the end of the day, God can give us sleep and in that sleep what we need to be refreshed and ready after we awaken to a new day.

Like long life, days can be long too, and take their toll on us. But God is ready to help us. We need to just keep waiting on God, looking to God, seeking to direct ourselves and be directed into all it means to be faithful. Without flinching from the most difficult aspects of that. While at the same time, God’s grace extended to cover our inevitable weaknesses and sin is ever present.

So I’m much encouraged. And I must say I enjoy sleep. I have been taking a melatonin tablet before hitting the sack lately. Sometimes it is hard to fall asleep. Rather than counting sleep, we can start praying, and then I think the sleep will come. We rest  in the arms and good care of God. In and through Jesus.

loyalty and faithfulness

Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good repute
in the sight of God and of people.

Proverbs 3:3-4

We are reminded here that loyalty and faithfulness ought to be priorities in our lives. Instead too often we let other factors weigh in and we all but forget this.

There are limits in life, and lines and boundaries that need to be drawn. An abusive partner should not be allowed to continue their abuse, even if that means that one has to depart. Loyalty and faithfulness does mean through thick and thin, “for better and for worse till death do us part.” Marriage is referred to here. But even in marriage, one does not accept abuse. The partner must get the needed help, and there can come the time to separate and God forbid, even annul the marriage. But insofar as it’s possible, and whatever that might mean in any given stage, loyalty and faithfulness should continue. But the loyalty and faithfulness normally required is no longer required in the abnormal circumstances which can occur. All of this requires God-given wisdom.

While all of that is necessarily said, loyalty and faithfulness ought to be staples of our character. We are committed in love to those who are dear to us and have commitments in friendship with others. Many would think of loyalty to a company or workplace, and while there may be some application of that here, what is mostly referred to here his loyalty to people. That certainly involves faithfulness in what we do in the workplace and in other spaces.

Anything at all which might violate this should be considered anathema, in other words worse than unacceptable. “We just don’t go there” should be the mark by which we live by, even our passion. At the same time, we don’t imagine for a second that we’re above falling. We factor in our weaknesses, and pray, and work on living fully in God’s will without compromise, lovingly doing so, but even sharply in places, if need be. And when needed we get counseling along with prayer from others.

Loyalty and faithfulness. Two watch words for us. To always be in the picture of our lives. In and through Jesus.

secondary matters

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Matthew 23:23-24

Jesus’s words here remind me of my own life and even the life of the church if I were to cite concerns. We easily get caught up in secondary matters, things necessary in their place which need to be attended to. And we often are focused on issues which distract us from what’s most important.

Our theological concerns can be far too narrow, and that becomes evident in what we are thinking about and what we do as a result. Is our view becoming more and more expansive like God’s? Or are we concerned about only the things which most directly affect ourselves both for this life and the next?

Jesus makes it clear that justice, mercy and faithfulness are to take priority over other matters. A key tactic of the devil, or so it seems to me is to get us sidetracked into obsessions which seem so important, but cause us to lose out over what is of first importance.

We need to take care of what we might call nuisance questions and problems. And in this life we’re beset by them, no doubt. But we must not let what is of primary importance be crowded out. Loving others, loving our neighbor as ourselves, loving even our enemies, certainly not neglecting those near and dear to us, all of this in our love for God must take priority. As we seek to follow Jesus in everything. In and through Jesus.

the importance of consistency or constancy

Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.

So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:3-11; MSG

I think constancy and consistency in our faith and life is often either underrated, or all but forgotten. We tend to want the sky high experience, trying to avoid the valleys along the way. When what God wants is our trust and obedience regardless of what we’re going through. In little and in big ways. People need to see that in us, and we need to become established and confirmed in that ourselves. Just what Peter is telling us here. God has given and will give us what we need along the way for all of this to come true.

It’s interesting how this comes from Peter, his last letter, one who certainly was not stable before Pentecost, and who wasn’t perfect afterward, either, even though he basically did live this out. We’re not talking about perfection here. And we’ll be doing this with much weakness. But by faith we can keep doing it day after day. God will help us. In and through Jesus.