no, don’t give up. pray and pray and…

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

I think Jesus wanted to inculcate into his disciples a passion to pray, and at least the bent to practice it regularly. Luke’s gospel account emphasizes prayer more than the other gospels, and we find Jesus praying there more often. As far as what we actually do, I don’t think there’s anything the Lord wants us to do more than to pray.

Prayer is about dependence on God, as well as relationship to God. And it’s about getting the help we desperately need in this world. Interesting that in this parable, Jesus likens the one who prays to the widow pleading for justice in an unjust world. And how she doesn’t give up. The Lord compares that to us needing to cry out to the One who is full of justice and mercy and wants us to ask, and even more, wants to answer.

Yet the Lord makes the sad remark at the end that he is wondering just the same if when he returns there will be any faith on earth. Will people be asking to this more than generous, even eager God?

A good challenge to me and encouragement, when I’m discouraged even to the point when my prayers don’t seem to matter. That’s a lie from the pit. Yes, they do. So we need to keep doing it. Pray and keep on praying and don’t quit doing that.

In and through Jesus.

when under siege: silence

When you are disturbed,[a] do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent.

Psalm 4:4

The context of this psalm is a faithful person or persons being verbally attacked with the implication of physical danger lurking somewhere behind (click above link for entire psalm). The psalm is attributed to David who certainly knew more than his share of such trouble. Most of us experience nothing like that, but given the time we’re in, there definitely is something of this in the air, evident largely in what people are saying, and sometimes in what some have done. And plenty of disturbance (and anger, see above footnote) can accompany that.

What we’re called to here is silence. In this day when our ears are filled with music and podcasts, the news and whatnot, that can be challenging. We’re better off to plug our ears during such difficulties and simply remain in meditative silence. According to this Scripture, the alternative is to sin. Somehow to figure things out ourselves, to get it over with ourselves, instead of casting ourselves on God.

In the midst of the tumult and settling despair, we need to silence ourselves and ponder. Not just something we do in an instant and it’s done. But what we do until it’s done. God will answer, giving us what we need. In and through Jesus.

not for the faint of heart

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
The Lord is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put confidence in princes.

All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
they blazed like a fire of thorns;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

Psalm 118:5-14

Faith in following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. The psalmist here is more than up against it, crying out to God for help. It seems like more often than not that we only seek God with all our hearts when we’re in trouble. Though hopefully we do so as well because of the trouble of others, especially those who are close to us in our own families, as well as in the family of faith in the world. But our concern and love should extend to all. And by the Spirit, God can and will help us that way.

But back to the main point. Following Christ and faith is not for the faint of heart. We’re in a spiritual battle now, definitely not a physical one. The faint of heart don’t obey Jesus’s words to not resist evil against us, but instead to pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us, to do good to those who despise us. The faint of heart don’t even seek to apply faith in the most difficult situations in which their faith is either lagging, or not existent at all.

The devil is often in the details of this life, one of his emissaries attached to me. We have to understand what we’re up against, and as James tells us, to resist the devil with the promise that he’ll flee from us.

Look at God’s people in Scripture. Hebrews 11 into 12 is a good place to start. Real people as flawed as any of us are. All people of faith who were not faint of heart because of their faith in God, in God’s promises. And it ends with Jesus himself who went through so much more than we can understand as we consider Gethsemane and the cross.

Psalm 118, the passage quoted above does not end oddly, though at first glance that may appear to be the case. When we pour out our whole hearts to God and don’t let go, God comes through and rewards us with so much more. Notice how this psalm unfolds and ends:

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 118:19-29

In and through Jesus.

what if we’re not meant to tie up all the loose ends?

And the Lord said to Job:

“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Anyone who argues with God must respond.”

Then Job answered the Lord:

“See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but will proceed no further.”

Job 40:1-5; NRSV

I have been a part of a tradition for decades which has a tendency to either try to answer every question, or comes across as if it answers all the questions which matter.* I believe that God does give us what we need. But we may wonder why God doesn’t give us what we think we need, as if we’re somehow equals with God. In fact we know from Scripture and from experience that it does seem to me anyhow that we are left hanging when it comes to lots of things.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

Deuteronomy 29:29; NIV

What if we’re meant to live in wonderment? What if mystery is just as basic to our faith as what is actually revealed? When you think about it, even in theology this is as plain as day. We have reasoned from Scripture and discerned that God as Trinity is clearly taught. But we also realize that it can’t be explained, that we can’t understand that any more fully than we can understand God. In the world we find that science itself opens up doors which really elude human understanding as far as really being able to pin it down such as is the case in quantum physics.

This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t make known to us what we need to understand to live well. It just means that part of that is to begin to understand that we’re often left with questions unanswered. After all, God answered Job on God’s terms, not on Job’s. It seems that an important part of our knowing is to realize that we simply don’t know. But that God gives us all we need to live in the goodness along with the challenge of God’s will in this life. We don’t like to feel like our feet are off the ground. We would like everything to be settled. But like in the story of Job, what is just beyond or clearly beyond us may be an important part of our present life, and surely to some extent of the life to come. In and through Jesus.

Note this service and message from Gerald Mast: “Unclean Lips and Heavenly Things” from First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, Ohio.

*That’s probably an overstatement, but just speaks of a tendency within that tradition. And I think that tradition gravitates toward that. I am speaking of the evangelical tradition if anyone might wonder. I do so uncomfortably, but believing this is the case, with surely many who would at least want to be exceptions to this rule. But there are exceptions to this rule, though I just don’t see any emphasis on what we don’t know within that tradition. Hence the change in the post with the added word “tendency.”

open to new thoughts, new ideas

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’”

Jeremiah 33:2-3; MSG

I’m more than kind of averse to personality tests and whatever else they’re called. There may be well some value in them, and people who seem to have God’s blessing on their ministry along with other seemingly successful people more or less see benefit in them. I recently took a surely simplified but still rather thorough online test and scored highest in two categories, the highest I think being a category which someone said is made up of people who have trouble fitting into the evangelical world. The idea is that they tend to ask a lot of questions and just keep asking them, along with other characteristics or tendencies. I remember that because that is a big part of my own thought process day after day. Many of my questions lead to dead ends, but I have to look for the bright side, and surely this is part of how God made some of us. And surely part of how all of us need to approach life.

The message Jeremiah received from God quoted above reminds us that we need God’s revelation to us for us to even begin to see and get it. And I’m referring here to what seems straightforward from the pages of Scripture. But to see how this fits into life in this world surely will require some imagination. It comes to us, to each one of us, and to us collectively together, as we sift through what God might be saying to us. What each one of us has to contribute is important, but the whole is greater than the sum of all the parts. God is the one who can bring it all together and help us see what God gives us to see, but that requires us, together. And I think this requires questions we have, and certainly requests to help us see and understand what God wants us to know.

Yes, there are a few prophets out there like Jeremiah who can point us this direction. But the invitation to call to God for needed insight, indeed for something new was given to the people of Judah. It wasn’t given to Jeremiah, but through Jeremiah to God’s people. So the help God desires to give won’t come through just one person, though we can learn a lot from each one of God’s servants. But it comes to and then from us together. God wants to help us today through what God can and will give us. We humbly sharing our part and receiving from others, as we seek to discern the whole, what God is telling us or wants us to know for now. An ongoing process. In and through Jesus.

pray for each other, for others, and be prayed for

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:18

…prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Ephesians 6:18; MSG

A big part of what God wants us to do in this life is to pray. It’s interesting how Jesus himself often broke away from his disciples in the silence of the early morning to pray to his Father. We too need times spent in prayer. The morning and evening offices within our new hymnal has been helping me that way.

Little do we understand the impact that will make, if we really pray for each other daily. We all need such prayers. That’s the way God has made it, we are truly in need of each other. And we need to pray for others. God might be prompting us to do such, and we can simply choose to pray for certain people.

We can’t know the precise difference such praying makes, but we do know it does make a difference. We’ll surely sense that. We need to be alert, not just praying regularly, but on occasions when we notice certain things. God will give us the wisdom and help we need in this endeavor. As we gladly receive the prayers of others as well. 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.

the dangers and possibilities of each new day

Listen to my words, Lord,
consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.

Psalm 5:1-3

Listen, God! Please, pay attention!
Can you make sense of these ramblings,
my groans and cries?
King-God, I need your help.
Every morning
you’ll hear me at it again.
Every morning
I lay out the pieces of my life
on your altar
and watch for fire to descend.

Psalm 5:1-3; MSG

We as humans are very experiential creatures. And the psalms are lock stocked with the language and sentiment of experience. We often go from lows to highs and then back to lows. Some of us experience this quite pronounced, others of us not that much variation, and probably most of the rest of us somewhere in between.

Psalm 5 is a good passage to remind us how to start each day. I think both the evening before we go to sleep, and the morning when we arise are important in how we do this. To read Scripture, maybe a liturgical prayer book for night (Compline) is good. To arise and be in Scripture and prayer, morning prayer and reading is good. We can’t take for granted that a good day at least in how it worked out will carry over into the next day.

It’s not about us having a good time, and that’s it. Instead it’s about living in God’s grace and all that means in terms of forgiveness of sins and new life, and having the vision to see what God might have us do, or be pleased to help us do in the new day. And even if it’s just filled with the routines of what we have to do, to do that in the breath and love of God.

At any rate, for some of us this is a matter almost of survival, at least of experiencing and living out this salvation from God well. Growing in that. So we have to take this seriously. Every day is God’s and for us that’s a good and ultimately happy prospect. We bring ourselves to God each new day, and look to God for his answer and help to us. In and through Jesus.

breaking new ground

While Jeremiah was still locked up in jail, a second Message from God was given to him:

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

“This is what God, the God of Israel, has to say about what’s going on in this city, about the homes of both people and kings that have been demolished, about all the ravages of war and the killing by the Chaldeans, and about the streets littered with the dead bodies of those killed because of my raging anger—about all that’s happened because the evil actions in this city have turned my stomach in disgust.

“But now take another look. I’m going to give this city a thorough renovation, working a true healing inside and out. I’m going to show them life whole, life brimming with blessings. I’ll restore everything that was lost to Judah and Jerusalem. I’ll build everything back as good as new. I’ll scrub them clean from the dirt they’ve done against me. I’ll forgive everything they’ve done wrong, forgive all their rebellions. And Jerusalem will be a center of joy and praise and glory for all the countries on earth. They’ll get reports on all the good I’m doing for her. They’ll be in awe of the blessings I am pouring on her.

Jeremiah 33:1-9; MSG

Jeremiah was in prison, and it was not a promising time. God’s judgment had come and was coming, and the people neither liked that, nor the messenger of it, Jeremiah. God’s promise here though is to see beyond that judgment to God’s restoration. Not that we should brush off the judgment as unimportant, or just a necessary nuisance until we get to the good part. Judgment is actually a necessary prelude to God’s blessing. What the passage is referring to is God’s judgment of the wicked to prepare the nation for what is just and good. In our own lives, God’s judgment comes in the form of loving discipline, to clean house in our lives in ways which we may or may not understand, and certainly we have yet to enter at least fully into that experience.

Breaking new ground is about God’s change in our minds, hearts, and lives. That’s the groundbreaking I’m thinking of here. It requires a commitment before God by us so that God can see that through with the least resistance from us, even cooperating with that insofar as God helps us do so. Again, the prayer God encouraged Jeremiah to pray is applicable to us here:

‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

Jeremiah 33:3; MSG

And later in this passage we see what we now know to be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s answer to Jeremiah in Jesus:

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[c] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Breaking new ground we can see from this passage begins with God’s word, God’s promise, and prayer. We have to expect God to answer, but not dialed down to our own expectation. But instead with answers and blessing we would never arrive to on our own, not even in a million years. In and through Jesus.

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.