“Blessed are those who mourn”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4; NRSVue

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.

Isaiah 61:1-3; NRSVue

How can one not mourn in this life? From distant things we see and read about to what is happening in our own communities to the struggles in families. And over our own weaknesses, failures, and less than perfect ways about us, over the many mistakes we’ve made, over hurt we’ve inflicted on others hopefully mostly in the past, over the hurt we’ve received.

The servant of the Lord, as we read above in Isaiah comes to comfort those who mourn, and to help them become all that God intends for them. But to get there, there has to be some mourning along the way. Mourning over concern to see God’s will done is blessed by God, is blessed by Christ.

If we don’t mourn, we won’t be blessed. But as we’re willing to mourn and actually do that, we’ll find God’s comfort. In and through Jesus.

the needed emphasis on prayer

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed by demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons, and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

Mark 1:32-35; NRSVue

We really can’t pray too often. While we can and should pray throughout the day, there really needs to be those special times of prayer for ourselves and others. We need to pray for ourselves, because unless we get God’s help in our own issues and struggles, we can hardly help anyone else. And we pray for others.

I imagine, as one helpful commentary put it, Jesus surely prayed for himself after an exhilarating but surely also exhausting day of ministry, as well as for his disciples who in Mark more than any other gospel account, just don’t get it time and time again. And Jesus surely did this regularly. Luke’s gospel account brings that out more, and though most sparse in Mark, it is still sufficiently present to see how important prayer was in Jesus’s life and teaching.

As followers of Jesus we need to do the same. Prayer, prayer and more prayer throughout the day. And special times of it, as well. That should mark our lives. Too often we somehow think God’s blessing depends on us, our own effort. But no, not at all. In fact we’ll find little to no blessing that way, though God might bless in spite of that at times. No. No matter what we first and always give ourselves to prayer. Then God will help and give to us and through us to others what only God can give. In and through Jesus.

faith must work to work

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

James 2:14-26

We can say we have faith in God, in God’s promises, and that’s all well and good. But it won’t make the needed difference unless we act on it. The difference certainly refers to others. In James’s words here, helping the sister or brother in need, or with reference to Rahab, for one’s own family as well as for Rahab herself. What I’m especially referring to here is one’s own salvation. When we experience that salvation, or in the words in this passage, justification, we naturally want to see everyone else experience the same. But when we’re struggling with a lack in being settled into that in our spirits, ourselves, then we can’t see our way to really have that same longing for others.

What is absolutely essential in a sense is being willing to burn all bridges down behind us, so that there’s no turning back, but that our faith is expressed in action. If we say we believe something, then we have to act on that, or in the words of James, our faith is barren, even dead.

Abraham is the stark case in point here. He was asked to sacrifice his son no less, Isaac, on an altar he would have to prepare himself as a whole burnt offering to God. Certainly a mind boggling, simply unfathomable thing to ask of someone, at least in our world. In Abraham’s world, from what I’ve read, it may not have been as shocking. We read elsewhere that Abraham reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead if need be to fulfill God’s promise that through Abraham and his seed Isaac, Abraham would become the father of many nations, heir of the world, and that all nations would be blessed through him (Hebrews 11:19; Romans 4:13, 17; Galatians 3:8). Just the same, it couldn’t have been easy.

But as we see in Genesis 22, there’s no hesitation to fulfill what God commanded. Maybe there was something in Abraham’s mind, like, “Let’s get this over with.” We don’t know what precisely was in his mind, except as mentioned above, because Scripture doesn’t tell us. But Abraham went all the way with no hesitation, hard as that had to have been. And raising the knife was stopped by the angel of the Lord before plunging the knife into his beloved son, the son who was to be heir, and through whom God’s blessing was to be extended to all.

James is telling us that we’re to have this same kind of faith. We either do it, and that includes the hard thing which maybe at the time makes no sense to us. But we do so in obedience to God, resting on God’s promise of blessing and good. In and through Jesus.

on trials

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

James 1:2-4; MSG

I like the way Eugene Peterson translates this opening directive from James. Every part of it touches exactly where we live.

We hate trials, and think somehow to escape them seems to be a mark of maturity. But God wants us to know that trials are meant to mature us. I have a particularly hard time with trials in which I’ve had a hand in them developing or coming to be. Not to say I don’t struggle with other trials, but especially those. But no trial is excluded here. Trials of many kinds would include all trials. A trial is a trial, even if we were the unwitting cause of it. I was thinking of mistakes we make. But this could include sins, even serious sins, and the fallout and trial we face after committing such. Surely that would be included here, too, but with the added counsel that we confess our sin to God, to the church, when need be to others, repent, and undergo whatever is needed for full restoration. All of that would be a trial to us, needed for maturity in Christ, for sure. But again, I’m just thinking here about trials in general, whatever kind they take.

It’s really hard to see tests and challenges as a sheer gift. Instead we’re prone to see trials in an entirely negative light. The idea of tests to help us as well as challenges is simply a fact of life we need to accept. Trials are inevitable. More important than the actual trial is the good which can come out of it. If we look past the trial itself to whatever it is that God might want to do through it, that can help us.

Under pressure our true self comes out, and often it isn’t pretty. The Lord wants that to improve over time. We need to face the music, not try to escape it. To hang in there, even when it’s hard. To even consider it all joy. To let God teach us what is needed through the process, as well as reshape us more into Christ’s image.

It’s not like we have to be preoccupied with trials all the time. The more we accept this reality, as trials inevitably hit us, the more we can experience what God wants to bring out of them. For our blessing and good, and therefore for the blessing and good of others around us. Not to let go of any of this. To persist in it, our will set to live in and do God’s will. In and through Jesus.

resting in God

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.

….Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.

Psalm 62:1-5

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Psalm 127:2

Life hits us hard with all kinds of challenges, questions, twists and turns, things imagined and unimagined. It’s hard to keep one’s bearings well, hard to relax and more or less take things in stride. At least for many of us.

I find actual physical sleep a great blessing myself. Relief from the wear and tear of the day, and just from all the difficulties faced. Underrated throughout my life. In the past I often and routinely did not get enough sleep and tanked up on coffee. It is better to get the sleep one needs and appreciate such as a blessing from God.

To translate that rest into our waking hours would be a blessing. Our rest is to be in God. God can and sometimes does give us a strong sense of that rest. But just like having to discipline ourselves to get the physical sleep, going to bed when we should, somehow we need to manage our lives in such a way that God can help us during our awakened hours to find our rest in him, to live more in that rest.

We are so restless both physically and spiritually. As if all depends on us. When actually all true blessing and blessedness depends on God. As Augustine put it, “Our souls are restless until they find rest in God.” Not hiding our face in the sand, but finding God and the rest that comes from “God with us.” In and through Jesus.

in praise of work

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

There’s no doubt that work can be overrated where I live. Or should I say what we call work? Long hours, whether “blue collar” (like what I do) or “white collar” is the norm, maybe even especially so the latter. The expectations for production, achievement and success only seem to become more and more, not work as God intends. And against greed and graft, of course. But work necessarily is a large part of our lives. Not to be overdone either, but the way in which we provide for our family and ourselves and bless others. Not to be despised.

Work was intended in creation. God works. “The Fall” resulted in difficulty in work, up against the curse imposed on creation, including on ourselves. Yet work continues, and just as we can be blessed, so can the work of our hands.

I often find work therapeutic, helping me get my mind off something troubling or worrisome. Instead having to focus on the task at hand. But I’m not referring to work that is unmanageable, and stretching us beyond what we can achieve and endure. We are limited, and there can be a breaking point. And we indeed need a Sabbath rest, or break from our work. Not just every day after the work time or shift is done, but at least one day at the end of the week, where we can do not only other tasks at hand like house and yard work, but where we can actually just rest, relax and enjoy.

Work especially in collaboration with others, yes in my line simply with others, can be a good exercise in teamwork, in helping each other, each of us stepping up, learning from another, letting others learn and do well while we step back in supportive roles. So many interesting dynamics possible and really at play in work. Developing relationships there which hopefully help both ourselves and others toward the most basic relationship of all: with God. But in the meantime hopefully more and more doing our work in the way God works. 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.

daily strength promised

and your strength will equal your days.

Deuteronomy 33:25b

In Moses’s blessing of the tribe Asher, he tells them that God will give them needed strength for each day. This is not just to individuals, but to that tribe, the people. Certainly meaning each individual, as well as them all. This was part of Moses’s blessing to them. But for them to remain in that blessing, they would have to remain in God’s blessing, and not fall under a curse by departing from that.

All of God’s promises according to Paul are available to us in Christ. This is like a promise, and can surely be claimed as part of what is ours in Christ. God will give us the strength we need for each day. We need to remain in the blessing of God, today being those who remain followers of Christ, of course in and through Christ. We can’t follow without the gift who is Jesus himself, and the eternal life that’s in him.

This is a great encouragement to me. I am thankful for the help God gives me, but not only me, but others with me and I with them. We’re all in this together. God will help us as we look to him, seek to remain faithful through faith in Jesus. And go on. Doing what is set before us day after day. In and through Jesus.

one day and one step at a time, and keep going

By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.

Hebrews 11:8-10; MSG

Abraham’s story is a fascinating one and not without a lot of bumps, bruises, and some bumbles along the way. The account given here from Genesis by the writer to the Hebrews looks at it in its totality in a nutshell. What kept Abraham going through thick and thin, as well as the fits and starts he had along the way was the sense of a call from God with a much bigger goal than anything the world could offer, and indeed against the grain of what would surely be expected. The abandonment of all idols to serve the true living God; Abraham built a number of altars in worship of God along the way. And a trust in God’s promise which on the bare face of things was indeed impossible, or at best like a nice dream.

We are called to the same faith as Abraham, yes, for our justification before God in being declared in the right through faith now in Christ’s finished work. And really also for all of life. Like Abraham, we too are blessed to be a blessing. We are part of Abraham’s progeny here on the earth that all nations might be blessed through us, indeed through the Seed which would be the fulfillment and the way of bringing this to pass: Christ, Jesus, the Messiah.

For me that means one day at a time, one step at a time, and to keep going. With eyes on the big picture and on the goal: God’s will and calling for us in Christ Jesus. We have to have a sense of God’s leading in this. We need that, and then we proceed on. Yes, even when it makes little to no sense to us. We press on through the bumps and bruises and indeed bumbles along the way. God has it. We have to trust in God, in God’s promises to us. Together in this with others. In and through Jesus.

straight paths

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

I think the note on making our paths straight from the NET Bible is helpful:

The verb יָשָׁר (yashar) means “to make smooth; to make straight” (BDB 444 s.v.). This phrase means “to make the way free from obstacles,” that is, to make it successful (e.g., Isa 40:3). The straight, even road is the right road; God will make the way smooth for the believer.

God is for us humans. That is unequivocally demonstrated in the Word becoming flesh, God becoming one of us in the Person of the Son and in that, God becoming human. And of course the life, and the death and resurrection, and all that followed and follows that.

We too often seem to equate God’s will with misery. But actually it’s just the opposite. Yes, we won’t always be happy since there is so much brokenness and tragedy in this world. But we’ll still be blessed and have God’s peace.

And God will make the way straight and yes, successful, in his will. Not success as the world would see it, though there may be some overlap since the good of God in creation touches all. God gives us what we need to live in his will as we trust and obey.

God will certainly make the way when there’s no way, what only God can do. Not just for our blessing, but that we might be a blessing. In and through Jesus.