prayer in difficult places

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David.

Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.

Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.

Psalm 61

There are times when we don’t know what to do, or where to turn. We’re not sure what step to take. Those are times for me to especially petition God, and hopefully draw near to God in prayer. And I seek to get counsel from others I respect.

In the past I’ve gotten peace from God in answer to prayer to move one direction or another. There’s no question that it’s not like I’ve got this all down to any kind of science, with clear answers one way or another, on everything. Life is complicated. Our prayers factor in what we’ve done, or failed to do, and God’s answer doesn’t always means clear sailing. Read scripture, and you’ll see that again and again.

The prayer by the psalmist above, is a request that God would lead them to a rock higher than they are, to a place of safety. When I think of safety, I think of freedom from all harm. But that’s not promised to us in this life. Instead God promises us his presence, and that nothing in all creation can separate us from his love to us in Christ Jesus.

More important than specific outcomes is our journey. We do need a sense that God is in it all, and that he will take care of everything. That he will lead us as needed.

The psalm above is suggestive and instructive concerning this. And of course we need to pray it with the truth that all of God’s promises, or in this case, intimations of what is available to us, are indeed fulfilled in Christ.

We know in the end all will be completely and perfectly fulfilled. In the meantime, we long for God’s peace, the sense that all is okay now, and will be okay no matter what we face. And that Christ will be exalted through our lives, and in everything.

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all for Jesus and the gospel

Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

Mark 8

There is nothing more key or central to our lives, we who are in Jesus, than our devotion to Jesus and the gospel. That is central in loving God, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, including even loving our enemies, as Jesus taught.

It’s all too easy to lose this focus, and get all wrapped up in necessary things. And we’re trying to love God and our neighbor in the process, but often more or less muddled up, hardly free enough to do so. What we need is a single eye, as in a heart set on faithfulness to Jesus and the good news of God in him. That is when the Spirit will take hold of us, and help us to truly live. It is a life brimming over and full of love, God’s love. But of course, it’s not easy. As Jesus points out here, it’s the way of the cross. And that’s not set aside after Jesus’s death and resurrection. Paul makes that clear, and others as well, both in their writings, and from the witness of their lives. While it isn’t easy, it is a life of righteousness, peace, and joy through the Holy Spirit.

When I’m in the dark, the Spirit can lead me into this light. A decent question to ask, which yes, has its limitations, but it is good for prayerful consideration: What would Jesus do? Jesus by the Spirit lives in us now. Our whole lives at home and everywhere else are meant to point others to him. And while we live, Christ also is our life, and the one who lives through us, even us with all our mistakes and problems along the way. But as we seek to live in him, he makes himself known not only to us, but to others. And it’s the love of Christ which not only compels us, but changes us through and through, so that we can become more and more like him, hopefully over time.

It’s never about us, but about Jesus and the gospel, the good news in him. That is where we find our real, true life. And the light and love which goes with it. In and through Jesus.

Jesus blesses children

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Matthew 19:13-15

I’m not sure what happens when we become adults. We easily become hard and cynical. And with the idea that we more or less have the measure of things. And it’s hard not to be that way in a world where so much is wrong, and in which we carry some of that wrong with us, even right in our hearts.

Jesus’s words here concerning children speak volumes to us, as to what God wants us to be, and how we will be when we fully arrive in the life to come when we see Jesus, and become like him in a finalized sense. And this is dynamic, by the way, and not static, so that there will be an ever increasing growth in the fixed state we’ll be in there. Exciting of course.

Jesus always spoke of God as Father, and taught his disciples to pray to God in that way: “Our Father…” And he taught that unless we change, are converted, and become like little children, we will never enter God’s kingdom (Matthew 18:3). We’re to have the faith of a little child.

And Jesus loves children. There is surely a special blessing from him for them, even to this very day. Childhood is an opportune time for children to meet Jesus in a new and lasting, eternal way. So that through the rough patches that come their way later, and through possible bad turns, God can help them come back to the life that is truly life. In and through Jesus.

 

romantic love

There is a kind of mystery to romantic love. It is definitely an important aspect of human life. See (and a good read for Valentine’s Day, or listen) Song of Songs, traditionally Song of Solomon.

Sadly, not everyone had a love which resulted in marriage in this life. But the tradition of allegorizing this song to mean something of God’s love and relationship to his people surely has some merit. The people of God, Israel, are said to be in a covenant with God which is likened to a marriage in the Old Testament. And we read in the New Testament that the church is the bride of Christ. All of us in Christ together.

There is no part of romantic love which isn’t good. Some might see the sexual part as somehow dirty, but it is a part of God’s good creation. It’s we who have cheapened it to mean something less than the place it has in a covenant relationship of love. But the sexual part is only one ingredient of romantic love. Closer to the heart of it is a sheer and really kind of mysterious mystique (to say the same thing in two words). How one can “fall in love” with someone else in a way which excludes all others. Hence the exclusive claim of God to be worshiped and against all idolatry. But also the importance of humans holding to the covenant with the one that was either chosen for them, or that they chose, in a special bond reserved only for each other. And making sure no one else takes that place.

For those who are single, and may have never been married, or perhaps have experienced the heartbreak and dishevel of divorce, or are a widow or widower, God’s promise extends to you to be for you what the missing partner would have been, and beyond that. Of course in a spiritual way, but in a way which can help you to be content in that love. And note the advantages to those who remain single in being devoted to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:25-40).

Today I celebrate my love with my wonderful wife, Deb, who is my true love and friend. We have been through much together. She has had to put up with me over the years, and we have seen rough patches in our relationship. But God has been so faithful. There is nothing I like as much as a good getaway with her, the longer the better. And I would like to be with her forever in the life to come.

But in Jesus we will all be one in the love of God. Not to say that old relationships will no longer matter, because I think they will, and will somehow be heightened and fulfilled in a way which is not possible in this life. But all in the love of God. The love extending to us to bind our hearts to him, to our beloved, and to each other in friendship. In and through Jesus.

nonviolent love

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5

One of the great legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is his call for nonviolent love. They practiced that amidst all the hate they encountered. They practiced a soul force as it was called, and regularly engaged in prayer and acted in love in the face of violence and hate. And in so doing, they followed the way of our Lord, who prayed for his enemies when he was nailed to the cross.

Do we know what it is to love in the face of evil? Like Dr. King said, it’s not an affectionate love, but rather a principled agape love, the love of God which is committed to the good of the enemy, for their redemption as one of God’s own into the family. So that they might become friends, and brothers and sisters.

Regardless of what anyone thinks about this, it’s true: we can utterly hate the deeds of someone, yet love that person. There is always hope in God, that somehow that person will come to repentance and faith and be delivered from their own evil through Jesus. But it’s not easy. Grace helps us, but doesn’t make the difficult places a cakewalk. But the same love from God which puts up with us, we’re to extend to others, to everyone, yes to our enemies. Following Jesus, in and through him.

 

Christians do those kinds of things

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

The idea that Christians do those kinds of things can actually be a two-edged sword. Professing-I say- Christians did evil in the Crusades and against Jews as well. Those who have named the name of Christ have not always lived up to that name. Not that we can match Christ, but we are to be a community as well as individuals who are Christ-like, strikingly different than society around us.

The difference was stark as well as more subtle, definitely pronounced when Christianity first came on the scene: a fulfillment of Judaism, and yet in a way that no Jews anticipated, so that what Christians did, Jews would never do. And in sharp contrast, indeed opposition to the rest of humanity, the other group of people than Jews being called Gentiles, in this case the Romans. Christians actively protected babies from abortion, were to be faithful to only one spouse, considered humility a virtue, and I’m sure on and on it goes. Old hat now, since the knowledge of the story, and of Christianity played out in churches for centuries throughout the world has given at least many a kind of image of what that means, oftentimes by this familiarity breeding contempt, at least losing sight of the revolutionary character of what it means to follow Christ, to be a Christian.

Sometimes we might pinch ourselves and ask why in the world we’re doing what we’re doing, and not doing other things. Christians have been criticized for doing what they do out of a religious motive in comparison to nonreligious people who do the same thing, it is said not out of a religious motive, but out of a heart of love. There is no question that church and Christianity can be an empty ritual and religion which might even cause more harm than good. Of that I sadly have no doubt.

But at the heart of what Christianity really means as to its goal is the actual fulfillment of what it means to be human. And at the heart of that is love played out in good works. Faith in Jesus is restorative to the humanity that God created in the first place through the new creation in Jesus. A Christian should epitomize what it means to be human. What that involves might be debated, but scripture gives a clear picture of what it is. There’s some overlap with society at large, because humans are made in the image of God. Therefore people everywhere believe that loving others is important. But that love, just like all else in creation can be distorted so that it’s twisted, often to a self-love which “loves” for its own use and pleasure at the expense of another. And often in marked contrast to Jesus’s teaching about loving one’s enemies.

So why do I do the things I do? And part of that frankly is putting up with myself, being patient with myself, and my own unhelpful foibles, repentant yes, but still patient. At the heart of that is the cross, and in Jesus’s death seeing God’s love for us, and forgiveness and new life extended to us in Jesus. So that we want to follow on that basis. And live and do as Jesus did. With ongoing forgiveness needed for both omissions and commissions which deviate from that. But nonetheless that trajectory being our goal and passion in life from day to day.

All of this by the grace (gift) of God in and through Jesus.

 

looking toward the love of Christ

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19

If there’s one passage of scripture I would like to get hold of me, this probably would be it. We need all of scripture, for sure. But this passage could help us to learn to live in a love that is present here and now, no matter what else we might be facing and experiencing. So that this love can both inform and form us.

Note that it’s Paul’s prayer for the believers who will receive this letter, and we could say by extension to all of us who receive this letter as part of our Bibles, God’s written word to us, to this present day.

This is a prayer which is frankly beyond me. We can parse out the words, and that’s good. I think it’s also good to acknowledge that by grace we have had at least a glimpse and taste of this. And in a certain sense we live with it all the time. But somehow too often it’s too far removed from our thoughts and experience.

What we need is a sort of makeover, do over, from God, of course. We are definitely involved in both an active, as well as passive sense in our faith. But in this prayer, especially in the posture of receiving God’s working by grace and the Spirit. Yes, in our individual lives, but together as well. The words translated “you” are plural in the Greek. And Ephesians as a letter stresses community, the church. So this is not some kind of solitary desert project, as I myself left on my own would tend to think. It is surely both communal and individual. We all experience it together from God. And certainly it is to shape our lives as individuals. In and through Jesus.