God behind and before us

For you shall not go out in haste,
and you shall not go in flight,
for the LORD will go before you,
and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

Isaiah 52:12

Right before the “suffering servant” passages we have this promise for Israel in the midst of subjugation by the foreign world power of that time, Assyria. All the promises of God we’re told are yes and amen in and through Christ. So, there’s something we can take from this for ourselves this day and time.

God is behind and before us to guide and protect us. We need to live appreciating that. It might well be true for us and is as long as we have faith. But we may not much if at all have any sense or experience of it. This truth should help us not to be afraid or panic as the passage above tells us. Because we have a certain inward rest even in the midst of difficulty, trial, whatnot, just all the inevitable twists and turns that life brings.

God will take care of it. God has our backs and knows all that lies ahead. There’s a certain mysticism which faith in God elicits. We can’t explain or understand it fully, except we know there’s one that fully understands, and though much seems out of control, and is definitely beyond our control, we also know that God is at work in all things for good, somehow in control in the midst of it all. So that our full confidence is only in God. In and through Jesus.

a new thing

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

Isaiah 43:18-21; NRSVue

Imagining something different can be God-given, a gift from God. Whether it’s personal or societal, hopefully both. We don’t want to think that we’re either forever in the same rut the rest of our lives, or that the world itself can’t improve in certain marked ways. I have to think though that God’s main work is in Christ within God’s people. Out from that touching and affecting everything. I think now of the sad, sometimes blatant racism which afflicts this nation and in various ways, the world. And other forms of injustice and wrong, as well.

God wants to do something new in our lives and through us into the lives of other, into the world at large, even if that ends up simply being a witness of how things ought to be. We must not let go of this thought, of this hope. This is from God, God’s word.

It will certainly be challenged, and we have to be ready for that. But unlike Israel of old…

Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob;
but you have been weary of me, O Israel!

Isaiah 43:22; NRSVue

….we need to persist in faith, “let go and let God,” take hold of God and God’s promises and insist on that and no less than that. Instead of being weary of God, not growing weary of claiming God’s promises and seeking to live in the clear, in God’s will ourselves along with others in Christ. And wanting to see that light shine out on a dark world. In and through Jesus.

“I prayer”

In return for my love they accuse me,
even while I make prayer for them.

Psalm 109:4; NRSVue

The footnote for the NRSVue translation here is “Syr: Heb I prayer”. Which means this depends on a Syriac rendering. The Hebrew simply says into English: “I prayer.” And that speaks to me. What should mark us, what should we be about? Of course in love, but prayer, prayer and more prayer. That should characterize us, our lives, what we do.

No matter what gift we might have, whatever charisma, etc., etc., etc., if we’re not people of prayer, we’re really not helping anyone. Blessed are those who see themselves as having little gift and no charisma, and yet set themselves to prayer. And blessed are all those around them as well as all the lives and the world they touch. Why? Because they set themselves to prayer.

The psalmist was praying in spite of what was going on around them. What follows is for our pondering, but in the way of Jesus, we continue to pray for those who persecute and hate us. God is the one who must act. All attention needs to be turned to God, not to anything else. And our attention included, as we look to God in prayer, in prayers, over and over again. Not stopping, the goal. In and through Jesus.

all things work together for good

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28; NRSVue

All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

Julian of Norwich

Do we really believe that God is somehow active in working all things together for good? That work is actually meant for all, to be experienced by God’s children. In a world which seems completely at odds with that. We might be able to trace some of this working in our imaginations, but it certainly requires faith on our part to begin to rest in this reality.

We get in trouble trying to unravel and figure it out ourselves. We just have to take it at face value for what we’re told here. All things, not some things. Work together, all in the mix. For good, meant for the good of all. Involved in that are all the peculiarities of God’s work, including God’s good judgment and the salvation which follows. And in the meantime, all the ins and outs, ups and downs, every struggle and circumstance of life, somehow even our own miscues and sins. For good. In and through Jesus.

failure of imagination

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

Isaiah 7:10-17; NRSVue

If there’s anything the Christianity I’ve seen is plagued with by and large, though with some notable exceptions, it’s simply the failure of imagination. And I mean imagination in the realm and reality of faith, not just our own imaginations. God wants us in faith to imagine better things with regard to our own lives, the lives of those we love, the world which we know and in which we live, and the world at large.

In the case of Ahaz, he was not only a weak king, but one who was not committed to God, and acted and lived accordingly. Yet God appealed to him as one who was a part of God’s people, in fact king of Judah at that point in time. And Ahaz refused to respond. Since Ahaz did not act in faith, he would receive the fruit of the way that he had chosen, as God’s word makes plain in the account above.

For us who profess faith in God through Jesus, what kind of faith do we have? Is only the inevitable going to happen, or can we imagine something better from God? And imagination here can mean simply an openness to say, I don’t know, but I do know that God can do what we possibly can’t imagine. At the same time though, God can give us an image and help us imagine something of what God might do, which even if not knowing the specifics, can sense the grandeur, glory and goodness of it.

It’s good though hard to really be aware of the dangers present in this time or any time. But it’s also just as important, if not more so, to become aware that God neither loses sight of this, nor is God not at work in it. And we need to know that God’s light is going to shine in this present darkness in ways we might not anticipate or want. But we have to steel ourselves for whatever that might involve, only by God’s grace. And hold on and not lose out on the blessed imagination that God wants to give us. In and through Jesus.

ratcheted up a notch

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like washer’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD, as in the days of old and as in former years.

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.

For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?”

Malachi 3:1-7; NRSVue

I’m not sure if anyone actually likes difficulty in and of itself. For other reasons, people might like it. To meet the challenge, to achieve some goal through it, maybe winning in competition, along with other reasons why people embrace what is hard. Hardship might be another matter, after all there’s surely a line drawn for each person, which they wouldn’t care to cross.

God was out to change the descendants of Levi, to purify them so that sin was being dealt with in their lives, and so that sin could be dealt with through their assigned task in the lives of others.

What about when we run into difficulty and what for us are impossible things to accept? Life won’t let us down that way. For some, especially who have plenty of material wealth, they may be able to glide through and pretty much avoid what are the common struggles for others. But even they can’t avoid everything, like possible sickness and eventual certain death. And difficulties will come their way as well, even if not so much circumstances, but disillusionment over emptiness in spite of being so well set.

God is active in people’s lives, and especially in those who name God’s name as those belonging to God and supposed to be the Lord’s followers. And part of that activity is not at all comfortable. “Refiner’s fire” and “washer’s soap” imagery above refer to purification and cleansing. We all need it. In the heat of life, what arises can be anything but pleasant, and not good. This can come through a multitude of small nagging things as well as a major concern which hangs over our heads.

But God is at work in that. It’s up to us to respond in being aware what sins need to be confessed, and the change that needs to come in our lives. And actually God is at work to ratchet us up a notch so to speak. So that we are becoming what before certainly was not the case. God is at work for great good, certainly including us. But we need to endeavor to accept that fully. So that we might be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1-2).

In and through Jesus.

what really matters?

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11; NRSVue

I wonder if Mary and Joseph would have done what they blessedly did if they would have been caught up in secondary matters. Maybe being caught up in details that would make no difference in fulfilling the task at hand, to get to Bethlehem to be registered in the required census. I’m sure they took care to help Mary be as safe as possible, along with the baby she was carrying near the end of her pregnancy.

And then came the time for birth. No place in the guest room, so a manger would have to do. Nothing fancy, and certainly not ideal, but what people were used to. But that opens up an entirely different conversation which we won’t go into here. I’ve not even investigated well enough myself. What is apparent might turn our understanding of the nativity largely on its head. But that doesn’t matter for this post.

Paul’s prayer for the believers in Philippi was certainly something God was helping Mary and Joseph with at this sensitive, crucial juncture. What really matters is something we need to be sensitive to, day after day. We can get so easily get sidetracked on nonessentials. I’m supposing that Mary and Joseph were not the kind of people who were easily distracted.

For us this will require God’s help. Yes, prayer, as the scripture passage indicates here. So that we don’t get lost in the weeds over secondary matters. The end result being that God is less encumbered by us to do God’s good work in us, and also so that the good works God has for us to do might be done always in love. The main point the focus while we let go of what really doesn’t matter. In and through Jesus.

when beset with disappointment

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Luke 1:5-7

God’s people had already waited so long, living at home like exiles since they were ruled by a foreign power. Not only did they not really have their own king regardless of whatever pretending Herod did and more to fill that position. Though God was supposedly their King, the promises of Scripture had not been worked out. And Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were old and childless, which for couples in those days was a blight, commonly thought to be a sign of a lack of God’s blessing in their lives.

I wonder if disappointments that we’re experiencing help prepare us for what God wants to bring in, that God maybe wouldn’t be able to do otherwise apart from such disappointments. Or at least we can say that God chooses to use such emptiness to fill it with the promise of God’s goodness. But fulfillment in this life is only partial, and comes with plenty of trouble. I’m thinking now of the birth of John and what follows. They did not live to see the ministry of their son, who adapts to living in the wilderness, perhaps having contact with the Qumran community (Dead Sea Scrolls), but with a message all his own from God. And we know all that follows. Certainly God’s work in moving hearts, but also in John’s death at the hands of Herod.

We live with disappointment at times, unfulfilled dreams, perhaps even promises in our minds. It seems like all is not what it was cracked up to be. But that’s when we look to God anew to fulfill what only God can bring about. That is what Advent is all about. We anticipate, preferably together God bringing to pass what God would do, and whatever part we might have in that. Certainly in the case of Elizabeth and Zechariah, they played an important role, which all considered, certainly had some formative affect in their son, John the Baptizer’s life. We can anticipate something that though not groundbreaking like that was, follows from it, of course through Jesus’s life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. God has something in the works for us as well, even if it is hidden from human eyes. God is at work, and our longings will be purified and fulfilled. In and through Jesus.

finding our rest in God and in God’s word

At that time Jesus said, “I thank[a] you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[b]All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:25-30

We’re told in Hebrews (4:11) to make every effort to enter into God’s promised rest in Christ. That seems paradoxical, but the idea includes rest from our own struggles and work, as we enter into God’s rest, and as we see from the passage and Christ’s invitation above, into God’s work as well. No matter what we’re going through or experiencing, this invitation is ever open to us. We hold on to this as our only rest, and let go of everything else. Even while we seek to be responsible in all the details of our lives. But finding both the rest and work we’re to do from, as well as in and through Christ.

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.