just pray

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27

In some ways prayer is the easiest thing we can do, in other ways the hardest. It can seem like our prayers don’t matter, a completely empty exercise. Or that we’re on our own. I think one point we can draw from this passage in Romans 8 is that we should simply pray. Just pray.

We are weak and our prayers often weak, seeming to amount to nothing. But the Spirit helps us in our weakness, interceding for us probably through our wordless groans. In other words, we might be at a loss for words, but the Spirit more than makes up for that deficit.

But the point is, we just need to pray. Not give up, as we’re told elsewhere (Luke 18), but pray. Pray, pray, and pray some more. Our weakness is the opportunity for God’s moving through the Spirit to intercede mightily. For us, and on behalf of those we’re praying for. In and through Jesus.

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how do we face the evil and trouble of this world?

Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.

Job 14:1

Live and you will see trouble. You don’t have to look for it. Sad to say, even evil, as well.

Job challenged it head on, both complaining about God and to God. Although he maintained his integrity, and did not abandon his faith in God, God was not entirely pleased with him as we can tell from God’s answer to him out of the whirlwind indicating his displeasure (Tremper Longman III) later. Job received what for him was a new revelation from and of God.

There’s no escape from trouble in this world, both in simply being human, and in following the Lord. We live in the midst of it. I once heard of a community built to avoid it. But alas, it is in this life, in this world, the real world. That community I think, no longer exists. Such a place truly does not exist in this life. So we’d better get used to it. So what are we going to do about it?

It turns out that what we can do is often limited. Job’s friends did well when they simply sat on their hands in silence for seven days with Job. They didn’t do well when they began to open their mouths, neither did the young man at the end, for whatever truth they told. They had it all figured out. Job himself was trying, but more like challenging God based on what he thought he knew.

My only answer, myself, is that God is with us through the troubles. It’s not like God can’t deliver us from them, but ordinarily it seems like God is simply with us.

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

And we take comfort in the fact that just as the psalmist says, God is at work in it. Indeed, as it says, comfort comes from God’s care over us. So maybe that means we simply need to settle in, in faith believing that God will see us through.

It can become more difficult in a way when our concern is for others. In fact it can become too heavy a burden to carry. We need to keep coming to God in prayer. God can do what we can’t possibly do. Even undo what has been done. And redeem. We need to hold on in faith, knowing that in the end, God and his good will prevails. Not only out of the trouble, but somehow through it. In and through Jesus.

 

when there’s no fear of God

I have a message from God in my heart
concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:
There is no fear of God
before their eyes.

In their own eyes they flatter themselves
too much to detect or hate their sin.
The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;
they fail to act wisely or do good.
Even on their beds they plot evil;
they commit themselves to a sinful course
and do not reject what is wrong.

Psalm 36:1-4

At work we just finished running “The Wisdom Books: Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes” in the Our Daily Bread Ministries Discovery Series, Understanding the Bible, by Tremper Longman III. Quite good. One part that stood out to me is just how apart from the fear of God, little else matters if you’re looking for godly wisdom. Or just wisdom period as spelled out in the Bible, specifically Proverbs. Longman points out how there are sayings in the book of Proverbs that anyone might agree with, but that all of them are to be seen in the context of the fear of God. Which is awe and respect, even reverence for who God is, God’s mighty power and even love.

This is a fundamental difference between those who are Christians and those who are not. I’m not saying that no others have any fear of God. But only in Christ who himself is the ultimate wisdom does one come into a saving relationship with God. And the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs). Without it there’s no godly wisdom at all.

The psalm quoted above makes the point that those who don’t have the fear of God don’t have any of the humility that goes with that. The fact of the matter is that God is God and we’re not. That should help us pay attention to our thoughts and attitudes, and put many of them on check with some repentance along the way.

After thoughts on those who don’t fear God, the psalmist turns their attention to God, asks God for his protection, and expresses certainty of the wicked’s downfall and demise. A primary difference between those who fear God and those who don’t is that the former turn to God, while the latter most certainly don’t. Christians pray for those who persecute them. So looking to God when troubled by others is both prayer for God’s intervention and their salvation. In and through Jesus.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

Continue your love to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.
May the foot of the proud not come against me,
nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
See how the evildoers lie fallen—
thrown down, not able to rise!

 

prayer for the president

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2:1-6

I appreciate the faithful witness of David Platt, a pastor in the D.C. area, who had a most unexpected visitor this past Sunday, the president himself. Read, and especially watch the clip where he prays for the president.

There’s no question that we need to be faithfully in prayer, as the text tells us, for everyone, and specifically as well for those in positions of governing authority. Ultimately for the sake of the gospel, as well as for the good of all.

If we prayed as much as we criticize, it might be a better world. At least there would be less of our grumbling. To turn that into petitions to God in prayer, is surely more than a good idea. It’s challenging to try to keep up with the news, which I think Christians should, without becoming swallowed up and consumed by it. To step back, really out of that, and be in prayer for governing authorities, lifting up our specific concerns seems far better than a more or less 24/7 exposure to the news media, available to us nowadays.

May the Lord help the president and all in congress, in the legislature and judicial, to seek him, and have the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. May they begin to hear God’s voice to govern in a way which is truly for the good of all, and honoring to God. May our prayers include all governing authorities from every nation, even though we surely can’t name them all. And may I be more faithful in the same prayer.  In and through Jesus.

 

the blessing of the hard places

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

No one likes hard places of any kind. In the text, outward circumstances which the Israelites disliked almost from the start, and came to contrast it with their familiar experience as slaves, yes slaves back in Egypt. It’s almost like they preferred slavery, although they had short memories. Rather than the freedom which depended on ongoing faith in God. God was indeed bringing them into unfamiliar, even hard places, to help them realize their own weakness, to humble them and teach them their utter need of God and his word.

All Scripture is meant to teach us. God does something of the same for us his people today. We experience circumstances or are in places which are not comfortable, or just plain challenging. And oftentimes we experience what’s been called inward privations. We are uncomfortable to say the least, with no peace. And sometimes horror. It’s like spiritual warfare when we’re up against the enemy trying to hold us down to take us out. That’s when we want to look to the pertinent passages in Scripture and pray. Committing ourselves to God as we claim his promises.

I have found that in such places I can have a new appreciation for prayer, not just for myself, but also for others. It’s almost as if God needs to submerge me into loss so that I can gain something I didn’t have before. In the midst of it all, God really does provide. And once we’ve come out of it, we can be better people because of it. Hopefully we’re deepened and matured. So that like Jacob, we walk with a limp, but are worshipers of God.

The blessing of the hard places. Not really where I ever want to go. But blessed so that we can be a blessing in and through Jesus.

 

 

God’s promise of anxiety-overcoming peace

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Like so many things in the Christian life, the directive here is radical and goes beyond our understanding of things, or what we might do left to ourselves. Off and on I’ve struggled with anxiety. Oftentimes I’ve more or less given up, and just learned to live with it.

It could be translated that we’re not to worry or be anxious, either one. There are few things more debilitating than anxiety. It seems to eat at the core of our being, and take the heart out of life, so that what we do is a mechanical grind. When we’re anxious, we’re failing to trust and rest in God’s provision for us in Christ.

This Scripture probably is helping us both to avoid anxiety or worry, or know how to deal with it when it strikes us. We’re told in every situation what to do. The same thing: with thanksgiving, pray. Prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. Specific requests to God with thanksgiving.

I know that in the past I’ve done this even in a poor way, and found the promise to be true. It’s an act of faith. And God does come through.

Sometimes it can be particularly difficult. I’ve gone through days into weeks in the past, basically not realizing this peace, surely because I failed to follow this directive. Likely a part of the spiritual warfare all believers experience (Ephesians 6:10-20). The enemy knows that anxiety is one way to trip us humans and strip us of God’s peace. And they know our weak, vulnerable places, as well.

The answer in the passage quoted above is simple. We’re to do it. God will help us through whatever we’re facing. But he wants to do so while we have his peace. The peace of God which goes beyond any understanding we have. That is our call and privilege in and through Jesus.

what to do with pain

There are days when it seems like you get up out of the wrong side of the bed. When thoughts, usually one at a time, but they can then come in streams, trouble you. Add to that, you might have a chronic physical malady such as a headache, backache, or some other body ache from a past injury or physical condition. There’s no doubt that pain is a fact of life. It’s inevitable.

I think the worst pain is spiritual. Something gnawing in our souls. Actually the physical and especially the mental pain from discouraging thoughts often stem from the emptiness of, or any kind of attack on one’s spiritual well being. There just is no doubt, to underline the thought, that pain is a matter we off and on live with. Some chronic, like evidently Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Or acute, for a period of time, sometimes a long time, but sooner or later passing.

First thing I would like to say in addressing pain: don’t give into it. At the same time, pay attention to what might underlie it. Physical pain can be a blessing if it can point us to the source of whatever problem we might have, so that it might be alleviated. Whatever other pain we have is probably indicative of something beneath the surface, coming up so that maybe through confession and prayer, and sometimes through counseling and medication we can deal with it.

Not giving into pain does not mean we either deny its reality, or simply get rid of it with the right formula. Instead we want to stand steadfast in faith regardless of whether or not the pain can be relieved or not. A big test of faith is simply to remain in it in bad times and good.

Pain can be a blessing because God may be bringing something to our attention that needs prayer and simply being present. Ultimately since we’re in Christ, pain should not be seen as threatening. It is a part of this life. Scripture tells us that someday all pain will be gone, but not in this life. Until that time, let’s accept the inevitable, and in faith and prayer find what is helpful in it. Above all, finding God’s presence and help through it. In and through Jesus.