the necessary calm in the face of the storm

If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,”
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.

Psalm 73:15-17

This psalm is not only one of the most interesting, but also if you can say this, one of the most beautiful (click above to see the psalm in its entirety). The psalmist is struck and grieved over what they see which seems to fly in the face of what is supposed to be. And down in the mouth as a result.

But the psalmist gets a necessary grip on themselves in noting that honesty to their children, to their progeny about this would be not only be bad for them, but unfaithful to God. Interestingly we have all of this set in front of us for all to see within the psalm itself. The exact struggle the psalmist is going through, not uncommon by the way, in Scripture. And the breakthrough into an answer that is otherworldly and requires faith. Helpfully, all of that is set before us.

But how does this translate into our lives? We are completely honest to God, pouring out our entire heart such as it is to God, seeking to cast our burden entirely on God. But before others, especially those who would not be ready for what we would share, as well as the realization that so sharing to others may not be timely and could even be unhelpful, we hold our peace.

Notice that the psalmist doesn’t say anything to anyone about this entire episode until after they enter into the sanctuary of God. I take that to refer probably to the temple, certainly the idea of entering God’s Presence. Then they speak/write the whole, but not until then.

So when we face the latest cloud within our experience, we do well to pray, and keep it to ourselves. Maybe sharing it only with a mentor, close significant other, or friend. But maybe keeping it just between ourselves and God might be a good practice. Seeking to draw near to God to get the needed vision and help. Then what we’ve experienced might be a help to others. In and through Jesus.

loyalty and faithfulness

Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good repute
in the sight of God and of people.

Proverbs 3:3-4

We are reminded here that loyalty and faithfulness ought to be priorities in our lives. Instead too often we let other factors weigh in and we all but forget this.

There are limits in life, and lines and boundaries that need to be drawn. An abusive partner should not be allowed to continue their abuse, even if that means that one has to depart. Loyalty and faithfulness does mean through thick and thin, “for better and for worse till death do us part.” Marriage is referred to here. But even in marriage, one does not accept abuse. The partner must get the needed help, and there can come the time to separate and God forbid, even annul the marriage. But insofar as it’s possible, and whatever that might mean in any given stage, loyalty and faithfulness should continue. But the loyalty and faithfulness normally required is no longer required in the abnormal circumstances which can occur. All of this requires God-given wisdom.

While all of that is necessarily said, loyalty and faithfulness ought to be staples of our character. We are committed in love to those who are dear to us and have commitments in friendship with others. Many would think of loyalty to a company or workplace, and while there may be some application of that here, what is mostly referred to here his loyalty to people. That certainly involves faithfulness in what we do in the workplace and in other spaces.

Anything at all which might violate this should be considered anathema, in other words worse than unacceptable. “We just don’t go there” should be the mark by which we live by, even our passion. At the same time, we don’t imagine for a second that we’re above falling. We factor in our weaknesses, and pray, and work on living fully in God’s will without compromise, lovingly doing so, but even sharply in places, if need be. And when needed we get counseling along with prayer from others.

Loyalty and faithfulness. Two watch words for us. To always be in the picture of our lives. In and through Jesus.

unhealthy doubt

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:5-8

God does not despise the one who struggles with doubt. The classic example of Thomas the doubter comes to mind. There is a gentle rebuke in our Lord’s dealing with him, but the Lord did not reject him.  Actually the raising of doubt can be an expression of faith. We see it throughout Scripture, Job being one prime example. Job along with many psalmists questions God, raises concerns, in essence they are honest to God.

What James is talking about here is fundamentally different. In the context it’s referring to doublemindedness, no longer really grappling with God, or taking God at God’s word. According to James, it isn’t necessarily that the doubter isn’t praying. But evidently it’s either an empty religious exercise, or becomes that since the one praying is not believing God will come through, not trusting God. It comes across to me as a kind of half hearted prayer in contrast to the healthy doubter who is fully engaged in their wrestling with God.

What I believe we can be assured of is that God will honor our sincere attempt to pray as James (and our Lord in the gospels) tells us to here. It’s not like we have to be perfect, though God can give us a certain faith during such times. We seek to be fully committed to God, open to God’s correction along the way. God will help us to grow in faith and offer the prayer of faith, giving us the needed wisdom we’re asking for, or whatever else we may request in God’s will. In and through Jesus.

prayer can change things, and prayer can change us

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

James 5:16b-18

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Genesis 32:24-31

the book of Job (1-42)

It’s easy to see from the biblical account how prayer can change things. And any of us who have witnessed this kind of practice for very long at all can attest to the same in our experience. But it will become equally evident over time that prayer can change us as well. I don’t say here that prayer changes things and prayer changes us, but there’s surely value in all sincere prayer. Even if it doesn’t seem to hit pay dirt, and seems to make no difference at all, I don’t think there’s anything we can actually do that is as great as praying. Yes, we need to do other things as well, but prayer ought to precede them all.

From the above Scripture, we can indeed see that prayer matters, both in terms of situations, and how we are affected in the process of praying. True prayer involves thanksgiving to God, confession of sin, praise of God for God’s acts, the worship of God. And in both set as well as spontaneous praying, either can be just as effective and I believe we actually need both. But in praying for a situation, we end up not only grappling with our situations, but with ourselves in the process. We might be in the way of God’s answer, and in terms of something in our character, perhaps a specific sin issue. God works to help us see and work through that. And we can’t forget that prayer does oftentimes involves spiritual battle. The enemy does not want us to pray.

So we need to hold on to this truth, and above all put it into practice. In and through Jesus.

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.

pray in secret

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:5-6

It’s encouraging to be told by someone that they are praying for you. Usually such people really take prayer seriously and faithfully practice it. Of course on media such thoughts can at least seem cheap. Which is why we need to follow through, and I would think, most people do.

To actually be prayed for is a blessing. And to be praying for others. If we’re concerned that others know about our prayer life, their knowing might be our only reward, as our Lord tells us in the above passage. If there’s one thing we should do above anything else, as far as an act goes, it should be praying.  But if we want others to know about our prayer life, then we don’t have the heart of prayer God wants. Part of that heart is a broken and contrite spirit, acknowledging our faults including the desire to be seen and noticed at times, so that people might look up to us.

The heart in prayer God wants is that prayer might be our life breath, but also as utterances throughout the day, and on special occasions. As well as having a heart to listen to whatever God might be saying to us. And with the desire not to be noticed, but for God’s blessing on others to God’s praise. In and through Jesus.

work at praying

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

Ephesians 6:18

This is in the classic spiritual warfare passage, but doing what that passage directs is not supposed to be just on special occasions or situations that call for it, but ongoing, regularly, we might say daily. And though it’s to be done “in the Spirit,” we can see from “keep alert” and “always persevere” that it requires work.

It would be nice if we could just step in and do it, and I think in a certain sense that can happen, God encouraging us as a result. But for this to become a practice of our lives day in and day out will require long term commitment, effort, and growth on our part. To have the intent is necessary, but it’s the follow through which often falls through.  We shouldn’t despair because that will happen, but see that as a wake up call to pray.

I think this goes beyond lifting up others to God once a day, or maybe even more, though that’s good and needed. What we need to learn is what wrestling in prayer for someone and for all of God’s people looks like. If we’re ready to learn, God will surely teach us. I write this as a novice at best in this. But wanting to grow and find my way into some space in this way, some fixed place of significant, ongoing practice. In and through Jesus.

how do we grow? trials

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

I recently heard a pastor say essentially that we don’t grow except through trials. I don’t know if that’s an overstatement. They have been in the ministry a good number of years and are older than many of us themselves, and I know they have far more wisdom through that pastoral experience and in their lives than I do. It seems to me we might mount an argument from passages like 2 Peter 1 to say that growth can occur apart from trials. But it does seem true to a significant extent as we consider our own lives and the lives of others. It’s so easy to drift, which results in actually diminishing in our spiritual life. We probably don’t just remain the same. We are probably growing or losing ground. Well, that’s some speculation.

But we’re clearly told here at the beginning of this letter how we’re to approach trials of any kind. That we’re to consider such as nothing but joy. That is not easy to swallow, but that is to be our mindset and attitude. It is sadly easier to wallow in fear, despair and grief. Instead we’re to approach each in an active faith, as well as passive in the correct sense, that of receiving from God. And we’re to look at life that way, all the problems and troubles we face, and again, whatever kind they might be. No exceptions.

I find this so helpful myself. There are many reasons left to ourselves to be down in the mouth and simply wanting to escape. But God wants us to meet all of life head on, but in full dependence on the Lord, along with interdependence on each other. But finding our way so that we can stand on our own, but only because of God, along with the help of others along the way. What God has for each one of us. In and through Jesus.

God hears our sincere even uninspired prayer

Of David.

To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, do not refuse to hear me,
for if you are silent to me,
I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Hear the voice of my supplication,
as I cry to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary.[a]

Do not drag me away with the wicked,
with those who are workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors,
while mischief is in their hearts.
Repay them according to their work,
and according to the evil of their deeds;
repay them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord,
or the work of his hands,
he will break them down and build them up no more.

Blessed be the Lord,
for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
O save your people, and bless your heritage;
be their shepherd, and carry them forever.

Psalm 28

There are times when prayer seems so empty. Maybe I should say there are those special, relatively unusual times, when it seems inspired, as if some wind was blowing in one’s heart, giving special love to pray, as well as insight. Contrast that to the times when the soul feels like it’s in a desert. That God is far off, the soul dry. And where hope is gone, no sense of the divine. Fortunately that is not the usual either, but there are times and seasons when we can seem stuck in that.

What we need to get rid of is the idea or notion that when we feel empty our prayers don’t matter. Sincere prayers do matter to God, and we might even say especially when they come with difficulty and no sense of God’s help. I’m not sure we can measure prayer that way. Yes we’re to pray in the Spirit at all times (Ephesians 6), but no, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require effort on our part. And as humans we experience many emotions and conditions which can make prayer difficult. But when we open up the psalms we should be encouraged since so many of them come from a troubled heart.

Something to remember and be encouraged by. In and through Jesus.

devotion to prayer (a good reminder yesterday at a dear aunt’s funeral)

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2

Yesterday we remembered the life of a dear aunt along with her blessed family. Among the things which stood out other than the love which was central to her life lived out in Christ, was her practice of prayer. Her husband, and a dear uncle who preceded her in death some months back used to join her at least one set time to pray most everyday. And as I heard it, she spent significant time praying morning and evenings. This was such an encouragement to hear, and a great blessing to her family, and from what was said, to a good number of other people, as well. Prayers from her and my uncle answered by God is wonderfully evident in the testimony and love of the family gathered yesterday.

I have been much helped through following the morning and evening office in the back of the new Mennonite hymnal, Voices Together (985, 987). I don’t ordinarily necessarily feel like doing it, although I know it is an oasis of being in Scripture and in a couple of hymns/songs in the book, as well as directed prayer. I find in doing so, God’s help, since I certainly can’t pray well without that, really can’t pray at all one could say in a true sense. I pray first for myself and those dear to me (family, friends), next for our community and neighbors, then for the church, for the world, and for other concerns carried in my heart. I am finding this resource so helpful for me. Hopefully, and I’m confident that by God’s grace this is the case, the prayers are a means of God blessing others. But I am much blessed myself in so praying.

It was a good reminder yesterday to us, the importance of prayer. What God can do, which none of us can do by ourselves or together, indeed, what God wants to do, even using us many times in that special work. Wonderful that we can bring ourselves, our loved one, and all of our concerns, as well as the concerns of others before God in prayer. In and through Jesus.