the psalms: where we live

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.

I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

Psalm 4

Part of the reason I think the psalms are so valuable is they talk a lot about experience. And that after all is where we live. We have our highs and lows, where we usually live, and oftentimes they’re punctuated with doubts and fears, being troubled. Then there are those times of peace and rest, sometimes even a sense of a kind of exaltation and joy. Well-being. But we sooner than later normally fall back into our default mode, which is whatever that might be. Hopefully with an increasing intentional drawing near to God as we go on, but sometimes mired in the depths.

But that is in large part why the psalms are so valuable and invaluable to us. We do well to read a psalm or two daily. And it is good from time to time to go meditatively through all the psalms. A part of God’s help for us as we live in the limitations and difficulties of this present existence and life.

In and through Jesus.

being preoccupied with Jesus and his teaching and vision, along with a complaint about the industrial revolution, and encouraging words about Mary and Martha

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

Especially in the past, there’s been many a discouraging word about Martha from this passage, along with encouraging words for Mary and those like her. I’ve noticed a redress to the point where you almost think the passage must surely be somehow exonerating Martha, and not giving the Mary there, the appreciation she deserves.

I think a careful look at John 11 along with this passage will help us appreciate both women, that they were both faithful followers of Jesus. Martha seems to have more of an assertive, take charge personality, while Mary seems more laid back, and more withdrawn. We probably side with one or the other, or see something of both in ourselves.

The problem with Martha which I think is evident in this passage is that she gets so preoccupied with necessary things, that she loses sight of what is altogether the most necessary. And as much as I can easily be withdrawn like Mary, which isn’t necessarily bad, I find too that certain matters can easily take up my complete attention to the point that I’m totally preoccupied with them, and not with the Lord.

That said, I want to say a word of praise for Martha. She surely was a master at what she did. She probably knew how to make up a meal and had the gift of hospitality with a flair. And when you think about it, that served Jesus and his disciples, along with whoever may have joined Martha, and her siblings Mary and Lazarus, very well.

Nowadays it sometimes seems that people change jobs and interests almost as often as clothes. While older folks like me tend to stay with one thing, the younger folks are much more flexible, which in itself is not bad. But for both what can be missing is really becoming good at something, and I mean good in the sense of decades of experience.

But for us who have done basically the same thing for decades, often it’s in terms of the Industrial Revolution in which work was depersonalized in most difficult, even dangerous work, or simply doing one simple thing all day, and all of that for a paycheck from an employer which all too often saw the bottom line as the only thing that mattered. But people were more than happy to do the same thing day in and day out to get what might have been a relatively good paycheck and benefits especially during the heyday of the unions. Essentially gone were the times when people specialized in this or that. With mechanization on an assembly line, it could all be done exponentially faster. Jobs were plentiful in those spaces, so that the breadwinner, normally always male, would get their job, and stay in it. Not only accepting the boredom, but enduring what was rugged, rough, even dangerous work, if it deserves to be called work. And oftentimes probably not living as long as a result. Even though we now live in “the post-industrial age,” we can’t assume that manufacturing jobs are of the past. Worldwide they are present, and still the backbone of much of what is going on in the business sector. All that to say, I think we tend to not even appreciate the gift of individuals like Martha as people once did, and don’t forget that Jesus was a carpenter, and surely a master at it.

The point I want to make here is not: Be like Mary and not like Martha. It’s more complicated than that. Instead whatever we not only have to do, but get to do in life, we need to in everything be preoccupied with Jesus, and with Jesus’s teaching and vision he cast. That is what should be our main preoccupation, even as we continue on day after day with the occupations and responsibilities we have.

And this is to be our preoccupation every day. For some reason I can easily slack off on weekends, and let up in that. I think it’s because there’s an element of rest from the busy and often hard workweek, and a kick back and relax kind of mentality. And we need some of that, indeed regular rest, even a weekly sabbath of sorts. But somehow within all of that we need to purposefully keep our Lord and his teaching and vision before us. Not only to help us, but so that we can find where we fit in our Lord’s vision along with everyone else. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s invitation

“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 11:28-30

I don’t know about you, but I know about me. It’s quite easy for me to take the burden of the world on my shoulders, or mostly the burden of my own world, which of course like everyone else’s, is challenging in itself. Even when I manage to get some soul rest in God, it’s not long before something else becomes concerning, and disconcerting.

Jesus’s invitation is absolute, for everyone at all times in every circumstance. Of course it’s specific: To those who are working hard at carrying heavy burdens and weary. Maybe fearful that they can’t keep it up, or just accepting the inevitable, and plodding on. It is to those that Jesus’s appeal comes. Not to the complacent, or those who think they can handle life themselves.

It’s an invitation to a yoke, an easy one. Alongside Jesus who surely bears the brunt of it, but who teaches us to live as he lived on earth: in complete dependence on the Father, trusting and then knowing that God will take care of it.

Something we need to keep coming back to again and again. And better yet, learn to live in. In and through Jesus.

when you’re tired

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31; NRSV

There are days when one is just tired, period. But when there’s little or no end in sight to the work that needs to be done, or that one has to do. Today is a day like that for me.

And we can be discouraged over so many things. Sometimes of our own making, many not.

But God wants us to get our eyes on God and God’s promises. Particularly for whatever help we need. Oftentimes given to us in surprising ways. Though as we learn to wait on God, we will know that it’s just a matter of time before God gives us the help and strength we need. Not that we should neglect proper rest. Which I intend to do right now.

In and through Jesus.

don’t go there

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.

Proverbs 4:25

This is applicable in oh so many ways, but whatever it is, good as it may seem, important, usually urgent, or whatever, we can learn what distracts us from God’s peace, indeed from God’s good will. This is part of training in godliness, not to go where we think we have to go, often with the sense of fixing something, maybe even panic over some perceived problem. Or it maybe something that we know is no good, like eating too much of the wrong food at the wrong time. Or something even worse. Often though it can be things that are not at all wrong in themselves in the proper place and space and time. We have to be responsible. We don’t just throw everything to the wind with the idea that the Lord will take care of it. God will, but we’re part of that so that we have to be engaged and responsible in life.

But to the point of this post. No matter what the thought, now urgent it may seem, we will do well and find much help in simply refusing to go there. And a key issue here is distraction. Whatever might be distracting us from what we are doing at the time, the necessary and good thing we’re doing is a sign that God is not in the distraction. It has the mark and scent of the devil. The Lord will speak to our hearts with a strong sense at various times, but always with much freedom. It’s more like an invitation, and never with the sense of rush to throw us into panic. Though there may be directives from the Lord when we ought to act at the time in a specific way. We have to develop a sensitivity to what’s of God and what’s not.

The thought, again in all kinds of ways, just don’t go there, is helping me. We seek to be responsible in everything, in all of life, but always in the love, care and calm of our God. In and through Jesus.

never a sense of final arrival in this life

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:3-6

I really wish it were not the case, but it seems like we have to go from one challenge to the next in this life. Thankfully along the way there are many places of rest, an oasis here and there, and when we get there, we don’t want it to end, and sometimes we might even imagine that somehow it won’t. But it does, partly due to our own incompleteness which comes to the surface again, and partly because we live in a world that is at odds with Christ; the world, the flesh and the devil in an unholy alliance together.

This life is a journey, and we are moving toward a destination not to be reached in this life. Together and individually, God is at work in our lives to complete what God began. God is not finished with us, so we are not done either. Like Paul says, we press on to the goal set for us, to take hold of that which God has for us.

Thankfully God helps us along the way and gives us needed peace and rest. Even with the sense of peace, we know God’s work in us and the world is not complete. So we continue on, looking forward to the Day when all will finally be done, and what we have begun to experience and become confirmed in will be completed. 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.

needed rest

A David Psalm

God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

Psalm 23; MSG

This well known, treasured psalm refers to the gamut of life, all of it. I would like to consider one part of it: Our need for rest.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.

Away from the pressures of all the responsibilities of life, not to mention all the drama and trauma which inevitably impacts our world along with the world at large, we need those escapes, even getaways, but I’m especially thinking of simple rest in whatever form that takes for us. We need it daily, but it’s good to have a special time of rest set apart once a week, as in the Sabbath Day of old. And it’s good to have seasons and times when we simply rest.

The portrayal of the Lord’s shepherding of us here includes this so that we can say it’s a necessary element of life. All too often we continue on day after day, and even through weekends in a more or less frazzled state, not catching our breath, but rather gasping for breath. That is not the life God intends for us.

Instead we need to accept the good shepherd’s shepherding of us, his sheep. Together as his flock, as well as what that means for us as his individual sheep. After that we’ll be ready for what lies ahead until the next needed rest comes.

True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

In and through Jesus.

when weary, keep going

Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it.

Judges 8:4

Gideon and his three hundred arrived at the Jordan and crossed over. They were bone-tired but still pressing the pursuit.

Judges 8:4; MSG

First of all, we read these passages today, all for our profit in some way, but not all are prescribing or describing how we’re to live as followers of Jesus. Much that is recounted actually was not good even in its time. So we can’t use this passage to sanction un-Jesus-like activity, such as violence, even when considering it just. We do see in what follows that Gideon sought to provide needed food for the men with him. So that’s indeed a good takeaway for us. We need to take care of ourselves, not just let the candle burn on both ends until we burn out.

But a good point for us to take home here is that when we’re weary, bone-tired, we need to keep doing whatever it is we’re called to do, or fulfilling the sense of calling God has given us. Yet remember the needed rest and sustenance, especially directly from God, both physically and spiritually.

We want to keep at it full bore, giving it everything we have, of course not just working hard, but smart as they say nowadays. Putting our full heart and strength into it. Even when we are so tired.

Rest is essential. But I’m talking about those times and days when it’s not easy to keep going, or you think you’re reaching the end of your strength. Remember that in our weakness the Lord’s strength is somehow perfected. We want to depend on the Lord, and look to God for renewed strength. We need that inwardly and outwardly, both. God will provide. We will make it through in all our weakness and imperfection, as we seek to follow the Lord, and what we know is good, right and true. In and through Jesus.

the importance of sleep and resting in God

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

Psalm 127:2

We recently received a picture of a baby in the most peaceful looking sleep you can imagine: idyllic, almost like angelic. It reminded me of how we need to rest in God. I’m reminded too of when Martin Luther equated sleep to faith that God was running the world.

For our physical well being alone, sleep is vital. Maintaining our circadian rhythm is important, as well. We need to go to bed and get up basically around the same time, while maintaining a healthy number of hours of sleep. I like to take naps when I can. All of this becomes more evident as we get older. We can’t do some of the crazy things we did when we were younger, or if we do, we learn that our body just can’t take it like it used to.

Getting our needed sleep or physical rest as we see in this psalm can be an expression of faith in God. We hurry, scurry and worry about this and that and everything else. In this life there is often no end to that. When God would have us do something much better. Learn to rest in him.

Of course this doesn’t mean at all that we skirt our responsibility, or that we don’t have legitimate concerns. But in all of that, we learn more and more to depend on God. And know in the end that our ability, even our effort, and the outcome all depend on God, God’s faithfulness in the end, and not our own. We thankfully are not God. Indeed we can rest in God and need to do so even when we’re awake. Helping us to get the sleep we need. In and through Jesus.