rejoice in the Lord always

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4:4

I’ve not been one, at least for the most part who has got into praise and worship music. I’m returning to hymns lately, since coming back to the tradition of my childhood, the Mennonites. And with them, some worship songs in the new hymnal. Singing can help us, a gift from God, and not just to help us praise, but to also help us lament along with all the other both proper and natural human responses from our experiences in this world.

For me it has been most helpful lately to simply rejoice in the Lord, to rejoice in God. In doing so, we rejoice in God, in the Lord just for who God is. We rejoice in God’s person. We praise God for God’s goodness, for God’s works. We worship God because God is deserving of highest honor and praise, awe and love. And we thank God for all of God’s answers to our prayers, for God’s mercy and grace.

I find that as I practice rejoicing in the Lord, in Jesus, in God- whether I feel like it or not, then it might begin to be a habit, and a habit which is accompanied with the joy of the Lord. One of the reasons we do this is because we believe in God, in God’s love, that God will take care of everything, that God is with us no matter what, and that in the end God will somehow make all things right and good. We trust in the Lord, our confidence in God. In and through Jesus.

cheerfulness, regardless

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; MSG

I am finding Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible interesting and helpful, even illuminating, though I still don’t really get well the instructions in regard to the tabernacle and priestly things, etc., in the Old/First Testament. But I get a new sense even of those things.

I found particularly helpful lately the rendering above that we’re to be cheerful no matter what. I never really connected well with the idea of rejoice always, since I’m not really a celebratory, high five kind of person. I would rather sit huddled with a book, listening to classical music, then be at a modern day praise and worship service, though admittedly in the past, I have enjoyed some of that. But rejoicing just isn’t much in either my vocabulary, or makeup. 

But cheerfulness, or at least refusing to be dour and down in the mouth about something, now that makes plenty of sense to me. When Paul tells us to be cheerful no matter what, okay, I can take that home, even if such an idea seems far fetched, just not what I do in every circumstance. 

I take cheerfulness as both an attitude and action here. It is an expression of faith, and part of how we’re to live. I like too the way The Message renders that thought, because that probably gets closer to what Paul actually means than the way I took it in the past: More or less something we’re almost swept up into in our life in Christ Jesus. Instead this brings out the necessary thought that it’s up to us to do it. We have to do it, although yes, the Spirit will help us.

So we don’t live as those left to ourselves with our normal often unhealthy, unhelpful reactions to all the difficulties and problems which come our way. Instead we want to take the way God has for us. To be cheerful no matter what, pray all the time, and thank God no matter what happens. Yes, something we do. Of course in response to what God has done, is doing, and will do for us in and through Jesus. 

 

Thanksgiving Day: Psalm 107

Oh, thank God—he’s so good!
His love never runs out.
All of you set free by God, tell the world!
Tell how he freed you from oppression,
Then rounded you up from all over the place,
from the four winds, from the seven seas.

Some of you wandered for years in the desert,
looking but not finding a good place to live,
Half-starved and parched with thirst,
staggering and stumbling, on the brink of exhaustion.
Then, in your desperate condition, you called out to God.
He got you out in the nick of time;
He put your feet on a wonderful road
that took you straight to a good place to live.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.
He poured great draughts of water down parched throats;
the starved and hungry got plenty to eat.

Some of you were locked in a dark cell,
cruelly confined behind bars,
Punished for defying God’s Word,
for turning your back on the High God’s counsel—
A hard sentence, and your hearts so heavy,
and not a soul in sight to help.
Then you called out to God in your desperate condition;
he got you out in the nick of time.
He led you out of your dark, dark cell,
broke open the jail and led you out.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves;
He shattered the heavy jailhouse doors,
he snapped the prison bars like matchsticks!

Some of you were sick because you’d lived a bad life,
your bodies feeling the effects of your sin;
You couldn’t stand the sight of food,
so miserable you thought you’d be better off dead.
Then you called out to God in your desperate condition;
he got you out in the nick of time.
He spoke the word that healed you,
that pulled you back from the brink of death.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves;
Offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
tell the world what he’s done—sing it out!

Some of you set sail in big ships;
you put to sea to do business in faraway ports.
Out at sea you saw God in action,
saw his breathtaking ways with the ocean:
With a word he called up the wind—
an ocean storm, towering waves!
You shot high in the sky, then the bottom dropped out;
your hearts were stuck in your throats.
You were spun like a top, you reeled like a drunk,
you didn’t know which end was up.
Then you called out to God in your desperate condition;
he got you out in the nick of time.
He quieted the wind down to a whisper,
put a muzzle on all the big waves.
And you were so glad when the storm died down,
and he led you safely back to harbor.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.
Lift high your praises when the people assemble,
shout Hallelujah when the elders meet!

God turned rivers into wasteland,
springs of water into sunbaked mud;
Luscious orchards became alkali flats
because of the evil of the people who lived there.
Then he changed wasteland into fresh pools of water,
arid earth into springs of water,
Brought in the hungry and settled them there;
they moved in—what a great place to live!
They sowed the fields, they planted vineyards,
they reaped a bountiful harvest.
He blessed them and they prospered greatly;
their herds of cattle never decreased.
But abuse and evil and trouble declined
as he heaped scorn on princes and sent them away.
He gave the poor a safe place to live,
treated their clans like well-cared-for sheep.

Good people see this and are glad;
bad people are speechless, stopped in their tracks.
If you are really wise, you’ll think this over—
it’s time you appreciated God’s deep love.

the uncertainty of life

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

During this pandemic, this truth ends up being underscored to all. Life is uncertain, and certainly brief. Death is inevitable, but unpredictable as to its time. And this uncertainty includes all our plans. It’s not like we shouldn’t prayerfully, deliberatively, with good counsel, and over time make plans. But we have to be ready for God to disrupt them.

This doesn’t mean we have to live on edge. Indeed as children of God we shouldn’t. We should be thankful for each new day, for each new week and weekend of course, for each new month, season and year. They’re all gifts from God. We shouldn’t take them for granted. They’re all a part of the gift of this life.

All depends on the Lord’s will. We can actually rest assured in that. God somehow fits his will into where we’re at, into all the interwoven circumstances, surroundings and people. We have our part and place for a time. Then it will be gone, no more.

All in God’s good will and time.

effort needed to overcome anxiety

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

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

God is the one who relieves us of our anxiety and worry through Christ. Only God can do that. But it does require our effort. That is clear in the above passages. We have to pray instead of worry. But when worry overcomes us, we cast that on God. That requires our effort.

Anxiety and worry is not God’s will for us. We sometimes hold on to it as if it’s our duty, or like it’s God’s will for us. We somehow think we’re to take care of the underlying issue, solve the problem causing the worry. When all God wants us to do is pray, telling him the problem, giving him thanks, with the promise that the peace of God beyond our understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In other words, God will keep us from anxiety and worry, or take it away from us. We’re also told to cast all our anxiety on God, because God cares for us.

That requires effort on our part. We can’t just wish God would do something about our anxiety, and we certainly shouldn’t hold on to it as if it’s our duty and responsibility. Instead we’re to relinquish the problem entirely to God in thankful prayer. To cast what anxiety we have on God. God wants us not to be overcome with anxiety, but sometimes we will, too often for some of us. God doesn’t say we’re on our own when that happens, but tells us to cast all of it on him. Because he cares for us.

Something I’m working on, and have to do off and on. In and through Jesus.

fret not

do not fret—it leads only to evil.

Psalm 37:8b

I know I’m pulling this out of context, but I think the point I’m going to make is not contradictory to the point the passage is making. It’s taking matters into our own hands due to excessive worry. And when we do that, I know by experience we can make matters worse.

The Bible has a radical answer for God’s people. Don’t worry; don’t fret. The clearest directive for us is something I’ve shared times before, and I’m sure I’ll share again, Lord willing.

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

That is radical. We’re not to worry, not to be anxious about anything at all. Instead we’re to trust God. Bringing our concern thankfully to God. And we have the promise that God’s peace which transcends our understanding will guard both our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. That reminds me of another passage.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

It’s a matter of trust: “trust and obey.” We find out what we can, but above all, we put the matter into God’s hands. He’ll take care of it. God can change anything. Or God will work for good in any and everything, even that which in and of itself is not good.

We just need to quit fretting, and instead pray. Develop that new habit and pattern until it becomes a part of who we are when we’re faced with fear. In and through Jesus.

 

shattering the freeze (of the “frozen chosen”)

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Life is full of problems and sometimes you simply see yourself as trying to solve, or at least mitigate the problems. The question for us as Christians is simply how do we respond to trouble when it comes our way. Maybe the same thing over and over again, so that it’s naturally irritating to us.

God’s written word tells us what to do. Too often as Christians what we know and say we believe is not what we practice. It’s not like we can’t complain to God. See the psalms. But we need to practice rejoicing in God always, since God is God, being good, not to mention great, and is true to his promises. And to thank God again and again for all the blessings of life, for all of God’s goodness to us. And in the midst of that, as the passage above tells us, to pray, and to keep on praying.

We need to break through our natural reticence to do this. Just do what God tells us to do, and we’ll find God’s help in doing it. And then we need to keep doing this, forming a new pattern and practice that becomes a part of who we are, so that this becomes our natural response to the inevitable difficulties of life.

Something I’m in the midst of working on. In and through Jesus.

Psalm 103 (Happy Thanksgiving!)

Of David.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

Praise the Lord, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

a life of prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

I have always found the idea of continued ongoing prayer fascinating. There are “prayer warriors,” people given to prayer. Scripture indicates there’s a spiritual potency in that, especially when God’s people do it together. But also with individuals who had a special calling or closeness to God. I once heard of a monastery which basically is devoted to prayer. Those involved pray for the world: for nations, for the church, etc.

It seems to me that given my life circumstances and what I see around me, God is calling me to a life of prayer. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like given my busy enough schedule. Lots of dead ends in life and other activities which can fill up one’s time cram my day along with what I have to do. So I’ve decided to step back and try to learn and step into a life of prayer.

When it comes to prayer, I think God has helped me come a long way. But I also know that I have a long way to go. All too often I can be relatively prayerless, or seem to be running on empty when it comes to prayer. I’ve heard it said that when praying seems most difficult, we should pray all the more. I find it all too easy not to pray at all, or at the most, very little. There are rare times when I feel like praying, when it seems so evident that the Spirit is giving me the push, desire, and love to pray. So I try to really take advantage of that in prayer for others and about ongoing concerns.  But by and large day after day I have to plod along in what can seem to be mundane prayer, though by faith I know better. I believe in praying when it seems empty. Yet I long to grow in my prayer life.

So along with being in the word throughout the day, I want to be in prayer. Devoted to prayer, as the above text tells us. Watching for God’s answers and moving, and expressing thanks for such. In and through Jesus.

don’t be anxious

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

If there isn’t one thing to be anxious or worried in this life, there’s another, and plenty others. There’s really no end to the number of things we can be upset over or worried about. Some are more prone to worry than others. There are people who seem to take life in stride, everything in stride, though often enough, if you would really get to know them, underlying that appearance is a cloud of anxiety within.

Remarkably believers in Christ are told not to be anxious about anything. Though it’s imperative tense, I take it to be more of loving directive as from a father. But it does come across as an absolute with a promise.

I have found over and over again as I do this in my own broken, disheveled way, but sincerely do it, God does in time meet me with his peace, a peace here which is experiential, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Of course not just not being anxious, but praying with petitions and thanksgiving.

God has it all in tow. We don’t and cannot. We can rest assured in God’s provision for us regardless of what circumstance we’re facing. God’s peace will see us through that and everything else. In and through Jesus.