nearness to God

Psalm 73 is a most interesting mix between closeness to God and complete inward desolation in which one feels not only poor and troubled, but left behind by God. It is typical of many of the psalms which go in and out between complaint and praise.

The sanctuary of God is the key and transition between darkness and light in this psalm. We are often so acclimated to darkness that we actually somehow find some sort of comfort and relief apart from God. It usually and perhaps always for us will be in things which are not necessarily bad in and of themselves. But the sanctuary of God is different. Into that place we take nothing except ourselves in all our brokenness and nakedness before God. We have essentially tuned out other things, and are tuned in to one thing only: the things of God, and more than that, God himself.

Again, other things might have their place, but if we have been in a season akin to “the dark night of the soul,” in which all is difficult, including the sense we can make out of life, all might seem empty, then perhaps that is preparation for entering into God’s sanctuary where we might find the peace and rest, even the very presence of God.

We need that sanctuary, I’m sure again and again, but it’s a reminder that God’s presence actually fills all things, even the very thing which troubles us and threatens to bring us down. But we can only come to realize that through entering the sanctuary, God’s holy place, and remaining there for a time, in and through Jesus.

can we pray too much?

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

1 Thessalonians 5

No. We can’t. In fact we likely don’t pray enough.

Charles Spurgeon was known as a busy man, going from one task to another. But he was also known as a prayerful man, always praying, always talking to God, as I recall it from a book, his lips moving.

Life can be overwhelming with its challenges, and with the expectations that come with it. We surely take too much of that on ourselves, and the burden can seem overwhelming. But we can never talk too much to the Lord. We can never pray too often.

At the same time we may well have to put hands and feet into those prayers. Oftentimes God will make us in some way to be part of the answer to our prayers. And we find in the psalms that seeking God is part of our salvation. We do long for the answer, for relief from our troubles, for salvation. Somehow in the process, God is often, if not always at work in ways far beyond our limited scope. God’s answer is not only about changing circumstances at least ultimately beyond this life, but also about changing us more and more into the image of Jesus.

And so yes, we need to turn all of our cares into prayer, along with many praises. To the One who as the Triune God will help us, and bring relief. We pray. God answers. In and through Jesus.

when troubled

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.

James 5

Yet man is born to trouble
    as surely as sparks fly upward.

Job 5

Trouble is a part of life. We probably do well to gear ourselves for it. At the same time, we want to enjoy life, and gearing for trouble means we learn to be blessed in the midst of it. But with the blessing of God. Although there are especially difficult times when all sense of blessedness might seem to be gone.

Trouble they say can either embitter us, or make us better. But as James points out, and as we see in Job’s response to his great trouble, we should be inclined to call on God for help, and for God’s answer. And hopefully through it we will find God’s blessing not unlike Jacob did when he wrestled the angel of God, and was actually wrestling God himself (Genesis 32).

Little do we know the possible blessing of being in trouble. We want to avoid trouble like the plague, but instead, we need to be open and receptive to whatever God might be doing through it.

Above all, as James tells us, we need to dial down and simply pray. Refuse to take matters in our own hands. And wait on the counsel of God in answer to prayer, perhaps through others, through the word, or directly to us. Most likely in ways we can hardly trace, but with confidence that God will guide us and help us through all the troubles of this life ultimately to experience his grace to his glory in and through Jesus.

encouragment to keep on keeping on

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15

For many reasons, it’s easy to want to give up at times, to throw in the towel. There is often so much pressure, and so much that could go wrong, and at times does go wrong. And we live in a world in which evil too often gets the upper hand and seems successful, and in which there’s little good that doesn’t have some admixture of evil. And if we honestly look at ourselves, we have to admit that we’re far from perfect, flawed and definitely not all together. We most certainly haven’t arrived. And all too often it can feel like our wheels are spinning.

But then we turn to scripture, and specifically to the great resurrection gospel passage in 1 Corinthians 15. The conclusion of it, quoted above suggests that it is meant to be an encouragement, as well as careful instruction during a formative time in the faith once for all entrusted to God’s people. Because of Christ’s death for our sins, and resurrection from the dead, we are given assurance that somehow what we do here and now in this present state matters. That it has effects beyond what is apparent, what the eye can see.

So the resurrection to come in and through Christ is not ony something we look forward to as a present day hope for the future, but also is meant to impact our lives in the present, that not only are we now living in the resurrection power by the Spirit, even while still in our mortal existence, but that this promise gives lasting significance to what we do in the here and now.

If this wasn’t the case, then it would most certainly seem indeed that “all we are is dust in the wind.” But God has promised to bring that dust back together beyond this mortality into immortality. And somehow with that, our works which proceed out of faith, as well.

And so that gives me pause, to not only want to do well, but to also avoid doing poorly. A straight arrow to us that what we do, our work matters. Both in our words and deeds. As we look forward to the time when all of our labor in the Lord comes together to be shown that it was not in vain, and we continue on in the love, goodness, grace, and indeed the life of our risen, resurrected Lord.

someday this will all be over

Over, and done. Yes, someday this will all be over. “This too, shall pass.” And out of the mass and mess of it all will arise the grace of God in Jesus in the new world, fundamentally not different from this world in terms of creation, but good in every sense of that word in the new creation.

Everywhere I turn there are grave concerns. But I’m not, neither are any of us, or all of us together, God. It is God to whom we must commit everything, including our loved ones and ourselves. God alone can and will take care of it.

In the meantime there is a significant part of us which looks forward to the end of all things as they are now. All the strife, as well as the natural disasters in this world. Yes, in the midst of much good to be sure. All pointers to the great good to come in the grace and kingdom of God in King Jesus.

So now we want to do the best we can, completely because of God’s grace in Jesus; yes, we must live in that grace through faith in Jesus: in his life, teaching, death, resurrection and ascension to ultimate power and authority, with the promise of his return. We know that all of this, all of the trouble, and real concerns will someday end, and be a thing of the past, even forgotten. But we fight through now, out of love, the love of God in Jesus, in love for others: our loved ones, others in Jesus, all people, even our enemies. We want to embrace the way of the cross, the way of Jesus. And go on.

The end is not that far away. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

embracing the hard places

With a here we go again attitutde, we can shortchange the changes God wants to make in our lives. There are problems, places, and let’s admit it, people, who at times along with us can be challenging, disappointing, and downright irritating. And it doesn’t help when we might be tired, and a bit battered and bruised from what life has brought our way to begin with. While it is true that we as humans are made in no less than the image of God, it is also true that we are dust.

In all of this, of course, we need grace. We need to wait on God so to speak, even in the midst of the flow of life. We should have a sense of expectation in waiting on God to work everything out according to his purpose for us and for others, as well as just his purpose in general, in Jesus. That takes both time and faith. We need to hold on, as it were.

And by faith, we should learn to embrace the hard places with outstretched arms as a kind of sign of the cross as part of a cruciform, cross-shaped life. We do this, not because we want to, or because that is the place we would ever go, but because we do want to follow Jesus in all of life, the one who taught us a good number of hard sayings and teachings (see Matthew 5-7, and read the rest of the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

Of course we will and do fail along the way. We have forgiveness already in terms of salvation, but we do need to continue to confess our sins to God, and when appropriate at times to others, and walk in the light God gives us to maintain fellowship and communion with God and with each other through Jesus’s blood cleansing us from all sin (1 John).

Embracing the hard places is most certainly an act of faith. We do so believing that good will come out of it from God, as well as to avoid the evil and the problems which come out of our refusal to accept such things. A part of the maturing process which is ours together in Jesus.

being cheerful in the midst of adversity

To have trouble and struggle seems to be part and parcel, practically the norm of this present life. There is the day-to-day common problems which easily are seen as a nuisance, and time an escape from such. But then there are those special problems which may be legitimate or not, but can be grating, and even burdensome. We’re not meant to carry all of it ourselves, in fact more often than not, it seems that we’re to get rid of it. We are to carry our own burdens, as in responsibilities. But others are to help us with our overburdens (Galatians 6), and we’re actually to cast all of our burdens, big and small on the Lord.

Regardless of the nature of the problem, it can lend to us a humility which helps us not look down on others, getting rid of that natural bent of broken humanity. And there are times when the problem is blaring out to us so loud, that we can’t escape it, a sure sign that while it needs to be dealt with, we also ought to view it with some suspicion. I have noticed that the pressure to act immediately often proves to be either frivolous, as in not mattering, or simply a deception which we will come to regret.

To the main point of this post: I want to learn to be cheerful in the midst of the most uncheering of circumstances. Let’s say it’s a bad health report such as cancer (or even worse for me, Alzheimer’s). Or something which really hits our buttons and ordinarily leaves us in a tizzy, whatever that might be.

Let me suggest to myself, as true from scripture and appropriate to real life (and something Ann Voskamp might have just jogged me on to from her first book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are), we should work on cultivating the practice of being cheerful when our own impulse would be just the exact opposite, taking us into any number of other alternatives in which people regularly live, such as gloom and perhaps panic, etc.

This is not a denial to take seriously the problem at hand, but instead to apply faith right where we live, right in the midst of it, and see the outcome from that. Philippians 4:6-7 and for that matter the entire chapter (better yet, the entire, short book) is helpful here. We’re not to merely pretend our problem doesn’t matter, because in one way or another, it most certainly does. Instead, we’re to bring it before the Lord in prayer, our cheerfulness so to speak expressed to God in thanksgiving in the midst of what would naturally cause us anxiety, or worry, or perhaps more precisely for many of us in our weakness, in the midst of such anxiety. My way of arriving toward that place has been to remain in the word, come what may, slowly working through it in a meditative manner throughout the day. Of course if that’s to do any good, then we need to seek to apply what is written. It wouldn’t hurt for me to include some of the Philippians 4 passage here:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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.

The most important point in this for me is that to be cheerful when down is a radical act of faith. It makes no sense in terms of the real world, and where we live. And none of us wants to be phony, or at least we shouldn’t want to be. Problems are still problems, regardless. The crisis point for us should invoke in us the decision to practice a cheerfulness as an expression of faith in God, who has it all covered in one way or another. So that even when on the inside I’m cringing and anything but cheerful, on the outside I learn to practice what by and by can become true for me even in the midst of difficulty and suffering, as God honors a faith in him and his word, in and through Jesus.