tend to where it hurts

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

James 5:13-16

I’ve been struggling with a painful foot recently, the first time ever for me, and since I’m on my feet all day on my job, it’s a pain and a trial. Finally, when it was starting to become more than I was willing to bear, I had my wife pick me up a heel support. That did help much and hopefully will give my foot more of a chance to heal.

That analogy we can carry over to our lives in any way we can think of, and not only to ourselves of course, but also to others who for one reason or another are hurting, in difficulty, or at some stage in their lives in which they can use our help even if it’s nothing except prayer and friendship on our part.

Pain is a blessing, just as Philip Yancey with Paul Brand pointed out in books in times past. Without those nerve endings to tell us that something is wrong, we would proceed normally and often wreak havoc to some physical member. When we’re suffering or feeling up against it, that can help us find the help that we need. In God and through the help of others. We need each other in this, and we need God in everything. God is present to give us all the help we need for ourselves and through us to each other. In and through Jesus.

not backing down

If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength being small;

Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay all according to their deeds?

Proverbs 24:10, 12b; NRSVue

We can’t back down when trouble hits us. Especially if it involves others’ well being. In the words of the proverb above, we must not faint on the day of adversity. We show our strength to be small when we do.

God holds us accountable to hang in there, remain steady, and do all that is necessary to meet the difficulty. God wants us to do good by others. Always in the way of wisdom. For the true good of others, which means holding them responsible as well, but also helping those who cannot help themselves.

We do so, pulling out all the stops as best we know. Figuring out what is best for them, and even how it works best for us in trying to help them. Which might well involve finding a help for them which goes beyond what we can do.

Adversity will strike. What are we prone to do when it does? God wants us to not back down, to be present. Not to take matters in our own hands, but to prayerfully be present, in love being willing to do our part.

In and through Jesus.

torn from limb to limb (living in the real world)

“Do not human beings have a hard service on earth,
and are not their days like the days of a laborer?

“All the days of my service I would wait
until my release should come.”

Job 7:1; 14:14b; NRSVue

Job had not only lost his children to disaster along with being devastated from head to toe, but he had no real human support. His wife had told him to curse God and die, and his friends’ promise in being with him seven days without a word turned into a correction which was nothing more to him than hollow, empty platitudes.

When one is beat up physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, you name it, we can easily add to that spiritually, because it’s easy to become despondent and potentially prey for more. Thankfully though that’s not the end of the story in Job, nor of our own story, or the world’s story.

But we have to be ready for such an experience, although really you can never be quite ready, if so at all. But at least when it comes it doesn’t have to take us completely by surprise.

God will help us in answer to prayer. Like in the case of Job, we might have to argue with God with a faith that doesn’t let go, but insists on God’s answer, God’s help.

Faith in such darkness and difficulty doesn’t put on a happy face and pretend all is good. Yet such faith also always looks insistently to the One who can and ultimately will intervene and is present before that day comes to help us all the way through. In and through Jesus.

take what joy you can, but live in reality

It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of everyone,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-4; NRSVue

The title for Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 in the NRSVue is “A Disillusioned View of Life.” Probably Qoheleth, translated “the Teacher” is off the mark in at least some of what he (or she) is saying. We can say it’s all a matter of perspective. From their point of view, from where they were looking, they were telling it like it is, and trying to express wisdom. And there definitely is a measure of profound wisdom (see toward the end of Ecclesiastes).

I find the part quoted above most helpful for myself. Life “under the sun” and in seeking to follow Jesus and just considering our own weaknesses and limitations along with difficulties we face is indeed at least full of challenge. Life is hardly foolproof. We make many mistakes and hopefully keep learning along the way. If we expect a bed of roses here, we might as well forget that. Instead we’ll find some good, some joy, but much sorrow and possible hardship, even some possible danger along the way.

Paradoxically if we can just accept this, and choose to comfortably live in it or settle in it, then we can find not only a bit of joy here and there, but really joy even in the midst of sorrow. The Spirit helps us, but only as we accept things as they are.

“The Teacher” in Ecclesiastes is trying to help people steer a good course or if the title is apt, make the best of a bad situation. Yes, much is pretty dour in this book. Maybe that’s in part why I’ve been drawn to it over the years, because it does seem to line up with life in the real world, or at least much of my experience of it.

Our hope and expectation is in God through Christ, not in the circumstances of life itself. We receive all that God gives, and can enjoy some of that. But ultimately that we might live for others, even as Christ is teaching us by the Spirit together. Enjoying life even as “the Teacher” tells us in Ecclesiastes, but with our feet on the ground not in some make believe place, but in the real world where we all live. And especially with a heart and ear turned toward suffering, that we might help others. In and through Jesus.

refusing to be troubled

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”

John 14:1; NRSVue

The disciples had good reason to be troubled. Their Master who they had faithfully imperfectly followed for more than two years was soon to face execution. Not only would they ultimately feel threatened themselves, but their hopes seemed to be utterly dashed in what made no sense to them at all. But Jesus speaks into that mess with a message of peace, an inward peace that he wanted them to have even in the midst of that.

This word from our Lord was not only for them but is for us as well. We’re told to not let our hearts be troubled, but instead to believe in God and to believe in him, Jesus. That requires a commitment to act in that way. When Jesus originally said this, I’m not sure his disciples heard it well. Probably in varying degrees though surely none of them fully. They couldn’t help but see what was right in front of them, what was happening, and couldn’t see the good that could possibly come out of this. Although the Lord told them repeatedly that he would suffer, indeed be killed, but on the third day would be raised, they just didn’t get it. It made no sense to them. Jesus then gave them this promise along with what follows:

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:2-7; NRSVue

I think a large part of not letting our hearts be troubled over the many difficulties and trials of life is in significant part accepting the reality that we’re just not going to understand it all. If we can just suspend, better completely drop the idea that we have to understand everything to have peace, then that might well be half the battle. The other half is that we’re simply to believe in God, to believe in Christ, which means we put our trust in them and in their word. That has to be our focus. Not on the trial or problem itself, but on our Lord and on our Lord’s promises to us.

It’s not like the trial is unimportant. What’s more important is our follow through on this, than on the resolution of the actual situation itself. Do we believe that God is in the works, including in that so that we no longer have to be troubled? That is a stance or movement of faith.

We’re told not to let our hearts be troubled meaning that we actually have control over that. We can’t change a troubled heart in a moment but must do what Jesus tells us here. Better yet is to do that before we become troubled, but I know that’s easier said than done but that should be our goal in the long haul.

But for now, let’s believe that God will help us in whatever we’re facing. We won’t get it perfect; we won’t get it all right. But God will and God will see us through. All will be okay and more than okay in the end. We must believe and act accordingly. In and through Jesus.

when you are discouraged

David was in great danger, for the people spoke of stoning him because all the people were bitter in spirit for their sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.

1 Samuel 30:6; NRSVue

There are times when it seems like everything is against you. When all friends seem to say nothing but a discouraging word. And other times when you are indeed up against it with whatever trouble is facing you. We can so easily slip into discouragement.

David was more than up against it since the families of the men who were going out with David were taken away while they were on one of their expeditions. And they had had enough with David, understandably so given the circumstances. David must have been quite down over that himself and add to that the responsibility of being the leader who arguably got them in this trouble.

But God helped David. But not before David by faith somehow strengthened himself in God. It doesn’t tell us how. God has to do the strengthening and give the needed encouragement or at least peace. But we have to open ourselves up to that, seeking God and waiting on God. And then David took needed action, seeking God and God’s will through the priest, and ultimately all the loved ones were delivered.

God can and will do the same for us as we look to God during such times. In and through Jesus.

keep going (walk through it)

Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33; NRSVue

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”

John 14:1; NRSVue

One of the most important things any of us can do who have struggled with anxiety is to just keep walking through life rather than allowing ourselves to be gripped with anxiety. That doesn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge the problems or situation we’re facing. We do, but our focus all along needs to be on Christ.

Peter was gangbusters with his faith, part of his personality, also probably in part why he often took the lead among the apostles. He made his share of mistakes, but learned in the process. We learn faith only by faith or one might even say by doing faith. It’s not just something good to store in our heads, but we have to do it, to work it out in our lives.

Peter accepted that it was the Lord walking on the water, and somehow thought that if Jesus could do that, then so could he. After all, the apprentice is supposed to learn to do what their master does. And when it came right down to it, it was a matter of faith.

Unfortunately Peter took his gaze off Jesus, instead quickly becoming captured with the reality of the waves being beaten by the strong wind. He began to sink, but had the faith to cry out to the Lord to save him.

The situations we face in life are real. The question is how to face them. When our faith is weak we probably are best to avoid considering them altogether, but instead to turn our attention to Jesus in prayer along with meditation on scripture.

Years ago our church group went to a ropes course. The first year I was terrified and couldn’t even walk across the first rope and got down. I am not fond of heights. Of course we were strapped well. As I recall it, I tried, but might have fallen, suspended in midair, and that was enough for me. I think I looked down that first year, a terrifying sight for me. I knew we were going back the following year, and decided to not look down, as I recall it fifteen feet or likely somewhat higher. That year I actually did the entire ropes course, never one time looking down which I knew would be my downfall. I wonder what would have happened if I would have fallen. I don’t know, though I’m not optimistic.

But when our faith becomes stronger, knowing that Christ will hold us, will see us through, then we can work on the problem, even giving our attention to it, yet all the while not letting our hearts become troubled since our trust is in Christ. What if in this story, Peter’s faith would’ve been stronger. He might have noticed the wind whipped waves and as I imagine of him, simply laugh, continuing on toward Jesus, then both of them walking to the boat and getting in.

The point is that no matter what we face, God is with us in Christ. God will see us through. But for this to take hold and make the needed difference in our lives, we’re going to have to simply be willing to keep going with our attention turned toward the Lord, receiving the Lord’s help to us as we stay in scripture. As we do that we’ll learn by experience that the Lord always upholds us through what otherwise would be nothing but being caught in the grip of our latest anxiety or fear. No, we just keep walking by faith, and refuse to let any circumstance stop us. And as we do, then in time and sooner than we likely think, we will be able to receive God’s help so that we have a better perspective. And part of that is receiving God’s peace in Christ Jesus which actually surpasses our understanding and lack thereof and indeed even guards our hearts and minds (see Philippians 4:6-7).

Life is full of trouble and problems, no doubt. And true faith does not simply ignore such or pretend it doesn’t exist. But true faith in following Jesus also refuses to give in to a troubled heart and mind. We’re told to not let our hearts be troubled, but rather to trust in God. In and through Jesus.

finding the rest that is only in God

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.        Selah

Psalm 62:1-2, 5-6, 8; NRSVue

Only in God do I find rest;
my salvation comes from him.
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
my stronghold!—I won’t be shaken anymore.

Oh, I must find rest in God only,
because my hope comes from him!
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
my stronghold!—I will not be shaken.

All you people: Trust in him at all times!
Pour out your hearts before him!
God is our refuge!        Selah

Psalm 62:1-2, 5-6, 8; CEB

“If only such and such were the case,” or “if only such and such were not the case.” How often do our thoughts and wishes for inward peace go back to circumstances? We think all would be OK if only circumstances or things were different. We’re forgetting that living in the broken world in which we live means inevitable trouble, inescapable problems.

Where do we find rest? On whom do we wait in silence? The psalmist makes it clear: On God only. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that no matter what we’re facing in this life, the list including some of the darkest and worst experiences, that nothing, nothing, nothing at all in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It’s not enough to try to be faithful in doing the right thing, though that’s an important beginning. We indeed do have to position ourselves in the place in which we can experience God’s blessing so that we might be a blessing. That’s not enough. We have to come into the experience where anxiety isn’t a constant weight on us, in fact an experience where we find rest in God in spite of what otherwise would fill us with anxiety.

Do we believe that God is for us? That God delights in us? That God is sheer love through and through? And that whatever we’re facing, God will take care of everything? Even through the darkest times and death itself? Do we really believe that?

What is more important than our faith is the ever-faithful God. God is present for us and wants us to do what the psalmist is getting at. To wait in silence before God and for God. And to find our rest in God alone, not in good circumstances, in fact in spite of bad circumstances.

That is an important legacy that would be good for us to leave to others. How God can help us, as normal and struggling as anyone else to experience something of the fullness of God that God wants to share with us in this life. So that we’re no longer troubled but learning to live more and more at rest. In God alone. In and through Jesus.

back to “ordinary time”

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

“Ordinary Time” is a liturgical term used for the western church calendar that is other than the special seasons such as Advent and Lent. Although there’s at least a bit more to it as to why this term was adopted for the church calendar, I like the concept of ordinary. So often we’re tied up in knots over this and that, then something else. And we just need to get back to what might seem irrelevant, even too often mundane. What’s next in Scripture? And go slowly from one thing to the next.

I know that has nothing to do with the exact reason for the use of this term, as it has to do with times not marked by special occasion. Yes, it’s wonderful to have the special seasons of Advent then Christmas and Christmas season as well as Lent and Easter along with Eastertide. We can and should benefit from such wonderful occasions which help us to focus on Christ and the good news in him. Similarly there are those special seasons in our lives in which we’re working on this and that, oftentimes for me in regard to anxiety and spiritual warfare. But by and by we have to just lay those things aside, and keep plodding along from what might seem ordinary in that we may find it rather unremarkable, and not that related to us. But that’s when we need to slow down all the more, because God will help us to see and receive what we truly need from every part of Scripture. Admittedly, some specific parts are challenging that way, such as in Leviticus, though if we step back and look at each part from the perspective of the whole, we might gain some better appreciation for it, as well as some connection to life in the present.

Crisis and trials and troubles do hit us, and we can call those extraordinary times in which God wants to do a most significant work. But even in ordinary time we can’t avoid trouble, and we do well to settle in for something more low key, realizing that while we do seek to tackle issues head on at times, by and large we again do well to settle into the mode of taking one thing after the other. Realizing that we need it all, everything God has to give us in Scripture which is actually related to and through the gospel. Such will help us even with reference to the problems we work at better negotiating. We need the entire picture, the whole context, to better understand each part. God is present to help us in this as we keep moving forward day after day, yes in ordinary time, in ordinary life. In and through Jesus.

trusting, not relying, acknowledging go together

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Yesterday I began to work on thoughts from this passage related to when life hits us hard in ways in which there seems no escape or good answer, in other words bringing in the impossible. Today along with some other thoughts I want to emphasize one point I did not mention yesterday, how we’re told to acknowledge God in all of our ways. That can be taken for granted somewhat, as the above passage was quoted in full yesterday as well, and to trust in the Lord with all of our heart, and not rely on our own insight should lead us to acknowledge the Lord in all of our ways. But it’s important to emphasize that, because we’re all to prone to believe, yet fail to really act on it.

We need to consider them all, what this Scripture calls us to do: Trust, don’t rely, acknowledge. To trust in God this way is radical for us. It involves a certain letting go. We don’t trust God only up to a point, then take over. We trust God without reservation, wholeheartedly. It is to enter into a certain realm and remain there. And frankly that is hard, at least for me. I inevitably gravitate to trying to figure everything out myself. It is hard to understand or find the balance. It’s not like a far eastern mystic assumption of total disengagement along with a kind of total merging. We do look at reality in the face for what it is, and we look for what is right, just, and good in harmony with love which is understood best in God’s love revealed in Jesus. But no matter what, our trust is in God, not in ourselves.

Then we’re told not to rely on our own insight, which I’ve already touched on. Our understanding and insight is rarely if ever perfect in this life, except for a special gift from God at a certain point. Otherwise, never perfect. This is why it’s a mistake for us to find rest in our own insight. Our own understanding is never foolproof. And why our true rest is found only in God, in our trust in the Lord.

This reminds me of another point which needs some emphasis. Notice that the passage makes it clear that receiving the blessing actually depends on us. If we don’t follow through with what we’re told to do here, then God’s blessing won’t come. Yes, only God can give the blessing: the straight, smooth paths. But for us to receive that, we have to trust, not rely, and acknowledge. It’s up to us.

Finally the missing link of yesterday’s post. If we fail to acknowledge God in all of our ways, then we also are failing to trust in God with all our hearts, and we will drift back to our own understanding. This is akin, I think to what James speaks about when he emphasizes works in telling us that faith without works is dead. We might think we’re trusting in God with our whole heart and not relying on ourselves, but unless we look to God in prayer, and seek to really depend on God in all of life, in every endeavor, then we’re really not. This is all linked together. What you really believe is not what you say you believe, but what you act on. “Yes, I trust in God, but I need to figure this out myself.” No. Instead something like: “I trust in the Lord, and I believe the Lord will help me through this, to find good counsel, to make a good decision, and to be at rest in that process, and in the end.” All the while realizing that this life will be uneven and messy to the end. Learning to find our rest in God in the midst of that.

Something I’m working on myself. In and through Jesus.