faith pressing through the most difficult places

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samueland the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.

Hebrews 11

All of scripture has value for us in some way. Because of Jesus’s teaching and example, I may not participate in physical warfare, but spiritual warfare is most certainly another matter. And just as important as that, if not more so is the reality that life is hard and continuing on in faith is challenging. There’s certainly a piece of spiritual warfare going on in that, as the world, the flesh and the devil are indissolubly linked together. But it’s even in the ordinariness of life when we need to pick up and keep moving, even when the energy and passion are long gone, faith is the victory we have within our reach in and through Jesus.

For some reason, actually for a number of understandable reasons lately, the peace of God in my life has subsided, which probably to some extent is my own fault, definitely surely my own lack of faith. Yesterday, besides the edifying time at my mother’s church in the Bible teaching class, the worship-song time, and the message, I was helped by hearing this message from Charles Stanley. What came across for me was the gentle voice of the Lord encouraging me to trust him (Proverbs 3:5-6).

But still the stress and strain of life can get to us at times, and the feeling of being overwhelmed can be the norm. What we need at that point is both a focus on the Lord, and the wherewithal to accept the hard place and go on by faith. In the Lord’s strength, rather than our own, and in spite of our sense of weakness. Being willing to walk through the hardest places, face the most difficult challenges, and still seek to stand in the Lord in the midst of it all, come what may. Another way of putting it perhaps, is to accept the iron in one’s soul so to speak to enable us, instead of disabling us, in the way and will of the Lord. All by faith. Just as those people of faith did long ago in the midst of their trouble. In and through Jesus.

when one could quit

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

There are times when for a number of reasons life seems so discouraging. Not that there isn’t some good if you look for it. And indeed, as scripture tells us (Psalm 103, etc.), in the words of the hymn, we’re to count our many blessings. But so much can seem wrong, and at times against us. If you include with that the propensity for some of us to, if not expect the worst, try to be prepared for that, we can more or less be pushed over the edge into the precipice of losing heart, and hardly caring. Not because we want to be that way, but there are times which try a person’s soul, as the saying goes. Sometimes on a nagging, smaller scale, and at other times in a major way when one could wish that life would come to a screeching halt.

Enter Jesus, instructing his disciples about how they should always pray and never give up (NLT).

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18

Jesus told a parable to make that point. He compared God to an unjust judge, who after a widow’s relentless pleading for justice, reluctantly gives in, granting her request. And that God who is just and merciful, as Jesus taught, found amply in scripture, will respond to his people’s prayers for justice.

People ask me how I am, and some don’t seem to leave room for an answer other than “good,” having in it the possible hint that I’m not doing so well, maybe on a personal level for whatever reason, or because of a concern for the problems of others. It seems at certain times that things are out of control, that some outlook is grim at best.

Such times, and the discouragement which can accompany them should be a heads up for us, as Jesus taught his disciples, and by extension teaches us, to pray, and not give up. That order might suggest that we won’t give up if we pray. One could also aptly say, that when we are tempted to give up, instead we should pray.

God will help us in his own time and way. Praying at times for ourselves, for others, and for the world. As we look for the final justice and mercy to come in and through Jesus.

toward greater things

I sometimes wonder, and this is true even when I read the psalms, but all the more true when I look at my own life, just what value there is in being taken up with troubles so close to home, when the world at large is suffering so horribly. The problems I’m absorbed in can be just as threatening at times, but by and large they pale in comparison with the trauma the world is suffering in so many places.

And yet I believe that God wants us to do well with the problems at hand right in front of us, in faith and reliance on him. With a special emphasis on loving God and loving others, especially those God has entrusted to our care.

Although we should bear the weight of our own responsibility, we can’t carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. And we’re not even required to carry any burden at all which weighs heavily on us. We’re told to cast our burdens on the Lord, and to cast all of our cares on him as well. To come to him when we are burdened and weighed down, with the promise that he will give us rest. That is hard for some of us, because we can be prone to take more responsibility than is reasonable. It is not always easy to figure out just what responsibility we have, and where it ends. And we are told to help each other at times, to carry one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ which is love.

Nothing is foolproof in this life, except seeking to live in God through Jesus. Although that in itself seems deceptive to us, since we’re at least prone to be bent in the wrong direction. And we never arrive in this life, as if its struggles and dangers are over. We await our Lord’s return with God’s promise of a different world in which all troubles will be gone.

What is certain is God’s promise of help for us now in and through Jesus. We keep pressing on, even in the midst of trouble, believing that God is good and is at work, and that we can be recipients of that work. And as we receive God’s help, our heart can be set free to yearn in prayer for the help of others in the world. And especially for the salvation of all, beginning in this present life in and through Jesus.

learning humility

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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

There are all sorts of ways God seeks to teach us humility. Scripture over and over notes that God will seek to help people become humble through adversity. That if God’s kindness doesn’t lead people to repentance, then hopefully the hard places and even consequences of their sin will. And we find in scripture, as well as in real life that people do respond to that, and they don’t.

But the deepest and truest way to learn humility, and eventually the way God would have everyone learn it is through Jesus. Yes, through his example in his incarnation, life and death (Philippians 2:1-11). And that’s important to keep in mind. And through the Spirit, Jesus’s own humility rubbing off on us, and in that dynamic, on each other. A humility that is of Jesus, no less. One that loves and lives and if need be dies for another.

In the entire scheme of things, that is what we need to learn, right from Jesus as he himself said in his invitation to the people of his day, and through scripture to us. The humility that will last, and grow on and in us to make us more like Jesus. By which we can see the emptiness of everything else, yet respond in love, knowing that the only final answer is in Jesus.

the Bible is from the real world for the real world

I’m reading this book (Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, by Glenn R. Paauw) and ran across the thought that the Bible comes from the real world, reflecting it, for the real world. Like Jesus came into the real world, sharing in its brokenness, apart from sin, of course. And that this strikes against the gnosticism which rears its head in a good number of ways, yes even in the church. A gnostic approach is to somehow avoid the real world with something from heaven that cancels out the earth. But the biblical message is about heaven becoming one with earth, the real earth, the real world, right where you and I and everyone else lives. A messy, broken, and sometimes ugly world. Transformative, to be sure, in and through Jesus, but touching all of life right where we live.

That helps me, because although I’d like to check out and not go through the mess (maybe like on a long vacation somewhere in Paradise), life doesn’t allow that. In the Bible, people are taken through the valleys, not out of them. We do look forward to the great Transformation to come when the troubles of this life will be over, and a new real world will be born. But until then, we are engaged in this good, yet broken real world, and through Jesus somehow that engagement will impact the new real world to come (1 Corinthians 15).

And so I don’t want to shun what might be unpleasant and even ugly. But to address everything through Jesus and God’s good news in him. We live out a gospel for the real world that is for the real world, all of it. It not only impacts it, but it gives an entirely different answer other than what the world gives, in and through Jesus.

That is what I live in and for with others. The only hope I have for myself, for others, and for the world. In and through Jesus.

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.