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.

the strongman is weak

This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

2 Corinthians 13

This could end up being one of those few posts I delete for whatever reason. But I want to say upfront that something of the very plague of thinking “might makes right” is endemic in our culture, as it was in  Paul’s day. It was a lot about a superior wisdom then to which the cross was pure folly. But make no mistake about it, to the Romans strength and power was also a first order value, the very breath of their existence, and in their minds at least helping them establish their value in the world. And ironically, one could make the case that this Roman grip in its strength, and extensiveness helped immensely in the spread of the gospel.

Give me a person who is weak in Jesus, depending on him, and I’ll see a person whose strength is ultimately in God. Give me a person who is strong in themselves, and depends on no one, and I’ll see a person whose strength is destined to fail, since it’s only in themselves. I realize life can be more complicated than this. We have no further to look than Proverbs to realize that, along with the rest of the Bible, and then some reflection on life itself.

But ultimately, when you get right down to the heart of existence, you have to find your strength in God, and you do that, paradoxically through finding it in the weakness of the crucified Jesus, in whom we both die and live, in resurrection power and life. In the strength which is God’s in Jesus given to us by the Spirit for each other and the world.

working hard at prayer

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

Ephesians 6

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Colossians 4

I love the times when the Spirit seems to help me pray. Feeling the love, and the blessed empowering of the Spirit as a complete, sheer gift from God. And I want to know more of those times, and engage in prayer during such times. It can seem as if the Spirit is taking our spirit to be with someone else, with their spirit, and in their circumstance.

But more often than not, and for the most part, prayer can seem like drudgery more than delight. I am doubtful that we can blame our spiritual lack on that. It might be more in line with human weakness and living within the realm of the world, the flesh and the devil, even when in and through Christ by the Spirit we are no longer in any of those realms ourselves. Check out the New Testament, if you doubt me on that latter point.

I believe the Spirit can help us through and out of those difficult times of praying, when it seems all is uphill. And then we can experience the empowerment of praying in the Holy Spirit. But one of the all kinds of praying in the Spirit surely must be a kind of wrestling in prayer in which much of our own effort in the midst of all kinds of weakness is given. To struggle to pray, and actually pray in that way is surely not only underrated, but looked at as less than spiritual. But that surely is a mistake.

To live in the realm of the world, the flesh, and the devil -in Christ, is surely to be up against resistance on every side. And dependency on God in our humanity is something Jesus himself experienced on earth as he looked in prayer to the Father. We should neither think we ought to be immune to it, nor be discouraged by it. In fact that sense can be a wake up call for us to get on our feet, more like on our knees so to speak, and pray, and keep on praying. Something I want to keep working on and continue to grow in, in and through Jesus.

gently leading others

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40 is truly one of the great passages of scripture, like Romans 8. I hesitate to say that, because I believe we should consider every part important, even the most obscure passages that we might not understand well, if at all. But this passage comforts God’s people both with God’s immense greatness and immeasurable goodness and in terms of God’s great salvation.

What seems especially helpful is the idea of God’s gentle leading. Oftentimes when people, when any of us think of God, we think of an extension of our experience with authority figures, which too often has not been encouraging, but quite the opposite. Or perhaps for some of us, those people were largely absent from our lives. The picture of God given to us in scripture is that God is beyond everything and yet nearer than the breath we breathe. That God is just as much intimate as God is transcendent. That means that the God who is not overwhelmed in the least enters into the picture for humankind, for the world, yes, for us. And God cares for us.

I love the imagery quoted above (see NRSV in link, “[God] will gently lead the mother sheep.”) That God leads the sheep, us, gently. We need that. And in turn, that is how we’re to help the young among us. Not pushing them, or being gruff with them. But gently leading. In fact, we can take that as the cue on how we’re to influence each other. Not that we’re in life to manipulate, but instead we want to learn to follow God’s leading, and hopefully help others to do the same, since we know that is best, and in fact is wonderful.

When one looks at the entire Story in scripture, one also sees that God leads out of weakness, that actually God’s weakness is strength. It is the way of the cross, the way of suffering love for us and for the world. And a part of our salvation for us now in this world, is to learn in and through Jesus to take that same road for others in our commitment to Christ and the gospel.

Let’s pay attention to those who gently lead, and especially to our Lord God, and then learn to follow in those steps. In and through Jesus.

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.

having the Spirit to pray

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6

In Jesus we have the Holy Spirit to help us pray, and that Spirit is present and active, no matter how we feel. Romans 8:26-27 tells us that when we feel weak and at a loss, the Spirit helps us, and even prays for us:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Thankfully there are those times when we sense the Spirit to help us pray boldly and persistently. It’s encouraging, no matter what, because I often feel at a loss, yet I seem to gradually be more aware of the Spirit present to help me pray, of course all by God’s grace to us in Jesus.

And so I am thankful to God for the Holy Spirit who through Jesus helps us to pray, and to keep praying. For God’s good will for us, and for the world. And in accord with the gospel: God’s good news in Jesus.

focused praying

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

James 5:16b; NLT

Exactly how to translate this verse is up for grabs. I like the point that the NLT rendering, along with other translations (see link, and other translations on Bible Gateway) makes. Real prayer is focused, whereas simply praying a prayer is not necessarily so, akin to when Isaiah (quoted by the Lord) says that people can praise God with their lips, while their hearts are far from him.

Whatever the correct way to translate this passage (and that seems up for grabs, or interpretation, but might be a good further study), I think the idea of earnestness or fervency, wholeheartedness in praying, is certainly apt and commendable. We are so good at doing religious things half heartedly, going through the motions. But faith, especially in difficult matters, but really in anything in this life wants to take hold of God, like Jacob of old, who wrestled with the angel of God (Genesis 32).

It’s not like in all of our weakness, we shouldn’t feebly utter a prayer. We should; we should pray all kinds of prayers. I think in part so that we make sure we’re not merely going through the motions, it is good to give at least some of our prayers the strong expression they deserve, sort of like making our words bold in print. It seems like in our human weakness, this helps me to be focused, and cut through my own denseness, or ineptitude, and through the spiritual resistance of the devil, and hopefully pray in the Spirit.

Prayer requires effort, and is part of the fight of faith we are in for the good of others, was well as for our own good in this life. In and through Jesus.