Introduction

This is an experiment–in my own pursuit of a deeper, richer prayer life, I want to share some of the struggles and triumphs I have had in and through prayer.  I would also like to share (and gather) suggestions to enrich how we can grow closer to God, closer to others, and closer to becoming more Christlike in our daily walk.

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Prayer in the “Off-Season”

World Cup fever is at a high this week.  England was stunned by Croatia in the semi-finals–Croatia will face France in the finals on Sunday.  Teams have played hard all season to make it to the World Cup– most of them will go home disappointed (at least a little).  Fans will have to wait until next season to see their favorite team make another attempt at winning it all.

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In the meantime, the players will be in the “off-season.”  Some will take well-earned vacations, and spend more time with their families.  Some will spend time with doctors and physical therapists to work on injuries sustained during the regular season.  Some will be working with coaches and trainers to develop in areas where they feel they need extra help.  Others will cut back on their training schedule.  Still others will spend time with agents trying to get traded to another team (or avoid being traded to another team).

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People who study sports often say that what happens in the “off-season” can be as important to players and teams as what happens during the intense training of the regular season.  Habits form, attitudes develop, team chemistry alters– any or all of these factors can change for better or for worse.

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The same is true in our prayer lives.  When we are facing struggles or heartaches, we pray with intensity and passion.  But when things are going smoothly, sometimes we let our prayer lives “take a break.”  We pray with less frequency, less intensity, and less focus.  I’m guilty of this; even though I know it can happen, bad habits creep in, and suddenly, my prayer life is haphazard and lackluster.  Using a journal helps, in that I have a focus for each day already written in, and a place to write in new requests, and even answers.

However, a major part of staying on course is to commit to the discipline of prayer.  “Discipline” sounds boring and constrained–something I do out of obligation and not out of love.  But that’s not true of all discipline.  Athletes are disciplined– because they love their sport, and they want to develop and play at the best of their ability.  Musicians are disciplined– because they love music, and they want to develop their art.  Professional athletes and musicians often have a contractual commitment to stay in practice and develop their talents.  When athletes are part of a team, or musicians are part of a band, orchestra, or chamber group, they have an additional reason to be disciplined– to play more effectively with others.

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In my personal life, there are disciplines– hygiene, sleep habits, diet, and exercise, that I practice, not because I love saying, “NO” to that piece of chocolate cake or walking that extra mile, but because I want to stay healthy, clean, and active.  Prayer is no different– except that it is for my spiritual health– and it is part of my relationship with God.

Instead of slacking off during the “off-season”, many athletes and musicians will use this time to step back and look at what they have learned, what they would like to do better, and how they can develop their skills.  I think this offers a great opportunity in prayer, as well.  After a season of grief, struggle, doubt, or testing, it is good to take some time to make some assessments.  Sometimes we don’t know all the reasons for the times of testing or trial we have just faced.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t look back and see whether we have grown, or if we need to make some adjustments, or if we have developed new habits or skills (good or bad).  It is a good time to “count our blessings”, “pray without ceasing”, “ask, seek, and knock”, and look at the ways God has been faithful (and hopefully ways that we have been faithful!) over the years.

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Some of us are in the struggle of a busy, harsh, or painful season.  Let’s not let that struggle go to waste.  Some of us will be facing trials next week, or next month–spending time training in the “off-season” will make us stronger for the fight!  And the best news– we already know the outcome!  Let’s pray harder– pray stronger–and go for the win!

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…Cry With the Saints

Several years ago, singer and songwriter Billy Joel created some controversy with a song he wrote, called “Only the Good Die Young.”  The song was about a young man trying to convince a young catholic girl to give up her virginity.  Many were offended by some of the lyrics, and by the general tone of the song, which was sacrilegious; sneering at the notion of sexual purity and waiting for marriage.  One of the lines in the song says, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints..The sinners are much more fun.”

Full lyrics here

It may seem that way to many– Christians (along with many Jews, Muslims, and others who are sincere and spiritually-minded) seem stern and sober in comparison to free-living, fun-loving heathens.  Why should this be so?  Shouldn’t those who are closer to God experience more Joy and happiness than those who do not know Him?  Why are saints and prophets so often shown crying, wailing, and weeping bitter tears?

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The author of Ecclesiastes (assumed to be King Solomon) writes:

Ecclesiastes 7:1-6 (Revised Standard Version)

A good name is better than precious ointment;
    and the day of death, than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
    than to go to the house of feasting;
for this is the end of all men,
    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.
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
    than to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
    so is the laughter of the fools;
    this also is vanity.

This doesn’t mean that God wants His people to be depressed, hopeless, and constantly weeping.  But God DOES want us to be aware and to see the world as it really is– fallen, chaotic, filled with needless suffering and injustice.  Why?  Because He calls us to think about the consequences of our actions, and also to have compassion for those who are hurting.  It may be more “fun” to ignore the consequences of sin and to “live it up” if you are young and healthy, but it is not at all true that “only the good die young.”  Death comes unexpectedly and randomly– taking both good and evil, both wise and foolish.  The difference is that fools get cut off and caught off-guard.  The consequences of their actions find them unprepared and filled with regret or bitterness and pain– all of which might have been prevented if they had not ignored reality.

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I think the song DOES have a message to Christians–while we shouldn’t be fools chasing after fleeting pleasures that leave a large wake of pain and regret and filling our lives with empty laughter, we should not “die young” in the way of the Pharisees of old.  Jesus called them “white-washed tombs” for good reason.  Their “goodness” came from self-righteousness and piety.  They shunned sinners, and chased others away with their long lists of rules and disdain for anyone who didn’t keep up appearances.  Such “saints” never cry– they are more likely to crow about their own “goodness” with dry eyes and closed fists.  Jesus attended feasts and parties with the sinners– but his heart was not for the “fun”  they were having.  It was for them– for their lost souls.  Jesus wept!  Jesus wept for the loss of his friend Lazarus; he wept over Jerusalem; he even wept tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane!

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The “Good” have many reasons to cry– millions of innocents suffer needlessly every day–abuse, slavery, genocide, abortion, bigotry, war, starvation, murder, theft, addiction, homelessness, disease, natural disasters, man-made disasters, and more fill our world.  People waste time angrily shaking their fists at Heaven or at governments, but so much of the suffering is a direct result of sinful actions on the parts of individuals.  In my own country, in my own lifetime, over 50,000,000 babies have been aborted–without legal consequence, but with a terrible consequence on the soul of our nation.  If we could shed one tear for each life lost it would equal over 660 gallons of water (here’s how I got that number  )– just one tear for each life, and those are only the abortions that have been recorded in the past 45 years in the U.S.  If we were to shed a tear for every broken marriage, every rape, every life lost to addiction, suicide, murder, or war, every violent assault, every broken promise, every lie, or every corrupt deed in our world over the past 50 years, we could fill an ocean!  The power of tears, or of any running/falling water is so great, it could generate electricity to light the nations! ( Here’s an interesting article on the power of a drop of water!)

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I would far rather “cry with the saints.”  But more than that, I would rather pray with the saints, and arise from both to work with the saints–the power of tears pales in comparison with the power of God’s mercy and grace!

Make Every Effort…

2 Peter 1:3-9 New International Version (NIV) (Biblegateway.com)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind,forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

There are a great number of Christians who face discouragement and frustration in their daily life.  Sometimes, this is because they are busy looking at their circumstances and feeling overwhelmed by them.  But sometimes, there is a general discontent; a malaise of lukewarm commitment and lackluster results that can cause once fruitful Christians to wander away from the faith and even disparage their former churches.  “I wasn’t being ‘fed'”… “It just wasn’t working for me”…”I got tired of the persecution (not genuine persecution, but the feeling of being mocked and unpopular at parties and reunions)”…”the church just isn’t relevant anymore.”  These are a few of the excuses I have heard from people  who were once joyful and eager to share their faith.  I don’t doubt that they experienced Salvation– but they are missing out on sanctification– they have done little to build on the solid rock.  They blame the church, their pastor, other Christians, even God for their lack of spiritual growth.

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Yet, in this passage, the Apostle Peter tells us that Christ has given us EVERYTHING we need to live a godly life– not the church, not other Christians, not the experience we get from a worship service– all we need has been given to us through Christ; his death and resurrection; his promises and his example of holy living.

But, like any gift, it must be used to be effective.  A lamp may look good sitting on a table, but if it isn’t plugged in and turned on (or filled with oil and lit), it does little more than gather dust.  Similarly, if I don’t maintain tools or appliances, I can’t expect them to continue to be useful– they will get corroded, filthy, worn, and broken.

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Peter urges us to USE the gifts we have been given.  This is not a call to base our salvation on works, or to make a checklist of “good things” to make us a “better” person.  Rather, it is a blue print of building on the gifts we have to become more productive, more secure, more established in our Christian walk– to become the mature people God means for us to be. When we don’t follow this blueprint, Peter warns, something awful happens.  We become nearsighted–we narrow our focus on our own experience and our own resources, rather than utilizing the wonderful gifts God has made available to us.

  • Faith–it starts here.  If we don’t trust in God’s provision, His mercy, and His power, we won’t build on the right foundation.
  • Goodness–Such a deceptively simple word, but it is packed with power.  Post-modernists like to sneer at the idea of goodness.  It seems dull, meek, bland, and insufficient.  At the same time, we want to assure ourselves (and everyone else) that we are, in our own daily life, good…good enough to earn respect, better than someone else down the street, “good” just because…we are not “bad”.  It is difficult to concede that, left to our own devices, we will not achieve goodness automatically– it takes effort to deny our own desires and whims to do the right thing, the just thing, the “good” thing.
  • Knowledge–Sure, I “know” what the Bible says…right?  I already “know” what Jesus would do– that’s why I wear the WWJD bracelet– to remind me of what I already know…How many Christians actually make a daily effort to learn more about Christ?  How many blindly stumble along, confident that what little we know is more than enough?
  • Self Control– Not going around pointing out everyone else’s fault, but working to keep our own anger, bitterness, selfishness, envy, etc., in check.  Actually making the effort and not adopting a false humility that says, “I know I still struggle with ________, but God’s not finished with me yet!”
  • Perseverance–Staying the course, even when it doesn’t “feel” good, or effective.  Trusting that God IS still at work, instead of just using that as an excuse for not making a genuine effort to improve our relationship with Him.  How many of us have missed out on blessings and miracles because we simply threw in the towel one day early, or didn’t climb that last step.
  • Godliness, Mutual Affection, Love–I’ve put these three together, not because they are the same, or because there is nothing to say about each one, but because I think this is where many Christians want to be, without going through the previous steps.  We want to think that we are not only Godly, but God-like in our habits, words, thoughts, etc.  We want to think that because we have a close-knit group of friends at church (our Holy Huddle) that we have mastered Mutual Affection.  And we think that if we love at least the idea of people who are different from us, people who are oppressed or hurting, that we are not “hateful”–we deserve a crown of glory.

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Unfortunately, I have fallen into the trap of wanting the results and the benefits of Christ’s gifts without the “every effort” they deserve.  Saying “hello” to neighbors on the street or defending “morality” on FB is not the same as taking up my cross.  And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with being friendly or standing up for what’s right– it’s a start.  But like the lamp that isn’t turned on, I’m not sending out light– I’m not fulfilling my purpose.  And until I make “every effort”, not just the ones that look good or feel good, or seem easiest or most important, I can’t shine in the darkness around me.

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Just a Minute…

I stumbled upon a site that promotes a concerted minute of prayer for our nation.  In the light of upcoming mid-term elections, recent violent outbreaks in some of our cities, and other urgent issues, there are movements afoot to unite American Christians in our prayer efforts.

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National Minute of Prayer Home

The National Minute of Prayer is based on an effort carried out in England during World War II.  I want to be careful in promoting this idea– I DO NOT believe that God is swayed solely by people praying to Him in large numbers or at certain times– God sees our hearts and knows our minds.  He wants hearts that are sincere, humble, and attuned to His will, and He will act, not on our desires, but on His own knowledge of what is truly best for our individual lives, for our nation(s), and for our world.

Still, I think this is a good idea, even though I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideas and aspects of the blog.  I don’t believe there is anything magical or super spiritual about any given minute or hour of the day, so if the chosen hour of 9 p.m. (ET/8 p.m.CT, etc.) doesn’t work for you, or you can’t commit to a single minute during the day, just commit to pray for a solid minute at least once each day.  I think the value of a project like this is in the commitment and the community–even as individuals search for a closet or a quiet corner to seek God’s face, the knowledge that others are doing the same adds to our commitment and our courage.

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There are dozens of websites, blogs, and videos with similar programs and suggestions.  Find one and consider following or joining!

And this doesn’t just apply to a particular nation facing a particular time of crisis.  Christians living in Australia, Bolivia, Cambodia, Djibouti, Estonia, Fiji, Greenland, Haiti… you get the idea– can set aside one minute every day to pray for their nation and its leaders.

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Think what it would mean to the heart of God to hear His children praying in unison for healing and justice to be done around the world in our home nations!  Think what would happen if we set aside just one more minute to pray for the Church universal!

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Praying in Tune

I have a song that Jesus gave me,
It was sent from Heaven above;
There never was a sweeter melody,
‘Tis a melody of love.

I love the Christ who died on Calvary,
For He washed my sins away;
He put within my heart a melody,
And I know it’s there to stay.

‘Twill be my endless theme in Glory;
With the angels I will sing;
‘Twill be a song with glorious harmony,
When the courts of Heaven ring!

In my heart there rings a melody,
There rings a melody with Heaven’s harmony;
In my heart there rings a melody;
There rings a melody of Love.

Hymn by Elton M. Roth (1891-1951)

My grandfather had perfect pitch–he could hear a musical note and tell you what the note was or whether it was “in tune”.  He loved music and taught himself to play several musical instruments, including trombone, ukulele, auto harp, thumb harp, saxophone, violin, flute, banjo, dulcimer, trumpet, penny whistle, ocarina, and harmonica.  My grandmother played piano, organ, and a host of percussion instruments.

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My grandfather could hear perfect pitch, but he rarely sang.  He could make wonderful music with instruments, but not with his own voice.  He might have done so, but he never bothered to practice.  In fact, while he could play a multitude of instruments, he never became proficient on any of them.

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Prayer is accessible to anyone, as is music, but tuning and practice are required if we want to pursue prayer as a discipline and a means to develop a more harmonious relationship with God.  Prayers that are out of tune can be sharp– nagging, complaining attempts to bargain with God; or they can be flat– lifeless and empty of trust and affection.  Prayers that lead to growth, healing, and change are those that are “attuned” to the heart of God.  What a sweet song of praise when we live in harmony with God and others– working, growing, sharing, and singing together.

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I don’t have perfect pitch– I can usually hear if my voice or my flute seems out of tune with another instrument or other voices, but sometimes I need help.  The same is true of my pursuit of prayer.  I need help to keep in tune– a prayer journal is one tool I use.  But it also helps to have a prayer group or prayer partner, a prayer list, or a book of prayer.  For more ideas, see:  Proactive Prayer Points  and Prayer Journal.

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Why There Are No Do-Attitudes…

In Jesus’ Sermon On the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus listed what have become known as “The Beatitudes”.  Each phrase begins with “Blessed are..” or “Happy are…” (depending on the translation).  The blessings are specific, but they are also reserved for those who do not appear to be due for blessings– the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Each group seems pitiable, not suited for accolades and celebration.  They’ve done nothing to deserve blessing.  Yet Jesus calls them “Happy” and assigns them amazing gifts and blessings– not for their hard work or achievements, but because of their emptiness; their need and their ability to receive the blessings of God.

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There are wonderful sermons and analyses and studies on the Beatitudes, but in relation to prayer, I want to look at this aspect.  There are no blessings in the list for the doers– the movers and shakers, the revolutionaries and the organizers and life-changers.  Throughout the Sermon, Jesus spends more time on attitude than on action–Murder is an action– forbidden by the Ten Commandments– but it is based on attitudes like hatred, disdain, envy, and rage.  Clearly, Jesus does not want us to be unproductive or isolated from the needs of others, but our busyness, our stress, our huffing and puffing and scurrying about, does not impress Him, nor does it bring us the kind of happiness only God can offer.

He gives the same emphasis when he discusses prayer– prayer is not about public eloquence or long strings of words or excessive emotional outbursts.  In fact, effective prayer has little to do with who is praying, what words or word order or language they use, where they pray, or when they pray.  It IS about how and why and TO WHOM they are praying.  And the only active verb not assigned to “Our Father” is found in the phrase, “…as we forgive…”

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God does not command us to pray seven times a day, or to have a prayer list a mile long, or to pray only when we are in great need.  He wants us to “pray without ceasing”, not as a recurring action, but as a constant state of being aware of and responsive to His presence.

I have a niece who has spent several years in dance.  When she was a beginner, it was both comical and sad to watch as she and many others agonized and counted the steps out as they performed– often getting all the right steps, but a slight beat ahead of or behind the music and/or the other dancers.  But what a delight to see the development of young students into graceful dancers– seeing the transition from just doing the right steps at the (approximate) right time to internalizing and coordinating the music and movement into art.

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I have friends who are runners, and while I don’t run, I have watched those who do…there is a difference in the stride, the posture, and the face of someone who is “a runner” and someone who is just “running.”  It’s not the action, but the attitude that makes the difference.

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Prayer is a gift; a privilege; a sacred meditative conversation with our Creator, Our Father, and our King.  I don’t want to just pray– I want to BE in Prayer!

“Now I Lay Me Down…”

We used to teach children to say bedtime prayers by rote:

Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I don’t actually remember praying this prayer at bedtime– partly because it seemed morbid and the stuff of nightmares more than peaceful rest.  Thankfully, my parents taught me more about praying than just this little prayer.  We learned the Lord’s Prayer, and to lift up our friends and family to God’s care.  We prayed for family stationed far from home, family members who were ill or suffering in some way, and for neighbors and classmates we cared about.  We prayed for missionaries and the people and places that called them far away.  We prayed for our nation and leaders. And we prayed confession, and thanksgiving, and worship, and intercession.

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But I was reminded of this old prayer when I watched a video our aunt sent us the other day.  It was a short documentary about a nature photographer who spent over 18 months building up trust with a wild cheetah in order to get “close up” shots of her in the wild– hunting, eating, resting, bathing.  All was going well, until she disappeared on him.  Several months later, a park ranger located her– and her five newborn cubs.  The photographer knew he was taking a huge risk, but he drove his jeep (known to the mother cheetah), and went to the area where she was now caring for her young.  He got out of the jeep and sat down in the grass nearby.  Mother cheetah was nervous, but did not attack.  Hoping this was a good sign, the photographer did the unthinkable– he lay down in the grass, helpless, to show that he was not a threat.  As he moved from the sitting position, the mother cheetah stood up and watched.  As he lay sprawling on the ground, she too lay down, letting her cubs know that they were free to explore.  They came over to the photographer– they bit at his toes, climbed all over him, and let him pet them and poke at them with his finger.  He never sat up, lifted his head, or played rough with them.  He never grabbed them by the nape or spoke.  When they got tired of “the new thing” and returned to their mother, the photographer was able to sit up, move close to the family, and take some incredible photos of the whole group.

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Why did this remind me of a child’s prayer?  The photographer kept saying in the voice-over that it was all about trust– he was patiently building a relationship with this single cheetah for over a year and a half, showing her that he could be trusted.  And he was rewarded by her reaction when he signaled that he wanted to be close to her cubs.  His act of lying down and essentially putting his life in the balance caused her to respond with a similar act showing her trust was complete.  And her act of trust signaled to her cubs that this “new thing” was safe to approach– he could be trusted.  A mother cheetah in the wild can run faster than a sports car and kill without a second thought to protect her young.

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But she lay still and rested in her trust of this man.

How often do we “lay down” in our trust of God– stop brooding, worrying, fidgeting, and fighting to make sense of things, to build a safety net, to get ahead, to keep up with the neighbors, to feed our dreams and aspirations?  The Psalmist in Psalm 23 says, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures…”

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Trust isn’t just about lying down and resting– we are commanded to “Go” to “run the race” and to “stand firm in the faith”.  But what would it look like if people could see followers of Christ at rest in the certainty of God’s provision and power?   What if we opened our eyes to see God patiently building a relationship with us, waiting for the day that we would trust Him enough to enter our daily life?  How much more might our children learn to trust God if they saw parents who followed God’s cue to lie down in peace and hope, instead of scurrying around trying to do God’s work in their own (used up) energy?   What if, instead of praying with a morbid expectation of dying, we lay down to sleep, knowing that our soul is eternally safe, and that our future is secure and blessed because of the One who hears our prayer?

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“Now I lay me down to sleep;
I know the Lord my soul will keep.
If I should live another day,
He then will light my every way!”

Arise, Go Forth, and Conquer!

I love quirky motivational posters.  A friend of mine once had a poster with an awkward looking duckling– wide-eyed and still fuzzy–with the caption,

“Arise, Go Forth, and Conquer!”

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The phrase comes from Tennyson in Idylls of the King, but it is reminiscent of phrases given to Joshua as he prepared to lead the Israelites across the Jordan and into the promised land.

Joshua 1:2-3 (NKJV)   “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses.

God tells him several times to “Be strong and courageous..” (Joshua 1:6), “Be strong and very courageous.” (Joshua 1:7),  “…be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

When I think of being strong and courageous, I don’t usually think of ducklings!  I think of hero bodybuilders or armored knights of old…people who are prepared to crush and conquer and face an army.  Yet God repeats the phrase to Joshua, including at last the command to “not be terrified; do not be discouraged..”, which indicates that Joshua was close to terror and despair, rather than filled with hope and adrenaline.

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And little wonder.  Joshua had to be experiencing a slight sense of Déjà vu.  About forty years earlier, he had been part of the group of spies sent to scout out the promised land…spies who had come back terrified and discouraged.  The entire nation was ready to rebel against Moses and even God.  Now, forty years later, Joshua was to try again– this time as Moses’ replacement, a new leader for a new generation already prone to complain and rebel.

Some days I feel a little like Joshua– facing walled cities, giants, and feeling totally inadequate to the task.  Some days it even feels like a struggle to “arise”, let alone going forth to conquer.

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And then God reminds me…”Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses.”  It’s not that God is literally leading me into the promised land as I go to the grocery store or face a difficult customer at work or walk around the neighborhood.   But, figuratively, He is helping me win battles against temptation, discouragement, anger, and bitterness.  He IS with me wherever I go, and He wants me to trust HIS strength and wisdom to triumph.  I become “more than a conquerer” (Romans 8:37) when I stop trying to fight in my own strenth and rely on His.  My strength may be minimal, my motivation questionable, and my wisdom lacking, but I can waddle confidently into battle, knowing that the victory is certain!

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This is also true for my pursuit of prayer– My prayers are often flighty, inadequate, sporadic, and even grudging.  I keep a prayer journal, and that can help with motivation, discipline, and even praise, but it doesn’t guarantee that I will draw perfectly near to God or follow Him with total faithfulness.  The more I rely on MY efforts, the more I am fighting to replace God’s strength and wisdom with my own.  God doesn’t want me on the sidelines, or sleeping in– He wants me in the game.  But the outcome doesn’t depend on my ability or my performance (or my lack of feathers!)

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We Hold These Truths…

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness–Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson (July 4, 1776)

Full text of the Declaration of Independence

We’re getting ready to celebrate our Independence Day in America.  There will be parades, cookouts, parties, fireworks, and a host of other celebrations.  There will be a lot of flag-waving and patriotic displays.  At some gatherings, there may be readings of our Declaration of Independence.  This document was drafted to outline, not just a list of reasons why they should rebel, but what they hoped to build as a result of their struggle for freedom.

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Over 240 years later, this document, and what it stands for, is still relevant and calls us to a high standard– one our nation has not fully achieved.  In spite of the great strides we have made and the example we have been to the rest of the world, in recent decades, we have left behind many of the very truths we aspired to hold.

First, there is a dangerous belief that “truth” is no longer self-evident, nor is it timeless.  We don’t hold beliefs and truths anymore.  We shift with the tide of public opinion and the shadowy promise of “being on the right side of history”– which just means being on the winning side of the current debate within our lifetime and hopefully into the next set of history books.

Second, we have spent countless hours, shedding blood, sweat, and tears over the phrase “ALL MEN”– struggling to reach the promise of equality for all humankind.  We have fallen short of this vision, and twisted it into a grotesque parody of itself.   Instead of working together in unity and inclusiveness, we have devolved into factions each fighting to be “more equal” than others.  Instead of looking at the equal value and humanity of all our people, we point fingers at all the people who are “less worthy”, “more privileged”, “entitled”, “marginalized”, “intolerant”, “judgmental”, who “need to be silenced”, or “need to be kept in their place”…how can neighbors and fellow citizens be so vicious?  One answer may be found in the very next phrase…

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ARE CREATED equal, and are endowed BY THEIR CREATOR…Usually, this phrase is emphasized in the exact opposite places– the emphasis is on EQUAL and ENDOWED.  We have lost the “truth” of being “UNDER GOD”.  We have lost the truth of being created.  We have lost the truth that our worth, our rights, our values, are not a product of our own opinions and observations.

It is easy to point to others and say, “They are ruining our country– They are not living out these truths.”

The harder lesson is to look at my own assumptions, actions, and beliefs.  Do I TRULY believe that all the people around me– of every creed, gender, race, political party, nationality, educational achievement, or economic level are created equal and endowed BY THEIR CREATOR with value, and inalienable rights?  If, at any point, I make assumptions about the worthiness of “those people”, assuming that God loves me more, or will have more mercy or grace toward me because of who I am or how I behave; because of the color of my skin, or where I live, or who I voted for; because of the things I know or the good deeds I have done–I am part of the problem.  Christians, if we bear the name of Christ who created all mankind, and we hate those whom Christ created, the love of Christ IS NOT in us.

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That doesn’t mean that we ignore sin and compromise our character, and pervert justice in the name of a comfortable facsimile of equality.  But it also means that we must stop whitewashing hatred and injustice in the name of morality.  Morality without love cannot heal our nation.  Nor can rewriting our history.  Nor can declaring our Independence.

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The Declaration of Independence is not a stand-alone document.  It had no authority on its own.  If our founders had lost the Revolutionary War; if they had abandoned their vision of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”; if their descendants had failed to bring a divided nation back into unity; if our parents and grandparents had not struggled and fought to make our nation live up to its principles; and if our generations fail to come together and work toward that same vision– Independence will not be something to celebrate, but something to detest.

While it is called the Declaration of Independence, it is a spirit of dependence– on God, on His truth, and on the goodwill of our fellow Americans, that keeps this document alive and full of promise.

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We need to pray for our nation– and for our own revival– if we are to truly celebrate this Fourth of July.

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