I generally write on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week. I missed Friday of last week and Monday of this week. I got busy with holidays and housework and mundane things. I was not faithful in my writing.
God is never unfaithful. There is never a day when the sun doesn’t rise, when the ocean waves don’t roll, when gravity suddenly stops, or when God stops answering prayer.
There may be days when we don’t “see” God, or feel His presence; days when we don’t understand the way He works or why He chooses to answer, “No,” to our heart’s desire. But there is never a time when He simply stops caring, or takes His hand away from creation or removes Himself from all contact, leaving us alone and without hope.
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6 a) and the writer of Hebrews said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, yes, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8) We never have to worry or wonder about God’s Spirit leaving us, or disappearing; we don’t have to consider that God will suddenly change His character or that His love will grow cold.
People will ultimately disappoint us–in small or big ways, or at surprising moments–not always because they are vicious or unfeeling. Most of the time, they will let us down because not one of us is perfect. We get tired, cranky, sick, or forgetful. We get delayed, distracted, or depressed. But God is Love, and “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8a). God is sovereign and eternally unchanging.
So even when I fall short, I can call out to God for forgiveness, and strength to begin again. I can come to Him in confidence, assurance, and hope, knowing that His Grace is boundless, His love is limitless, and His arms are always open wide to receive me. All I have to do is run to Him and accept Him for who He is– My Faithful Redeemer, My Lord, and My Heavenly Father.
And in this pursuit of Prayer, and daily walk with Him, my goal is to become more like Him– including being more faithful.
I’m late writing this entry. I was so proud of keeping to my schedule, and I had an idea of what I wanted to write yesterday so it could be published this morning. But then, I got the flu.
I’m still not feeling well. I’ve spent most of the last two days in bed or in the bathroom. But God is good–I have a bed and a bathroom; I have a husband who has taken care of me, letting me rest, and getting containers when I needed to throw up.
So tonight, I’m asking for prayer, and thankful that prayer is more powerful than pride (and the flu)!
I have been revisiting old hymns lately as I write about my pursuit of prayer. This is partly because I believe that prayer is a form of worship, and is closely tied to other forms of worship– meditation, singing, etc.. Sometimes, it can be helpful to pray songs or to sing prayers– look at the entire book of Psalms!
Our church has recently been involved in revival services– two weeks of time set aside to evaluate our daily walk with Christ. We need periods of revival and refreshment, conviction and confession, repentance and reflection. Without them, we will wander; without them we will wither and grow cold, and lose sight of our first love.
One of the first nights, we explored the idea of surrender. We say that we trust God; that Jesus is Lord, that we are followers of Christ…but do we really demonstrate those truths by the way we live? Have we really surrendered our will, our lives, our futures to God? We claim that He is sovereign over big things– all of creation, world affairs, and such–but is He Lord over the little things? Do I trust Him with my reputation when someone misrepresents me to others? Do I trust Him with my diet when I am tempted to overeat? Do I trust Him with my time when someone asks me to help them on my day off?
One of the keys to this hymn (and to prayer) is in the first verse– “..in His presence daily live.” There are times when I feel the need to surrender; times when I feel wholly surrendered and devoted. But there will be other days when the feeling just isn’t there. My surrender needs to happen daily– in the “good” times and in the “difficult” times. Sometimes, I just need to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and empower me to recognize and surrender those areas that I have tried to “take back” from Him.
And then, I need to be intentional about letting go–one piece at a time, if necessary–each day saying, “Yes” to God instead of “Yes” to those things that pull me away. It’s not always easy to say, “I surrender all.” It’s even harder to actually follow through. We want to hang on to things that are comfortable, familiar, even “good.” We want to hang on to things that seem to promise safety, success, or fulfillment– even when God offers more.
I’m not writing this because I have mastered the discipline of surrender– I need to learn to let go, to trust God more, to risk what I cannot keep to gain what I cannot lose (paraphrasing from Jim Elliot–https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/jim_elliot_189244. That is my prayer today, for myself, and for others.
I spent a good portion of my adult life working in positions where my value rested in my ability to impart knowledge and answer questions. As a teacher, my job was to guide students into a base of knowledge about the English language (and especially spoken communication) so that they would be prepared to adequately speak, read, write, explain, defend, and use it. I was expected to know enough about grammar, spelling, connotations of words, nonverbal communication, sound logic (and fallacies to avoid), presentation, tone of voice, etc., to enable students to improve their communication and use language more effectively in their careers, academic endeavors, business dealings, and even in personal relationships. If they had questions about word choices, written or spoken directions, propaganda techniques, advertising tricks, euphemisms, or a hundred other topics, I was expected to have an answer– and one that would shape their ability to succeed. When I made the transition to working in a public library, my job was to have answers– which books were at the appropriate reading level for various elementary students; where could someone find information about manatees; who wrote the Captain Underpants books (Dav Pilkey); did our library loan out encyclopedia volumes or sets of early reader books; could our library borrow a rare book from another library; what was the capital of Uganda (Kampala); did we have books that might help a child coping with the loss of a pet, or a parent struggling with toilet-training their toddler; where could someone find … the list was endless and extraordinarily varied. My job was to have an answer– or know where to find it.
At no time was it expected that I would simply answer “I don’t know.” Even if I didn’t know in the moment, I was expected to search until I found an answer that was sufficient and satisfactory. However, in each case, I found situations where my “answer,” while satisfactory to me, and even to everyone else I had dealt with, was not enough to satisfy the person in front of me. Sometimes, I had misunderstood the question and given an answer to what I heard or assumed I had heard. I needed to listen some more, or ask for clarification before I could answer the question correctly. Sometimes, the other person was looking for an answer that didn’t exist– either they wanted confirmation of a falsehood they believed to be true, or they wanted a single, absolute answer to a question that was complex and open-ended. In rare cases, there were questions for which I could find no satisfactory answer– it doesn’t mean that there was none, but I had not found it, nor had I found someone else who could find it in the time allowed. I might find an answer that was not satisfactory, or I might find seven possible answers, but not one that stood out from the others, or I would find nothing but dead ends.
The Apostle Peter tells each follower of Christ:
15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
1 Peter 3:15 & 16 (NIV via biblegateway.com)–emphasis added
This does not mean that we must completely satisfy everyone who asks– the curious neighbor who knows nothing of the Bible and has dozens of confusing questions, or the nay-saying agnostic with a single “gotcha” question. Nor must we fight and fuss and pound the Bible until we “win” every theological and metaphysical argument–because we won’t! There are many things about the Bible, about Spiritual matters, etc., for which we will not have absolute or definitive answers–and neither will they! (That’s why they ask, sometimes.) And those things that satisfy our longings, our questions, our doubts– sometimes don’t meet the needs of the one who is asking, not because the answers are deficient, but because we are all different in our needs, and understanding, and experiences.
Some people will listen to us merely to scoff and try to make us lose heart or make us look foolish. Others are afraid that our answer will make them feel lost or guilty. Some people have been hurt by others who have used the Bible as a cudgel or a whip– bringing shame, judgment, and contention wherever they go. We must not expect that our answers, our arguments, even our favorite scripture verses– that WE are enough to satisfy the questions, the doubts, and the spiritual needs of everyone we meet.
What we should always have is an answer for the hope that is in us– why have we chosen to believe? Why do we choose to trust when we do not know all the answers? And our answers should be given with gentleness and respect– not arrogance and snide judgment. I don’t have hope because I know answers to tough questions. In order to have that kind of hope, I would need to know all the answers to all the questions– even those I haven’t asked or imagined! I don’t know about the future– I can’t explain why God allows evil (there are compelling arguments for some reasons, but no absolute answer that stops the question)–I don’t know how God’s Spirit moves, or why He drew me to Himself. I cannot “prove” God to someone who is determined to deny Him– not because God doesn’t exist, but because He will not force anyone to accept Him in this life, and especially not because I said a few words based on my limited understanding. My job is not to explain God–only God is big enough and wise enough to do that– but to reflect His character in a changed nature, and to explain what God has done in my life to effect that change. My hope is in the ONE I choose to trust– the ONE who does have the answers! God has not promised to answer all our “what ifs” or our “whys”– but He has promised to answer all our needs, and to BE the answer in every situation, no matter how daunting.
Prayer is often about burdens– the burden of need; the burden of sin and guilt; the burden of worry and distress. We bring our burdens to God, to the “throne of Grace;” we bring them “in Jesus’ Name,”, and we bring them to “Our Father.” But how often do we bring them to “Calvary?”
Not the victorious empty cross on the hillside with a beautiful sunset in the background, but the bloody, hot, dry and dreadful Calvary of the crucifixion? How often do we make the pilgrimage to that rocky outcropping with the smell of blood and sweat and death and agony? How often do we cry out to the one who was lifted up, struggling to breathe, pierced, wounded, broken and humiliated? When do we reach out to touch the scars and bruises he received in our place?
It is at Calvary that we get the real story of Grace, Mercy, and forgiveness–the real cost of victory and peace. It is at Calvary that we see the full extent of God’s Holiness married to the full extent of His Love. Holiness demands justice; Love demands intimacy– together, they require sacrifice.
And it is at Calvary that we find, in the darkest and most hopeless of moments– God forsaking Himself, giving all He IS to bring justice and reconciliation for all we’ve done–that we trade our burdened souls, our worries, our despair for God’s embrace. Arms stretched so wide they are pulled from their sockets; blood spilled from head to toe; breathless and exposed in His passion for your soul and mine–that’s what God offers at Calvary.
Why do I pray? I am ambushed and overwhelmed and enraptured by such a love. God had no need to suffer even a moment’s discomfort. He owed nothing to His rebellious creation; no mercy, no explanation, no hints as to His character (or ours). The creator of galaxies had no need to lift a finger to save one puny planet or any of its inhabitants from His own right to un-create them and blot out even their memory. Instead, He showed the greatest act of Love across all of space and time–to me!– At Calvary!
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Matthew 7:24-27 ESV via biblegateway.com
I’ve been thinking on old hymns lately, and one that has gotten stuck in my head is the one often called “The Solid Rock”, or “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” While slight variations of the lyrics exist, the words follow here:
My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand, All other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace; In every high and stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood, Support me in the whelming flood; When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found; In Him, my righteousness, alone, Faultless to stand before the throne.
While the song speaks of anchors, frames, and trumpet sounds, its inspiration comes from Jesus’ parable of the houses built on rock and sand, found in Matthew 7. We understand the wisdom of building our house upon the rock, on a solid foundation; we may even agree that Christ is the only solid foundation, and our only hope of salvation. We confess that Jesus is Lord; we say all the right things, and do many good works, believing that we are building on the rock.
But there are days when I build a temporary summer house on the beach–days when I plant my bare feet in the sandy shoreline, while the gentle waves tickle my toes and slowly cover my feet with glinting sand. My “main” house is safely sitting on the rock, but I am living at the beach. If the storm comes, I might run back inside, but I am lulled into thinking that the storm will never come, and I will only need the shelter and the solid ground in times of distress and obvious danger.
Slowly, the tide and sinking sand can pull me in– I slide into the sinking sand, until the water covers my ankles, and knees. I am still standing, but I am farther from the solid ground, and more vulnerable to the next big wave. It doesn’t take a storm to make me fall over and start thrashing in the surf. I don’t have to rush toward danger, or ignore clear warning signs. I just have to stand in the sinking sand, idly enjoying the scenery, and trusting in my own ability to run to safety at the last minute.
“All other ground is sinking sand.” There is nothing wrong with enjoying some time at the beach (although I wouldn’t recommend the beaches in my area in November, when the waves are treacherous and the wind slices through several layers of clothing!). There is nothing wrong with enjoying the blessings God has given us in this life. But we cannot plant ourselves in comfort and complacency and hope to build a solid foundation. I cannot trust in my circumstances when they are pleasant and only look to God when I am half-drowned and far from shore. Not because He can’t or won’t rescue me– He is still my hope and my firm foundation– but because I will forget how to stand and where to turn to regain solid footing. My house will be on solid ground, but empty and useless to me on the shifting, sinking sand where I am actually spending my life.
But when I live on solid ground, the storms of life cannot pull me away from safety. “When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay.”
Recently, this old hymn has been updated and revised. The message still remains– My Hope is Built on Nothing Less: Christ alone is my Cornerstone and sure foundation. I dare not trust in my circumstances, my own wisdom or feelings, my family, my finances, my health, or any dreams or hopes apart from Christ. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy any of these things. I do, and I thank God for all He has given me. But I pray that I never drift away from the solid and eternal foundation that only He can bring and be in my life.
I was at worship yesterday. We sang some wonderful hymns and songs of worship. Still, I miss some of the “old” hymns we used to sing in the small country church of my youth. This was one of them:
In case the video does not show up, here are the words: Jesus calls us: o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea, Day by day His sweet voice soundeth, saying, “Christian, follow Me.” Jesus calls us from the worship of the vain world’s golden store, From each idol that would keep us, saying, “Christian, love Me more.” In our joys and in our sorrows, days of toil and hours of ease, Still He calls, in cares and pleasures, “Christian, love Me more than these.” Jesus calls us: by Thy mercies, Saviour, may we hear Thy call, Give our hearts to Thine obedience, serve and love Thee best of all. Amen.
Prayer is never just a one-way communication. We may not “hear” from God in an audible voice, but He calls us into communion with Him daily. He wants to hear from us; He wants to speak to us–through His word, through our experiences, through friends and neighbors and even chance encounters. We may not have a deep spiritual burden to bring before the throne of grace– does that keep us from needing to share a quiet moment with the lover of our soul?
Suppose the only time you ever spoke to your spouse was when you desperately needed her/his help? What would that say about your relationship? The same holds with our spiritual walk. God wants to speak to us; to have us notice the beauty of the sunrise, or the grace of moonlight in the mist. He wants to bring us hope and comfort in the stories and psalms of scripture. He wants us to share our nagging worries and our minor triumphs– not because He doesn’t know or cannot see–because He wants to share in our struggles and our joys, our deep grieving and our small amusements.
He wants all of this because of His great love for each of us. If we could just see His eyes light up with love when we walk into a room…and if we could hear the love in His voice– we would be undone. Someday, we will be– undone, and remade, and able to catch His eye without shattering in the light of that love.
It is harvest time where I live. It is especially fraught with significance this year, as we have had a bad growing season– heavy rains in the spring and low temperatures meant that much of the planting was delayed or cancelled. Fields that normally produce excellent crops of corn or wheat or soybeans look stunted and sickly, or they lie barren. Recent rains and threats of early snow mean that crops must be harvested now or lost, even if the yields are low or the crops not fully mature. While there will be a lot of grief and exasperation among farmers this year, there will also be relief and rejoicing in certain quarters.
As followers of Christ, we are both harvest and harvesters. Like seed, we “die” to our nature, and grow and mature in newness of life by the Holy Spirit. And like farmers and harvest workers, we are called to plant seeds, to “sow” the Gospel of Christ, to tend to one another’s growth and nurture, and to “harvest” a crop– bringing others toward repentance and faith.
Another song from my childhood impressed itself upon me during my worship time today– a simple chorus, but filled with joy. Our mornings, evenings, sunny days and wintry nights may be filled with sowing seeds and tending crops; the work may seem tedious or even thankless. But we can take joy in knowing that there is a joyful and glorious Harvest ahead. Some day, we will be gathered together– not a puny harvest hastily gathered to avoid spoiling, but an abundant, fruitful harvest of God’s love lavished, nourished, and brought to perfection.
Lord, thank you for the reminder that all of this life –even the trials and frustrations–will produce a harvest of praise and worship. Give me the strength and wisdom to work joyfully for Your glory today. Help me to sow the seeds of Grace and Truth that come from your word, and to help others grow. Help me to respond with eagerness to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and counsel, and be a blessing to those around me. Amen.
Growing up in the age before digital cameras, I remember waiting for photos to be developed from a roll of film. We would drop off a roll at the pharmacy or photo shop, and pick up a package containing the prints and several strips of negatives from the original roll of film.
I was fascinated by these negatives–images with the exact opposite of the prints– dark was light, light was dark, and everything seemed topsy-turvy. Sometimes things seemed creepy and even somewhat sinister–people with white hair and white pupils shining out of dark eyes; icy trees against a dark sky.
Of course, the negatives were not the prints, nor were they intended to be the finished product. The negatives were included so that new prints could be made at a later time. We didn’t put the negatives in our photo album; we hid them away in a dark place, out of sight and far from the light. Most of them eventually got ruined or degraded over time, while the photos they produced were preserved and cherished.
Life holds a lot of “negatives”– negative experiences, negative emotions, negative thoughts, bad memories, scars–we all have them. But we are given the opportunity to produce something positive out of even the most negative of circumstances. It’s what God does– His light shines in the darkness and changes our view.
But we need to be exposed to the truth, and developed by faith, just like film. And we need to come back into the light, not as a negative, but as a faithful image of what (and who) God intends us to be.
The world is full of negatives– distorted images and situations caused by exposure to sin, pain, grief, anger, bitterness, and hatred. We can dwell on such images, and fill our days staring at the negatives, never seeing the reality of what God has done all around us. Or we can allow God to develop the negatives in our life and create albums of God’s Grace–filling our eyes and minds with the truth and beauty that comes only from our Loving Father.
Philippians 4:6-8 NIV
Donot 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. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (taken from bible.com)
Someday, God will finish destroying all the “negatives” in this fallen world, and reveal His full Glory. What a sight that will be!