Passionate Patience

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message– emphasis added)
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I’ve seen lots of posts recently about the “-ber” months–September, October, November, December–and the excitement for some as this season comes ’round. September in Michigan is filled with ripening fruits and changing colors. October brings pumpkins, apple cider, and frosty mornings. November is often spent thinking of and planning for Thanksgiving– bountiful feasts and time with family. And December brings the Christmas season– snow, caroling, giving and receiving gifts, and families gathered around trees and fireplaces, sharing old memories and making new ones.

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Part of this season of summer morphing into autumn and “falling” into winter is anticipation. The first apple harvest; the first frost; the first snowfall; those eager moments of wondering what will be under the Christmas Tree…we know they will come, but when, and how?

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My birthday is at the end of November, and as a child, I always loved Thanksgiving. It meant that family would gather, and at some point, they would sing “Happy Birthday” and there would be a cake among all the wonderful Thanksgiving desserts with my name on it! Four weeks later, Christmas would come, and the same excitement filled the house. It was difficult to be patient, but I learned that everything special was worth waiting for. In fact, sometimes, the anticipation is part of what makes such times more wonderful. There is no fun in rushing through precious moments or “ruining” the surprise of what is to come; nor is there any virtue in losing passion for what is possible, just because we can’t see the outcome, yet.

The Apostle Peter gave early Christians a list of attributes and spiritual traits that they should be developing in increasing measure. One of these attributes is “passionate patience.” In other translations, it is also called “perseverance,” “endurance,” “patience,” and “strength to keep going.” I like this wording, “passionate patience,” because it reminds us that patience isn’t just passive and meek. Especially as we work on building our spiritual understanding and alert discipline, patience becomes a powerful trait– one that distinguishes Christians from those around them. Some people are marked by impatience, anger, and dissatisfaction. Others are marked with complacency and resignation. Christians are asked to be passionately patient! Our faith and hope should radiate, even as we endure trials and anticipate God’s movement in the world around us.

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Jesus modeled “passionate patience” in His ministry on earth. Peter was witness to Jesus’ endurance in the face of rejection, unbelief, misunderstanding, and injustice– both to those around Him, and personal injustices. Jesus remained faithful, passionate for the truth, and compassionate toward others. He did not give in to despair, or waste His energy in anger or revenge. He did not make excuses for inaction, but He did not “burn out” in useless activities, either. He confidently did what the Father told Him to do– no more and no less.

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How do I reflect “passionate patience?” When I look around me and see injustice, do I explode in anger? Do I shrug my shoulders in resignation? Do I lose faith and passion? Or do I remain positive and faithful in doing what I know to be right and speaking up for the truth? Do I spread compassion or consternation? Antipathy, anger, or aspiration? When my life circumstances are filled with pain or hardship, do I endure? Do I persevere? Do I thrive? Or do I complain? Do I remain passionately hopeful, or give in to anxiety or despair? Do I wait for God’s strength and wisdom, or do I try to “fix” things in my own power? Do I accept help and guidance when I need it, or resent others’ efforts? Do I spread hope and healing? Or do I spread doubt and gloom? Do I grow bitter or better? I’d love to say that I respond with the kind of endurance, patience, and fortitude that Peter spoke of. And sometimes, with God’s help, I have. But I have much to learn, and room to grow!

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I pray that God’s spirit will help me grow in “passionate patience,” as I actively seek to follow Christ and reflect His love today.

Spiritual Understanding

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message– emphasis added)
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“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not my ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.
“For as heaven is higher than earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (Christian Standard Bible)

I do not understand God’s ways. If I try to work it out with human understanding, I will never make sense of how God works. I don’t have His wisdom or omniscience; I don’t have His eternal perspective or omnipotence. God will never answer all of my questions; He will never reveal all of His plans or reasoning to me. He calls me to walk in Faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) This is a stumbling block to many. It is especially frustrating for those who think they already DO know (almost) everything, and believe that they should be able to speak to God as a peer, even to be able to consult Him! I knew of a man (a convicted felon) who refused to repent of his actions. He admitted that he had done wrong, and that his prison sentence was deserved, but when challenged with how he would answer before God, he simply said–“God and I will come to an understanding.” He simply felt that if he explained “his side of the story,” God would change his immutable commandments and make an exception.

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God doesn’t need anyone to “explain” anything to Him. Nor does He “owe” any of His creation an explanation for His actions or seeming inactions. I will never understand why certain injustices are allowed to happen, and seem to go unpunished in my lifetime. I don’t understand God’s timing in my life– why my father died when he did, or why I had to wait so long to be married. But I am learning to trust that God knows every injustice, every need, every situation we face, and that He WILL make all things “right” in HIS time and in His perfect way.

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Spiritual Understanding has to come from the Spirit. It cannot come through our own wisdom or learning. It has to be built, not just on Faith, but on acting in Faith and walking humbly in conformity to our Good Shepherd’s example. We must become, not just “fans” of Christ, or even just students of Christ, but disciples of Christ, if we want to begin to have greater understanding. Like the apprentice, who must learn by doing, so we must learn through practice of God’s Word. We must also ASK for wisdom and understanding. (James 1:5) They are gifts, just like Salvation. We don’t earn understanding; we are granted it as we walk in obedience and faith.

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Today, my prayer is that I would receive insight as I learn to trust, and I would trust that God will give the wisdom I need for the day ahead– no more or less, and not a moment too late or too soon. And experience confirms that He is faithful to do just that!

For Goodness’ Sake!

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message)
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What does it mean to be “good?” This is a question that Jesus posed to the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18:

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 

Luke 18:18-19 (NIV)
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Jesus went on to list several Biblical commandments– you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, etc.., but even when the young man answers with confidence that he has kept all these commandments, Jesus says, “you still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow me.” (v. 22)

Civil Rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gesturing during sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. (Photo by Donald Uhrbrock//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Being “good” is not a matter of avoiding evil. It is more than being “correct” in our principles, and upright in our actions. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his famous address in 1963 said that he dreamed of a day when his children… would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the “content of their character.” Character, and more specifically the “good character” mentioned by Peter in the above passage, includes thoughts, principles, actions, and habits by which we are judged. I may never commit murder in the literal sense, but I will be judged wanting in character if my words and actions are vicious, snide, malicious, sarcastic, and brutal. I may never be convicted of theft, but I may be judged harshly for being ungenerous or miserly toward those in need. Dr. King wanted his children to be judged–positively–for their character, not for something as superficial and arbitrary as skin color, nor for whatever they hadn’t done.

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The young ruler in Luke’s story, not willing to give away his possessions, went away disappointed. But he missed the more important calling– “Then come, follow me.” Jesus wasn’t being self-effacing when He asked, “Why do you call me good?” Far from it! Jesus WAS good– He was (and is) the embodiment of Goodness! It is not through ritualistically following the commandments that anyone becomes “good.” It isn’t even in the self-sacrificing act of giving away one’s possessions. It is in the humble act of following the Master! To follow Christ is to step out in faith, and to walk in goodness.

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Peter makes the natural connection that James also makes in his epistle– that Faith, while fundamental, must build good character through our actions, words, and habits. Faith, without works, is dead. (James 2:14-26) So the next building block is developing a good (or Godly) character. Our lives should reflect the Goodness of Christ. We won’t be perfect. But we will be given strength and guidance by the Holy Spirit to walk in Goodness. And as we walk, we will build on that foundation with the next step…Spiritual Understanding. (More about that next time.)

Today, I pray that God will show me how, and His Spirit empower me, to develop in goodness; that I would become more like the “Good Teacher” who is also my savior and Lord. For Goodness’ Sake!

Don’t Lose a Minute…

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1: 5-9 (The Message)
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The Apostle Peter was writing to people in the early church– people who were under enormous pressures and persecution. The Epistles of 1 and 2 Peter are filled with dire warnings– and urgent calls to action! Earlier in his first letter, Peter spoke of prayer: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7 New Living Translation). Prayer is primary, but it must be paired with action. In this passage, Peter lays out a progression of characteristics to pursue. We must actively chase after a Godly character. It will not develop in a vacuum. We must build on our foundation, and keep building up– so that we can build up others as well!

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The foundation is basic Faith. We need a bedrock, solid and sure; unmoving and capable of handling stress and pressure. In our own power and our own wisdom, we will crumble under the kinds of stress and persecution we may face in modern circumstances. We need to trust God– and seek to trust Him more completely–before we can advance in Christlikeness. We will be tempted to doubt– that is normal in a broken world. But we must continue to bring those doubts before the power of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Doubts, like other challenges, will test us. The challenge of doubt is particularly tricky, because the more we try to wrestle in our own mind, the more doubt (aided by pride) can take hold. It is counter-intuitive. The more I try to answer every doubt and every contradiction– the more evidence and reassurance I require before I am willing to trust, the less I am likely to find faith. Faith is like a muscle– if you never exercise it– you will hardly know it’s there. But when you need it, you’ll wish you had worked out more! Faith is not fully developed overnight. God will NOT answer every question, settle every niggling doubt, solve every seeming contradiction. But He HAS promised not to leave us alone, without hope or help. And when we do exercise Faith, we will learn to trust more. As we learn to trust God’s wisdom and provision, we will develop our other muscles…like goodness, self-discipline, and self-sacrificing love!

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I like the above translation, because it stresses the urgency that is a core of all Peter’s writings. “Don’t lose a minute…” Don’t waste time in second-guessing, excuse-making, distractions, or empty arguments. Don’t lose the opportunity to see God’s work unfolding as you take baby steps of Faith! Don’t become complacent, and lag behind, losing momentum and focus! Chase after Faith! Cling to the “hem of His garment”

20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Matthew 9:20-22 (NRSV)
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We may not see the instant miracle of this woman, but our faith WILL make us “well.” It will change our perspective, open our eyes, and chase away doubts like a breeze chases away a cloud of smoke.

Peter’s list is worth exploring more deeply. I’ve looked at Faith today…next time, I want to explore good character (also translated as “goodness,” or “moral excellence.”) Today, I pray that I would build on the gift of Faith, and strive for a deeper faith, aided by the Holy Spirit, as I face whatever challenges life brings.

“I Would Prefer Not To..”

Years ago, our high school class read a classic short story by the American author, Herman Melville. Bartleby the Scrivener tells the story of an unusual clerk– one who begins as a good worker, efficient and conscientious, but ends up dying in prison, hopeless, ruined, and broken. His tragic downward spiral begins one day when the lawyer for whom he works asks him to examine a short document. This is a commonplace request, much like asking a writer to proofread her final draft before submitting it to the editor. However, Bartleby responds by saying “I would prefer not to.” The startled lawyer decides not to force the issue, and gives the task to someone else.

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Bartleby’s refusal to do what is expected of him escalates until he no longer does ANY work. He refuses to work, refuses to leave the office, and refuses to eat. He isn’t angry or violent, but he remains defiant until the very end.

So it is with us when we are living in sin and rebellion against God. It may start out small– some little habit or attitude. We know it is wrong, but instead of obeying God’s word, we calmly say, “I would prefer not to…” not to tell the truth, not to turn away from porn, not to help my neighbor, not to agree with God about my behavior.

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8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:6-12 (ESV)

God is patient. He is gracious and kind. He does not treat us as our offenses deserve. He gives us the chance to repent. He offers forgiveness. But every time we say to God, “I would prefer not to,” we get a little more like Bartleby– isolating ourselves, wasting our potential to be all that God created us to be, growing more defiant and more rebellious, until we waste away into a prison of our own making, and, finally, death.

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One of the things that makes Melville’s story so disturbing is that the narrator keeps trying to explain away Bartleby’s defiance–perhaps he is having trouble with his eyesight and doesn’t want to admit it; perhaps he was traumatized at a previous job; maybe there is a reason for his passive aggression. But in all of his attempts to understand, the narrator cannot save Bartleby from prison and death.

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Understanding sin cannot change us. Excusing sin does nothing to stop its consequences (see Romans 6:23). No one killed Bartleby, yet he died because he “would prefer not to” do the things he needed to do to live. His small act of defiance, which starts out singular and almost heroic (after all, who wouldn’t like to tell the boss, “I would prefer not to,” every once in awhile?), sounds innocuous. Such a little thing to refuse. Surely God would not punish us for so small a thing…until one small thing leads to another…and another; a bigger rebellion; a numbing complacency; loss of perspective; a heart of stone; isolation; starvation; imprisonment; death.

What am I refusing to do for God today? What am I refusing to give up? Refusing to admit? Refusing to listen to? Am I excusing myself? Do I tell myself I am not in rebellion because I have been polite in my refusal to obey? Do I comfort myself that my rebellion is really just a matter of “preference,” and will not be consequential? That God’s Holiness is less important than my comfort or convenience?

Many people coast through life in the belief that God is SO merciful and SO loving that He can’t also be Holy and Just– that His commands are really suggestions; that His wrath is mythical; that our own wisdom is sufficient for living a “good” life and pleasing Him. But God isn’t concerned about whether we live a “good” life– He wants us to have an abundant life– filled with joy and peace, love and relationship, both now and forevermore. In fact, He would “prefer not to” punish us. He is not “willing” (i.e. desirous) that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), but that everyone would some to repentance. That doesn’t mean that He won’t punish those who refuse to obey Him, or those who refuse to turn from their rebellion and trust Him; only that He will continue to give us the opportunity to recognize our need for forgiveness.

10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15:10-15 ESV– taken from biblegateway.com

God has made it possible for us to be more than servants. We don’t have to respond to God as Bartleby responded to his boss– though God has the ultimate authority to demand our loyalty and obedience. Through Jesus, we are sons and daughters and friends! When God gives us commands, like “Love one another,” they are still commands. But His heart is that we should trust that all of His commands are righteous, life-giving, and in our eternal best interest. But some of us are still saying, “I would prefer not to.”

Turn, Turn, Turn

Back in the 1960s, Pete Seeger “wrote” a new folk song, later recorded by a group called The Byrds.  All but the title and the last six words of the song were taken directly (though the word order was changed) from the book of Ecclesiastes.  Essentially, Pete Seeger wrote seven words and some music; the rest was written by King Solomon almost three thousand years ago!  Learn more about the song here…

timelapse photography of stars at night
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When God created the world, he instituted times and seasons– day and night; winter and summer; weeks and months.  We are bound by time while we live here.  Sunlight and darkness help determine when we are active or sleeping (less so since the advent of electric lighting); summer and winter (or rainy/dry seasons) determine when we plant or harvest, what we wear, how we travel, and what activities we plan.

snow nature forest winter
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But Solomon reminds us that there are also “seasons” that don’t depend on the weather or the amount of light filling the horizon.  There is a time to be born and a time to die; a time for laughter and a time for weeping; a time for war and a time for peace.  Our world is not static– it is filled with changes, and times for turning away from one thing and facing another.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (ESV)
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Our prayers will change with these seasons– prayers of wonder and prayers of wondering why; prayers of great boldness and reluctant, halting prayers; prayers that come from joy, and those that come with wracking grief.  There will be seasons of chaotic busyness, and seasons of loneliness and long hours; seasons when we help lift the burdens of others before our own, and seasons where others help us lift burdens we cannot bear alone.  There will be seasons of fierce, pounding spiritual warfare, and seasons of relative peace and rest.

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Solomon lays out the concept, but I like Pete Seeger’s addition of the phrase, “turn, turn, turn.”  It reminds me that the seasons of my life will change, but I need to change as well.  I need to turn, first of all, to see where God is working in my life and the lives of others– that’s where I need to be and where I need to be focused.  God will never leave me nor forsake me, but He loves me too much to “leave” me in a rut– He needs me to move on and finish the race He has set out for me.  Change can be difficult, but without it, there is no growth!

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Second, I need to turn from habits and activities that are “out of season”–young parents will have a completely different way of mapping out their time, including time for prayer and Bible study, than empty-nesters.  People in mourning will have a different approach to prayer and worship than those who are in a season of celebration.  There is a season to break down–to end bad relationships and turn from bad habits–and a time to build up healthy relationships and habits.  There is a time to speak– to share prayer requests and spend time in corporate prayer; to ask questions and persist in our requests.  But there is also a time to stay silent– to meditate and listen more than we talk; to be still and know, instead of pace and ponder.  I don’t wear a heavy coat in the middle of summer or run barefoot in the snow– I need to turn in alignment with the season I am passing through.

barefoot basket blooming blossoming
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Finally, I need to turn away from temptation and sin.  God gives me the power, through His Spirit, to turn and walk away from the quicksand of complaisance, the tidal waves of desire, the live wire of unchecked rage, or the bottomless pit of envy, but I must turn away from them.

This life is full of seasons and change– some good, some dangerous.  But God is outside of time and seasons.  He provides endless variety, but He never changes His essential nature.  No matter where we turn, He can be found!

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Objects In the Mirror…

“Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear…” This notice is on the side rear-view mirror of my car. It serves to remind me that I cannot judge distances by what I see– that my mirror is meant to show a wide-range view, rather than one that is precise and in-scale.

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Many things in life are similarly distorted. The actual objects in my rear-view mirror don’t appear distorted, but if I back up without considering the warning, I am likely to run into an object and “distort” my back bumper!

The Bible also warns us about distortion and mirrors. In James, chapter 1, the Apostle writes:

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:22-27 (NIV)
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We can easily read what the Bible says; we can easily hear the truth; we can even recite Scripture– and still be deceived and following a distorted version of God’s Word. As I write this, I can quote James, or another passage of Scripture, and walk away from the keyboard only to spread gossip, or snap at my husband, or in some other way distort what I know to be true about myself and about God.

The Apostle Paul also references mirrors in 1 Corinthians:

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13: 8-12

Even though this chapter is famously known as the “Love” chapter, it also addresses our need to be alert, humble, and committed to acting on what we know to be true. We can speak of love, even perform acts of self-sacrifice, yet distort what it actually means to practice Love. If we glance at our lives in the distorted mirrors of pride or worldly comparison, we will lose our perspective and our proper focus– and end up damaging more than just a bumper!

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This distortion can also infect our prayer life. We can pray on “auto-pilot”– looking at things in a distorted mirror, instead of focusing on God and putting things in their proper perspective. How many times have I prayed that God would help those in need, without ever considering how He might want me to DO something? Have I asked locally if there is a need I can help meet? Not just with money, but in time or service? Do I pray “globally” but ignore those right in my own back yard? Sadly, I must answer than I have been guilty of such distortion. Or how many times have I been in the one in need, praying for a miracle, while refusing the practical help that someone has offered? Have I prayed that God would “change” someone else’s attitude, without seeing that mine needs to change as well (or instead!)? Have I confessed a sin, without really repenting? There is temptation, waiting in my rear-view mirror– and much closer than it appears!–but I want absolution without discipline. I want help without humility. I want to love others– when it is convenient.

Thankfully, God WANTS us to see clearly. He gives us warnings about the mirrors we tend to use, and His Word helps us correct our focus.

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God wants us to see things as they really are– both the horror of our sin and rebellion, and the wonder of His Grace. And sometimes, that means grappling with the distortions in the mirrors of our own making.

Praying Around Town

I live in a small town. Every week, I take a mental (and sometimes also a walking) tour of my town as I pray for it. I pray for the businesses, the public services, the churches, schools, families, and more. Sometimes, I try to picture my town street by street…the pharmacy, the pizza place, the real estate agent, the City Hall, the little ice cream shop, the Library, the beauty salon, the Post Office, the bakery, the corner gas station…

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It’s a routine, and it’s a exercise, but it’s also a great reminder of several things:

  • Prayer is about every aspect of life–even the things I take for granted, like the corner store or the insurance agent down the street, or the fire station. I can (and should) thank God for the blessings He has given me. I should also lift up my neighbors and friends in prayer. I may not always know specific needs, but as I recall places, sometimes I recall needs as well.
  • Prayer is about more than just me. It is easy to get caught up in my own triumphs or worries and lose sight of how God is working in others’ lives around town.
  • God is all about community–Jesus came to announce that “The Kingdom of God is among (or within) you” (Luke 17:21; Matthew 3:2, etc.) We are not to live our lives isolated from others. And this is certainly true of prayer. We are to think of others, and to love our neighbors “as ourselves” (Matthew 7:12; Mark 12:31, others), and that includes praying for them. We don’t have to pray grandiose prayers or pointed prayers, but pray for their health, well-being (including, but not limited to their spiritual well-being), and relationships.
  • Praying for the town and its various residents reminds me to reach out and treat them with respect. It’s much easier to pray for someone you talk to and get to know– and it’s easier to reach out and get to know people around you if you are praying for them already! We don’t pray in a vacuum or a hermit’s cell– prayer should spur us to action and interaction!
  • Praying around town actually helps me get to know the town better–As I think about the various places around town, I remember shops or neighborhoods I normally walk or drive past, but don’t really notice, or services I don’t normally use. Our small town has an airport, a canoe rental, a hospital, two museums, a book store, several restaurants, a couple of car dealerships, several barbers and salons, a pastry shop, a purse store, a candy shop, a yarn store, dentists, chiropractors, eye doctors, auto repair shops, flower shops, thrift stores, several churches, a funeral home, parks, hardware stores, a laundromat, a rent-to-own store, a flooring shop, a shop that sells art and suits (that’s actually its name– Art and Suits), gas stations/convenience stores, at least three grocers, and many other businesses, including our own shop that sells radios and antiques! The more I know, the more I can help others get to know about our town– and the better I can pray for those in it.
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I pray for my community (specifically) once every week. It’s part of what I call “Prayer Points”– every day of the week has a special focus. One day is for the Community; one day is for Global Issues (war, hunger, climate issues, disease, poverty, etc.); one day is just for issues relating to The Church (persecuted Christians, Evangelism and Missions, etc.. Why do I do this? For me, it helps me focus on needs that are ongoing– needs I might otherwise forget or de-emphasize in the hustle and bustle and “noise” of newsfeeds, “urgent” requests, and general self-indulgence. It doesn’t make me a better person. But I hope it makes me a better “pray-er.”

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Exceedingly, Abundantly, Above…

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,”

Ephesians 3:20 (KJV)
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What do I expect as I pray? What is the outcome that I hope for? Most of the time, it looks like one of the following:

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  • I expect to praise and worship God; I hope that He will hear my heart of gratitude and worship, and that He will be pleased with my words and actions
  • I expect Him to act on or through a particular circumstance, such as providing healing or guidance to someone in need
  • I expect to hear from Him, or to gain wisdom or guidance for myself
  • I expect that He will honor His promise to forgive my sins when I confess them
  • I expect to grow closer to God as I speak to Him and wait to hear from Him

But Paul reminds us in the book of Ephesians that God is able, through the power of Christ at work in us (emphasis added), to do much more than anything we can imagine or ask! What does that mean in my pursuit of prayer?

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Well, it means more than I can explain in any blog entry, but let me attempt to imagine a few outcomes that go beyond my normal expectations:

  • Prayer is a matter of choice. It is also a matter of obedience and acknowledgement. No matter how short, or faltering, or disorganized it may be, each prayer proclaims that God is GOD–worthy of praise, able to save and forgive, supremely authoritative over my life and the lives of others, and ever present to listen to every voice that calls out to Him. And it proclaims this both to the physical world (if we’re praying aloud or with others) and to an unseen and metaphysical world inhabited by spiritual beings who also owe God their worship and obedience.
  • Prayer is a partnership. In some mysterious way, God allows us to participate in His ongoing work– whether it is bringing healing, joining the chorus of angels in songs of praise, praying for God’s hand to move in global and historical affairs, or developing our personal relationship with Him–God chooses to let us “have a voice” in what He does. God is still in charge. Our prayers will not cause Him to go against His own will. But as we pray, we grow to understand God’s heart. We begin to want what He wants, and to ask for His will because it is what we want most. As we see and hear about miracles, we can know that we are “part of the team.”
  • Prayer changes things–often in ways we cannot ever see or measure. Someone may pray for years to see a relative or neighbor come to Christ– seemingly without success. What they may NOT see is how their testimony, though spurned by the object of their prayers, has brought others to Christ over the years. And each one of THOSE people has the potential to witness to others– including the one who rejected the original efforts! A prayer for healing that seems to go unanswered may inspire someone to commit their life to researching a disease of find a cure so that thousands of others may be spared the suffering you prayed to alleviate. Praying for peace or justice may not have immediate effect. But we cannot know or imagine the cumulative effect of such prayers in bringing lasting peace or more perfect justice to our children or future generations.
  • Prayer changes people– especially us! If I am praying for someone, my thoughts and actions will follow. I will take a more active interest in those for whom I pray. I will (or should!) reach out with practical efforts and partner with others who share my concerns. I will give, share, encourage, work, and advocate– not just pray and move on unchanged.
  • Prayer has substance. We imagine prayer to be ethereal and mental or spiritual. But the Apostle John, writing in Revelation 8:3-4, describes the prayers of the believers (saints) as incense. Our prayers have a pleasing odor, and they rise like smoke into the presence of God. There is nothing empty or “fake” about prayers lifted to Almighty God. Our prayer is not just an exercise in wishful thinking or the power of group-think or “positive vibes.”
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We serve an amazing, limitless, all-powerful, all-wise God! Our prayers may seem like just words–humble, inadequate, or even unintelligible– but in God’s hands, they are mighty tools, bringing Him glory in ways we can’t even begin to explain or imagine!

In the Bleak Midwinter

It’s not actually midwinter just now. In fact, “winter” won’t officially begin for another few days. But it has been bleak around here.

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I suffer from seasonal depression. In spite of the joy I know I should feel during this season; in spite of all the reasons I have to BE joyful, I have been in a funk. I’ve been physically ill, but even more, I’ve been mentally drained and emotionally overwhelmed for over a week. I’ve missed posting a couple of days recently, because I feel hypocritical writing about Christmas.

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But I choose to write tonight about the enduring power of prayer. There are people praying for me, not because I’ve said anything about my condition, but because they are faithful in praying for people, and I happen to be one of them. The clouds are beginning to lift and I’m finding it easier to feel what I already know– that God is in control; that He cares; that He has a purpose beyond the sadness. It’s why I’m so passionate about praying and keeping a prayer log or prayer journal. I am one of those who pray for others, and I am one of those who are being prayed for–we lift each other up, even when–especially when–we don’t fully understand why.

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Some may ask, “How can you say that prayer works if you are depressed? Doesn’t that just prove that prayer isn’t working?” Some people mock the power of prayer in the face of “bad” circumstances. The recent school shooting in my home state of Michigan, or the recent spate of tornadoes in Kentucky and other states are prime examples. Sincere people of faith are being mocked for saying that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the people who are suffering. Mockers say that thoughts and prayers are meaningless–otherwise, prayers should have prevented the events in question from ever happening. In the aftermath, only actions are of value.

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In the face of disaster, distress, or depression, prayers may seem small and even meaningless. Most prayers don’t pack the power of a tornado, nor elicit such an immediate and dramatic response. My depression didn’t suddenly disappear the moment someone began praying for me; those whose homes and lives have been turned upside-down in the past days and weeks didn’t wake up this morning to find that it was just a bad dream. And prayer should be accompanied by thoughtful and compassionate action. But prayer heals– and healing takes time. God chooses to use the prayers of others to seep into our lives; to fortify us and draw us together. Actions may change the circumstances, but prayer changes the person. Prayer reaches beyond the circumstances and the limitations of our human nature.

So today, I will pray. Through the “funk,” through the pain, through the confusion and chaos of a troubled world, I will choose to pray. For those individuals listed in my journal; for those whose needs are posted online or made known to me some other way; for those whose names and faces come to mind throughout the day. Because it is God’s way. Because others are faithfully doing the same. Because, in the end, it brings joy and peace. Even when–especially when– things seem so bleak.

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