To Love Thee More Dearly

How can I love Jesus more than I already do?  If I can love him more, does that mean that I don’t love Him enough?  That I don’t really love Him as much as I think I do?  That I love Him the wrong way?  How can I “love thee more dearly…day by day”

I want to explore the second prayer in the folk rock song “Day by Day” from the musical “Godspell” (see yesterday’s post).  When I write about pursuing prayer, this is a major focus of the pursuit– to develop my love for Jesus.  But there’s more to it than just spending more time, or even “better” time in prayer.

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I love my husband, and that love grows over the years– not because we are in an eternal “honeymoon” period, where life is rosy and all I know about him is the wonderful image I’ve built up–but because in living with him, working with him, even struggling with him, I learn to value who he really is.  I learn about qualities I never knew he had.  I learn to trust him and respect his judgment; I learn about the deepest part of his heart that he only shares with those closest to him.  And even though I learn about his faults, I see him desiring to be the best that he can be.  In his turn, my husband does the same with me– learning my strengths and weaknesses.  Together we learn how to work together to strengthen and support each other.  We even learn how to argue better!

But we all know marriages (and no marriage is immune) where doubt, distrust, disdain, and despair creep in.  The very qualities that attracted us in the beginning become sore spots that tear us apart.  The joy is swallowed up in little hurts that go unresolved; little misunderstandings that grow into lengthy silences and slammed doors.  Struggles that should bring us together cause us to run to separate corners.  Our feelings change, our hopes are dashed, and our relationship crumbles

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Relationships require trust–if I say that I love God, but I don’t trust Him, I’m not being honest with myself.  If I pray to Him, but I don’t really think He’s listening; if I read His word, but make excuses for my continued disobedience–I don’t really love Him.  I may idolize Him, even worship Him.  But I don’t really love Him.

Unlike a marriage partner, family member, or close friend, God’s love for us never changes.  We never have to pray that Jesus should love US more dearly.  It’s impossible.  The same love that spoke the universe into being and designed you to be the awesome and unique person you are, is the same love that stretched out his arms so they could be nailed to the cross– the same love that calls out to you no matter what you’ve done or who you are and offers you peace, joy, and rest.  Loving Jesus isn’t a matter of measuring how I feel about Him from day to day, but spending each day learning to know Him better for who He is and not just what He has done or what He can do for me.  The prayer should be for me to really learn better how to honor Him, how to trust Him, how to obey Him, praise Him, listen to Him, and walk close to him.

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More about this last one Monday…

Three Things I Pray…

In the Broadway musical, Godspell, there is a simple ballad, “Day By Day,” in which the singer(s) express a desire to be closer to Jesus. Day By Day/YouTube  There are three “prayers”– 1) to see thee more clearly; 2) Love thee more dearly, and 3) follow thee more nearly.  I have heard various opinions and critiques of the musical, from the use of clown makeup and vaudeville tunes, to the marginal grammar of this song.  But I’d like to spend some time digging in to the three simple prayers.

Today, I want to look at (literally) the first prayer– “to see thee more clearly”.  There is one prayer, but I think it can be broken down into two parts.

First, I want to SEE God.  God is Spirit–an invisible essence– and yet he manifests himself in a million different ways all around us.  God is in the inky, endless blackness of a moonless night, and in the vibrant colors of spring blossoms; in the glaring reflection of the sun off the lake, or the gray and palpable mist over the meadow.  He is in the wrinkled face of my neighbor, and the exuberant smile of a toddler, and the beauty of a horse running or an eagle soaring.  But I can see all of this and more and still not see God.  I can focus on the creation and miss the creator.  I can focus on the beauty and learn nothing of the artist.  I can see the amazing variety of people in the world– skin tones and eye shapes, facial expressions, and body language, dimples and hairstyles and nose-wrinkling, and hand-wringing, and miss the Love of God for each one.

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Sadly, I can sing this prayer, pray for insight, and still miss seeing God.  I can trample His creation, dismiss His presence, and hate the people He loves enough to die for; people who bear the stamp of His image.

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And I want to see Him “more clearly”–I want to see him as he really is, and not as I imagine him to be.  We live in an age of glossy retouched photos of models and celebrities; we “see” their image, without knowing what they truly look like, and without knowing anything about who they really are inside.  In many ways, God is only slightly less invisible than the real people around us.  How many people do we ignore in a day’s time?  How many do we glance at, only to get stuck on a single detail (a hair on their sweater, or something caught in their teeth, or a receding hairline or blotchy face).   How many people surprise us by not being like the image they project?   I don’t want to see a Photoshop Jesus; a glossy, smiling image of someone who says only what I want to hear, and looks like nothing ever touches him.  I want to see the Jesus who wept over the death of his friend; the Jesus who laughed with delight as he talked with children; the Jesus whose eyes were full of compassion even as he was dying on the cross.  I want to see the Living Word of God.

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Jesus is close– closer than we think.  I want to spend today seeing him more clearly.

Forgiveness is Free: It Isn’t a Free Pass

Yesterday, I posted about praying for our enemies– those who have hurt us.  We are commanded to forgive those who have wronged us, to do good to them, and to pray for them.  But I want to make sure I don’t give the wrong impression about offering forgiveness.

Forgiveness doesn’t ask us to excuse the inexcusable, or trust the untrustworthy.  Forgiveness is trusting that God, in His wisdom, His Holiness, and His timing, will bring justice, healing, and peace, when nothing else can.  This is important to remember, both as someone who asks for forgiveness, and as someone who gives it.

Jesus offers forgiveness–full, and free, and perfect– he died to make that offer.  He gave it to whoever believes on His Name.  But here’s the catch…he didn’t make that offer so you can temporarily wipe the slate clean and go on sinning without consequence.

Oscar Wilde wrote a chilling novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, Dorian Gray/Wikipedia    in which the title character finds a way to trap his soul, with all its ugliness, hatred, anger, and sin, inside a portrait.  No matter what Dorian does, no matter how twisted or evil, he continues to look fresh, young, innocent, and handsome.  The effects of his dissipated lifestyle–drug addiction, sleepless nights, years of hard living, even murder–are all trapped in the portrait.  Over the years, the portrait haunts Dorian with its monstrous transformation from young man to gnarled wraith.  In desperation, he “kills” the portrait– and himself– in disgust and anguish.

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We live in an age of appearances– if all appears well on the surface, we ignore the deeper, long-term consequences of our sin.  If we “get away with” small sins, we run the risk of sinking deeper into a sham lifestyle.  We go through the motions of asking forgiveness, when what we really seek is escape from the consequences of our own actions.  We begin to see sin as a valid alternative to obedience–I can obey God if it is convenient, but when it’s not, I can just ask forgiveness.  This is a road strewn with lies, excuses, evasions, and it ends in death.  It is a lifestyle that makes a mockery of God, of his Holiness, His Sacrifice on the cross, and His loving offer of restoration.

God doesn’t just want to transfer your ugliness and rebellion into a painting to hide it away.  He wants to remove it “as far as the east is from the west.”  We don’t become perfect in an instant, but our past is expunged so that we can be free to choose obedience and live more abundantly in fellowship with a Holy God.  When we are truly sorry for our sins and seek true forgiveness, we want to make better decisions, we want to right wrongs– we want to redeem the past rather than merely escape from it.

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When we, as imperfect people, offer forgiveness to someone else, we are not able to do what God does.  Our forgiveness is imperfect; like love, or discipline, or a new habit, it needs to develop and grow.  Forgiveness is not about freeing the offender, or wiping the slate clean for the other person.  It’s about freeing yourself to heal, to move away from slavery to the pain of the past, and to learn to trust God to bring justice.

Forgiveness isn’t natural or easy.  No one deserves forgiveness– that’s what makes it a miracle that God offers it to anyone who asks.  But God doesn’t undo our sin.  He doesn’t erase our actions, or clean up the messes we have made.  If I commit murder, God can forgive me, wash away the guilt of what I’ve done, and give me the power to live a life that seeks to do good, rather than evil.  But he’s not going to bring my victim back to life, or cause a judge and jury and the family of my victim to say, “Aw, that’s alright– you’ve probably learned your lesson.  No hard feelings.”  He can (and has) caused amazing healing to happen in such situations, but that’s the exception, not the expectation.

Similarly, if you have been hurt and you offer forgiveness, it doesn’t mean that the other person is no longer responsible for his/her actions.  It doesn’t mean that you were never hurt or betrayed, and it doesn’t mean that you trust them immediately and without reservation. It is not hateful, intolerant, or unforgiving to allow justice to catch up with someone who has hurt you– it IS unforgiving to seek beyond justice to vengeance and self-defined retribution.

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This is particularly important in cases of abuse.  If someone has abused you, physically, emotionally, or mentally, they are likely to make you feel the guilt they don’t want to deal with.  “You drove me to it.”  “You are the only one who understands my anger.”  Forgiving this person does not mean– it NEVER means– that you agree with their tactics and false accusations, or that you are giving them a pass.  But it DOES mean that you are giving them, and the damage they caused, over to the God of all justice.  Your case is closed; your final judgment is in his hands, and you are free to begin again– begin to heal, begin to see how God can bring something important and good and eternal out of something broken.  Forgiveness is impossible, but God will give you the power to do it– it may take several attempts, and several years, but when it comes, it will be the miracle of God working through you to glory!

That Voice in Your Head

Most days, I post about Pursuing Prayer from the “praying” end…how do I pray, what attitude do I have about praying, why do I pray, etc.

Today, I want to explore the “responding” end…how do I know when God is answering my prayer, or what he’s asking me to do in response to his will?  While I don’t have a complete answer, I do want to share some wisdom– some from experience and some from Biblical principles and others’ testimony.

Isaiah 55:8-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. William Cowper

It often surprises people to learn that “God works in mysterious ways” is not actually in the Bible.  God’s ways are NOT our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts, but his answers to prayer are not obscure and unknowable.  God does not delight in vexing us and making us guess and second-guess his will.  It would be easy if God always answered our prayers with a flashing neon sign that gave a simple, one-sentence directive– “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”  “Click your heels together and say, ‘There’s no place like home.'” “Hakuna Matata.”  But pithy platitudes and easy answers are not God’s way, either.  God created each of us as a unique reflection of his divine image– his answers will be uniquely designed to fulfill his will and meet our deepest needs, not always in ways we expect or understand.

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So how do we discern God’s will when there is no neon sign or simple answer to our prayers?  Here are a few guiding principles:

  • God will NEVER answer your prayer by contradicting himself or compromising his holiness.
    • God will not answer your prayer for money by giving you an opportunity to cheat or steal.  He will not answer your prayer for a husband by throwing you into the arms of someone else’s.
    • Just because God doesn’t send a lightning bolt or physically stop you from doing something doesn’t mean that he has given his OK.  If he ALLOWS you to sin, that doesn’t mean that he APPROVES of your sin or that it is his answer to your prayer.
    • God will never ask you to do harm to yourself or others as an answer to your prayer.  Vengeance, sacrifice, atonement, and retribution are the province of God alone.  I believe that God asks us to be vigilant in defense, and allows us to take up arms in defense, but to initiate a feud, to seek personal vengeance, or to act out vigilante justice is to flout both God’s authority and the authority of the powers God has set in place over us.
  • God MAY use circumstances or people to answer your prayer.  But the same principle above applies– circumstances that lead to sinful actions are NOT God’s answer to your prayer; people who advise you to do what you know is contrary to God’s holiness are not sent from God– no matter how appealing the prospect, no matter how powerful the person or persons.  That being said, God may choose to use the most unlikely of persons or events to bring about a resolution to your need–LET HIM!  Don’t judge a gift by the size, the shape, or the wrapping paper!

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  • God may use time to answer your prayer.  I prayed for a husband from the time I was a young girl– I married at age 46.  Waiting doesn’t mean that God has forgotten about you; it doesn’t mean that you aren’t worthy of an answer or ready for an answer– sometimes your answer isn’t ready for you!  There are two caveats I want to share from my own experience of waiting for an answer:
    • Don’t give up!  God knows the desires of your heart– but keep praying anyway.  Well-meaning people will say awful, hurtful things– that you aren’t praying enough, or praying the “right” way; that you must be hiding un-confessed sin; that you need to try some other way to get what you want, or to hurry God along.  In my case, I had people trying to fix me up, suggest dating services, remind me that my “clock” was ticking (it was broken, but they didn’t know that), or suggest that it just wasn’t God’s will that I marry, and I should pray for him to take away the desire for a husband.  Listen to folks like this (if you must) with half an ear and less than 10% of your heart– let them cause you to re-examine your heart and your desires, but don’t let them cause you to give up or doubt God.  That was not their intention, but it can often be the result of their ill-considered words.
    • Do the next right thing.  Doing nothing while you wait for the perfect answer gets you nowhere.  Wringing your hands and pacing gets you nowhere.  God wants our trust and our obedience.  As we wait for more specific direction, we need to trust that doing the next right thing IS the RIGHT thing to do.  This was the hardest lesson for me, but the one I most needed to learn.  So while I waited, I moved ahead step-by-step.  I made a lot of friends, gained a lot of experiences, and learned about marriage by watching the examples of others (both good and bad).  I got involved working with children, first as a secondary teacher, and then as a librarian.  I got to spend nearly thirty years of my working life surrounded by young people.  I got to laugh with them, love on them, mentor them, dream with them, discipline them, and cry over them (and send them home).  I didn’t just “settle for” a single lifestyle– I learned to embrace it.  I learned to be grateful for the wonderful opportunities I had as a single woman, and to anticipate the changes that marriage would bring, should it come along.  I learned that marriage should be a means to an end, not the end itself– that marriage done right is not about my growth and fulfillment; not even about his growth and fulfillment; but about OUR growth together and toward Godliness.
  • Trust “that voice in your head”– not the one that speaks out loud and gets you strange looks–but your God-given conscience, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  “That still, small voice” is often the most personal way God speaks to us.  In my own life, it was taking the risk to leave a career I loved (teaching) to reach for a deeper dependence on God.  I left the security of my teaching position for three part-time jobs (at one point), no health insurance, and a move to a new community where I knew virtually no one.  I had other choices, other more appealing options, chances to reconsider.  I wasn’t being pushed out of teaching–in fact, I left just as my options at the school were opening up for bigger and better things.  Yet I felt compelled to leave.  I had no safety net waiting– I ended up in libraries, but that wasn’t my original plan.  There were many people counseling me to reconsider– and their reasons were compelling.  But as I stood firm, other voices came along to encourage me.  I believe they were sent by God to confirm that this risk was from him and for my good.
  • Don’t trust “that voice in your head”–No, I’m not trying to confuse you or contradict what I just said.  But this is another caveat (see above).  We are told to “test the spirits”, and sometimes, that voice in your head is NOT the Holy Spirit.  In the case I mentioned above, I had to follow all the other principles of discerning God’s will.  In my case, leaving teaching did not violate God’s holiness or come about because I wasn’t willing to follow God’s leading–I wasn’t leaving teaching to try my hand at a get-rich-quick scheme, or because I had lost my desire to work with students, or had lost faith in God’s sovereignty in my life.  God DID use circumstances and people to confirm my decision and help me grow through the experiences that followed.  God used time to help me transition from schools to libraries, and prepare me for other opportunities, including short-term missions trips and marriage.  I can’t even begin to list all the ways I tested and examined what I felt God was leading me to do before I made the leap.  That much testing may not always be necessary, but we need to be careful not to rely on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6), but to Trust in the Lord with all our hearts.  He WILL direct our paths when we do that.

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  • Finally, Pray for it– pray for discernment, for wisdom, for strength to do the right thing!  Won’t God DO IT!

 

Bloom Where You Are Planted

I love living in Southwest Lower Michigan– especially in the spring.  We have blossoms everywhere– apple blossoms, cherry blossoms, dogwood, red buds, tulips and irises, hyacinth and daffodils.  The rich earthy smell of freshly plowed gardens and fields permeates the air, and rides on the breezes coming off Lake Michigan.  Birds, newly returned from their winter wanderings are busily building nests, chirping away, while the sun’s rays chase away the last of the winter chill each morning.  There is color and new life everywhere you turn.

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We have a lot of spring festivals in the area, most of them centered on the blooms and blossoms that fill the countryside.  Gardens, orchards and fields are not just for show around here– they are also important parts of our economy and eco-system.  Without a good spring full of blossoms, buds, and blooms, we may have a disastrous harvest in the fall, and run-off of the soil; bees will die off, wild and domestic animals will have less grass and fewer berries to eat.  A late spring can shorten the growing season and shrink the harvest; an early spring can bring buds out too soon, only to have them lost to a late season frost or to have them mature too early and be burned in a mid-summer drought.

And yet, I have seen crocuses burst through two inches of snow; buds that defy harsh weather and cruel winds.  I have seen daffodils blooming where there once was a house and a yard, but now there are only brambles and foundation stones.  I have seen trees twisted and split by long-ago storms– one side dead and rotting, but with buds and new branches on the other side.

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It is easy to bloom when you are in a lovely flower bed, with tilled earth, fertilizer, gentle rains, just the right amount of sun, and protection from the winds and pests and birds.  But it is more spectacular to bloom in the desert; to defy the odds and stand in stark contrast to brambles, a broken-up sidewalk, or a litter-filled back alley; to bloom in the snow and sleet or weather a flood or a tornado.

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Not always so with prayer.  Sometimes, it is easier to pray when we feel our own needs and shortcomings; when we are driven by our circumstances to call out for help.  When all is well, we may be grateful, but we may also begin to slack off.  We stop asking for wisdom and guidance, coasting in the beauty and ease of a good life, and forgetting that the beauty and the ease– indeed the life itself– is not our right, but a gift.  Amid so many other beautiful prayers, ours seem drab and ordinary, almost unworthy of God’s notice.

But God DOES notice– he has placed each of us where he wants us to bloom and grow– to pray, to fellowship, to walk with other believers and give off the fragrance of His grace as we live our lives in obedience to Him.  Have you been planted in an apartment complex?  Have you been planted as a suddenly single parent of three kids?  Have you been planted on a campus?  In a group of friends that all have Harleys?  Or one block from a rescue mission or homeless shelter?  A classroom full of high-energy first-graders?  A community that has had a lot of crime and blight?

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God has not placed you in circumstances to reward or punish you, but to grow you in the soil that can produce the best harvest.  Is your prayer list filled with needy people who live in turmoil and rebellion?  Bloom where you are planted– you may be the only person praying for your cantankerous neighbor– the only raindrop or fertile soil s/he will ever encounter.  Has God placed you in a family of people who taunt you for your faith?  Bloom where you are planted– pray for strength to stand firm in the beauty of meekness and compassion in the face of their taunts and disdain.  Are you in a greenhouse full of self-righteous orchids making you feel dowdy and wilted by comparison?  Bloom where you are planted– pray for God’s eyes to see the beauty in yourself, as well as those around you, and stop trying to be an orchid where God needs a lily.

Has God planted you in trying circumstances?  Bloom where you are planted– pray for God’s Peace as you face each day:

Matthew 6:25-34 English Standard Version (ESV)

Do Not Be Anxious

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[a] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. * 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.*

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

*Emphasis added

The Power of a Praying Mother

Mother’s Day is coming, and I wanted to say a few words about the mothers in my life and their legacy of prayer.  My Mom is a prayer warrior.  I blog about prayer, and I pursue a better prayer life, but my Mom is a seasoned soldier,  and the daughter of another mighty woman of prayer.  Most of what I know about prayer, I learned through the examples of my Mom and Gram, but I have also been blessed by the godly examples of my mother-in-law, sister and sisters-in-law, aunts, cousins, and many more.

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From my Mother, I learned to pray from the depths of my heart.  I have seen and heard her pray through pain, grief, and despair– not just her own, but more often that of someone else.  I have caught her holding back sobs over relatives and neighbors who don’t know or aren’t following Christ.  I’ve seen her pause in silent prayer over the plight of a person who is facing a lost job, or chemotherapy, or a migraine.  She very seldom offers to pray  aloud,”in the moment”, but she prays fervently, nonetheless.

 

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From my Grandmother, I learned to be patient and consistent in prayer.  Gram was quiet and unassuming, but she had an unshakable faith.  She prayed for years over situations that looked hopeless; often for people who or situations which never changed.  I asked her once how she kept from getting angry and frustrated.  She looked me straight in the eye and said, “We can’t change somebody else, and we can’t make them do what’s right.  That’s not our job.  Our job is to love each other, pray for each another, and let God deal with the rest.”  She died never seeing answers to some of what she prayed for, but that didn’t stop others from taking up the banner, and it never stopped her from earnestly and joyfully “taking it to the Lord in Prayer.”  She never gave up, never lost hope, and never stopped showing compassion.

 

There have been many other prayer warriors in my life– women (and men) of great faith who sought the Lord, and whose lives and words have had an unimaginable impact.  My family, members of my church family, classmates and friends from school or college, neighbors through the years…some of them have held my hand and prayed with me face-to-face; others have prayed on their knees in private; some have prayed for special needs and circumstances; others have prayed at the Holy Spirit’s prompting, never knowing why, but bowing in obedience.

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Praying mothers are a treasure.  If you have one, or had one, don’t underestimate the value of her example.  And don’t just say, “Thank you”…Pay it forward.  Pray for family, neighbors and friends.  Pray early, pray often, pray without ceasing.  We all need more praying mothers, fathers, cousins, neighbors, co-workers, etc.  If you did not have a praying mother, you have a golden opportunity to become that good example to someone else.  You also have the opportunity to adopt a prayer partner– a surrogate praying mother–to pray with you and for you.

“Hallowed Be Thy Name…”

Christians have a lot of confusing “jargon”.  If you grew up in the church, there are certain words and phrases that are supposed to be intuitively understood.  If you didn’t grew up in the Bible Belt, or in an old-time church, you may feel like you’ve been dropped into a parallel universe where people speak the King’s English– but it’s King James’ English!  Words that would fit neatly into a Shakespearean monologue are flung at you:  “Thou shalt not,” “graven images”, “begat”, “beseecheth”, “whosoever believeth,” “Hallowed be Thy Name.”

As a child, I used to think the phrase was “hollow-ed be thy name”– it was confusing.  Why would God want his name emptied and hollow?  Why would I do that?  Of course, it was explained to me that “hallowed” meant holy, or honored, or revered.  That made more sense, but I think in some ways we have done more “hollow-ing” and less “hallow-ing” of God’s name in our churches lately.

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And it’s not just the argument I hear a lot about actual language usage.  I hear some people complain about those who pray to “Daddy God” or “Papa God” or those who use “OMG” when they text, or “Jeesh!”  To me, these are “splinter” arguments (another Christian jargon term, referring to Jesus’ example of someone trying to pick a splinter out of someone else’s eye when they have a plank in their own!).  The real trend I see is that we are losing our attitude of AWE in God’s presence.  We use words, and carry attitudes that devalue the one who is most worthy of our absolute best.  Or, we try to put ourselves, our own efforts, and our own attitudes in His place.

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God wants a relationship with us; he loves us with an extravagant, boundless, and everlasting love.  He doesn’t want us to run from him in fear or hide from him behind big, empty, but important-sounding words.  In fact, in his time on Earth, Jesus walked side by side with his disciples, he ate with people, embraced his friends and family, danced, burped, wiped his nose,  held children on his lap, laughed, and lived among us.  But he is eternally GOD.  Yahweh– the LORD–I AM.  Almighty, all-powerful, omniscient and completely HOLY.  And his Name is to be revered.

When we say that we follow Christ;  when we call ourselves Christians, we bear that name– we take on that name–we strive to be ambassadors and representatives of that name which is above all names.  This isn’t just about saying his name, “Jesus”, “Father”, “Savior”, “Heavenly Father” in a less-than-honorable fashion.  It’s about how we represent His Name as his ambassadors.

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We’re not perfect; we will not always live up to the Name we carry– that’s part of the Gospel message–Jesus came to show us how we ought to live, and to give us victory over the reality that we can’t do it in our own flawed state.  But in praying “Hallowed be thy Name,” we are not asking for God’s name to become more honorable.  We are asking God to give us the wisdom, the power, and the desire to bring him the honor and worship he so rightly deserves.  And that only happens when we live transparently, humbly, and in a manner worthy of His Name.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name…”

What Did You Say?

Every once in a while, I like to check an app that counts the words I use on Facebook.  The end result is a cloud full of words that people see when they read my posts.  (You can see my most recent one above.)

Sometimes, I like the cloud– I love to see it filled with words like Love, People, God, Prayer, Joy, Peace, Thankful, etc.  I’d like to think that this is how I always look and sound.  Of course it isn’t.  I don’t always speak encouragement and love on people.  Sometimes, I complain and rehearse negative self-talk, or I explode and rant about bad drivers, rude customers, constant bills, and more.  Checking on my word count may not keep me from using negative words altogether, but it does show me patterns I may not be seeing or hearing on my own or from my friends.

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My prayer life acts in this same way–especially as I journal about my prayers.  I can look back through my prayer journal, and see patterns in prayer requests, notes, and even answers to prayer.  Sometimes, I see patterns of struggle–desperation, need, frustration.  Sometimes, the pattern is steady; other times it is a roller coaster of ups and downs.

It’s important to spend a little time periodically getting feedback like this.  Why?  Because what we actually say (and pray) may be very different from what we think we have said.  Jesus was very careful about words:

Matthew 12:35-37 English Standard Version (ESV)

35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Mark 10:17-18 English Standard Version (ESV)

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

Paul is also careful to distinguish between words:

Romans 5:7-8 English Standard Version (ESV)

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I include the last two examples because they both refer to “Good” people.  I want people to see God’s goodness in me.  But idle or careless words and habits can show up in my thought life, my prayer life, my on-line life, and my face-to-face conversations.  In attempting to show how “good” I am (self-righteousness), or how clever I am (even at someone else’s expense), or how__________________________________ (daring, popular, hard-working…you get the idea) I am, it compromises all that I want my life to say about God, and all that He is waiting to say through me.

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Words matter– whether in praying or blogging or commenting on someone else’s post.  I pray that I am making mine count!

Why Ask Why?

I’ve been asking myself “why?” a lot lately in regards to this blog.  Why am I spending my time writing about prayer?  Wouldn’t I be better served to spend my time productively– making something useful, keeping the apartment cleaner, going to the gym–even spending more time in prayer instead of dissecting it and babbling on to an invisible audience?

But the truth is that I began writing this blog in response to another question, a more basic question thrown at me (not personally, but thrown out to all who believe in the power of prayer)–  “WHY?”  They weren’t asking the question because they really wanted to know my reasons for praying; instead, they wanted to make me feel ashamed and embarrassed, to doubt God’s goodness and my faith.  In fact, they weren’t asking “WHY” so much as asking “HOW”.  How can you continue to believe in God and continue praying in light of random shootings, manifest injustices, rampant corruption, and senseless tragedies?  How can you say that God is good, when people continue to get away with evil?  If God exists, where is he, and how can you just sit back and trust in him?

The fact that I DO continue to trust God doesn’t mean I don’t have questions and concerns, and even righteous anger about the state of the world and the tragedies that fill it.  The questions come pouring out, sometimes keeping me awake at night, sometimes catching me at a raw moment and they are important questions.  To pretend that I never wrestle or struggle with the questions is to say that good and evil, justice and mercy, that God himself– none of it really matters enough to seek an answer.  God forbid!!

But there is a vast difference in asking “Why?” and asking “How? or How come?”

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Consider a small child who asks, “Why is the sky blue?”  (Don’t you just love the inquisitiveness of small children?)  “Well…” I can explain that the sky itself isn’t really blue…I can go on to talk about scientific principals– the property of light, refraction through water molecules and dust particles, and more..I can point out that the sky doesn’t always appear blue, etc.  At the end of my long and factual discourse (assuming the child hasn’t already interrupted), s/he is likely to simply shake their head and ask, “But, why?”  WHY?  Because I haven’t really answered the heart of the question.  I explained HOW, not WHY.

Now suppose I don’t feel like being pedantic, and I answer “Because.”  You can guess what comes next.  The child will ask, “Because WHY?”  Because “Because” isn’t a sufficiently satisfactory answer.  The child wants more; he/she yearns for more comprehension; more understanding.

As an adult, we find this kind of questioning frustrating and annoying.  I think it is because we have been conditioned to think that questions either have a “How come” explanation that sweeps away much of the wonder and mystery, or a “because” answer that leaves us unsatisfied.

As an adult, I may well ask, “Why is there evil in the world?”  This is an important question; one I should be asking.  Experts can and will give me all kinds of “how” answers– how the brain is wired, how emotions work, how society has failed various groups of people, how political structures create oppression, how religion teaches intolerance, how poor diet or lack of sunny days … there are a million explanation of “how” evil exists or why it persists.  And many of these explanations contradict each other, so they can’t even give a conclusive answer.  But just throwing up my hands, and saying, “just because” does nothing to answer my question OR provide understanding that could help alleviate the effects of evil in the world.  “Because” communicates my powerlessness to comprehend.

BUT

Something amazing happens when I stop merely asking people for answers to these questions and start asking God.  I don’t get a magical, comprehensive, incontrovertible answer to life’s thorny questions.  God doesn’t send me a “cheat sheet” with all the “right” answers.  I’m not suddenly an expert on good and evil or what should be done to eliminate crime and disease and poverty.  I still have to wade through the “how come” explanations and use my limited judgment to decide what course of action I can take to try to make a positive difference.  And I will make some mistakes along the way.  But when GOD says, “Because”, there is an authority, a majesty, and a wisdom that can never be present in my answer.  I say “because,” because I have no more to say; no better answer.  God says, “Because,” because HE IS the cause!  And he gives explanations in his word for many of my questions– even if I don’t like the answers!  He doesn’t explain “how come” the sky is blue– he causes it to be blue.  “Why is the sky blue?”  God says so.  “But why?”  Because He is God and I am not.  God explains “how come” there is evil in the world– it’s called SIN–but he doesn’t leave it there.  “Why?”  Because we have the free will to choose good or evil.  “Why?”  Because God wants willing obedience and loving companionship with us.  “Why?” Because God is love!  “So why does he allow evil to continue?”  Because he has a plan that involves redemption and restoration and renewal.  He is the cause of this plan, it’s author and finisher.  Moreover, he is the cause of my desire to ask “why?”, to seek for a more fulfilling answer, to yearn for a solution to the very evil that prompts my questions.

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I won’t stop asking “why.”  Not because I don’t have any answer, or because I don’t know the answer.  It’s just that the answer is so much bigger, so much better, so much MORE than I can handle in the shortness of this lifetime.  And it’s important that I not only keep asking the question, but that I keep defending the answer.

 

1 Peter 3:14-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

 

Great Expectations

Earlier this week, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (otherwise known as Prince William  and Kate Middleton), welcomed their third child.  As with most royal births, there was a lot of fanfare and speculation well in advance of the actual delivery.  Early tabloid reports hinted at twins; bookmakers were figuring odds for delivery dates, names– even what the Duchess would be wearing as she brought the newborn outside for his first “sighting”.  As of the writing of this blog, the name has yet to be announced, which is cause for more speculation and anticipation.

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Preparing for a newborn is exciting, and filled with certain expectations.   We imagine what the baby will look like, what kind of personality s/he will have, all the wonderful discoveries to be made. But we need to be careful not to let our expectations become idols.  There’s nothing wrong with hoping for good outcomes, but it can be dangerous to get locked into a particular expected outcome.  Children surprise us (in good ways and other ways) be being themselves, and not who or what we expect them to be.

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When we pray, we sometimes come with certain expectations–that God will answer in a certain way or on a certain timeline.  This is not the same as having faith.  Faith says that God will hear our prayer; that he knows best, and that he will act in accordance with his own love and mercy.  It doesn’t mean that he will give us what we want when we want it, or that he will give us what makes us comfortable and happy.  His answers may seem difficult or even painful to accept– certainly not what we were expecting.  When he chooses to answer in ways that don’t meet our expectations, we wonder why.  When he chooses to say “wait,” or even, “no,” we may feel cheated and even resentful, instead of thankful that our prayers are heard by a loving God.  Often, we have built up such expectations of what “the best” should look like that we miss the real miracle God is giving us instead.

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Worse, there are times when our expectations reveal a lack of faith or a lack of understanding of God’s ways.  We pray for peace, but what we really want is ease and comfort.  Peace– real peace– is often revealed in times of stress, hardship and loss!  We don’t want stress; we don’t pray for stress, but stress and hardship are going to come into our lives at some point.  Praying for peace won’t bring stress, any more than not praying will keep it away!  We expect the peace to come without the battle; we expect the growth to come without the growth pains; we expect to win the race without having to run!

Sometimes we won’t even pray for what we really want or need because we expect that God will “test” us or give us difficult circumstances if we ask for certain things (like patience or peace).  We see God as some sort of cosmic con artist, who teases us with the promise of good things, only to laugh as we suffer.  But this is a wrong view of God.  God doesn’t play games or “trick” us by giving us hardship when we ask for healing, though it may feel like it at the time. Suffering and hardship are not the gifts of God– his amazing gift is the ability to redeem even the worst of circumstances and bring joy and rest and peace that passes any expectation, any dread, or any understanding we have.  Often, our very desire for extra patience, peace, and joy are opportunities for us to learn more about God’s grace–and more about ourselves.

Life seldom meets our expectations–God is waiting to exceed even our wildest dreams!  Don’t just pray expecting something good might happen.  Pray expecting God to SHOW UP!

 

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