It Is Well With My Soul

I’ve been reading through the book of Job this past week. Job’s story challenges us– especially if we trust in our circumstances to confirm God’s love for us. Job was a seeming pawn in a situation beyond his control or understanding. He lost nearly everything– his cattle, flocks, all his children, and even his health. The only thing he did not lose was his nagging wife, and his faithful, but very unhelpful friends.

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At first, Job’s friends seem very supportive. They stay with him, saying nothing, just offering their presence for a week! But then, they start spouting the kind of useless aphorisms and accusations that make Job’s bad situation infinitely worse. They “remind” him that good people don’t suffer–only the wicked experience pain and loss. This knowledge, they assure him, comes from their own experience, and the wisdom of the past. When Job protests that he is innocent, that his suffering is NOT because of his own wickedness, they become increasingly angry and irrational– making up accusations and heaping blame on Job for daring to “question” God.

But Job’s friends, even though they speak with confidence and sound very much like many people we hear today, are wrong. Job’s experience is real–suffering comes to the innocent, while the wicked often “get away with” their sin, living lives of ease and comfort at the expense of others. We see it in the world around us– innocent people are the targets of mass shootings, or war, or famine, or disease. Meanwhile, criminals get “off” on a technicality; decorated war “heroes” destroy entire cities; powerful tyrants bend laws and oppress the helpless.

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Where is God in all this? WHO is God in all this? There are many different responses, but I want to look at three that are all present in the book of Job:

  • Mrs. Job: “Curse God and Die.” Some people look at evil and suffering, and they decide that God must be a fraud. Either He cannot or He will not destroy evil, or He would have done so before now. They declare with great defiance that either God does not even exist, or He must be malicious, capricious, petty, and weak.

  • Job’s friends: “Everyone knows that God rewards good and punishes evil.” Doesn’t the Bible say this? Isn’t this what we learned in Sunday School? Surprisingly, most of us would say, “Yes, that is exactly what I learned as a child, and it is exactly what the Bible says!” But look closer. The Bible says that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) It goes on to say that “The Just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:17)–not their good works. God DOES reward goodness, and he DOES punish evil– but He also redeems the wicked and causes the good to go through times of trial and suffering. God is more than a two-dimensional dispenser of rewards and punishments. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), and there are times that He chooses not to explain His ways “in the moment” of our suffering, or in the moments when wickedness seems to be “winning.”
    Unfortunately, when bad times come; when we experience pain, or watch someone else going through inexplicable suffering, if our view of God is incomplete or two-dimensional, we are left repeating the little we KNOW (or think we know) about God, and defending, not God’s character, but OUR knowledge. This is especially true if we have not been tested ourselves.
  • Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (Job 13:15) “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27 Even when Job struggled with his pain and suffering–even as he defended his character to his accusing friends, Job KNEW that God was GOD. He knew all that his friends were saying ABOUT God, but he also knew God–even when he didn’t understand His actions. And after all the arguments had been made and all the “easy” answers had been spilled out, GOD did not slay Job; he did not leave him in his agony. Neither did He provide Job with detailed answers or explanations. But He redeemed the situation– Job ended up with more blessings than before. More importantly, Job ended up with a greater understanding of who God is.

When all is not well with our health, or our finances, or our safety, or our relationships, it can still be “well with (our) Soul.” God does not change, but He does ask us to trust Him, even when His ways are not our ways. God will reward good and punish evil– but it may not be in our lifetime or as we imagine. God may stay silent during times of great stress and pain, but He will not leave us! In every situation, we can trust Him.

Will we?

Green Acres

Psalm 23:2a King James Version (KJV)
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures

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Many years ago (never mind how many..) there was a television show called “Green Acres.” It was a comedy about a couple from New York City, who moved to a small town in the country. The husband was excited about the move– he was tired of the rat race and bustle of the city; his wife, however, was reluctant to leave all the opportunities– she missed the shops and activity.

Green Acres was one of a group of shows that both celebrated and poked fun at rural life in America in the sixties and early seventies. The shows were very popular among viewers, but were panned by critics, and cancelled by network executives, even at the height of their popularity. https://www.closerweekly.com/posts/cbs-rural-purge-mayberry-rfd-green-acres/

More than fifty years later, you can often see these shows on networks like TV Land. They are still popular among some viewers, who like the nostalgia and the gentle humor. These shows all have happy endings. They don’t involve grotesque murders, lots of foul language, preachy lectures on social issues like homelessness, domestic abuse, or drug addiction, or copious amounts of sex, violence, or nudity. They don’t talk about war and gangs, poverty or prejudice, or urban sprawl. They celebrate family, fresh air, hard work, community, truth, justice, kindness, and humility.

What does “Green Acres” (or Andy Griffith or any other old TV show) have to do with Psalm 23 and Pursuing Prayer? Not a lot, but I would like to look at the phrase in verse 2– “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures..” Not the same as “Green Acres,” but I think the green pastures of God are viewed by the world in much the same way as “Green Acres;” scorned by a small and vocal group, but quietly cherished by many others.

Our Shepherd causes us to lie down– to find rest and nourishment and refreshing– in green pastures. That doesn’t mean that He won’t lead us through times of bustling stress, struggle, anxious moments, or rugged paths. But He will make us lie down. He will cause us to stop our frantic rushing, and renew our strength in green pasture. He doesn’t offer green pastures as an “escape from reality”, but as a reminder that dealing with reality requires us to see beyond the immediate stresses of the day and listen beyond the distracting noises around us.

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God’s green pastures won’t look like “Green Acres” with old tractors and fresh-mown hay. They may not look like the small town simplicity of Americana. In fact, God’s green pastures may not be places at all, but practices– spending time in Scripture, time in prayer, times in fellowship and encouragement, time in meditation, even time in service to others. You may find green pastures in the heart of a barrio, or in the quiet of a walk in the forest, or in praying as you climb a flight of stairs or fold laundry. But you will find spiritual nourishment and renewal in God’s green pastures, wherever they are and whatever they look like. https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/treasury-of-david/psalms-23-2.html

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God’s green pastures will have many critics, who will ask that you cancel these practices. They will call them old-fashioned, failed practices– naive, simplistic, even laughable. But as we respond to God who make us lie down in green pastures, others are watching– and taking heart. The critics in our life may be loud and insistent. It may seem like they have the power to “cancel” our rest, and pave over the green pastures to build another fast food restaurant. But others are watching in silence, longing to experience the kind of rest and refreshment they see in us– the kind that cannot come from sophisticated treatises on war or crime, or harsh critics’ disdain, or yet another trip to an upscale shop or fast food restaurant or spa. God may ask us to stay in Manhattan, or Tokyo, or Nairobi, but He doesn’t want us to live in the same way as many of our neighbors. We are to stand out and stand apart. And that will make us targets for criticism, but it will also make us shining examples!

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A few years ago, I left a full-time job– a job I loved–to help my husband open up a second-hand store that also sells amateur radio equipment. Most people would look on our store as a failure–it doesn’t make a lot of money; we don’t have hundreds of sales in a week; it hasn’t made us famous or important. But it gives me the opportunity to spend time talking and listening to the customers we do have, many of whom are lonely. It gives David the opportunity to do the same. And it gives me time to pray more, spend more time in God’s word, and write and edit this blog. It has allowed me more flexibility to spend time with my family. And it has reminded me that God is our provider and protector in ways I took for granted when I drew a bigger salary and had a more prominent position. From a worldly perspective, this is a move I would never have chosen. I spend most of my days unnoticed and unpaid–hardly a recipe for worldly fulfillment. And many days, I actually miss the bustle of deadlines, the drama of staff conflicts, and the extra money in the bank. Some days I am frustrated and ungrateful and restless–God has led me to the green pastures, but I refuse to lie down and receive the rest He wants to give me. I’d rather be shopping, or running the rat race. And God may choose to make me get up and move through valleys, up hills, or over rocky paths to the next pasture. But for this season, in this pasture, He is teaching me to lie down–to be less busy about my business, and more open to His.

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The world may offer us Times Square; God offers us fresh air. The world may offer us clever ways to spend our time and money– God gives us peace that passes all understanding. God’s “Green Acres” is the place to be–resting where and how our Shepherd leads us.

I Already Prayed About That…

Have you ever been in a season where you felt like you were praying about the same situation over and over with no results? No answers, and no indication that God has even heard? And you feel frustrated and even guilty about praying AGAIN about it?

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We live in an “instant” culture. Instant banking, instant coffee, drive-through fast food, and 24-hour news cycles give us the expectation that we can get whatever we want or need with the push of a button or flip of a switch. Just yesterday, I pulled into the grocery store parking lot, and, seeing how full the parking lot was, I drove two miles away to a different store, because I anticipated long lines at the checkout! I don’t like waiting. I don’t like “wasting” time.

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But God often puts us in a “holding pattern.” He may seem silent or distant, non-responsive or even absent. And in our impatience, we may stop bringing our burden to God, and seek elsewhere for answers or relief. Even when we know that God has promised to hear us, and never leave us alone, we long for instant gratification. And when we don’t get it, we start to wonder and doubt.

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Sometimes, I feel angry in my impatience. I want answers! I want to know the next step forward! Other times, I feel hurt. Does God not hear me? Does He not understand my need? Sometimes, I even feel guilty. I know that God “knows” everything. Why do I keep bothering Him with the same thing? Am I asking for the wrong thing? Am I asking in the wrong way?

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It is okay to have questions. It is normal to wonder. And I don’t have a “quick fix” answer for times like this. I think most of us experience these questions at some point. And the Bible has many examples throughout history of others who waited– some patiently, and others not so much…

Abraham and Sarah waited years for a family. In their impatience, they tried to do it in their own wisdom with heart-breaking results that echo down through thousands of years. Hannah prayed for years while enduring the taunts of her rival, Peninnah, before God gave her a son. A woman who touched Jesus’s robe had prayed and waited years for healing from her constant bleeding and pain. I know of parents who prayed for years that their wayward son or daughter would return home– some kept praying until they died, never seeing an answer.

But one comforting takeaway from all these Biblical and real-life examples– God DOES see and hear us. He left all those stories for us to read, knowing that we, too, would face trying and overwhelming circumstances. God doesn’t always give us an immediate or conclusive answer in our struggles. If He did, we would never develop a real and solid faith. God is less interested in answering our questions than He is in sharing our struggles. He does not want to walk ahead of us and smooth out our every path. Instead, He wants to walk beside us in the hills and the valleys of life.

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So even if “I already prayed about that..” I can keep praying with confidence. God hears. He knows. And He cares enough to slog it out right by my side. And yours.

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

(Please note: This is a post from a couple of years ago, which has been updated and revised…)

Have you ever doubted? Wondered, “Where is God?” Maybe even wondered if He exists at all? And then someone came along and made you feel wicked and small for having such a thought…”How could you!?”

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I know there are people who believe that faith is not really faith if you can have moments of doubt– that true faith never wavers, stumbles, or has tough questions. I don’t think this is Biblical, nor do I think this reflects God’s relationship with us. The Bible is full of “faithful” people who had moments of doubt.

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Abraham, when told that he would become the father of many nations, believed, and it was counted as righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Hebrews 11:11, Romans 4:3, etc.) Abraham’s faith was so solid, that he was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, the son of God’s Promise! Yet Abraham and Sarah acted outside of absolute faith when they brought in Hagar and tried to start a family on their own. God still blessed Hagar and Ishmael, but they were not part of the fulfillment of God’s plan. And over four thousand years of bad blood between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael are a sad reminder that Abraham did not trust God absolutely and completely.

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King David was a “man after God’s own heart.” Yet David wrote often about his feelings of being abandoned or forsaken by God. (See Psalm 10, Psalm 13, and Psalm 22 among others.) Elijah, within hours of a great victory over hundreds of angry priests of Baal, after a miraculous demonstration of God’s power and faithfulness, hid in despair and asked to die, sure that God had abandoned him to his enemies (1 Kings 19).

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Most telling is the statement from Jesus Himself on the cross. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46; Mark 15:33-34) Although He was quoting one of King David’s psalms (22:1), the words still ask a very harsh question. Did Jesus Himself doubt God’s presence or His boundless love? (I don’t think so, but it is this kind of statement that often invites condemnation from those who cannot allow for any momentary doubt of any kind.)

I don’t believe any of these moments in the Bible are accidental. I believe God wants us to know that His presence and His faithfulness do not depend on the absolute strength of our faith. I believe it is one of the reasons that Jesus spoke of faith “as small as a mustard seed” (Matthew 17:20). It is not the size or the strength of our faith that determines what God can or will do. It is the size and strength of our faith that causes US to understand what God is doing and to participate more fully with Him. And taking our momentary doubts and questions to God shows a different kind of faith– one that is strong enough to BE tested and triumph. God rewards those who SEEK Him. If we never need to seek, or ask, or knock (See Matthew 7:7), could it be that we are not trusting in Him, but in our own wisdom?

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Take heart! Have faith! But don’t be afraid to go through valleys of doubt, or wrestle with difficult questions. And if someone else is struggling–be willing to listen to their doubts and questions, rather than just dismissing them. God does…

The Chimp and the Typewriter

I’m really not sure at all how this post relates to prayer, but it is a subject that’s been stewing in my brain for awhile, so I thought I would “write out” my thoughts.

I have long been disgusted with a certain argument used by those who discount Creation (by a supreme God with intelligent design and purpose as put forth in Scripture). Their claim of a universe that is the result of a series of random accidents is compared to a chimpanzee with a typewriter. Supposedly, given enough time, there is a possibility that the chimp could “randomly” type a masterpiece– a Shakespearean play or the text of the New Testament.. It is a very tiny probability, but, the argument goes, enough of a probability to suggest that the universe came about in a similarly unexpectedly random way. The proponents of this argument always seem to leave their chimp typing away, convinced that their argument is unassailable– that they can drop the mic, walk off stage to the thunderous applause of their peers, and sit smugly back while creationists pick up their jaw from the floor and stammer in defeat. (To further explore how this analogy works, see https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2013/12/10/249726951/the-infinite-monkey-theorem-comes-to-life)

I’m flabbergasted that this argument still gets any credence. It is laughable in its illogical assumptions and disregard for the complexity and wonder of Creation. AND it refutes its own basic assumption– that of randomness. Let me break it down:

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  • First their example is NOT random at all. And, once true randomness is introduced, the idiocy of the argument is obvious. What if we replace the chimpanzee with any other random animal? A hedgehog. A butterfly. A hippopotamus. A fish. What is the probability of any of THEM typing a masterpiece? None. The theory hangs on the mathematical principle of probability theory, but probability rests, not on random unknowns, but on specific factors and specified outcomes, i.e. an agent (such as a chimpanzee) with the ability to use a specific type of tool (such as a keyboard) to produce a certain outcome (such as a specific phrase or work of literature).
  • The same thing applies if we replace the typewriter. Oh, modern arguments have replaced the typewriter with a computer keyboard– in fact computer models have even been tasked with trying to figure up the most likely probability percentage of this “random” event. But what if we take away the keyboard filled with letters, and give the chimp a crayon of a ball point pen. What chance then of the simian “creating” a work of fiction or a sacred book? As soon as it becomes apparent that the “probability” of such random factors producing a specific outcome is not just tiny, but non-existent, the analogy becomes ludicrous.
  • Finally, we don’t have random literature. Generally, we have “Hamlet.” But barring that, we have “random” works by Shakespeare, or Milton, or the King James Bible. The chimpanzee doesn’t have an Arabic keyboard. It never seems to type out classic works in Chinese literature (though it “could” in theory, I suppose). What we have is a very specific example of a single creative act that “might” statistically be “produced” (see the discussion on this below) given an infinite amount of time. And it is a visual image that our brains are tricked into thinking of as a “possible” outcome of random chance.
  • But it is not just the absence of true randomness, but the absence of reality that distresses me. The proponents of this argument not only want us to assume that the chimpanzee CAN type out a masterpiece, but that it WILL type out a masterpiece. On what theoretical plane is it logical to assume that the average (or even above-average) chimpanzee will spend any length of time pounding away at a keyboard to produce literature? To what purpose? Why should it? Or that the typewriter will never “jam” or run out of ribbon; or that a word processor will never experience a “glitch” or lose power, or have enough memory to store all the “failed” attempts. Will “auto correct” kick in? At what point does reality suggest that this “random” event is not only not probable, but not logical? As one wit suggested, “A million chimps at a million typewriters will never write Hamlet, but they will break the typewriters and fling their poop.”(I found this on the internet– I have no attribution for the “quote” as it was simply included with an image of a chimp at the typewriter.)
  • And how long will this take? You can’t realistically have a single, immortal chimpanzee in this scenario. You need infinite generations of chimps (supplied with typewriters) with nothing better to do than prove an illogical “random” theory. How many humans will it take to “witness” this process? How do they determine that the outcome has been reached successfully? And they all–chimps, machinery, witnesses– have to work toward this single goal; NOT of their own free will (and not “randomly”), but enslaved to a very human need to suggest what can only be theorized.
  • This brings me to another failing of the argument. One of the reasons we still use the word “theory” when speaking of Evolution or the “Big Bang” is that they can be theorized, but never demonstrated. No one can demonstrate how a universe can be formed out of nothing, because the universe and all its materials are already here. The most one could ever do is “re-create” or “simulate” what happened “In the beginning.” Similarly, the theoretical chimpanzee (or aardvark, or whatever) will never “create” Hamlet or the book of Matthew, or Paradise Lost. At most, it might create a reproduction–by “accident” rather than earnest intent–of an already existing masterpiece. This is not Creation. It is not even imitation, in the way that “West Side Story” re-creates “Romeo and Juliet” or a new translation of St. Matthew “modernizes” the King James Version of the same gospel. If a chimpanzee successfully photocopies a page of Shakespeare, we would never suggest that it was a literary “creation.”
  • And this brings me to my last baffling observation– that the Creation of the Universe would be compared to the creation of a single artistic product, and that Art and Literature would be dismissed as mere random “occurrences,” the likes of which any monkey could produce.
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The Apostle Paul warned of this kind of futile thinking in his letter to the Romans:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Romans 1:18-25 (NIV)

The world is filled with awesome and majestic reminders of God’s Power, His Character, His Faithfulness, His Wonder, and His Glory. God created the chimpanzee– and the kangaroo, the pineapple, the ostrich, the Milky Way, and YOU! And He created individuals with the creative capacity to invent typewriters, write sonnets, paint murals, and compose sonatas. He is a God of infinite variety, and amazing consistency. Many of those who study the origins of life on Earth– really study it, rather than trying to “figure it out,” have concluded that the factors necessary to “create” and sustain life– and more amazingly, to sustain the life we see around us in its beauty, power, and complexity–require such exquisite precision and timing that the “probability” of life on Earth (and the probability of “Earth” itself) without a supreme and purposeful Creator is beyond human calculation– and even beyond computer calculation!

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So I guess this does bring me back to prayer– We don’t pray to a theoretical “god,” but the God of Creation, and Wonder, and Majesty! Let’s remember to Praise Him today!

Looking Beyond..

Have you ever tried to read through the Bible in a year? There are many programs that can help you do it–even Bibles divided into daily readings. Some are organized in segments–a short passage from the Old Testament; one from the New; a Psalm, and two or three verses from Proverbs. Mine is organized in bits from Genesis to Revelations– a few chapters or a short book each day, with every seventh day set aside for reflection.

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It’s curious– the Bible is organized naturally in rough chronological order. In January, as we look ahead to a new year, we are challenged to look back and read about how the world began; in December, we read about the “end” of the world as we know it. But of course, Revelations isn’t about “the End.” It is about the new beginning– a New Heaven and a New Earth.

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As this year closes, and we naturally look ahead to next year, Revelations challenges us– not just to look ahead, but to look beyond! We can’t see the future, even if we try to prepare for it, or even control it. We can’t know for certain even what will happen in the next days and weeks of next year. But God has given us a glimpse of what will be– in His time. If this year has left us complacent, we must look beyond that complacency to see God’s righteous judgment. If this year has us frustrated about injustice, we must look beyond to see God’s coming endless reign of Peace. If thoughts of next year leave us confused or worried, we must look beyond to see how God’s plan is from everlasting, and that He is Sovereign over time and circumstance.

On January 1st, many of us will “start over” reading the Bible, with the opening of Genesis 1– “In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth..”, reminding us again that God has been in control all along. The story is the same–Creation, the Fall, the Promise, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and the coming Return of Christ– just as God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

We can look ahead– and hope that 2023 will bring goodness, adventures, triumphs, etc.. But we can look beyond, with a certain and sure hope that God has the future in His Mighty, Holy Hands!

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Lord, Thank you for this past year. Thank you for giving us new opportunities in the coming year, whatever circumstances may bring. Thank you for your wisdom and sovereignty in all things– that we can have complete confidence in You! Help us to enter 2023 with that confidence, and honor You in the days ahead, and throughout eternity. Amen.

Of Lighthouses, Watchtowers, and “Friendly” Reminders…

I live just about an hour away from one of the Great Lakes. Within a comfortable driving distance, there are at least three beautiful lighthouses along the lake. Driving to or from the lighthouses, we pass through an area known as the “Fruit Belt.” Orchards, vineyards, and croplands are bursting this time of year–the very air is redolent with the smell of ripening apples, grapes, corn, beans, berries, wheat, and more. Some of the orchards and vineyards still have old watchtowers, though many have been removed or replaced with digital cameras.

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Lighthouses and watchtowers serve a purpose– one that is still important today. Lighthouses help ships and other lake traffic avoid dangerous reefs and rocks along the shore, as well as sandbars. They guide travelers in the dark, and through storms. Watchmen in towers protect crops from dangers such as fire and predators. They watch for storms, and signs of draught and frost. Both lighthouses and watchtowers are fixed, steady, visible, and convey safety and security.

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I’ve been reading through the prophets lately– Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel…the prophets were sending out a warning to the rebellious people of Israel and Judah. Even though the imagery is often graphic and stark, the message was one of steady love and warning from God. God loves us enough to guide us through the rocks and perils of life. He sends warnings– not to harm us but to keep us from harm. He sends faithful friends and other messengers to stand firm with us through the storm and drought and danger around us.

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Just like the light from the lighthouse, or the sound of a foghorn, the message may be glaring and unpleasant, sometimes. We may be sailing along with no notion of the rocks ahead. Or we may be strolling through the vineyard, unaware of a prowling animal or a fire just over the next rise. We may even resent the warnings we read in the Bible or hear from friends. We may be afraid to BE the one giving out the warning– afraid of being misunderstood or resented or even rejected.

God asks us to be watchmen– to be lighthouses– ready to shout out a warning to those who may be in danger. He also asks us to be vigilant and ready to heed the warnings He sends through others.

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How do we know when “friendly” reminders and warnings are true? How can we be sure that they are not just petty criticism or overreactions?

Check them against Scripture. And check them in the context of Scripture. A single verse, taken out of context, that seems to contradict other passages should always be suspect. But a general principle, found throughout the Old and New Testaments should be heeded.

Look for consistency. Lighthouses and watchtowers don’t bend and sway with the winds of change. “Warnings” that change with circumstances, or seem relative to certain situations should be suspect.

Listen for (and speak with) Love. Friends may speak words of warning, but they will also speak of mercy and hope.

Listen for (and speak) truth–warnings should contain specifics, rather than vague fears or blanket accusations.

Listen (and speak) with humility. That doesn’t mean that we cannot speak in our defense, but we should not be defensive or resentful– even if the warnings are spurious. Remember, Jesus was accused of being “from Satan” during His own ministry, yet He answered firmly and gently, not with anger or hatred.

Give Thanks! Give thanks that God sends us warnings, and gives us opportunities to recognize danger and error, and opportunities to repent and change course, and encourage others to do the same!

Suing God

I have a friend who wants to sue God. She’s not entirely serious, but she has a lot of anger toward God. She feels that God “owes” her an explanation for her life circumstances, as well as a general justification for war, famine, and other evils that she reads about in the paper or sees on the news. She believes He (or She or S/he or It– my friend isn’t sure that God exists, but cavils at the idea of calling God “Father” or “He”–she finds it sexist) is being unfair in a thousand different ways.

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My friend doesn’t read the Bible, and is only vaguely familiar with the story of Job. Job wanted to take God to court. His life had crumbled around him, and he wanted God to explain why, especially as he didn’t “deserve” the circumstances he faced. Amazingly, in the Biblical account, we learn that Job was “right.” He didn’t deserve to lose his family, wealth, and health. He had done nothing “wrong.” That doesn’t mean that he was sinless. But he confessed any sins, made atonement– he even sacrificed to make atonement for any sins his children might have committed. Job was a “righteous dude!” My friend– not so much. Like most of us, she would probably be ready to admit that she’s made some mistakes here and there, though she doesn’t feel that they are particularly heinous. She’s more than willing to “let bygones by bygones” for herself and others– shouldn’t God do the same, without making us confess and humble ourselves? Who does God think He is, anyway?!

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But this is the point. God is GOD–He is not a man, or even a superman, that He is compelled to explain Himself to us; to seek our approval or accommodate our whims, wishes, or plans. In the story of Job, God never gives Job the explanation he’s looking for (again, amazingly, WE the readers are given a “behind the scenes” look and told exactly why Job is being tested and allowed to suffer). Nor does God justify Job’s circumstances or spell out his list his “rights.” Instead, He presents Job with a few keen questions to remind Job (and us!) of who God is, and who Job is not!

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Like my friend, I am often disturbed, puzzled, and saddened by some of life’s circumstances, and by the evils I see around me. But when I begin to question why, the Bible reminds me to ask a few keen questions: Did I create the world? Do I have the power or authority to re-create or re-order the world around me? Can I change my own circumstances, or those of others? Can I change nature, weather, geography, biology? Can I make times and seasons obey my instructions? Can I see a thousand years into the future, or remember a thousand years in the past? Am I immortal? Omniscient? Omnipotent? Holy?

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But more than that, I have to ask: If God never gives me answers or explanations for what has happened or is happening, or will happen– what will change? If God answers all my questions– what can I say or do about it? Can I teach God how to oversee the Universe? Can I explain to God what He already knows better than I do? Job’s ultimate response was worship. I have a choice to rage against my creator, or I can trust Him with my past, present, and future. I can worship God right now, in my “not-knowing,” or I can rebel against the one who gives me life and breath– the one who created everything around me, before me, behind me, under and over me– the one who is sovereign over the entire universe.

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My friend wants to sue God– or at least demand answers from Him. I hope she will consider pur-suing Him, instead. He is big enough to meet our anger and our questions, and He is big enough to handle all the things we don’t know or understand.

Running the Race

I am NOT a runner. If you ever see me running, I’ve either just encountered a snake, or there’s a wild animal chasing me. So I don’t know a lot about running a marathon, or even a 5-or 10-K race. Even in my daily life as a Christian, I prefer to use the term “Christian Walk!” But the Bible uses the imagery of a race to describe the Christian life. In our pursuit of Christ-likeness, including our pursuit of prayer, we need to think like a runner.

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For those of us who don’t run, this may pose a bit of a challenge, but the Bible gives us clear principles that provide good guidance.

  • Keep moving forward: “12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Philippians 3:12-14 The Message) Runners don’t worry about what is behind them. They are focused on the goal– reaching the finish line. We need to stop focusing on our past, or the anxieties about the road ahead, and keep our focus on the ultimate goal.
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  • Travel light/Get rid of the baggage: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us..” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV) What is weighing me down, that I need to let go of, if I want to keep running with endurance? I wrote earlier this month about the expectations attached to the “model” woman in Proverbs 31. Expectations, guilt, unforgiveness, shame, wanting to please other people, even our own self-talk can weigh us down, slow us down, and wear us out. It’s time to let go!
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  • Run with the pack: Running alone can be good for meditation, but we need the challenge and the encouragement of others if we want to train and grow stronger. Reconsider the passage I quoted above in its larger context: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV–emphasis added) We need to surround ourselves with companions, role models, teachers, friends, and others who can encourage, sharpen, comfort, and help us in our pursuit. And we need to remember that NO challenge or opposition we face is unknown to Christ. He is our ultimate role model, and, along with the Holy Spirit, our greatest coach!
  • Run/train with purpose: “25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:25-26 NIV) I know many people who “know” a lot about the Bible; they’ve grown up in the church or attended seminary; they’ve memorized scripture or studied theology– only to leave the church and their faith. I know many others who have a “faith” that bears little resemblance to the Bible’s teaching– it is based mostly on their “feelings” about God and a “truth” that is relative to their circumstances and changing emotions. Pursuing the Christian life involves discipline– being a disciple–and that involves all areas of life– studying the Bible, and putting it into practice. It’s not enough to “know” about doctrine or to “feel” like a Christian. We must pursue Christ-likeness in our words, prayers, habits, relationships, etc..
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  • Don’t run on “no fuel.” “29 He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, 31 But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31 NKJV). It is tempting to run on an empty stomach (see traveling light above), or to start running without stretching or warming up. Anything we do in our own wisdom and power– even “good” things like prayer and Bible study, can leave us empty and worn out. We need to come back to our source of wisdom and power–(See Hebrews 12: 2-3 again!)
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Running a race isn’t easy. Walking through life is a challenge, too. Pursuing Christ-likeness in our habits, including our prayer life, takes dedication, discipline, guidance, and endurance. But God is faithful to provide all that we need to finish the race and gain the prize!

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.

green grass field during sunset
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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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