Sixteen Little Things

If you are reading this blog, you have at least sixteen things for which to be thankful.  Some of them may seem like minor things, but they can form the beginning of a much longer list.

  • First, (and this is NOT one of the smaller things) you are alive to read this.  You woke up this morning (or afternoon, or whenever), and you have an opportunity to be thankful.  Not everyone who was here yesterday can say that!  Life is a precious commodity, and one that should cause us to be grateful.
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  • I am (or was a few hours ago– hopefully I still am) alive to write this!  You may or may not be very thankful for this fact, depending on whether or not you agree with me, or enjoy the blog, but I am very grateful…
  • You can see to read this.  Close your eyes and imagine, or just look up from your screen to see all the other wonders within your sight!
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  • You can access this blog to read it.  We take for granted the availability of information and access to writings, graphics, and sound in the cyber age in which we live, but even 50 years ago it would have been impossible for a private person to share photos, writings, or videos to a global audience in real time.  And the time may come when such sharing is tightly regulated, restricted, or forbidden.  (Indeed, in certain areas, you may taking a risk to view this even now.)
  • You can read this.  Worldwide, the literacy rate is estimated at 86.3% See wikipedia chart here You may think this is a small thing to point out, but in many countries–perhaps even the one you live in–this percentage is much smaller.  And, if you look at historical accounts, literacy rates have exploded in just the last 100 years, especially for women.
    • You may be especially thankful if you are reading this in a second or third language, or if your computer is translating this into your native tongue.
    • You may not be reading this directly– if not, be grateful for whoever is able to read it to you, and is willing to do so.
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  • If you have access to this blog, you probably have access to other modern conveniences — electricity, a cell phone or computer, indoor plumbing, etc.  Even if your access is limited, sporadic, or expensive, it is still something many of our great-great-grandparents did not know.
  • Chances are that you have been the beneficiary of medical advances of which you are not even consciously aware…vaccinations, inoculations, surgery, better nutritional practices, and more– most of us living in the world today have never had to face the ravages of Polio; Smallpox, once a dreaded disease, was deemed to be eradicated within the last 50 years.  It seems like such a small thing to be grateful for something you have never had, until you talk to someone or read about someone who DID have it.
  • You are completely unique and one-of-a-kind!  Even if you are an “identical” sibling, you are not the same as anyone else living or anyone else who has ever lived!  In all the world, throughout all time, there has never been or ever will be anyone exactly like you!
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  • Conversely, you are part of a 7+ billion-member global family of humans who share the same commonalities– laughter, tears, hopes, disappointments, bad hair days (or no hair days), love, loss, hunger, and, sometimes, rest.  We all have thoughts and feelings, and a purpose.
  • God LOVES YOU– in fact, He adores you.  He loves you to death– and He died (and rose again) to prove it!  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit look on you and love you–want the best for you throughout all eternity, and want to have a deep and powerfully transformative relationship with you– forever!
  • I am praying for you– perhaps not simultaneous to your reading this, but I pray for readers.  I may not know your name, or where you are, or when you are reading this, but God does, and I’m praying to Him on your behalf.  I’m also praying as I write each entry that God will be glorified and that what I write will glorify Him and help others.
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  • God is even more readily accessible than anything I will ever send out– more than anything that can pop up in your news feed, nearer than your next door neighbor.  God is available–whoever you are, however you feel, wherever you may be, whatever your circumstances, and whenever you call.  Every moment of every day is an opportunity to pursue Him and interact with Him through prayer!
  • God is not just accessible, He has revealed Himself– through His creation, through His words, through prophecies, visions, and miracles, through the life and ministry of Jesus, and through the examples and lives of those who follow Him.
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  • If you have reached this point, you may be scratching your head…I thought there were sixteen things…what’s left?  Well, if you count the smaller bullet points above, this is number sixteen, and the fact that you are still counting means that you are counting your blessings– that’s a small thing, maybe, but I think it means that you want to be grateful– and THAT is another thing to celebrate!

Just a Minute…

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

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National Minute of Prayer Home

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

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

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

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

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

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Where Your Treasure Is…

Our church held a hymn-sing and ice cream social last Sunday.  It was an informal evening service, but we heard testimony of the power of hymns to shape our worship, and to help us remember scripture’s promises.  We also had the chance to just “call out” a favorite hymn to sing together.  We probably sang 15 or 20 hymns that night, and each one had special meaning to many in the congregation.  We treasure certain songs, certain verses, certain stories– they feed our soul, encourage our heart, steel our thoughts, and pour balm on our wounds.

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One hymn we didn’t sing the other night, though it is a favorite of many, was “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”  Sweet Hour of Prayer– lyrics and much more here  In getting ready to post for today, I thought about this hymn.  We treasure the thought of prayer being sweet and bringing relief, but do we treasure prayer enough to spend an hour or more at it?  If I add up the time spent in morning prayers of devotion, grace at mealtime, evening prayers, and “quick thoughts to heaven” throughout the day, it probably adds up to an hour…but I spend more time writing about prayer each day than I actually spend practicing it.  And when was the last time I got so caught up in prayer that I lost track of time and spent over an hour at it in one sitting?

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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that we should not lay up treasures for ourselves on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21 KJV)  This is true of our material treasures, but also our spiritual treasures, our thought treasures, and our time.  When I hear “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” one of my first thoughts is always, “That would be nice, but I don’t have an hour to spend praying– I’d never get anything done!”  But would I have said that about watching my favorite TV show?  Spending an hour on Facebook or shopping at my favorite store?

God is beyond time– he’s not counting the hours, minutes or moments we spend with Him.  But he feels our absence and our distraction just the same.  He isn’t trying to pull us away from important things to waste our time– he wants to pull us away from the things that weigh us down, worry us, haunt us, and eat up the precious time He has given us.

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I have found that when I feel “too busy” to spend time with Jesus, it’s a good time to pause and make time for prayer.  When I do (and it’s not as often as I should), three things happen:

  • I want more!  That time refreshes me, calms my spirit, and removes the burden of  worries, failures, and frustrations.
  • I accomplish more–maybe it’s a case of God re-ordering my other priorities; maybe he just gives me the power to work more efficiently; maybe it’s a miracle–but I find that the “time crunch” I worried about seems to melt away.
  • Jesus becomes “more” to me– I grow closer to Him, and closer to the person He created me to be.

Walk This Way

There is an old comedy/vaudeville gag, where a character enters a stately home, or an office, or arrives at an  important event.  They are greeted by a “straight man” character, who tells them to “walk this way”.  The “straight man” then turns and begins walking in a manner that uses exaggerated mannerisms.  The comedic character doesn’t just follow in the general direction of the other character– s/he imitates the exaggerated mannerisms as well.

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In the last of three prayers from the song, “Day by Day” (see last Friday and Saturday), I want to explore how to “follow Thee more nearly.”

I have this quibble with the song lyrics– I know that “nearly” rhymes with “clearly” and “dearly”, but it is not grammatically correct, as it implies that I almost, not quite, but nearly want to follow Jesus, instead of saying that I want to follow Him more closely, or become a better reflection of His character.  That said, I sometimes think that I fall into the comedic trap of thinking that “walk this way” merely means following Christ with exaggerated mannerisms– I follow “more nearly” when I should be following more closely.

Years ago, a good friend of mine suggested that I read a book called “God On a Harley” (Review and summary here)  It is a fable, and an interesting read.  I don’t recommend it for theological content (the Christ it presents is more of a New-Age life coach, not a Messiah), but I’m glad I read it for two reasons:  It challenged my conventional view of Jesus, and it challenged the way I thought about discipleship.  At the time I was reading the book, I was also considering making some big changes in my life– changing careers, moving away from my home town, and trusting God to be “sufficient” in my singleness and lack of guaranteed income.

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When we talk or think about Jesus’ time on Earth, we generally focus on His birth, His miracles, His death, and His resurrection.  We don’t usually think of His everyday life…where He ate or slept or how He lived.  If He were to walk among us today, He wouldn’t appear like the paintings we see– flowing long blond hair (which has always been inaccurate), white robe and sandals.  He might wear a T-shirt and jeans, ride the bus or subway train, and hang out at Starbucks or the corner convenience store.  Jesus didn’t live in a “holy huddle.”  And, though He famously walked on water, He mostly walked the streets.  He lived and walked and ate and spent His days among ordinary people–in fact, it was His willingness to eat with and talk to the marginalized, the forgotten, the ostracized people of Him time, that got Him in trouble with the religious leaders and those in power.

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I don’t think Jesus in our time would be a tattooed, beer swilling, biker– but I’m convinced that He would be found sharing a story or a pizza  with one; and with the kinds of people many of His “followers” would shun.  The Jesus I want to follow “more nearly” is Holy, but He is not “Holier-than-thou.”  I can’t follow Jesus more nearly if I’m following an image that only exists in a picture or my self-righteous imagination.   In my youth, I had a picture of what “following Christ” looked like– but it was more about following expectations and selfish desires– successful career, marriage, giving to the “right” charities, becoming a pillar of the community.  There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but if God calls me to serve in humble (even humiliating) ways, doing thankless tasks, and spending time, not helping the needy at my convenience, but truly serving– pouring out my time and my heart until only His strength keeps me going–I have learned the joy and honor that transcends anything I once imagined.

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I’m not a biker, but I love the image of Jesus on a motorcycle, asking me to come along for a ride.  If I want to follow Him “more nearly,” I couldn’t come up with a better metaphor.  If Jesus came and asked me to ride off with Him on a Harley, several things would happen that relate to discipleship:

  • First, I have to commit.  You can’t “sort of” ride along — you either get on the bike or you stay behind. You might know all about the motor, you might know how to ride, you might know the traffic laws, you might even watch a video of someone riding, but you won’t experience the horsepower under you, the wind in your face, the road slipping away behind you.  The same is true of the Christian life.  You can know about God; own a Bible– even memorize it; you can sing God’s praises, all without experiencing a relationship with Him.  But you’ll never know the full power of His grace and acceptance until you commit.
  • Part of that commitment is to be willing to go when and where He’s going…you can’t go on the ride and stay at home.  You can’t go two hours after He does.  And that brings me to–
  • Trust!  You won’t get on the bike if you don’t trust His ability to drive and His wisdom in knowing how and where to go.  Once you’re on the bike, hanging on from behind, you can’t see all of the road ahead.  You can’t steer or hit the brakes.  In my own experience, I ended up leaving teaching after seven years with no “safety net.”  I had no job waiting in the wings, no money saved up, and no “plan” other than to take whatever honest work I could find and follow God’s leading.  I learned by experience that I can trust God’s ways to be better than mine; better than my expectations!
  • Riding together takes teamwork.  Just because God is doing the driving and steering doesn’t mean that I just sit back and watch the scenery (though I can do a lot of that, too).  If I’m not paying attention at curves, intersections, stops, turns, etc., I can throw everything off-balance.
  • Riding together, with my arms wrapped around Him is the closest I can “follow” Jesus.  It’s not about what I know, or what I can “do” for God– it’s choosing to be in a deepening relationship with Him.  As I live with Him, listen to Him, and trust Him, the knowing and doing will come naturally.

I want to follow with abandon– not just to walk several steps behind, or wander in His general direction, or watch what He’s doing from a distance.  I want to hang on and share the adventure.  That’s the way I want to “walk” with Him.  That’s my prayer, “Day by Day.”

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!

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