Exceedingly, Abundantly, Above…

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

Ephesians 3:20 (KJV)
Photo by Josh Sorenson on Pexels.com

What do I expect as I pray? What is the outcome that I hope for? Most of the time, it looks like one of the following:

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

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

Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

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

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

We serve an amazing, limitless, all-powerful, all-wise God! Our prayers may seem like just words–humble, inadequate, or even unintelligible– but in God’s hands, they are mighty tools, bringing Him glory in ways we can’t even begin to explain or imagine!

The Lord Does Not See Us..

In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign Lord came on me there. I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man.  From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal. He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood. And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain. Then he said to me, “Son of man, look toward the north.” So I looked, and in the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy. And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.” Then he brought me to the entrance to the court. I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall. He said to me, “Son of man, now dig into the wall.” So I dug into the wall and saw a doorway there.And he said to me, “Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here.” 10 So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and unclean animals and all the idols of Israel. 11 In front of them stood seventy elders of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising. 12 He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land.’” 13 Again, he said, “You will see them doing things that are even more detestable.” 14 Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord, and I saw women sitting there, mourning the god Tammuz. 15 He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this.” 16 He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east. 17 He said to me, “Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the people of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually arouse my anger? Look at them putting the branch to their nose! 18 Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them.”

Ezekiel 8 (NIV) via biblegateway.com

We make a big fuss in our culture about privacy. What I do in my own home, with my own life, in my own time, is private. And, for many of us, our privacy is sacred. We rage and fight and panic about who may be invading our privacy– listening in or watching us when we least expect it.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I must admit, I don’t like the idea of anyone spying on me or listening in on my private moments. I especially don’t like the thought of someone manipulating or using my private words, images, or ideas without my knowledge or consent.

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

But there is a danger in our quest for privacy– we are inclined to believe that anything we do in private CANNOT ever be discovered; that we are safe to do whatever we please, regardless of the consequences. The internet has made this idea even more dangerous–we can be private and anonymous behind the screen. We can say things we know we shouldn’t; we can view things we would be ashamed to acknowledge watching; we can explore fantasies, mask our inadequacies, pretend to be who and what we are not; all behind the “safety” of the screen.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

And this is nothing new. In Ezekiel’s day, the moral, legal, political, and religious leaders of the day thought they were “safe” to indulge in idol worship behind closed doors. But more than that, they believed that God would never see as they practiced divination, witchcraft, ritual prostitution, violent orgies, even child sacrifice! They had built hidden rooms where they practiced vile rites and indulged in the very behaviors they taught others to avoid. Worse, they condemned and vilified others when they “got caught” doing the same things they practiced with impunity. And when prophets came to them with warnings–the very words of God– they had them ruined, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

In the eighth chapter of Ezekiel, God shows his prophet a vision. He allows Ezekiel to “go behind closed doors” and see the priests and leaders at their worst–over and over again–secret rituals, detestable practices, flagrant disobedience, arrogant rebellion…And all of this was happening as the nations of Israel and Judah had collapsed, and many thousands had died from war, disease, and starvation. People had been sent into exile– defeated, starving, enslaved. Yet their leaders were keeping up an image of righteousness and proud endurance, instead of turning to God for help and hope.

Photo by Jigar Maru on Pexels.com

God was very clear–Jerusalem WOULD be captured and destroyed. Babylon WOULD take God’s people captive and send most of them to the sword or to exile. Defiance and pride– especially relying on the great victories of the past– would not save them. Rebellion and violence would not hold back God’s judgment.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

The same is true today. It is easy to write about praying and walking closely with God–I’m hidden behind a screen. I can sound righteous and Godly for a few minutes three times a week. And it is easy to point fingers and call out the bad behavior of others behind the anonymity of a computer screen. We need to speak up, speak out, and defend the cause of those who are oppressed, abused, enslaved, and silenced. But we also need to beware that we are not crying, “Shame on you!” from a locked closet, while waving banners or buying merchandise supporting the abusers.

And God sees all of it. What we may find shocking and reprehensible, God has already seen through to its conclusion! God WILL bring judgment and punishment for those who shed blood and bring violence and injustice. But God also sees what I do in the watches of the night; when I’m alone with my thoughts; when I’m not on my guard against what I view on Facebook or YouTube. God knows what celebrity gossip I crave, or what I’m “watching” on eBay. He knows if I am ignoring or justifying evil happening all around me. He watches over my shoulder when I’m reading that new novel, or I’m driving down the road (hopefully not at the same time!), or when I’m wallowing in self-pity or jealousy or anger.

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

When I read about Ezekiel weeping over the behavior of Israel’s leaders, I am convicted. How often do I weep and seek God’s mercy over the behavior of our leaders–all of them, and not just the ones I voted for? Or do I just fume and post about how awful “they” are (whoever “they” my be) and how “they” need to be punished? How often do I ignore my own bad behavior? I may not have a “hidden room” filled with detestable images and idols, but God is still watching how I react to challenging times. He knows if I am obeying His voice or merely pretending to follow Him while leaning on my own understanding or my own image of self-righteousness. He knows if I have made money, politics, status, safety, health, or even “religion” into idols, hoping that one or more of them will carry me through tough times. He knows if I am condemning others for their bad behavior, while hiding or justifying my own.

I want everyone to see me when I am noble and righteous–but I need to see myself as He sees me every day–His much-loved, and ever-needy, child.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Father, may I be quick to remember that You ALWAYS see me– and that You ALWAYS want me to see You as well. Help me to see You in the middle of challenging times. Help me to see You when I interact with others. Help me to obey You in the private moments when no one else is watching.

Selective Hearing

Ninety years ago today, my grandparents were married in a small ceremony in Elkhart, Indiana. Thirty-one years later, my parents were married in another small ceremony in Cassopolis, Michigan. My grandparents were married almost 63 years before my grandmother passed away. My parents were married over 35 years before my dad passed. My mother, when I was preparing to marry, passed on some of the advice she had received from her grandparents (who were married over 50 years themselves!) . It involved what my great-grandmother called “selective hearing.”

Photo by Kevin Malik on Pexels.com

My great-grandmother, my grandfather, and my mother were all “fussers.” They tended to fret and stew over little things. They liked to “vent” their feelings in the moment when they felt them. Their spouses learned to listen without comment, or even walk away and let their partners “get it out of their system.” Later, they could have a calmer discussion if the situation warranted it. Similarly, if the “fretting” partner was impatient about something, the other would sometimes selectively “ignore” a summons or critical remark. It wasn’t that they were bad listeners– in fact they were excellent listeners–but they learned the wisdom of not immediately responding or reacting to things said in moments of emotion or frustration. They were listening beyond just the words that were being spoken– especially when the words were many and emotional!

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

God is always listening to us. He hears our every cry for help, and also all of our complaints! In His wisdom, He also practices “selective hearing.” He may sometimes seem silent or even indifferent; but often He is letting us “talk it out of our system.” He remains with us, ready to give us the help we need, but not willing to indulge our emotional tirades or snits.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

One of the greatest examples of this can be found in the Psalms. David (and other psalmists) often poured out all their fears and frustrations– “where are you, God?,” “why do the wicked prosper?,” “when will you rescue me?” Amazingly, many of their complaints and questions are not answered with a specific action. Yet these same psalms end with hope and assurance–as the psalmist “talks it out,” he is reminded of God’s essential character and faithfulness through the years. God’s steady and gentle presence, though silent, communicates His commitment and Love.

I tend to be a “fretter,” and my loving husband has learned to have “selective hearing” around me. His faithful presence and willingness to let me “talk it out” without judgment and recrimination is very freeing. David very seldom “frets,” but when he does, I am learning to respond with wisdom and selectively hear what is in his heart, and not just what comes out of his mouth in a moment of frustration.

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

I am so thankful for the wisdom of God (and the wisdom of my husband), that doesn’t immediately jump into my occasional emotional whirlpool, but waits to pull me out and set me on calmer, solid ground! I am grateful for God’s “selective hearing!”

I Stand At the Door and Knock

I was being pestered by telemarketers the other day, and it struck me that God is the exact opposite of a telemarketer. Telemarketers call, generally when it is inconvenient, to sell you a product you did not know you even wanted! They may ask polite questions, but their goal is not to help you– rather, their goal is to sell you their product. They may have your name from a list (they usually slaughter the pronunciation of mine) , but more often than not, they simply call your number at random. They’ve never met you, nor do they intend to develop a long-term relationship with you. They are not interested in your family, your background, or your most pressing needs.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

God is not a telemarketer. He isn’t trying to “sell” you anything. He cares deeply and personally about who you are, and what you need. He knows you– even better than you know yourself! And He says, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) He doesn’t say that He will make an appointment to come to your door at His convenience. He doesn’t say that He will pound on your door and insist that you answer. He doesn’t say that He is there to make you a “limited-time offer you won’t want to miss…” The image in Revelation is that of a close friend who is always as close as your doorstep and waiting to fellowship with you.

Photo by Jack Sparrow on Pexels.com

The wonder of prayer is just that– God is ALWAYS, ALWAYS available and ready to listen, comfort, protect, encourage, forgive, advise, and just “BE” present. He invites Himself, but waits for our response to His gentle knock. He doesn’t walk away in disgust when we pretend we’re not at home. He doesn’t break in to our house, or peer through the window or blow up our voice mail box with frenzied messages.

Sometimes, WE are like the telemarketer– calling on God, insisting that He come to our rescue, or answer our doubts and questions, only to speed off without so much as a “Thank you.” And God still waits on the doorstep, waiting to come in and “sup” with us. So often, we have an agenda; we believe that God must have one, as well– that He wants a certain phrase or certain action, and then He will “go away” again, satisfied that He has “made a sale.” But God wants us to walk with Him in relationship (see Genesis 5:21-24; Genesis 6:8-9; Micah 6:8; Matthew 9:9; John 8:12; John 10:27; 1 Peter 2:21, etc.) In this sense, prayers is not an activity, but a pursuit and a way of life– an ongoing conversation between companions along their journey.

Photo by Alexavier Rylee Cimafranca on Pexels.com

May we enjoy today’s journey and welcome the company of the One who created us, pursued us, redeemed us, and who loves us best!

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.

Photo by Parij Photography on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

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.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

  • 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.
Photo by Anastasiya Gepp on Pexels.com
  • 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.
Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

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?

Be Reconciled

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)
Photo by RF._.studio on Pexels.com

Why do we find it so difficult to be reconciled? We crave God’s forgiveness, but we withhold our own toward our neighbors, or family members. We let anger and bitterness keep us apart. We let pride keep us from doing what we know is right in God’s eyes.

I speak from conviction. I have been estranged from a cousin of mine. Years have passed since we’ve spoken. We argued about something, and simply stopped talking. I tell myself that I have nothing for which to apologize–that’s just the way things ended. And my life is far less stressful since we’ve stopped talking. I do not “hate” my cousin, or feel bitter toward her. In fact, I tell myself that I only wish her the best– I just don’t want to be involved in her life, or have her involved in mine.

Photo by Josh Sorenson on Pexels.com

I know this is not what God wants. I know I should get in touch, and reassure her that “we’re okay”. Yet I am afraid to reach out and re-establish contact. Not because she poses any sort of physical threat, but she threatens my pride and my comfort. I find her difficult to talk to; difficult to understand. We have different ideas about boundaries and expectations–I find her “needy,” and she finds me “aloof.” I don’t think time will have made our relationship “easier.”

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

But God finds her precious in His sight– and worthy of my effort to reconcile our relationship. That doesn’t mean that I must allow her to manipulate me or abuse my emotions, or that I must demand that she be someone she is not to make me more comfortable. But it does mean that I may be embarrassed or inconvenienced at times. I need to be willing to listen, even when it is difficult, and so speak, even when it seems like I’ve said the same thing before. And it means that I must learn to set healthy boundaries and insist on them– not to shut her out as I have been doing, but to keep our relationship balanced and safe for both of us.

God puts a great premium on our willingness to be reconciled to one another. So much so, that Jesus told His listeners in the Sermon on the Mount, that if they were ready to bring an offering, and they remembered that someone had something against them, that they should leave their offering– unoffered– and go be reconciled first. Being at odds with others puts us at odds with their Creator and the One who loves them. Whenever possible, we should seek to reconcile. Broken relationships are sometimes a reflection of our relationship with Him. It hinders our prayer life, as well as our witness to the Power of God to redeem and reconcile the world around us.

Photo by Timur Weber on Pexels.com

God is aware that we are sinful people. And there are some relationships that are absolutely toxic. Reconciliation and forgiveness are NEVER about allowing another person to continue to abuse or manipulate you. Especially if this involves physical or sexual abuse. Forgiveness is not the same as accepting someone else’s manipulation or abuse. God, and only God, can redeem us and make us a new creation. Some relationships cannot be fully “reconciled” in this life. But “letting go” is not the same as “locking out” or “running away.” We must let others know that God can do what we cannot–He can restore broken relationships. He can make all things new.

When You Get What You Pray For…

We’ve all heard stories of people who wish for something, only to get a very different result… One story goes like this: An older man, recently retired, grew bored with his new life, particularly as he now spent all day with his aging wife, who complained about her arthritis and all the extra housework. He wanted to be spontaneous and enjoy his new-found freedom, but she never wanted to go anywhere. One day, a genie offered him one wish– anything he wanted! So the man wished for a wife who was 30 years younger than him. The next day, he awoke to find the same aging wife asleep by his side. Discouraged, because he thought his wish had not been granted, he got up to use the bathroom. As he entered the bathroom and saw his reflection in the mirror, he was shocked to notice that he had aged 30 years overnight!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Many people are convinced that God is like the genie in that story. We pray for something good, and God will send us something unpleasant, instead. We say that God is good, but often, it seems like He delights in sending us obstacles, struggles, and even grief. Why would He do such a thing? Of course, the man in the story was not asking for something noble or righteous, but we feel that God will somehow “twist our words” and give us something “less” than the good that we pray for. We want complete and rapid healing, not a lengthy struggle or a slow degeneration. We want “that” dream job, not being stuck with a dead-end job (or waiting for any job to come along). We want justice and an end to oppression–now– not waiting in silence for God to act.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

Habakkuk struggled with just such a situation. His nation was in decline. Justice was being perverted and denied, people were suffering in the midst of violence and wickedness, and God seemed to be ignoring it all. He had prayed for God to restore justice and rescue his people from wicked leaders. But God’s answer, when it finally came, was stunning. God was raising up another nation– one known for its incredible power and cruelty–to conquer the land of Judah and execute harsh justice. There would be no easy escape. Judah would be invaded and conquered. But God’s shocking answer also contained promises. First, “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (or “the just shall live by faith” Habakkuk 2:4) a promise echoed by the Apostle Paul in the first chapter of Romans. In other words, even in times of incredible injustice and trouble, God will take care of those who are faithful. Even when He seems silent, God is watching over those who put their trust in Him. He has not forgotten the innocent or the oppressed. They can trust Him even in the worst of circumstances. Secondly, God promises that the arrogant and wicked will be punished– including the invaders who are coming to conquer Judah.

Photo by Alex Andrews on Pexels.com

God is sovereign and all-powerful. We are not. God is not a genie in a bottle–obligated to grant our every wish. Even when we pray sincerely for good things, God does not always answer in our time frame or in the way we imagine He will. But God is faithful and good. He does not pull a “bait and switch”– listening to our prayers and giving us something harmful or shabby in place of something better. God’s best for us may not look easy or pleasant from this side of things. But God can be trusted to see us through to the other side– where we can see the wisdom and glory of His plan. In the meantime, our choice is the same as Habakkuk’s– we can continue to complain, or we can wait and watch to see God’s solution unfolding.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I needed to review Habakkuk’s story this week. It seems as though wicked forces have the upper hand in our world today. Whether it’s the lingering effects of COVID, or the wars raging in various parts of the world, high inflation and skyrocketing prices, or corruption in high places, things look pretty grim. It is tempting to complain, or to let anger and frustration cloud my thinking, or push me into inappropriate actions. There ARE things I should be doing–praying (!), helping others, and living a life of integrity and courage. But most of all, I need to trust God to be sovereign and good– through the easy times, and through the trying times.

Photo by Suliman Sallehi on Pexels.com

I will never wake up to find that I have aged 30 years overnight (though it may feel that way some mornings!). And I will never wake up to a world where God is not in control, or where justice and mercy are no more! I can pray with confidence that God will answer, and that His answer is better and wiser than what I can imagine. And that is a very encouraging thought for today. So my prayer is that I would have the courage to stand at the watchtower, anticipating and expecting God’s movement– even if…

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

Habakkuk 3:17-19a (NIV)

Two Ears

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak!”

Epictetus
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com
Photo by Lord Pixel on Pexels.com

I write about prayer–how I pray, when I pray, how other people pray, what the Bible says about prayer– but prayer is a two-way street. God desires to hear from us. But He also desires that we should listen. In fact, there is really nothing that we can “tell” God that He doesn’t already know. But there is much that we can learn when our mouth is shut and our eyes and ears are attuned to what God is telling us!

God rarely speaks to us directly, as another human would. God spoke to Moses face-to-face (see Exodus 33), and Jesus spoke directly to hundreds of people during His earthly life and ministry. He also spoke directly to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, though not face-to-face (see Acts 9). But most of us never hear the actual voice of God. Yet He is constantly sending us messages– if we are listening.

Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels.com

Often, He sends messages through His word. When we read the Bible, or hear it read aloud, a certain passage or phrase will suddenly stand out, offering comfort, conviction, or insight as we need it. Sometimes, it is the gentle prick of our conscience, or an urgent “sense” that we are to do something (or NOT do something). It may even sound like a voice in our head– our own or someone else’s–urging us to do something out of the ordinary or out of our comfort zone. Sometimes, He speaks to us through the wisdom and insight of someone else–a neighbor, a friend, a family member; sometimes even a stranger–and we get a sense that what we are hearing is “bigger” or more important than just words. And sometimes, God “speaks” through our other senses– in the beauty of a sunset, or the cool breeze at the end of a hot day; through the wordless songs of a bird or a rippling brook; the smell of warm bread–His way of reminding us that He is present, and He is Good.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

We need to listen for such moments and messages. But we also need to listen carefully. Not all “feelings” are from God; not all “wisdom” is inspired. God will NEVER send us messages that are in conflict with His character. He may call us to do things that seem impossible, uncomfortable, “strange,” or even potentially “dangerous,” but He will not tell us to do something that contradicts His own word. God may nudge you to leave a toxic relationship, or move to another city or country to spread the Gospel. He may urge you to speak to a stranger on a bus, or give something away to a friend without knowing why. He may ask you to befriend someone who is homeless, or mentor a child, or volunteer your time in ways or places you never imagined. But God will never suggest (or send someone else to suggest) that you cheat on your spouse, or abuse the trust of a child, or mislead your neighbor, or steal from a stranger– NEVER.

Photo by Eren Li on Pexels.com

It isn’t just that God gave us two ears (and two eyes!) so that we can look and listen twice as much as we speak– we NEED to listen twice as much and twice as closely.

How will I listen today? How will God speak? When will I close my mouth, so that I can open my ears? Will I watch as well as listen? Lord, help me to hear You. Help me to discern your voice above the noise and busyness around me today.

Qualified

Recently, we’ve been dealing with a lot of bureaucratic red tape. There are forms to fill out, forms to gather and certify, appointments to make and meet, and various qualifications. We must file paperwork for our business, for our income taxes, for our vehicles, our health insurance, our banking, –even a fishing license! We have to fill out paperwork to prove who we are, where we were born, where we live, how much money we make (or don’t make!), what we own, how much it is worth, how much we spend, whether or not we are ill (or have been ill, or might become ill!), whether we are legally married, etc.. Some processes are simple, only requiring a few questions and proof of ID, but most are not. Forms to be filled out on-line are often confusing, and there is no one to help explain the terminology. Forms that must be submitted often require supporting evidence that must be gathered from several different agencies and locations, signed, printed on certain paper, notarized, stapled (or NOT stapled), and sent by mail, faxed, delivered in person, or scanned and e-mailed. And if any one of the steps is not followed to the letter, we are not “qualified” to do business, receive payments, be properly licensed, receive medical treatment, etc. Regulations often run to hundreds of pages, and while there are experts who understand all (or most) of the fine details, most of us are overwhelmed by the “red tape” involved in living from day to day. We are not “qualified” to prove we are qualified to exist!

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

I’m so glad I don’t have to make an appointment and prove that I am qualified to talk to God! The bottom line is that I KNOW I’m not qualified–not in my own power or wisdom or achievements. Instead of trying to prove something so impossible, God invites me to come– just as I am!– to meet with Him. He qualifies me through the shed blood of Christ. Jesus Christ fulfilled every qualification I could not– He lived a perfect life, never breaking God’s just laws, never falling short of God’s standards. And then, He paid the price of my failures by taking the death that should have been mine, and defeating it! All the “red tape” has been handled, all the forms filled out, the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed– my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, with no need for me to re-apply or be approved all over again.

Photo by ANTONI SHKRABA production on Pexels.com

There is only one thing I must do to be “qualified” for a right relationship with God– with all it’s privileges and benefits–I must accept God’s terms for the qualification process. I must accept that I cannot qualify myself; I cannot earn God’s acceptance through my own efforts, I cannot buy my way into His good graces, and I cannot inherit the qualifications from my parents, neighbors, ancestors, or countrymen. I must also accept that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are sufficient– even extravagant–to meet the requirements. Finally, I must trust that God’s ways are true and right and better than my own. I cannot accept Christ’s qualifications, and still do life “my way.”

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

In this life, it can be very frustrating to get “qualified” to do the things we wish to do. But we can be qualified for eternity through Jesus Christ. We are pre-approved to visit any time, to speak to Him– even pour out our sorrows and frustrations and failures. And there is no need to wait for an appointment!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Building Walls

I’ve been reading in the book of Nehemiah this week. Nehemiah’s quest to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem may strike a discordant note in today’s Western culture. Back in ancient times, most cities were enclosed with high walls. This kept invaders out, and gave protection and a sense of identity to those who lived within. Today, we have cities spilling into other cities in sprawling metroplexes. We have trains, buses, and airplanes constantly shuttling between cities. Walled cities are not practical. Even the borders between nations have become porous and flexible (except during times of war or distress!) It can be difficult for modern readers to share Nehemiah’s distress at the state of Jerusalem’s wall, or his passion to see the walls rebuilt. After all, Jerusalem was a conquered city, being ruled by foreigners–the invaders had already gotten in! The project seems to us like a waste of time, materials, and energy. Even in his own day, the project seemed problematic, and Nehemiah faced resistance on many fronts.

Photo by Steven Putong on Pexels.com

Yet God put it upon Nehemiah’s heart to do this; He answered Nehemiah’s plea to soften the King’s heart, and provided Nehemiah with an abundance of materials and even protection for the journey. It seems as though it was important to God that these walls were rebuilt. Why? How does God feel about walls, anyway? Did He not give Joshua great victory by making the walls of Jericho collapse? Does He not command the Israelites to welcome and be kind to foreigners? Did the Apostle Paul not say that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”(Galatians 3:28 ESV)? How do walls fit in with God’s plan for our lives?

Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata on Pexels.com

Part of our confusion may lie in our understanding of walls in ancient cities. We know they provided protection from invading armies, but they did much more–and they represent much more in the Bible. Walls not only provided protection to ancient cities– they provided structure and definition. Walls kept strangers out, but they also had a series of gates to let people come and go in an orderly fashion. There were gates used for commerce, gates that served ceremonial functions, gates that smoothed travel through the city, and even gates that were mostly used to transport garbage and dung outside of the city.

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

Walls and gates also gave a sense of identity to people in and around the cities– some people lived close to (even in or on) the city walls. All those who lived within the city “belonged” to that city– and those who lived and farmed close by could claim the protection of the city walls in times of danger– whether from siege or natural disasters. They could also expect the city dwellers to be a ready market for their products or services. Travelers and traders could expect to be safe inside the walls of a friendly city– such protection could not be found on the open road, nor in many smaller towns. Cities tended to have more public services, better systems of laws and more stable economies. Walls could help control the flow of commerce, ideas, and loyalties.

Just before the book of Nehemiah is the book of Ezra. Ezra was a priest and historian who also traveled to the fallen city of Jerusalem. His mission was to help rebuild the Temple, and to make sure the priests were purified and re-establishing the Jewish religious practices after years of exile. At the end of the book of Ezra, it is discovered that many of the returning exiles have broken the Jewish laws by intermarrying with foreign women, and “adding” idol worship and pagan practices to their worship of the One True God. The city –and all of its structure and identity–had been destroyed; the Temple and the Walls were gone, and the area was open to all the peoples and practices of the surrounding cultures. Over time, even the priests had become defiled, no longer obeying, or even knowing, their own laws and customs! It is in this context that Nehemiah’s book begins to make more sense.

Photo by Suliman Sallehi on Pexels.com

God is concerned about the “walls” in our lives– boundaries in our behavior and worship. Some walls may need to crumble and fall like those of Jericho– walls that keep us locked away, smug and proud, defiant and unapproachable. Walls that create barriers without providing protection or shelter. Walls that stand in the way of God’s authority in our lives. Other walls may need to be strengthened and rebuilt– walls pocked with compromises that have eroded our commitments; unguarded gates where lies and confusion have stolen in and weakened our faith; areas where the pressures and stresses of life have chipped away at the building blocks of our Christian walk.

In the very first chapter of Nehemiah’s book, there is a prayer– it is not about rebuilding a wall for power or protection–it doesn’t even mention the wall– rather it is about repentance, restoration, and recommitment:

In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.  We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.  Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

Nehemiah 1: 1b-11 NIV
Photo by Nicola Barts on Pexels.com

May we be willing to pray for the walls in our lives– those that need to come down, and those that need to be rebuilt!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑