I’ve been reading through the books of Genesis lately, and I was struck anew by the story of the Flood. God caused it to rain for 40 days and 40 nights, and the floods raged for 150 days (See Genesis 7). But the description of the flood does not focus only on rain– instead, it talks about God opening the “springs of the great deep and the floodgates of Heaven” (v. 11).
There are some who argue that before this time, there had been no rain on the earth (see Genesis 2: 5-6). The Bible is not clear whether there was rain after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, but it appears that rain was unnecessary in the wonderful Garden itself. God had provided rivers and springs to provide water, and there were mists that rose and settled. If this was still so in Noah’s time, then the falling rain would have been terrifying in itself. Things that fall from the sky can inspire both fear and praise.
Rain is generally considered a blessing–we need rain in its season, in showers of good quantity, to water crops, provide nourishment for trees and soil, and to replenish springs, pools, lakes, etc. And rain is part of the water cycle…moisture evaporates and rises (like the mists of old) into clouds, where it is held in storage until it rains back down to the earth. Water is a resource, but it is meant to be replenished, renewed, and reused. “New” water is not created, so much as recovered from steam or taken from its current source.
Not so with God’s blessings and His mercies. They are “new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) He sends them down like rain or snow, letting them fall in refreshing showers, reminding us that even when we are separated from God, He still loves us, watches over us, and delights to lavish His gifts on us.
In return, we send up praise. The prayers go up, and the blessings come down. Which reminds me of a song we used to sing in Sunday School.
God sends rain–God sends blessings. Whether we feel blessed often depends on where WE are. Are we safe in the Ark? In a house built on the solid rock of faith and dependence? Or are we living in perilous ignorance of God’s power to save and sustain us?
I’ve been reading about Joseph in Genesis. He was the favored son of Jacob (Israel), and he was a dreamer. His dreams were spectacularly unpopular with his older brothers, and got him into a world (or a well) of trouble. (See Genesis 37)
Joseph’s dreams were sent to him from God…they weren’t just wishes or imaginings. But they were grand. Joseph had a dream that all his brothers (represented by bales of wheat) bowed down to him. Later, he dreamed that his entire family would bow down to him. He was just 17, and full of the arrogance of youth. His jealous brothers were so outraged, they plotted to kill him. When an easier opportunity arose, they sold him into slavery, instead. (See Genesis 39-45)
Joseph’s dreams seemed to mock him when he arrived in Egypt as a slave. And after spending years building up a sterling reputation with his master, his dreams were dashed again. Falsely accused and unable to defend himself, Joseph ended up in prison. Who would ever bow down before a convict and a slave?
Joseph could have become bitter and angry. He could have given in to the frustration of serving those who were willing to let him do all the work and take on all the responsibility, while they got all the credit. But Joseph dared to dream– not the dreams of an arrogant 17-year-old, but the dreams of an honest and God-fearing man. He dreamed that his actions and attitudes mattered– even as a slave; even as a prisoner. He dreamed that God could and would rescue him and vindicate him. He dreamed that God had a purpose for his life– one that depended on Joseph being the best man he could be.
The Bible never records Joseph having visions and dreams in Egypt. But because Joseph had experienced grand dreams as a youth, he was sensitive to the dreams of others. He could have ignored the dreams of Pharaoh’s cup bearer and baker in prison. He could have sneered and laughed at their dreams. He could have told them all about his much grander dreams of old. Instead, he was ready to ask for God’s wisdom to help others interpret THEIR dreams. And in doing so, God gave Joseph the miracle of a dream fulfilled. Along the way, Joseph received life lessons in patience, humility, responsibility, management, integrity, and leadership. Joseph’s brothers–coming to seek grain!– bowed down to him, just as he had once dreamed they would. But they didn’t bow to him as a kid brother; they bowed before Pharaoh’s agent and the second-most powerful man in the entire known world. They bowed before a men who held the kind of power none of them had ever dreamed of. They bowed before a man they might have killed– except for God’s plan. Joseph was sent ahead, trained in the art of management, and perfectly placed to save thousands of lives.
Sometimes our lives seem like a waste– all our dreams have been shattered, either by circumstances or by our own bad choices. But God can take our most cherished dreams and redirect them into something amazing. He has a purpose for your life. It may not seem grand, like Joseph’s youthful dreams, but in God’s hands, it may have an enormous impact. Some days, it may seem like we’re living through a nightmare, but God writes the ending– and He’s already there!
This year is winding down, and many people are ready to say, “Amen!” It was a difficult year for many, one filled with upheaval, disease, uncertainty, and fear. We are ready to say, “Goodbye, and Good Riddance!”
But when we pray, and we say, “Amen,” it doesn’t just mean “the end,” or “goodbye”. Amen means, “let it be so” or “so be it.” It doesn’t just mean that we are finished speaking to God for the moment. It means that we are giving God the final word– we are turning over all our thoughts, our requests, our praises, our worries, and our questions to God and leaving them in His capable hands.
And so it is with the year 2020. We are not sending 2020 on its way, attempting to bury its memories or remove it from history. Even in the pain and uncertainty, there were blessings, and lessons learned this year. But it is time to say, “Amen!” Even so, Lord Jesus, let it be as YOU will. Whatever losses, whatever struggles, whatever blessings we have faced this year, let it be to Your Glory and Honor. And let us accept and even embrace the new year, not just for its difference from the past, but for the plans and purposes You have already put in place. Finally, let us be thankful for the year you have given, and the fact that you have been with us every step of the way, no matter how steep or slippery the road. AMEN!
God is faithful. He is steady, and kind, and good– no matter what temporary circumstances we face. Nothing that happened this past year took our Lord by surprise. Nothing escaped His notice. He did not turn His face away; He did not make a mistake, or forget any of His promises. His timing and His ways may not be the same as ours, but His purposes are eternal and eternally perfect. We can rest in peace and confidence because He is Sovereign and Holy and His mercy endures forever! (see Psalm 136).
Can I get an AMEN?!
Let’s look forward to 2021, because God is already there, and we can trust that He will be in control.
As I write this, votes are being counted in our Presidential/General Election. I don’t know what the final outcome will be, but it looks like the election will be close; it may even be contested for days or weeks to come.
There are consequences to this election– consequences for our legal rights and freedoms– consequences for churches and Christians businesses and services, and the individual free exercise of speech and religion. And the consequences reach beyond just my city or state or even the U.S. This election may impact how (or if) I can continue to write about prayer and Christian living. It may impact how my local church continues to operate. It will impact how mission organizations and religious services continue.
But there are several things that will not change as a result of any election: God is still sovereign; the Bible is still true; I will still be a follower of Christ– committed to living for Him and sharing His Gospel.
In that sense, “what’s next” is exactly the same today as it was yesterday or last year– I am to trust in God’s plan; God’s provision; God’s timing. And I am to obey His word. I am to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God” (see Micah 6:8); I am to “love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, and soul, and my neighbor as myself” (see Matthew 22:37-39).
Yesterday, I did my civic duty; I voted my conscience. Today and going forward, I will do my civic duties– I will pay taxes, I will obey laws and guidelines that do not contradict God’s commands. And I will work to make a positive difference in my community and my country. I may have to make changes and adjustments in the way I serve and work and interact with other people. But “what’s next” in my Christian walk doesn’t depend on what happened yesterday, or what will happen tomorrow. My eyes have to be focused, not on any political race, or its immediate consequences, but on the race described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians:
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus...17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
–Philippians 3:12-14; 17-21 (NIV via biblegateway.com)
Of course, I hope that outcome of this election will honor God and preserve the freedoms I hold dear. But God’s purposes and plans may involve hardship, persecution, and judgment on this nation. I must still run my race, and rejoice in my Heavenly citizenship– one that doesn’t change with election cycles or depend on politicians.
Have you ever had one of those days…the kind where you wondered if anything you did was important, or acknowledged, or valued?
My father worked for almost 30 years in a factory. His job (for many of those years) was to stand at the same spot for hours a day. He would fit a large bag over an opening, pull a lever, and guide the bag as it filled with several pounds of anhydrous citric acid– a caustic powder that, in small amounts, is used in everything from cleaning products to soft drinks. When the bag was filled, he had to take it down and move it to another station, where the bag was sealed. Finally, he had to take the sealed bag and hoist it onto a conveyor. It was hot, heavy work. It was lonely, noisy, dusty, and monotonous. He worked a swing shift– sometimes twelve or sixteen hours at a time, often overnight. He often had to work on weekends and holidays. And my father was grateful.
When Dad had a day “off,” he could often be found visiting some of the older members of our community– helping them by mowing their lawns or helping with chores, or just visiting and listening to their worries, memories, and dreams. Dad knew the value of his work, and he knew that his work was not in vain. His work fed and clothed our family. It allowed us to give gifts to family, donate to charities, give to the church, and enjoy vacations and outings with friends. His work helped send my sister and I to college, and pay off the mortgage. But more importantly, my father’s unusual schedule allowed him to come to school programs in the middle of the day; it allowed him to go on day trips with my mother or my grandparents; it made him more aware of the value of time. Dad filled thousands of bags of citric acid– and he never knew where it ended up or how it was used, except in a very general way. But God knew. He saw every grain of acid in every bag. He knew where it would go and what good it could do. And he watched my father’s efforts every day.
57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Today, we are celebrating “Labor Day” in my country– a day to celebrate the contributions of working men and women throughout the year. And many people will have time today to enjoy a trip to the beach or a cookout, or an extra-long camping weekend or late-summer vacation. But some will have to work today– clerks at the local store or gas station, police officers, nurses, factory workers, and others. Their labor today will ensure that others are kept healthy, safe, and supplied. We should not forget them.
And we should not forget to take a moment to remember that our labor– whether glamorous, mundane, urgent, physically intense, or mentally stressful–is noticed and valued by our Father in Heaven. Whatever we do, if we are doing it for God’s glory, we will see fruit from our labors. Maybe not today or even in our lifetime. But our efforts– and our words and interactions– matter! Those prayers that we lift up in a quick moment; those simple gestures and hugs; that small favor or gift; each one is noted and celebrated by none other than the Ruler of all Creation.
112 Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! 2 His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. 3 Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever. 4 Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. 5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. 6 For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. 7 He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. 8 His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. 9 He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor. 10 The wicked man sees it and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away; the desire of the wicked will perish!
My grandmother would have celebrated her 108th birthday today. I’m confident that she IS celebrating today– but she no longer has to count birthdays, or worry that this one might be her “last.” She passed into eternity more than 25 years ago. But she and my grandfather left a legacy of faith, hope, integrity, and prayer that lives on. It is a quiet legacy– my grandparents were not “important” people–they worked hard, lived a simple lifestyle, and never made a showy practice of their faith. But they lived it in such a way as to leave others with a glimpse of what steadfast faith looks like.
Grandma was born just a few short weeks after the sinking of the Titanic. She lived through two World Wars (one of which kept her separated from her husband, working in a factory, and raising two young girls). She lived through times of war, times of riots and uncertainty, and times of disease and pain. She knew what it was to struggle and lose. She was born before women could vote. She and my grandfather lived through the “Great Depression,” picking up whatever odd jobs they could, and sometimes not having enough for rent or food. But she also knew incredible joy and satisfaction. She knew what it was to be loved and to give love. She knew the joy of seeing a job to completion, and of using her talents and skills to help others. Most of all, she and grandad shared an incredible faith– one that had been tested many times– in God’s goodness, His provision, and His faithful protection. They lived in circumstances that would cause many to fear. But I never remember Gram being frightened–she wasn’t oblivious to bad news and difficult circumstances–but she faced them with confidence and resolve, the kind that gave hope and courage to everyone around.
My grandparents moved a lot. I mean, A LOT! They probably moved 50 times (at least) during their 62 years of marriage. Sometimes, they moved because Grandad had “itchy feet.” He liked change; he liked to have new projects to tackle; he liked to feel “free.” He loved moving into a “fixer-upper,” or renting a place with a run-down yard. But sometimes, they moved because they had to. They moved a lot– but they were never “moved” from each other, from their family, or their faith. They didn’t lose hope; they didn’t shift opinions based on their circumstances; they didn’t break promises or end friendships.
Psalm 112 gives a wonderful description of a “righteous” person. Not a self-righteous person, and not a perfect person (as none of us are perfect). But it is a great picture of the kind of legacy my grandparents left behind. They were generous– not just with money, but with gifts, work, time, hospitality, and words of encouragement and hope. They were rock-solid in their integrity– they went above and beyond not to cheat or lie or complain or shirk duties. In all their struggles (and in their good times) they never lost sight of God’s Goodness and Sovereignty.
My prayer today is that I would pass along such a legacy; such a witness. God is faithful, He is good, loving, and kind. He is never far from those who call on His Name, and He is able to deliver us from all our struggles. I am so grateful that, in addition to all the other blessings I take for granted, God gave me amazing grandparents. I hope He brings such people into your life today, and equips you to be such a legacy-builder, as well!
In some ways, all days are the same. They are 24 hours long; they include a morning and an evening (though in some parts of the world one always seems to be shorter than the other as we go through a typical year); and they fall into predictable patterns of weeks, months, season, and years. So we can identify a particular day as Tuesday, the 4th of September, or the 73rd day of the year 2019, or even the first day of summer, but Wednesday will follow Tuesday, October will follow September, and the 73rd day of the year will follow the 72nd.
Lately, days seem to blend together and get lost, as predictable routines have been put “on hold” due to a global pandemic. People complain about having “too much time” on their hands, or getting confused about what day it is, because it seems more than ever just like the day before. But that is only perception. Each day still contains 24 hours, and still follows the patterns set up by God when He set the universe in motion. God’s incredible design means that we can find comfort and stability in knowing that there won’t suddenly be a day with 77 hours, or six Mondays in a row, or a year without a summer (though sometimes it may feel like it)! Seemingly endless winters or dry seasons may be discouraging and even deadly, and we need to be prepared and willing to adapt to the challenges they bring, but we don’t need to give in to panic or despair.
According to the prophet Jeremiah, in the book of Lamentations, God’s mercies are new every morning. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Lamentations+3%3A22-23&version=CSB God never gives us yesterday’s blessings, or tomorrow’s mercy. God gives us just what we need, when we need it (when we ask, and often even when we don’t)! God never loses track of what day it is, what season we are in, or what will come tomorrow. So if you’re stuck wondering if this is Sathursday, the 41st of Marprilmay, or if you missed summer because it was on Wednesday this year, know that God’s provision, His Mercy, and His timing are sufficient, perfect, and brand new for Today. You didn’t miss it; you won’t be locked out of tomorrow’s portion, and yesterday’s disappointments don’t have to follow you into next week.
God is ready to meet each of us in a new, pure, fresh way EVERY day. No expiration date; no appointment necessary. We don’t need to sign in, fill out paperwork, follow seventeen safety codes, show ID, or wait in line.
So whatever day it is–and whatever kind of day it has been so far–prayer brings us to a God of order and design, a God of renewal and refreshment, and a God of Mercy and Grace beyond all time and space.
I’ve spent the past few days revisiting one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride. The movie is based on a “fractured” fairy tale, written by William Goldman. In it, a spoiled young farm girl falls in love with a lowly farm hand. When he leaves to make his fortune, the girl promises to wait for his return. When word comes back that he has been killed, she swears that she will never love again, and becomes a pawn of a wicked prince.
** SPOILER ALERT**
Of course, her true love, Westley, has not been killed, and when he finally finds Buttercup, she has agreed to marry the wicked prince, who has had her kidnapped and plans to kill her. “Why didn’t you wait for me?, ” Westley asks. “Well..you were dead,” replies Buttercup. “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it a while, ” says the intrepid Westley, to which Buttercup replies, “I will never doubt again.”
In true fairy-tale fashion, Westley and Buttercup must face many obstacles, including all the dangers of the “fire swamp,”capture, torture, a fake marriage ceremony, and Westley being “mostly dead”– again– before they can have their happy ending. But in the end, “true love” wins over all trials and obstacles, and Westley and Buttercup “live happily ever after.”
We live in a post-modern age, where people tend to sneer at notions like fairy tales, true love, and “happily ever after.” We are more likely to echo the words of the bitter Dread Pirate Roberts, who tells Princess Buttercup that “life is pain, highness, and anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” Ironically, the Dread Pirate Roberts is really Westley in disguise. His life is filled with painful trials, and “inconceivable” obstacles, but he perseveres, and his “happily ever after” makes all that came before fade from memory. Because, in the end, death CANNOT stop true love. It may take a few miracles, and lots of patience, forgiveness, and faith, but true love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV)
God’s love is true– it is sure and enduring. God’s presence goes with us even into the valley of the shadow of death–even if the shadows and darkness block our sight; even if death seems sure to win. His rod and staff are not tools of torture and dread, but reminders that He is there to guide us, even if we cannot see His face in the gloom.
Life is filled with pain–and Westley was right; anyone who tells you differently is selling you something. God doesn’t promise that our path will always be on smooth ground in sunny pastures. We may face separation from loved ones, flame spurts and quicksand, betrayal by friends, battles with giants, wicked rulers, even rodents of unusual size. But in each of these situations, we have God’s very presence to comfort us and help us endure to the end. And the “happily ever after?” It is eternal and glorious like nothing we have ever known or even imagined.
Fairy tales are not real– but God’s word is. The very reason such tales and myths and legends endure is because they echo what we know to be true– Truth, and Love, and Justice, and Honor, and Hope, and Faith–they are eternally enduring and strong. We recognize the truth that “Death cannot stop true love– all it can do is delay it for a while.” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A31-39&version=ESV
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible… 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Faith is essential to prayer. Not only is it essential that we know the truth, we must depend on it. Those who lift up general prayers to some unknown “force” in the universe have no real hope that their prayers will be heard, instead of bouncing around among the planets in silent expectation. We pray to a God who sees, hears, loves, and works among us. And He will answer our prayers– in His way, in His time, and to our ultimate benefit.
That does’t mean that we must blindly believe everything we hear about God, or that we must agree exactly with everyone else who claims to believe. None of us has ever seen God face-to-face, nor can we claim perfect knowledge. But there are certain truths that do not change– God is GOD; creator, ruler, unchanging and Holy. God is who He says He is, not who someone speculates or imagines Him to be. God is mysterious, but He is “Knowable”–we see His character in the natural world, and we can see His reflection in the people around us who are all created in His image. Most of all, we have the testimony of Jesus Christ and of all who have followed Him and been transformed by Him. To all who earnestly seek Him, He has given us His Word, and His Spirit to guide us. And God is Good. Even though nature (and human nature) has been tainted and twisted by sin, God remains true to His own goodness. Even in the hard times, when God seems distant–especially when He seems distant–faith looks beyond our present circumstances, and the taunts of our enemies, to remind us of God’s providence, His Power, and His promises. Our present trials and calamities are not beyond His ability or His willingness to turn to good purpose, and they do not compare to the promises God has given.
Faith is essential to prayer, but so is faithfulness. Prayer is part of a growing relationship with our Maker. And like any relationship, it must be maintained. God is eternally faithful, but we are not–not in our own power or in our own will. And our faith, without faithfulness (in prayer, in devotion, in our everyday thoughts and actions) will wither and die. The same thirst we have for prayer in the valleys of life should be present when we reach the mountaintops. The same need we have to cry out for help should be the need we feel to cry out in praise. This will not happen without discipline, developed by daily seeking His face.
As we approach a new year, we can make many plans and resolutions– let one of them be to strive for faithfulness, especially in our pursuit of prayer. We know it is the right thing to do. And our faithfulness is not just for us. It blesses the heart of the One who was faithful even unto death. And it shines as an example to those around us– inspiring some to faith, and others to renewed faithfulness.