I didn’t pray for my enemies. I didn’t pray for their health or safety. I didn’t pray for their spiritual well-being. I didn’t pray that God might show me ways to bless them, or encourage them.
I prayed that they would be stopped. That they would be exposed as frauds and liars. I prayed for “justice” to be done– to them. That they would be humiliated. That they would get all that they deserved.
And perhaps that is what they prayed for me, as well. That I would “see the light”, and change my mind. That I would be punished for my words and actions that didn’t agree with theirs.
I prayed “around” my enemies. I didn’t pray for them. I didn’t lift them up before the throne of grace. I didn’t pray that they would be shown mercy– I certainly didn’t pray to meet them with humility and grace…
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
God, forgive me for holding bitterness and anger in my heart. I will never meet a human being– “friend” or “enemy” that you didn’t create in Your own image. You have commanded that I am to love my neighbor– even one who disagrees with me; even one who considers me an “enemy.” I cannot delight in evil, or rejoice at injustice; but I must reach out in Love and not Self-Righteousness.
I won’t waste space to analyze all that I think is wrong with this scenario– but I will say the following:
$2,500 is a lot of money for most Americans, let alone many others around the world It’s more than most people spend in a month for groceries, utilities, and more, let alone one meal.
Talk is (according to the old phrase) cheap.
If having difficult talks over a plate of overpriced pasta and wine could really solve major problems, I’m shocked that we still have so many problems in the world!
I’m dismayed by this article. I hope that some good comes from these efforts, but I don’t expect such tactics to end racism, bigotry, or ignorance. These women are paying for a privilege on top of all their other privileges– the right to feel righteous and “woke” to lingering problems that have never personally touched them. It would not occur to them to invite 10 women who don’t look like them, don’t live like them, don’t speak like them, and don’t dress like them to come and share their dinner. They would not share their hospitality, their fine china, or their fancy dessert with a working-class woman with olive skin and an accent, or a single mother fighting to make ends meet and losing the battle– of any skin color. They might give another $2,500 to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen across town– they would not befriend anyone who needed those services, however.
Most importantly, they are likely to believe that by “owning” their prejudices for an hour, they are absolved of their responsibility to “love their neighbor as themselves.” They can be comfortable in the belief that their feelings “do them credit” and make them better than others who “are in denial” about their “subconscious biases” and “micro-aggressions” toward the people with whom they interact (or routinely ignore). They may take high-minded actions to force the government to “deal with” people less fortunate than they, but they will take no steps to get involved personally with the families who suffer from injustice and poverty just outside the gates of their exclusive communities.
But another more insidious problem with the article is the way I can choose to respond to it. Articles like this are designed (on some level) to create anger, division, and a sense of disgust toward those who are considered “privileged.” I look at the hypocrisy outlined in this article, and I may assume that “privileged” rich white people are all alike. I may assume that the “problem” is their affluence and their indifference– that if they could be “made to” care more, or made to pay “their fair share”, poverty would disappear, and with it, prejudice and other issues that separate the “privileged” from the “rest of us.”
But poverty, prejudice, injustice, and other issues are symptoms of a much greater problem– Sin. And Sin is a problem that can never be solved by sitting down over a meal or writing a large check or even learning empathy with others who suffer. In one very large sense, we all are “paying a price” for Sin. We live in a broken world, where Sin and its effects are felt by all. Even wealthy, healthy, “privileged” people suffer heartache, betrayal, loneliness, confusion, addiction, and loss. None of us has the “privilege” of being untouched by Sin.
And while each of us can and should be active in helping to mitigate the effects of Sin, we cannot eliminate them. We can never “pay” enough to make Sin and its consequences “go away.” Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ can do that. The real “privilege” in life is not great wealth, or social standing. It isn’t comfort and the ability to shell out a month’s wages for a single uncomfortable meal. It isn’t the temporary feeling of being more “virtuous” than one’s neighbor–and that brings me to reflect on my own actions and beliefs.
What “privileges” do I take for granted? What makes me feel “virtuous?” What makes me feel guilty or ashamed, that I would “pay” to have someone else make me feel “enlightened?” Jesus doesn’t call me to “feel” virtuous. He calls me to follow Him and become more virtuous. He has already paid far more than a month’s wages (or even a lifetime’s wages) to redeem me from Sin’s curse, and allow me to live with peace and joy– no matter my financial or social circumstances! I have the very real “privilege” of knowing Him! And so can anyone else who puts their trust in Him. Through Him, we have riches that cannot be sold, bought, lost, or traded. But they can be shared! I cannot rid the world of poverty, prejudice, greed, injustice, or death. But I can help others find strength, hope, relief, and joy in their journey, as I point them to the Savior. I can’t give a thousand dollars, but I can give a few dollars to a local food bank, or volunteer time to help others. I can share food or water or clothes with someone who is in need just down the street. I can listen to someone who needs a friend, and I can offer to serve where someone needs a helping hand. I can also give the benefit of a doubt instead of harsh judgment– even to those who seem hypocritical or “unenlightened” in their earthly “privilege.”
Lord, my prayer today is that I would pour out compassion– even on the ladies in this article–and on all who need it most. Your heart is that all of us would live in peace and lovingkindness. Help me to see my neighbors as you see them–ALL my neighbors. All the time.
The real privilege is not of wealth or comfort. The real privilege is to learn to love and be loved as Jesus loves– freely, sacrificially, whole-heartedly and without limit. May we celebrate in that privilege today.
Have you ever worked with a “difficult” boss or co-worker? Even a job you love can become a source of tension and even torture. Maybe they are lazy. Maybe they are unreasonable and demanding. Maybe they are incompetent. Maybe they are corrupt. Maybe they just “push all your buttons.” Whatever it is, it leaves you frustrated, stressed, and questioning your future.
I’ve worked for several bosses through the years, and most of them were wonderful. But there were a couple…I can still remember uncomfortable confrontations and unresolved issues even years later. And I know several others workers who suffered under those same managers– many of them left to take other jobs because the situation took so long to resolve. A bad boss can really hurt a company or office. They can destroy morale, decrease efficiency, and make it difficult for anyone to know what the goals and expectations are– this week!
One of the difficult things about working under a “bad” boss, is that, often, what makes them a “bad” boss also makes them look “successful”– at least in the short term. They manage to turn in impressive “numbers”– it looks like production is up and waste is down; it looks like everything is in order to outsiders. Those who leave are often workers who have been with the company a long time– new hires come in at a much smaller salary, and with “fresh” ideas– at least initially. If there is an overriding goal, they will pursue it with fanatical focus, making them look committed, determined, and competent. If workers can see underlying problems, other people only see what looks like focused efficiency and “sour grapes” from harassed staff members.
When I worked for “bad” bosses, they seemed to last about five years, before their cruelty, arrogance, or incompetence forced them to leave. They went on to “new” positions, where they followed the same patterns.
In the Bible, there was a young man (just a teen when we first meet him) named Daniel. Daniel had grown up in a noble family in the capital city of Jerusalem. But Jerusalem was besieged and fell into the hands of a tyrannical ruler named Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was captured, exiled, and taken into Nebuchadnezzar’s service. On the surface, this may have appeared to be a “plum” position; he got to live in the palace, and he served as an advisor. He had food, clothing, advanced education, and many “creature comforts” available to him that were lost to many of the other exiles who were forced into manual labor.
But Daniel’s position was far more precarious than it appeared. Nebuchadnezzar wanted men of intelligence, culture, and breeding– and he wanted them to be clean, healthy, and confident–but he also demanded results, and often, he demanded the impossible! Field hands might have brutal masters who would beat them for minor offenses, but Nebuchadnezzar didn’t inflict punishment– he simply “eliminated” anyone who didn’t produce the desired results!
In the history books, Nebuchadnezzar looks like a successful ruler– his armies had conquered every region they attacked. And by sending the people into exile– bringing the best and brightest to Babylon, and scattering the rest–Nebuchadnezzar kept the conquered regions from rebellion and revolt. He appointed satraps and governors to help manage the empire, and it looked like nothing could stop him from conquering the world! But Daniel wasn’t reading a history book. He was living and working under one of the harshest and cruelest rulers of his time!
The book of Daniel gives us at least three examples of Daniel and his friends being put in life-and-death situations involving some of Nebuchadnezzar’s more impossible demands. And in each case, God gives miraculous rescue to Daniel and his friends as they bravely serve this unwelcome “boss.”
When we study Daniel, we tend to focus on the miracles– the fiery furnace, the writing on the wall, the lion’s den, and the answers to impossible dreams. But God didn’t just send miracles, and He didn’t rescue them from having to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s court (or in the courts of some of the equally bad rulers who followed!)
God’s purpose in our life may involve serving with or under people who abuse their authority, or who don’t “deserve” to be leaders. But His purpose also involves teaching us to serve, as Daniel and his friends did, with integrity, dignity, and consistency. It wasn’t easy for Daniel– he was the target of jealous plots, megalomaniacal panics, and culture wars. God didn’t rescue Daniel from his situation– Daniel remained in exile, likely for the rest of his life–but God rescued Daniel from being consumed or changed by his situation. And Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t a “mistake” that God made. He was God’s chosen tool to punish Israel for its unfaithfulness, and His chosen tool to show His sovereignty OVER even the great Babylonian Empire!
Daniel was known as a man of prayer– that’s how he ended up in the lion’s den (years later under another ruler)! Praying won’t keep us from experiencing “bad” bosses, or from facing difficult situations. But prayer can help us to persevere, to endure, and to be a shining example of God’s faithfulness.
I would love to say that I behaved like Daniel when I was in a “bad” boss situation. I didn’t. I endured, but I was impatient and vocal in my displeasure. I complained, I worked grudgingly, and I even changed jobs to get away from the situations. I don’t mean to suggest that it is always God’s will that we stay in a bad situation– I was lucky to be able to change jobs, and grateful for the opportunity to continue to do good work elsewhere. But in times when we are being tested and cannot change jobs, or have to endure chaos and upheaval for a long season–we need to be willing to be like Daniel, who was faithful, loyal, patient, and trustworthy. Daniel “kept his head” because he kept his heart turned toward the source of his real success– not the King of Babylon, but the King of Kings!
I don’t know what situation you may be facing today– what injustices, or upheavals you are enduring. But I pray that God would give you the strength and wisdom to be a Daniel. Look past the Nebuchadnezzar in your world, and serve the King!
Have you ever tried to read through the Bible in a year? There are many programs that can help you do it–even Bibles divided into daily readings. Some are organized in segments–a short passage from the Old Testament; one from the New; a Psalm, and two or three verses from Proverbs. Mine is organized in bits from Genesis to Revelations– a few chapters or a short book each day, with every seventh day set aside for reflection.
It’s curious– the Bible is organized naturally in rough chronological order. In January, as we look ahead to a new year, we are challenged to look back and read about how the world began; in December, we read about the “end” of the world as we know it. But of course, Revelations isn’t about “the End.” It is about the new beginning– a New Heaven and a New Earth.
As this year closes, and we naturally look ahead to next year, Revelations challenges us– not just to look ahead, but to look beyond! We can’t see the future, even if we try to prepare for it, or even control it. We can’t know for certain even what will happen in the next days and weeks of next year. But God has given us a glimpse of what will be– in His time. If this year has left us complacent, we must look beyond that complacency to see God’s righteous judgment. If this year has us frustrated about injustice, we must look beyond to see God’s coming endless reign of Peace. If thoughts of next year leave us confused or worried, we must look beyond to see how God’s plan is from everlasting, and that He is Sovereign over time and circumstance.
On January 1st, many of us will “start over” reading the Bible, with the opening of Genesis 1– “In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth..”, reminding us again that God has been in control all along. The story is the same–Creation, the Fall, the Promise, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and the coming Return of Christ– just as God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
We can look ahead– and hope that 2023 will bring goodness, adventures, triumphs, etc.. But we can look beyond, with a certain and sure hope that God has the future in His Mighty, Holy Hands!
Lord, Thank you for this past year. Thank you for giving us new opportunities in the coming year, whatever circumstances may bring. Thank you for your wisdom and sovereignty in all things– that we can have complete confidence in You! Help us to enter 2023 with that confidence, and honor You in the days ahead, and throughout eternity. Amen.
Tomorrow is Election Day in the United States. It is a “mid-term” election. We will not be electing a national president, but we will be electing (or re-electing) all 435 federal Representatives to our national legislature, several Senators, some state Governors, and many state legislators. Some towns and cities will be electing mayors and council members; many school districts will be electing board members. There will also be many proposals on the ballots– in my own state, we will be voting on whether or not to change our constitution to legalize abortion, whether to change our voting laws, and whether to amend our statute on term limits for state officials.
Pundits and worried voters will tell you that there is a lot at stake tomorrow. They will make it sound as though the world will end if “their” side doesn’t win–if their proposals don’t pass or their party’s candidates lose the vote count. While there IS a lot at stake in the vote, there is also a lot of hope, regardless of the outcome. No matter who “wins” or what proposals get passed, God is still on His Throne. It is God who forms nations, raises up rulers, or puts them down, and who sees the hearts and minds of all people.
God is not an American. He is not a Democrat or Republican. God is Sovereign over all the Earth. He does not “take sides,” in any way that we would understand. God, who promised to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob– who promised to lead them to a land He would show them, and to establish their nation–is the same God who raised up Nebuchadnezzar to rule the Israelites during their exile. He is the same God who raised up Pharaoh, who enslaved the people of Israel, and used Pharaoh’s own stubbornness to reveal His power during the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. God uses unlikely people to accomplish His purposes, NOT our agenda.
I believe that Christians have a clear duty to vote and to participate in civic matters. And I believe that Christians should be informed and critical voters, not rubber-stamping a candidate or agenda just because s/he/it “looks good.” But I also believe that Christians are to be honest people of integrity and honor, regardless of the outcome of a particular election cycle. That doesn’t mean that we can’t speak out against injustice, corruption, or deceptive campaign ads; nor does it mean that we can’t be conflicted about imperfect laws and candidates. In the final analysis, our ultimate allegiance and our ultimate trust must be found in God and in His Word. We are citizens of God’s Kingdom first, and our nation after that.
Groups, whether political or social groups, must be very careful about claiming that “God is on our side.” We must be far more concerned with whether or not WE are on GOD’S side! As individuals, are WE humble, honest, obedient, and committed to the truth? Are we working to build up our neighborhoods? Are we caring for the poor, the widows, and the fatherless among us? Are we turning a blind eye to evil in our midst, or worse, winking at corruption or excusing those in power when they abuse it in “our” favor?
God promises never to leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He promises to be by our side, all the way, all the time. But He never promised to be ON our side. It may be His will to bring judgment to our nation, our state, or our city, in the form of corruption and even failure. It may be His will to lead us through a time of hardship, chaos, and persecution. It may be His will to bring swift correction and justice where we have felt comfort and let our own moral standards grow lax. God’s will is always for us to grow, to improve, to become more disciplined in our own lives and more compassionate toward others around us. And His will is more important than our own comfort or being proved “right” over our political rivals.
Whatever God’s will is; whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s election, I pray that I will be a good citizen of His Kingdom, and a good citizen of my country. Of course, I hope that good measures and Godly candidates will prevail, but I know I can trust my Savior more than I can trust a ballot box. And His reign has no term limits!
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Matthew 5:44 (ESV)
The obvious answer to the question in the title is that Jesus commands it. But what practical and spiritual reasons are there for such a counter-intuitive action? Jesus himself continues:
43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
Matthew 5:43-47 (The Message)
If we are following Christ and asking His Spirit to help us grow in Godliness, we should be acting– and reacting– like God. God makes the sun shine and the rain to fall on everyone. He is Mercy and Grace personified. That takes away nothing from His ability to exact justice. But His true desire is to show mercy– and that includes mercy THROUGH us!
But there are other good (and related) reasons to pray for our enemies.
Such prayers put things in perspective. If I focus on the injustices that my enemies have done (or continue to do), they become larger than God’s power to restore and redeem. If I focus on God’s power, the injustices, while still real, take their proper place. God is bigger; God is greater; God is wiser; God is Sovereign.
Such prayers remind me that I am not immune from causing pain and distress to others. It is natural for us to see our enemies as completely different from ourselves. “They” are evil, callous, and deserving of punishment. But, if we are honest– we are also deserving of punishment. We, too, have been callous, careless, selfish, angry, or bitter with someone, somewhere, at some time. God has dealt with us mercifully. How can we be grateful for His mercy and fail to pray for others who need it?
Praying for our enemies may not change them, but it will change US. Praying for my enemies forces me to release my anger and bitterness, so that I don’t become trapped in a cycle of letting my enemy become my obsession or even my role model. I say this from negative experience; NOT praying for someone I considered my enemy led to me say and do things that were unkind and vicious– because I thought she “deserved” the same treatment she had given me and others. One day I woke up and realized that I was slowly becoming like her– letting her behavior determine who I was in return: suspicious, hard-hearted, critical, and vindictive.
Praying for others reminds us that our true enemies are not other people. Once again, it is easy and natural to create a monster out of the person who is our “enemy.” They have often caused very real and very intense pain and suffering– personal, physical, psychological, emotional, financial, and sometimes chronic and catastrophic–sometimes, they show no remorse; sometimes, they refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. God knows all this. He sees all this. He aches for our pain– and for their rebellion. But the root cause is not a person– no matter how involved they are in delivering the pain. The real cause is Sin and Brokenness. That’s why WE can’t fix it. That’s why WE don’t have the power or authority to administer righteous judgment over it. And that also means–
Such prayers can free us of the burden of guilt, shame, bitterness, and hurt of the past. That doesn’t mean that we must deny the very real hurt we have felt. But we no longer have to be bound and shackled by it. When we can lift up our enemies and our past, and give them to God– really let go and give them to Him–He will carry that load, and let us run the race before us.
One caveat here. Loving your enemy; praying for them– these are not the same as believing their lies or consenting to their abuse. There may be people in your life that you must pray for– from a distance! You can love someone, and still set clear boundaries to protect yourself and others. God will never abandon us. But He doesn’t call us to enable others in their evil actions. This is especially true in cases of domestic violence. Love your enemy, but get help and healing. And continue to pray!
5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritualunderstanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.
2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message– emphasis added)
I’ve seen lots of posts recently about the “-ber” months–September, October, November, December–and the excitement for some as this season comes ’round. September in Michigan is filled with ripening fruits and changing colors. October brings pumpkins, apple cider, and frosty mornings. November is often spent thinking of and planning for Thanksgiving– bountiful feasts and time with family. And December brings the Christmas season– snow, caroling, giving and receiving gifts, and families gathered around trees and fireplaces, sharing old memories and making new ones.
Part of this season of summer morphing into autumn and “falling” into winter is anticipation. The first apple harvest; the first frost; the first snowfall; those eager moments of wondering what will be under the Christmas Tree…we know they will come, but when, and how?
My birthday is at the end of November, and as a child, I always loved Thanksgiving. It meant that family would gather, and at some point, they would sing “Happy Birthday” and there would be a cake among all the wonderful Thanksgiving desserts with my name on it! Four weeks later, Christmas would come, and the same excitement filled the house. It was difficult to be patient, but I learned that everything special was worth waiting for. In fact, sometimes, the anticipation is part of what makes such times more wonderful. There is no fun in rushing through precious moments or “ruining” the surprise of what is to come; nor is there any virtue in losing passion for what is possible, just because we can’t see the outcome, yet.
The Apostle Peter gave early Christians a list of attributes and spiritual traits that they should be developing in increasing measure. One of these attributes is “passionate patience.” In other translations, it is also called “perseverance,” “endurance,” “patience,” and “strength to keep going.” I like this wording, “passionate patience,” because it reminds us that patience isn’t just passive and meek. Especially as we work on building our spiritual understanding and alert discipline, patience becomes a powerful trait– one that distinguishes Christians from those around them. Some people are marked by impatience, anger, and dissatisfaction. Others are marked with complacency and resignation. Christians are asked to be passionately patient! Our faith and hope should radiate, even as we endure trials and anticipate God’s movement in the world around us.
Jesus modeled “passionate patience” in His ministry on earth. Peter was witness to Jesus’ endurance in the face of rejection, unbelief, misunderstanding, and injustice– both to those around Him, and personal injustices. Jesus remained faithful, passionate for the truth, and compassionate toward others. He did not give in to despair, or waste His energy in anger or revenge. He did not make excuses for inaction, but He did not “burn out” in useless activities, either. He confidently did what the Father told Him to do– no more and no less.
How do I reflect “passionate patience?” When I look around me and see injustice, do I explode in anger? Do I shrug my shoulders in resignation? Do I lose faith and passion? Or do I remain positive and faithful in doing what I know to be right and speaking up for the truth? Do I spread compassion or consternation? Antipathy, anger, or aspiration? When my life circumstances are filled with pain or hardship, do I endure? Do I persevere? Do I thrive? Or do I complain? Do I remain passionately hopeful, or give in to anxiety or despair? Do I wait for God’s strength and wisdom, or do I try to “fix” things in my own power? Do I accept help and guidance when I need it, or resent others’ efforts? Do I spread hope and healing? Or do I spread doubt and gloom? Do I grow bitter or better? I’d love to say that I respond with the kind of endurance, patience, and fortitude that Peter spoke of. And sometimes, with God’s help, I have. But I have much to learn, and room to grow!
I pray that God’s spirit will help me grow in “passionate patience,” as I actively seek to follow Christ and reflect His love today.
Within the last couple of weeks, several major news stories have broken in the United States, where I live. The Supreme Court has ruled on several major cases, with “game-changing” results. Important national issues, such as gun control, abortion, and freedom of religious expression were involved, and many Americans are either elated or upset by the decisions that were rendered.
My husband and I don’t have television; no 24-hour news channels, or opinionated talk shows, or even late-night comedian commentators reminding us of the “big news” of the day. But we have internet, and radio, and we talk to people who have access to TV. We would have to live under a rock to be uninformed of what has been happening. Yet we find that many people who have access to “news” have little or no understanding of what these decisions actually mean for our nation or its citizens. The Supreme Court did not “abolish” abortion; it did not eliminate gun controls or restrictions. It did not “bring prayer back into the schools.” What we “know” and what we have heard are not always the same.
The prophet Isaiah, writing to the people of Jerusalem (Judah), repeats the phrase, “Do you not know? Have you not heard?” The Jewish people were supposed to know God’s eternal character. They were supposed to have heard His laws, and heard the stories of His faithfulness throughout the years. But the message had become garbled, distorted, and even lost. The people were going to be disciplined– they would go into exile; yet God would bring them comfort and forgiveness and restoration. Isaiah reminds his readers and listeners of God’s timeless character– His power and authority; His compassion and healing; His care and His discipline for those He loves.
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? 22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. 23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. 24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:21-31 NIV
It’s not that Isaiah’s fellow citizens had never heard about God; it’s not that they had no knowledge of God’s laws or of His character. But they had become complacent; they had knowledge, but no understanding; no insight. They knew about God; they no longer KNEW God.
How often do we hear a bit of news and react without understanding all of its implications? How often do we jump to conclusions about what God is like, or what His will might be? How many times do we assume that what we think or feel comes from the Bible, without consulting it? How often do we pray, not that God’s will should be done, but that God should do our will?
Violence (including shootings), abortion, religious intolerance and persecution– all have been around for centuries. Human laws and justice have a long history of being twisted, ignored, amended, rewritten, forgotten, and supplanted. Supreme Court rulings can be overturned; laws can be rewritten or struck down; cultural expectations and trends will change. While I may feel cause to celebrate some of the Supreme Court’s recent rulings, or be discouraged by others, now or in the future, I cannot put my hope and trust in them. But I can put my hope and trust in the power and authority of God! God’s rulings are absolute and eternal.
And if I hear nothing else today; if I know nothing else for certain– I can rely on His truth and His faithfulness forever!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(This post was originally published in March of 2021. I am re-posting it.)
I was struck the other day by the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16: 19-31). I’ve heard sermons and talks and done Bible studies on this passage, and the focus is always on the rich man. In life, he did nothing to help the poor beggar who was literally on his doorstep. In death, he ends up in torment, and seeing Father Abraham with Lazarus in Heaven, he tries to strike a bargain with Abraham to ease his own tormented soul.
But I was struck by several things I had never considered:
Jesus named Lazarus, but not the Rich Man. This is a parable– a metaphorical story– so Jesus did not need to have specific names for any of the characters. He often told such stories with no names. This one contains a specific person, Lazarus, and very specific details about his earthly life. He was not just a beggar, but a beggar covered with sores and starving. Jesus even related that the “dogs came and licked his sores” (v.21). And Jesus makes it clear that the rich man recognized and knew Lazarus by name. Yet he had done nothing to help Lazarus when he had the chance. We never hear in the story whether or not Lazarus was ever cured or helped; we don’t know if he had been a wealthy or prominent man at one time, of if he had always been a diseased beggar. The point is that Jesus, and Abraham, and the rich man all KNEW Lazarus. He mattered enough to call by name. The Rich Man in this story also had a name. He probably was well-known in the town or city where the story took place. And we know that he had five brothers who were likely well-known and highly respected. But NONE of them are named in the story. Only Lazarus.
The Rich Man looks up into Heaven. He can see and recognize Lazarus and Father Abraham. But he never looks for, sees, talks to, or wonders about the Heavenly Father. He never asks for comfort from God– he doesn’t even ask a favor of the Patriarch– he only considers that someone like Lazarus should be made to help him and/or his brothers.
Abraham explains that Lazarus cannot and will not be allowed to do as the Rich Man requests– but the parable does not tell us that Lazarus can either see the Rich Man or hear his requests, nor does it say that Lazarus is unwilling to help.
Jesus tells this story in a straightforward manner, even though it is a Parable and has hidden meanings. The Rich Man wants help in his hour of torment, even though he was unwilling to help others in their need. But he isn’t without feeling or pity– he loves his brothers enough to try to warn them. Jesus could have used this parable to say much more about Social Justice, and the plight of the poor and the wealthy. He could have said much more about greed or apathy. He could have pressed the point about loving one’s neighbor. He did NOT make some of the connections we add to this story. We often assume that the Rich Man is in hell only because he did not help Lazarus during his lifetime, and that Lazarus is in Heaven solely because he was oppressed and afflicted in life. But is that really what Jesus says?
What struck me the most about this story is that I always look at it as an outsider. I don’t relate with either of these characters. Of course I don’t want to think that I am cold and selfish like the Rich Man in this story, but neither do I think I am Lazarus. So who do I think I am when I read this parable? Do I pat myself on the back for sending a check to a charity a couple of times a year, or speaking up for the poor or marginalized in my community? Do I indignantly point out all the “others” who are not doing their part to help? Do I see myself, not as a poor diseased beggar, but as someone who has been “oppressed” by nameless, faceless rich people– someone who deserves to be rescued and comforted while “they” suffer through eternity?
I don’t have any answers as to how I “should” see myself (or others) in this parable. But I think Jesus wants us to grapple with some of the realities it presents:
Our world is filled with situations like that of Lazarus and the Rich Man–situations of injustice, struggle, disease, poverty, inequality, suffering, and luxury. And while it is clear that we should do what we can to help others, and to bring justice and mercy, and to reach out and connect with our neighbors in love, it is also clear that such situations are not for us to make blanket judgments. I know many who see poverty as a judgment– those who are poor are lazy or unworthy. And I know others who see luxury and wealth as a judgment–those who are wealthy are greedy and selfish and unworthy. God will not judge us by our circumstances or the injustices done against us. He WILL judge us by our response to Him– when we look toward Heaven, do we see Him, or do we see the place we think we deserve to be?
Our ultimate situation has very little to do with our earthly circumstances. Are we sick, poor, suffering, grieving, or in pain? God is aware, and He offers eternal comfort. We can endure and hope because we know that this is not all there is to life. Are we blessed with comfort and ease right now? We should not take our circumstances for granted, but be willing to share in our abundance, knowing that our future is sure, and that God will care for our needs as we care for others. But wealth or poverty, status or shameful circumstances, do not predict our eternal destiny.
God sees us! He sees our circumstances, and He cares! He sees our heart and our motives. He knows our every thought.
We need to look with God’s eyes. The Rich Man in this story thought he was important– in life and even in the afterlife. He thought Lazarus was worthy only to serve him or stay out of his way as he enjoyed life’s luxuries. But he also thought he was more important than Heaven! Sitting in eternal torment, he was not humbled or repentant– he was still trying to see the world through his own self-importance. Lazarus may have spent his life thinking that he was NOT important– a beggar, alone, forgotten, and unwanted. But God knew his name and saw his suffering. Lazarus could have been bitter, cursing God for his circumstances, or spending his days trying to steal or take revenge on the Rich Man.
I need to look with God’s eyes, not only at who I am in relation to God and others, but at OTHERS in relation to God and to me. I may see someone like the Rich Man– selfish, pompous, self-important– and dismiss them as unlovable and unworthy of mercy or grace. But God sees someone He created; someone who is needy and lost– someone He loves enough to die for. I may see someone like Lazarus–hurting and forgotten– and think they are a lost cause or fear that they will prove to be “undeserving” of my help. But God sees someone He created; someone He aches with; someone He loves enough to die for!