More Than the Watchmen Wait for the Morning…

The author of the 130th Psalm cries out to God for mercy. He pleads for God to hear his voice and be attentive to his cry. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+130&version=NIV

But then, he does three important things: He recounts what he knows of God’s character, he waits, and he hopes.

Sometimes, when I cry out to God, I expect God to reveal Himself to me with an immediate and positive answer. And, occasionally, God does answer prayer with a dramatic and instant result. But most of the time, God answers first with silence. Not because He is cruel or uninterested or too busy to acknowledge my cry. He gives me time to reflect– on His nature, and the nature of my need. And He gives me time to find peace and trust in the middle of the storm.

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I spent much of yesterday crying out– I am frustrated with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. I am angry at the misinformation and conflicting reports; I don’t know what to believe about staying put or venturing out–is it allowed? Is it safe if I wear a mask? Can I go to the park or beach? When can I re-open my shop? Can I make the payments until it can be re-opened? When can I safely see my family and friends again? Will it be safe to hug them? And I am frustrated with the way I see people treating each other– yelling, screaming, eager to condemn everyone else’s behavior while justifying their own. And I find myself saying and doing the same thing from the relative safety of my computer screen– after all, I can’t yell at anyone to their face if I can’t leave the house, right? But I can let my 300 closest friends know how heartless and selfish they are if they don’t see things my way! They’re KILLING people! They’re betraying family members! They’re living in fear! They have no compassion! And I cannot make them do what I think is right!

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But when I stop the crying and carrying on, and justifying, and finger-pointing; when I stop to remember who God is, and who I am, I remember that God IS attentive. And not just to my frustration, but to everyone’s needs– the person who is living in terror; the person who is suffering pain, grief, agony, and loss; the person who is defiant and uncaring and angry. God is attentive, but He is also overflowing with mercy. If He kept records– if He only looked upon mankind to find evidence of our guilt or to pour out shame and punishment– who could stand? Who would have the authority to tell God how He should direct the universe? Who could say that they were more capable of dispensing life and death, health and sickness, mercy and justice? Would I? It is no little thing to cry out to the God of the universe. And yet, God listens attentively to our every cry. Especially when we cry out to Him for mercy, for wisdom, for peace, and for healing. His answer may not look like what we expect, but He never fails to listen in Love.

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And as I contemplate God’s power, wisdom, compassion, grace, and authority, I can wait. And that doesn’t mean that I sit in a lotus position and stop seeing the pain and chaos and death. Or that I count to ten and hold my breath. Or that I set a timer and think happy thoughts for 20 minutes. No. I wait like a watchman– like a sentry waiting for whatever may happen– alert and ready to do my duty. And I wait like a watchman for the dawn– for the light of day to see clearly; for the end of my watch, when there will be rest.

This season is difficult, but it will end. It will give way to a new dawn– with new challenges! But just as the Psalmist tells Israel, I know I can put my hope in the Lord, for “with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption (v. 7). If I cry out, knowing that God is willing to listen and able to save, but I don’t stand firm in hope, I can still be swept away by the winds of doubt and the current of angst.

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Cry out–then reflect, wait, and hope.

Planting Seeds

I live in Michigan, and our state is in the news, because our Governor has issued a new set of restrictions in light of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. There is a “Stay Home; Stay Safe” measure restricting travel and “non-essential” business until the end of April. But parts of her new executive order have drawn criticism–especially her restriction of gardening and landscaping activities. Larger stores are not allowed to sell plants and seeds and gardening implements, as they are considered “non-essential” (as opposed to food and medicine purchases). It is still unclear whether or not gardening centers or roadside businesses can still sell plants or seeds if that is their primary business.

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Thousands of residents are upset about these restrictions, and the slippery logic behind allowing liquor sales, sales of lottery tickets, and recreational marijuana, and allowing access to abortion clinics, while seeming to single out gardening, landscaping, home improvement (we can’t buy paint), and other reasonably “safe” activities, and prohibiting families from being with their loved ones– especially those who are dying of non-COVID-19 related causes.

I am not faulting those who are upset, and I won’t use this space to either fault or defend our governor. These are challenging times, and tempers flare, patience grows thin, and people are not always going to think or act at their best.

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My point is that we– all of us– are sowing seeds during this time. Maybe not vegetable seeds or herbs or flowers, but seeds of discontent, seeds of anger, seeds of bitterness, and seeds of pride. We don’t need soil or seed packets or starter plants to sow a crop of good or bad spiritual produce. We don’t need to visit a store or garden center to bloom where we are planted.

So today, my prayer is that I would plant the following seeds:

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  • Kindness–Words and deeds that show honor, respect, and love for those around me. Not just my friends, but also those who count themselves my enemies, and those with whom I disagree. Kindness multiplies and brings a fruitful harvest.
  • Joy–Not phony happiness, but true joy– the kind that doesn’t deny hardship, but gives strength in tough times. The kind that grieves with those who grieve, but offers hope and compassion. It is a sweet balm that brings healing and a lingering fragrance.
  • Patience–Waiting is not easy. It is not comfortable. But it is quiet strength that doesn’t give way to panic and anger. Patience is a “hardy” plant for any season.
  • Forgiveness– Forgiveness must be carefully tended in times of distress and uncertainty. We must prune away pride and hurt feelings and the desire for vengeance. Forgiveness is a rare and precious plant.
  • Gratitude/Contentment–I woke up today. That was a blessing. I opened my eyes and saw a roof over my head. I was warm and wrapped in blankets in a bed in a bedroom in my own apartment. I turned on a light, pulled clothes out of my closet, took a shower, and looked in the refrigerator where I had a choice of food to eat. I can breathe without a respirator, I can walk and use my arms and hands. I can speak and listen. Even in the midst of these times– even if I had no home or food, no running water, and I tested positive for COVID-19, or cancer, or MS–God is with me; God loves me; God knows everything about me; God sent His own Son to die for me when I was still a sinner! Gratitude is like a morning glory, declaring beauty, not because of its surroundings, but because that is its nature and its purpose. We can do the same!
  • Faith–I saw a meme the other day that said , “If a tiny virus can do this much damage, imagine what mustard-seed-sized faith can do! There is so much confusion, so much doubt, so much despair right now. But Faith, like a mustard seed, can spread and grow, even under (sometimes especially under) adverse circumstances. And Faith is another strong plant that can withstand the strong hot winds of adversity and weather great storms.
  • Love–Love is like a tomato plant– it just keeps growing and giving and producing. But, like a tomato plant, we need to watch out for blight and worms. True love drives out fear, overcomes, endures…you’ve probably heard all the cliches. But love also involves risk, rejection, and even pain. Make sure you plant your love in good soil and give it the supporting frame of faith in the one who IS Love.
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  • and finally, Prayer– Prayer is a root vegetable; it grows in good soil and where is can’t always be seen. Prayer can thrive in times of quarantine. It is (or should be) untroubled by what is happening “above ground.” It needs the “living water” of God’s Holy Spirit, and the good soil of faith. Its roots are deep, and it provides nourishment for the soul.

Prayers for Harvest

I love the autumn harvest season, and I believe it has many lessons for us about prayer:

  • There is a time and season for harvest. We cannot harvest at our convenience; neither should we expect God’s answers and our circumstances to arrange themselves around our wishes. Instead, as we pray, we should watch and wait, ready to do what is necessary in the meantime, and ready when the time is right for harvest. Too soon or too late, and we will miss the best of the crop, or lose it altogether. If we pray for a harvest, we must be willing to wait on God’s timing.
  • Harvest is a season among other seasons– not a single event. If I pick apples this fall, that is not the end of apples. There will be more apples to harvest next autumn, and the following year. Sometimes, we must wait through several seasons to see the harvest; seasons of rain, sun, even snow and cold dark days. We must be faithful to keep praying for the next harvest, and the next…
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  • The harvest bears little resemblance to what we planted. If I plant an ugly bulb in the ground this fall, I may see a beautiful tulip next spring–unless I plant an onion bulb! If I plant some tiny black seeds in the spring, I may harvest a large orange carrot later in the summer. If I plant kernels of corn, I will get new kernels, but they will be on an ear on a tall stalk. If we are praying for a harvest, it may come in ways and shapes and circumstances that will surprise, or even mystify us. Often, we pray for what we imagine we could do– instead, we need to learn to ask for what only God can do!
  • We cannot control the harvest– we can plant the seeds, fertilize them, tend them, weed them, water them, prune them–but we cannot predict or guarantee the results. But if we do nothing, we will not see any harvest at all. Similarly, we do not control God’s answers to our prayers, but we will see no growth, no harvest, if we do not pray at all, or if we give up.
  • Harvest is gathering the crop (and the seeds for a new crop). We need to gather prayer requests, thanksgiving lists, areas of conviction, songs of praise; we need to present a bountiful harvest of prayer–an offering and a fragrant sacrifice to the giver of all good things!
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“Wait For It…”

Movies and Television shows are breeding grounds for popular phrases that enter the culture and resonate with millions of people.  Just utter the phrase, and nearly everyone in the group “gets” the reference.  A recent American sitcom has made the phrase “Wait for it..” an iconic reference to comedic timing.  It’s often the anticipation of a punchline, a pratfall, an ironic twist, that makes it memorable or noteworthy, and a clever person will use the timing to maximize the humor in a joke or prank.

We have an innate desire to see “what happens” next in life– “Where will I be in five years?”  “Will I get the job?”  “When will the baby come?” “Will she say ‘Yes’?” “Will the tests come back negative?”  The last thing we want at such times is a clever, smug comedian sitting back and using our anticipation for his own entertainment.

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Some people imagine God sitting in Heaven, smug and distant, pointing at us and laughing, “Wait for it..”  Every time they face disappointment, frustration, oppression, they raise their fists to Heaven and blame their creator for everything they haven’t gotten, every missed opportunity, every setback, every heartache.  “If God really loved me, he would not let me be hurt/sad/poor…”

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But, when God says “Wait for it…”, he’s not talking about a punchline or an ironic twist of fate.  He knows that bad things will happen, but he’s not asking us to wait for those things.  And he certainly isn’t sitting back laughing at our pain and disappointment.  He’s asking us to wait for something better.  Something we cannot even begin to imagine.  A restoration of all things– the dead brought back to life, the sick completely healed, the love we long for lavishly poured out in its fullness.

Anticipation is not part of a joke; hope is not corny or naive– it is built into the very soul of each person.  We long for what we have never experienced, but what we know is “out there”.  In this world, we will be left anticipating, because NOTHING can measure up to what God has in store.  Even the best of relationships, the best of comforts, the best of experiences, will leave us wanting something more.  And this is a gift, even though it can leave us disappointed, restless, and even hurt.  In light of what’s coming, there is no loss or setback so great as to cancel out the hope and the promise that stirs within.

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It’s because of this that we can pray with confidence in the midst of our struggles, and with abandon in times of frustration and pain.  We live in the finished work of the cross, but the unfinished and ongoing work of renewal and restoration.

Wait for it..

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I saw an interesting site the other day about “Plant (ing) Your Spiritual Garden.”  Spiritual Gardening

I’ve seen different versions– one version had some rows of “P”s, instead of “peace”– Peace, Prayer, Patience, and Positive Thinking.  Another talked about keeping Be’s near your garden– Be Faithful, Be Loving, Be Kind, Be Anxious for Nothing, etc..

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I love figurative language– parable and metaphor and such– the Bible uses it generously.  Jesus used parables about gardens, planting, fruit trees, harvest, and vineyards throughout his teachings.  He knew that we can listen on two levels and that we remember concepts better with visual and figurative examples.

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Prayer is something we must cultivate–we can grow and produce fruit if we develop the pursuit and practice of prayer.  Remember to pull out the weeds of busyness and doubt.  Plant seeds of praise and trust, dig deep in the fertile soil of faith; allow for the key ingredients of the light of God’s Word and the Living Water of daily fellowship with Him.

There are a lot of other great tips to keep healthy growth happening.  Need some more tips– check out this page.  Proactive Prayer Points

If you have other tips, I’d love to hear them– please leave a comment or suggestion!

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Not Enough Prayer..

There is a dangerous idea that sometimes appears in Christian circles.  If we are struggling with circumstances, someone, usually with good intentions, will ask us if we have prayed.  Then they may suggest that we haven’t prayed “enough” or that maybe we haven’t prayed the “right” way.

We want to see results– immediate, dramatic, positive results.  It’s what we expect from everything else in life; from the drive-thru fast food place, the vacation resort, weight loss program, graduation, manicure, even marriage.  When results are not evident, or slow in coming, we think we can and must do something to speed up the process.  We begin looking around for what else we can try– what else we “should have” done– to get the results we want.  We even say to ourselves that God wants more from us before he will provide blessing or healing or a breakthrough.

But that’s not always the case.  God makes everything good–IN HIS TIME.  He has the power to bring about immediate change, but he frequently chooses to walk with us through the times of stress and shadows, when we can’t see the end from the beginning, and we are tempted to turn back or doubt.  He doesn’t do this because he enjoys seeing us go through struggles, but because he knows that we learn to lean on him, to trust him, and to find our strength in him by traveling the narrow road.

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Our prayers need to focus on God’s love and faithfulness.  He knows our need, sees our situation, and hears our prayers.  Our job it to know His word, look for his hand in our situation, and listen for his counsel as we trust him.  We should not grow weary of praying, or give up in our efforts.  But neither should we doubt God’s wisdom, or try to manipulate his timing with empty gestures or endless repetition.

Sometimes, we may find that God changes our desires, or opens our eyes to habits we need to change or worries we need to give over to him.  Hear out those well-meaning folks–some of them may carry God’s wisdom.  But in the end, our prayers– our life’s struggles and triumphs– are in God’s hands, not theirs.  It’s not the quantity or the quality of your prayer that makes the difference.  It’s the perfect love and timing of God.

Remember that even Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane– he prayed with so much intensity that he sweat blood drops.  He prayed more than once that God might let the burden of death and separation pass from him.  It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t pray “enough”, or that his prayers weren’t valid.  It wasn’t that God didn’t listen or care about his own son.  But God sent the assurance that Jesus needed to end his prayers with “Thy will be done.”  So it should be with our prayers.

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Praying for Rain

Spring has arrived.  In my part of the world, that means many people are hoping for milder temperatures, gentle spring rains, and new growth after the cold and colorless winter.  Most of us love the idea of spring, and the promise it brings.  Those soft days of baby birds chirping outside our window as the gentle raindrops roll down; of newly budded trees and flowers opening to the warmth of the sun; the smell of freshly turned earth in gardens and fields; the bleating of lambs and the down of chicks and ducklings; children squealing in delight as they leap from puddle to puddle in their colorful boots; the world slowly waking up in a thousand shades of green..

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Of course, it never seems to go exactly like that– sometimes the weather this time of year can be volatile– tornadoes, freak ice storms, sudden heat waves, flooding, or a mix of all of the above in a matter of hours!  Chirping birds can’t be heard over the roar of traffic and blaring car radios.  The smell of exhaust chokes out the aroma of rich dirt or fresh flowers.  The same rain that brings puddles also brings mud and run-off and potholes in the road.  And, possibly because we have such expectations of spring, it seems to fly by and disappear almost before it comes.  There is a joke that sort of summarizes the unpredictable nature of spring around here– “I love spring in Michigan (or insert another Midwest state)– last year it was on a Wednesday!”

Like the season of spring, prayer holds promise and expectation.  God promises to hear our prayers, but sometimes our expectations are not in line with God’s answers.  Farmers pray for dry days to plow and plant, and rain to come before and after to soften the earth and water the seeds.  Little League players want the rain to come on Monday, and the diamond to be dry by Saturday.  School children want the rain to come overnight, so the playground will be dry for recess.  Commuters want the rain to fall after they drive to work and before they have to drive home.  All may pray for rain, but not in the same way, for the same reasons, or at the same time.

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We all want the promise of easy growth, gentle weather, and comfortable routine.  But God’s plan may involve blustery days and muddy driveways.  God will bring rain, and sunshine, in his time.  He will calm the storms and blow away the clouds.  He will send us flowers and rainbows, and perfect days for flying kites and playing baseball.  And maybe, this year, it will be on Wednesday!  But the stormy days remind us of three things:

  • God is with us through the storm.  He is with us when the rains come; and when the clouds roll back to reveal the rainbow.  He knows the pain you feel when you view the storm damage and assess the loss.  Even as the seasons change, he has promised to be with us always
  • God is stronger than our storms.  His ways are wiser than ours, and his plans are better.  We may be drenched and covered in mud when we expected to be dry and comfortable, but the race isn’t finished yet.  We may fall down, but we’re not out!  He can give us the resources and the power to rebuild, renew, and start over.  No matter how short (or long) our season of storms, it is only a season– it will pass.  Just as winter gave way to spring, spring leads to summer–sometimes overnight; sometimes in fits and starts.
  • God is eternal.  Storms and seasons are local and temporary.  I may be experiencing spring in Michigan, but others are experiencing rainy season in India, or “fall” in New Zealand.  It can be sunny here, and snowing in Minnesota, and raining at my cousin’s house in Alabama.  And when I am praying for rain, someone close by is praying for sunshine.  But someday, and for all eternity, God will be our source of light– there will be no need for storms and seasons, no need to pray for rain.

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