As followers of Christ and believers in an Eternal God, we live in the “here and now,” but we also live in something called the “not yet.” Our life here is finite, but our life in the “not yet” is eternal.
Most of what we pray for belongs in the “here and now.” We pray about what we see and know. We may pray for an upcoming surgery, or a looming job loss, or give thanks for something that happened in the recent past, but most of our prayers do not venture into the eternal future.
Yet, God speaks to us of things to come. No, He doesn’t always reveal details or give us a calendar of times and dates; but He does remind us that what we see is not the whole picture. And we need to remember this when we pray and when we look around us.
Much of the Old Testament, plus parts of the New Testament, are given over to prophecy– visions, promises, warnings about the future. Many of the prophecies have already been fulfilled– in detail. Some of the prophets prayed for revival in Israel and Judah; others prayed for the coming of the Messiah. Their prayers were answered– but not always in their lifetime, and not always in a way they understood. The Apostles, writing to Jesus’ followers looked forward to His return– but they never saw it in their lifetime.
Prayer is not just about us and our immediate needs. Today, spend some time praying with an eternal mindset–that God’s will would be done, in His time and His way. And then, trust that whatever is going on in the “here and now,” it is all part of God’s perfect plan. One that we will understand more fully in the “not yet.”
Life is full of “big” things–birth, marriage, death, buying a house, losing a job… But it is also full of small moments– a quiet smile, a child’s laughter, the smell of new rain, a cup of cocoa.
Often, we let the “big” things overwhelm us, and we miss the miniature joys all around us. I was reminded of this over the past weekend, as we were able to spend time with various family members– many of whom we had not seen in months because of the pandemic. Of course, some of the “big” topics came up in conversation– COVID-19, riots in cities around the world, frustrating job situations, ongoing health concerns, and so on. But the miniature joyful moments–sharing silly memories and laughter, noticing how much the teens have grown, sharing a meal, hearing familiar voices–these are the things that stay with us and sustain us through the “big” things.
One of the weekend activities was a birthday party for our granddaughter. It was a smaller gathering, and limited to family members, so there were no young girls for her to play with. All her siblings and cousins are boys, and the grandparents outnumbered the children. We sat outside on the hottest day of the year (so far), and sang “Happy Birthday” and watched her blow out candles on a small cake. And we made a promise to phone our granddaughter on her “actual” birthday two days later.
Two days later, we had a busy day– we were running errands, and spending time with my niece and nephew. We had appointments and important phone calls to make, and e-mails to answer. We almost forgot about our promise..but our granddaughter had not. When we stopped our “big” plans, sat down and made the promised phone call, the joy in her voice was enough to light up a hundred candles and shine brighter than the sun. Such a little thing. We had already wished her a happy birthday, given her gifts, and shared her birthday cake. But in keeping our “small” promise, we shared something priceless. There is a bond of trust and love that makes the small moments vitally important in our relationships, and in our own character development.
And the same can happen in reverse. In the book of Jonah, God sent a gourd vine. Such a little thing, and Jonah had done little to deserve it. But God sent it just the same. A tiny bit of shade to comfort Jonah in his bitterness while he watched his enemies receiving God’s grace. Several thousands of Ninevites saved from destruction v. Jonah being saved from the heat of the mid-day sun–it seems like a ridiculous comparison. But in his selfishness and anger, Jonah missed the obvious. Yet God still provided–extravagant grace to Nineveh; the grace of a gourd for Jonah. When God caused the gourd vine to be destroyed, Jonah’s reaction was fierce and extreme. He could not find joy in Nineveh’s salvation; he couldn’t sustain joy in God’s gracious gift of the gourd vine. All he could feel was the anger and bitterness. After all, isn’t it possible that some of the very Ninevites who had been spared would have been glad to offer shelter to the prophet who had brought them a timely warning? What kind of joy and healing might Jonah have experienced in the company of his former enemies?
Lord, please help me to rejoice in the small moments, and see Your glory in the miniature joys of life. Open my eyes to see past the “big” things in life, because I know that You are bigger than all of them. Thank you for restful moments, and fleeting pleasures; for glimpses of Glory, and poignant snatches of memory; for grins, and sips of cold water on a hot day; for old photographs, and new snapshots; for Your faithfulness, and Your mercies, which are new every morning!
Do you ever feel invisible? One of the common complaints among depressed people is that they feel as if no one sees them. “No one would notice if I just disappeared..” “No one really notices me…I just fade into the background.” “I always get passed over; pushed aside; ignored…” “Everyone just seems to look right through me. It’s like I don’t even exist.”
Hundreds of years ago, Hagar, the slave girl of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, believed herself to be abandoned and alone. She had been used by her mistress as a pawn in a scheme to give Abraham a son. Hagar was able to do what Sarah could not (get pregnant by Abraham), and she let it go to her head. But she was still a slave. When Sarah complained to her husband, Abraham reminded her that she still had power over Hagar. Sarah used that power to mistreat Hagar, causing her to run away into the wilderness. But God was watching. The “angel of the Lord” not only saw Hagar– he found her beside a spring and called out to her by name. He asked why she was in the wilderness, and then gave her a promise– that her descendants would become too numerous to count! In response, she gave God a name– El-Roi– “the god who sees me.”
The Bible is filled with stories of people–sometimes warriors and kings, but often ordinary, even lowly, people: slaves, younger siblings, nameless servants–who are seen and chosen by God for His Glory, to play a special role in history. God sees them all; He knows them all by name (even if their names are not recorded in the Bible!) He knows each person’s strengths and weaknesses; He knows everyone who will cross their path, how their story began, and how their story will end.
We can take great comfort in knowing that God sees us. There is nothing hidden from Him– when we are slighted or mistreated; when we are the ones wronging others…He knows our thoughts and emotions. He knows our strengths and weaknesses (better than we know ourselves!) He understands– even when we don’t–what’s happening in and around us. God sees us exactly as we are– and He already knows all that we can become! Hagar could see that she was a pawn. She could see herself giving Abraham a child when Sarah had not. But God didn’t see her as “just” a slave girl or “just” a pregnant woman. He saw her her as a young woman in distress; as a woman with unique hopes and dreams, aches and disappointments; and as the ancestress of millions upon millions of people– unique people, each one loved and seen and known intimately by their creator. He saw her as someone worthy of being found and called and reassured. And even though God sent her back into a difficult situation, He kept His eyes on her, and came to her rescue again years later.
On days when you feel invisible, or forgotten– when it seems that no one would notice your absence– remember Hagar’s experience with El-Roi– “The God who Sees.”
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.
For a blog about prayer, I’ve been spending a lot of time doing Bible study on the character of Jacob. But I think there is a huge connection. The stories in the Bible are powerful and important, not because of the human characters, but because, in them, we see how God interacts with a variety of His created people. And that can help us as we come to God in prayer.
When we begin to understand that the “heroes” of the Bible are often ordinary people who encounter Almighty God, we see that little has changed in the course of history. God still chooses to bless and challenge ordinary people– for their own good, and as a witness to others.
In today’s world, we often reverse the importance of the characters in our own stories. Christians talk about “my God” or “our God”, as though God belongs to us or serves us. But the Bible doesn’t speak in those terms. God is not “Jacob’s God” or “Solomon’s God” or “Queen Esther’s God,” or even “Israel’s God.” Instead, He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob– the God of Israel. He is pre-eminent. God exists, rules, creates, and acts on His own terms, not ours. And He exists, rules, and acts universally. No person, group, or nation can claim that God blesses them because of who they are or what they have done. Thus, there is no African God or Caucasian God or Chen Family God, or Jean’s God, or Muscovite God, etc. There is only One God– but He wants to be the intimate and personal God of every person on the African continent, and in Moscow, and everyone named Shirley, Clarence, Chen, Smith, Martinez, or Klein. He invites each of us into a personal relationship, but He remains Holy and Unchanging and Sovereign.
The very same God who wrestled with Jacob wants to be your best friend. He also wants to be your King and Lord of your life. When we pray to “the God of Jacob”– we are not praying to “Jacob’s God”. We are praying to the very passionate lover of our soul. He just happens to be the same God who loved Jacob enough to take him through a series of adventures many centuries ago; the same God who promised never to leave him; the same God who blessed him and preserved him and made him the father of a great nation. Just think of what He’s waiting to do for and through you!
The Bible is not a series of stories about super heroes, though it is often taught that way in Sunday School. Instead, it is the story of ordinary, flawed and hurting people who encounter a Holy and Majestic God. Jacob is one such person, and nearly half of the book of Genesis revolves around Jacob’s families– his parents and brother, his father-in-law’s household, and his own wives and children, extending to his grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.
Jacob grew into a man of great integrity and wisdom–a man of power and influence, wealth and consequence. But he was far from perfect, and his family caused him no end of headaches and heartaches. From the bickering and rivalry of his wives and their servants, to the violent clashes of his many sons, Jacob knew very little peace.
It is important to note that, while the “God of Jacob” protected him, blessed him, and gave him a new name, He did not make life smooth and comfortable for him. We are not given great insight into Jacob’s parenting style, but we know that he had a favorite son, Joseph, and that his favoritism caused resentment among the others . Unlike his own father, though, Jacob interacted with all his sons, giving them each responsibilities and training them to work together. On his deathbed, he had blessings for each son that tied in to his strengths and weaknesses. We know that Jacob was highly respected by his sons, and that in the end, they did not disperse and lose contact with each other, but lived together in the land of Goshen in Egypt– even after the time of the famine that drove them there.
Even in a family of blessing, there will always be some level of dysfunction, struggle, hardship, and pain. Favoritism, discord, envy, resentment, unforgiveness– it all starts in families among flawed people living in a fallen world.
So often, we try to present ourselves and our families “in our Sunday best”– we want people to be impressed by our show of piety or “good manners” or “problem-free” family life. We pretend that we never argue, never harbor bitterness, never have tantrums or meltdowns or sarcastic “episodes”. God is not looking for picture perfect families…He is looking for families who are honestly and earnestly seeking Him.
Surely, after his encounter with God, Jacob changed. He was a better man than before. But he was never the “perfect dad”, the “perfect husband”, or the “perfect man.” And his family wasn’t a model of decorum and harmony. But God did not turn his back on this dysfunctional family. He did not disown Jacob or cancel all the blessings He had promised. Instead, he solidified the promise he had made to Jacob’s grandfather and father, creating in Jacob’s sons the twelve tribes that would make up the nation of Israel. Just as Jacob’s family wasn’t perfect, the nation of Israel was never perfect– it still isn’t. But God has chosen to pour out His grace on imperfect people throughout history– it’s His specialty!
If you are experiencing disharmony or even angry clashes with family members– take heart and hope from reading about Jacob’s trials and triumphs. Remember to take your pain, resentment, hurt and worry to “the God of Jacob.” God was with Jacob through all his many struggles, including the heartaches of “losing” his favorite son, losing his beloved wives, suffering during the famine in Canaan, having to move to Egypt in his old age, and watching his sons struggle with their own families and trials. Out of each struggle, God brought renewal, hope, rescue, and promise. And remember, God will not abandon you (or your children) because your family experiences disharmony or you have wayward family members. Others may pass judgment on appearances, but God sees the heart– He’s in the business of fixing that which is dysfunctional– not promoting those who hide behind a “perfect” facade.
Jacob’s family was not perfect– but they were perfectly poised to show God’s power, protection, and grace!
The Biblical patriarch, Jacob, is known for many things– He was the son of Isaac and Rebekah, and grandson of Abraham. He was the brother of Esau. He cheated and/or schemed his way into taking both the blessing and birthright that belonged to his older brother. For this, he was sent away to live with his Uncle Laban, and told to choose a wife from among his extended family.
Jacob’s life took a dramatic turn when he left his small (but slightly dysfunctional) family behind to begin this new chapter. Growing up, Jacob had been the quiet one, the one who stayed around the house. This was no longer an option. Jacob faced a long journey, and years of work to establish his own family and career. On the way to Paddan Aram and the house of Laban, Jacob had his first encounter with God– the vision of “Jacob’s Ladder” at the place he would call “Bethel.” There, God confirmed his promise to establish Jacob, increase his family, and bless all people through him. No longer was Jacob a second son with only his wits to help him succeed (or cause trouble)– God had promised to be with him and watch over him wherever he may go! https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+28%3A10-22&version=NKJV
With that promise and the hope of finding a welcome, Jacob arrived at the well where his uncles flocks were watered. Jacob would take over the work of herding and watering the many flocks of Laban. He worked for the first month without wages–setting a dangerous pattern. After the first month, Laban “generously” offered to pay Jacob, and even let Jacob set the terms! Jacob demanded no monetary wages; he wanted only to marry his beautiful cousin, Rachel, with whom he was deeply in love.
Seven years pass– Jacob has worked for almost nothing but the food he has eaten, and the promise of marriage with the daughter of Laban. And in a scene that seems strangely familiar, Jacob is presented with a feast, and his promised blessing– his wife. But Laban tricks him, substituting one daughter for another. Instead of Rachel, Jacob is bound to her sister, Leah.
When Jacob confronts his new father-in-law, he is given an excuse– tradition says the older daughter must be married first. Laban had seven years to explain this to Jacob, seven years to “break the bad news”, seven years to offer Jacob an alternative. Yet Laban chose to deceive his nephew and use his love for Rachel to get seven years of cheap labor. Worse, he chose to string Jacob (and Rachel) along for another seven years. The Bible gives us a clue as to one ulterior motive of Laban– Leah had “weak” or “delicate” eyes. It is possible that she had been rejected by other men or deemed ineligible for marriage. Without a prospective husband, Leah will be dependent on her father for life. But married to Jacob, Leah becomes one less responsibility for Laban. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+29%3A14-30&version=NIV
Laban gambles his daughters’ fate on Jacob’s character. Jacob could have cast Leah aside easily and forced her to return to her father’s house a ruined woman. He could have treated her as a servant, rather than a wife– he could have beaten her or “given” her to someone else. And Jacob could have decided Rachel was not worth another seven years of labor, or that he could not trust Laban to keep his word. He could have walked away. He could have taken his anger and frustration out on Leah or on the flocks. He could have returned to his father and started another family quarrel.
But this Jacob is not the same as the one who left Canaan. He serves another seven years, marries Rachel, and then works yet another six years for flocks to call his own. All the time working for a man who is greedy, deceitful, capricious, unjust, selfish, and oppressive. He doesn’t complain, doesn’t rebel, and doesn’t cheat, lie, sabotage or steal from this horrible boss and indifferent father-in-law. Instead, he shows that he has been transformed from the young Jacob who caused so much trouble for his brother and father back home.
May we choose to submit today to the God of Jacob, and remember that His promise to Jacob extends to all who trust Him– He will not leave us; He will see us and be with us wherever we go!
When we look around at all the beauty God created (see yesterday’s post:https://pursuingprayerblog.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1206&action=edit ), we also see the ugliness of a fallen world. What God created, he proclaimed “Good.” That goodness still exists, but it is tainted and polluted by sin. God has the authority and the right to destroy it all (and us along with it!); instead, he chose to redeem it. God’s promise to do this has been playing out from the very beginning.
God did not strike Adam and Eve– He allowed them to age, and reproduce, and live out their lifespan–but He did keep his promise that they would have to die (see Genesis 3). God kept his promise to Noah, to save his family from a worldwide flood (Gensis 6-9). He kept his promise to Abraham, to bring him to a new land and give it to his descendants– though the promise was made when Abraham as childless and wandering in the wilderness (Genesis 12-25). God kept his promise to Abraham’s descendants, to bring them back to the land he had promised them (Exodus–Joshua).
God kept his promises to Israel– promises of blessings and of curses, of retribution and revival. God chose King David, and kept many promises to him about his dynasty, the building of the temple, and the coming of a kingly redeemer in David’s line of ancestry (2 Samuel-1 Kings). He kept his promises given through the prophets concerning the exile and return to Jerusalem.
In this season, we celebrate all the many promises God made and kept regarding the coming of our Savior (Matthew-John). Just as God’s creation is “good,” so too are His promises– they are sure and true. God’s promises reveal His nature–He is Just, He is Kind, and He is Omnipotent. What He says, He can and will accomplish.
Today, I am grateful for God’s promises– for all the ones He has already fulfilled, and for all He will bring to pass!
Years ago, Louis Armstrong recorded a song, called “What a Wonderful World.” Video and lyrics here. It’s a pleasant song, pointing out all the wonderful things to see and hear in the world around us…people sharing greetings, day and night, rainbows, children…but it is also a wistful song. Armstrong sings it as an observer, more than a participant. He sees all the wonder of the world around him, and he sees hope for the future. The flowers and rainbows are there for all to see; but the greetings are not for him; the children are not his and will surpass him in knowledge and opportunity.
I could name a dozen other songs or poems with similarly ambivalent messages; songs about smiling, hiding one’s tears, hoping for tomorrow and happy days returning. Such songs acknowledge that our world is filled with wonder, beauty, and joy; they also acknowledge that sprinkled amid the wonder there is heartache and disappointment.
It is tempting in times of hardship to focus on the negative and miss the wonder that still exists around us. It can also be tempting to resent the joy others experience as they soak in the wonder that seems to taunt us.
Some people ask, “How can you believe in God when you see all the pain and suffering and evil in the world?” And others answer, almost flippantly, “How can you doubt God when you see all the beauty and grandeur in the world?” To someone who is in pain, this is the kind of answer that rubs salt in open wounds. It’s not that the answer lacks logic or merit, but it is devoid of compassion.
The truth is, that even in the midst of extreme suffering, we DO live in a wonderful world. The sun still shines, there are still rainbows, and happy children, and, most of all, HOPE.
The Bible speaks of hope as one of the “remaining” virtues– Faith, Hope, and Charity (or Love). We hear this, and study it, and recite it, but do we really appreciate it for the wonder it is? Hope may fade in the midst of chaos, but it is not easily suppressed or smothered. Hope gives us strength when we are struggling; it gives us a reason to look up from the ashes and see the sun. Hope gives us the motivation to work and build after a disaster; to risk new adventures; to plan for a future.
Our world needs hope–we need encouragement to reach out; to build and rebuild our communities; to look forward with vision, and set goals to reach that vision. And we need hope to turn our eyes to the source of that hope– for we do not hope in vain!
Even in our fallen world, God is wooing us with wonder, beauty, joy, and HOPE. What we will find in the redeemed world is beyond our wildest imagination
God keeps His promises. Not just small promises, not just some of them, or some of the time. God Keeps His Promises! Every single one. Every single time.
In this world of failed promises, assumed promises, “campaign” promises, and broken promises, it is almost impossible to believe. Surely there must be some promise that God has not fulfilled– some promise that he has taken back or “modified” somehow…
Isn’t there? There are people who claim to have examples– proof that God cannot be trusted. They list tragedies that God allowed to happen, or dreams that did not come to fruition. They list times they could not feel God’s presence, or understand His ways; times He seemed silent or harsh. Didn’t God promise His unfailing presence? Didn’t He promise peace and love and joy?
Good questions–just what DID God promise? To whom did He promise it? When? Were there some promises that were conditional, and, if so, what are the conditions?
God’s presence–Jesus said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 ESV) There are numerous other passages where God says to Israel, or to one of Israel’s leaders, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” The writer of Hebrews echoes this in chapter 13 of his letter as he seeks to encourage early Christians. This is a solid promise, and one that we can trust. But we won’t always “feel” God’s presence. That’s one of the reasons for the promise– to give us an anchor for our faith when our feelings are confused. God will be with us even (and often especially) when we feel alone, frightened, overwhelmed by our circumstances. What makes the thought of Hell so frightening is that it falls outside of this promise– at the “end of the age”, there will be a time and place where God’s presence cannot be felt– God will not be there, nor will the essence of God be available. No love, no peace, no light, no life, no joy, no hope. Even those who utterly reject God in this life still have access to hopes and dreams, love and goodness, because God is still present in His creation.
God’s promises to Israel–God made hundreds of specific promises to the nation of Israel. Some were made for specific circumstances and times. Some were made to be eternal and never broken, canceled, revoked, or transferred. Many promises (including those given through prophecies) were given to specific nations, including Israel/Judah/Judea as it existed at that time. Others were given to a restored Israel– one that has not yet been completely restored. Other promises were made to those who are the spiritual heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob– regardless of their genetic heritage. It is very easy to co-opt a promise that isn’t really ours to claim in the context of when or how it was given.
“Circumstantial” or “Personal” promises– God fulfilled certain promises to individuals throughout the Bible. These are recorded to remind us of God’s faithfulness and His power to bring about miracles. They are not meant to act as personal promises to us because We want the blessings that God gave to someone else in other circumstances.
“Difficult” promises– Not all God’s promises are ones we want to remember! God has promised that we will suffer. He promises that people will hate us, abandon us, or persecute us on account of our faith. Death and judgement are stark realities– God has promised that we will face both– and that we can face both without fear! Jesus himself foretold of natural disasters, war, poverty, disease, injustice, hunger and other difficult circumstances that will continue until His return.
“Victorious” promises– God has promised future restoration and renewal– eternal life, a new Heaven, and a new earth. But He hasn’t promised easy victory. He promises Justification, not “just a vacation” by Faith. When we face struggles, it is not God breaking His promises. And it is not always because we aren’t praying enough or don’t have enough faith. Sometimes, God sends us into the thick of the battle for reasons we don’t understand. He doesn’t give us the victory we think we deserve or the victory we dream of. But we can trust that the victory already belongs to Him.
Prayer is more than just a wish or a vague hope– it is trusting my life, my future, my fears, and my heart to the one who can be counted on to listen and to respond. Always!