“God Bless…What’s His Name”

In the movie, The Sound of Music, a young woman named Maria is asked to leave her life in a convent to become a governess of seven children belonging to a widowed Navy Captain. After a hectic first day, she settles in for her evening prayers. She lists by name all the people she wants God to bless; but as she goes through the unfamiliar names of the seven children, she realizes she has forgotten the name of the younger, “incorrigible” boy. After a short struggle, she simply asks God to “bless what’s his name.” That evening, a storm comes up and soon three frightened girls come running to Maria’s room, and happen to mention the boy’s name– Kurt. “That’s it. Kurt. God Bless Kurt!” A short time later, Kurt, his brother, Freidrich, and the other girls show up, and they all end up bonding and singing through the storm. It’s a nice movie scene, but it also teaches us a lesson about prayer.

Maria’s lapse reminds us that even when we try to include everyone, we often forget a person’s name, or forget one member of a larger group. Sometimes, we forget that we already mentioned someone else, and count them twice. It happens. When I was a teacher, even with my roll call list, sometimes I would make mistakes as I hurried through the task to get to a lesson. As I get older, I find it’s common for me to see a person’s face, and not be able to remember their name. And, disconcertingly, I often see a name and cannot remember the face! (“God bless Kurt…whoever he is.”)

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God knows the weaknesses and limitations of our minds. While it would be irresponsible to pray “God bless what’s his name” every night, and never try to call Kurt by name, it is important to lift up the “what’s his/her names” in our lives, trusting that God knows their names, their needs, their hearts, and their unique place in His plans. The very fact that we remember some essence of their personality or presence is enough to make them worth lifting up to the one who knows them far better. And perhaps someone else, who has forgotten your name, but not your value to the Father, is lifting you up in this very moment!

Maria’s prayer also reminds us that it is important to pray for individuals BY name (when we remember). We can pray for nations, groups, civil and corporate bodies, and churches, but when we pray for individuals, calling them to mind and heart, we are continuing a prayer that stretches through time and around the globe. This prayer– this list of names and remembrance of faces and spirits– began with Jesus and His disciples, and continues unbroken over centuries. It is a single prayer, tying together brothers and sisters in Christ who are otherwise divided by language and distance, time, and tide. Children saying their bedtime prayers; aged saints at their morning devotions; mothers lifting up their precious children; fathers lifting up their neighbors; missionaries lifting up their persecutors–throughout generations–this prayer is a continuous offering, like incense, rising to the throne of grace.

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God Bless Kurt. God Bless Gretl, and Fabiani, Yayoi and Bruno. God Bless You. And God Bless “What’s-her-name.”

Think on These Things…

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV via biblegateway.com)

Sometimes I have to ask if I have a “Hollywood Musical” kind of faith: the kind that breaks into song and dance in the face of trouble, and expects all of life’s problems to be solved by sheer optimism and a catchy tune. But life is full of real problems– ones that cannot be “solved” by putting on a determined smile and skipping down a Yellow Brick Road or twirling through the Alps. In fact, most of life’s problems are bigger and darker than my ability to sing or dance or even think away. I can’t sing away cancer. I can’t end injustice just by whistling a happy tune. I can’t dance my way through mass shootings, economic downturns, famines, or war.

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But I CAN choose my attitude– every day, no matter what my circumstances. I cannot ignore realities around me, but I can control HOW I view them: I can choose how much of my attention and energy I spend on negative things, and the perspective from which I view the world around me. Positive thinking won’t make problems disappear, but it will determine my response to circumstances– even unexpected ones.

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The Apostle Paul wrote of this to the church in Philippi. Paul himself was facing very difficult circumstances– imprisoned, awaiting a sentence of death, in poor health–circumstances that would cause most people to be depressed. But Paul was sending encouragement and hope and words of joy and peace to his friends.

Notice the difference, though, between the “power of positive thinking” espoused by Hollywood, and the Power of Faith that Paul practiced. Hollywood tells us to think of our “favorite” things–kittens and mittens and snowflakes and schnitzel. Such thoughts can bring us a temporary measure of comfort and reassurance, but they cannot give us the power to endure a constant onslaught of negative viewpoints and bad news. Paul, in contrast, asks us to think of higher and bigger things– GOD’S favorite things! And he gives us the imperative–this isn’t just a “helpful hint,” meant to make us feel better for a moment. This is a consistent practice; whether the sun shines and the birds sing, or the “dog barks” and the “bee stings.” And, though they are divided into two separate verses, there is a second part of the imperative–we are to put into practice what we have learned. We need to be positively active, as well. We need to BE true and noble and pure; we need to share and promote all that is lovely, admirable, and praise-worthy.

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Just thinking about “nice” things won’t change the world. Just thinking positive thoughts about ourselves or reciting positive thoughts to ourselves won’t necessarily lead to positive results. But training ourselves to think “above and beyond” our circumstances; to think about the positive ways we can respond to them; and preparing to actively pursue positive actions, no matter what– these steps put us in a position to be used by God to create positive change.

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Praying the attributes of God will automatically help us to think of all that is true and noble and pure– because God IS all that is true, and majestic, and holy. Remembering all that God has done– throughout history and in our own lives–will remind us how even small acts of faith can make a difference in a cold, dark world.

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And let’s not forget the end of verse 9– “And the God of peace will be with you.” Never forget the positive promise of God’s abiding presence in all of our circumstances. Not only will he give us joy and peace, he will give us the power to endure and prevail!

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