On This Day…

There is a website, On This Day, that can tell you an interesting or important fact about something that happened on any day of the year throughout history.

http://On This Day – Today in History, Film, Music and Sporthttps://www.onthisday.com

Of course, this site only gives you certain facts from certain years and in certain areas of interest. So its focus is limited to one or two events per day from random years. Sometimes, the dates and facts are important events in world history; other times, they are trivial but interesting details about a sporting match, or a film star.

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I don’t have to consult On This Day today. Something very personal, very important, and very tragic happened on September 1, 1998. My father died. I watched him take his last ragged breath in a hospital bed. I held his hand moments before he died, and I wept with my mother and sister as we tried to take in the great loss. There are many days that are etched into my memory– birth days, death days, graduation days, wedding days–that will never make the pages of history books or web sites. There are other days, “ordinary” days, that pass me by without reference to any memories at all. Many days that mean little to me fill others with joy or pain.

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Yet each day is a gift from God to each one of us. My 24 hours today will be different from yours. Somewhere, this day will be a new beginning of life– elsewhere, it will be someone’s last day. Small things will happen on this day– a cheerful greeting, a burnt slice of toast, shared laughter with a friend, a hug, a stubbed toe–things we won’t remember tomorrow, or things we won’t value in the moments when they happen. Big things will happen, too–joyous occasions and tragic events that may shake families, communities, or even the world. This day may be filled with sunshine or rain, happiness or grief, achievements or disappointments.

God sees them all– He not only sees them, but He shares them with us. Every moment–every place– every person!

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On This Day, you can be assured that God is with you. In joyful moments and tragic circumstances. In fearful situations and quiet moments of routine tasks. In crowds of commuters or in lonely corners. On This Day– and every day– God wants to share all that is on your mind and in your heart. On This Day and in this moment, God is as close as your next breath.

(See Deuteronomy 31:8)

Full Disclosure

I like to know things–I like to solve puzzles, figure out mysteries, learn trivial facts.  I want answers.  So when I go before God in prayer, I often ask questions.  Why is this person suffering?  When will their suffering end, and how?  Where were you in this disaster (as though God had stepped out for a minute and wasn’t aware of what happened)?

God stays silent.

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I can grow frustrated in the silence or I can learn to trust.  That doesn’t mean that I no longer want answers; just that I am willing to wait on God’s sovereign timing.  It also means that I am need to more about God’s nature–God doesn’t keep secrets or withhold knowledge because He wants to torment me, or frustrate me, or play some cosmic mind game (though some people accuse Him of doing just that).  God withholds full disclosure of His plans, His reasoning, and His nature out of love and compassion.  Suppose I could see into the future, even give out warnings, but had no power to stop disaster from coming.  Not only would I be haunted by the disaster itself, but by the full knowledge of its coming.  Suppose I could see a miracle in advance; know when and how it would unfold.  There would still be joy, but it would be muted by the foreknowledge– of course there would be a happy ending; of course there would be a miracle– I saw it all from afar off.

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The Apostle Paul touches on this in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13.  This is commonly known as the “Love Chapter”, and the first half is frequently quoted at weddings and church sermons.  But the end of the chapter is a wonderful message of hope and faith, ending with Paul’s triumphant statement about all three:

1 Corinthians 13:8-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

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God loves us with a perfect love.  Because of that, I can trust Him, and have hope in the midst of my questioning.  So when I pray with questions, I can know that God has “filed them away”– He is fully aware of my situation, questions and all, and He is fully faithful to answer them all in His perfect wisdom and timing.  Someday, I will know– not only all that I don’t know now, but why I had to wait.

God will provide full disclosure. with compassion, love, and wisdom that only He can give.

The Smallest Detail

Have you ever looked at a series of pictures that “zoom” in or out (or both)?  Something that seems “normal” in size suddenly becomes a tiny detail in a much larger picture.  Or one tiny detail grows large enough to show intricacies hitherto unseen.  It is mind-blowing to think of how many details there are in God’s universe–little things that go unnoticed and unappreciated every day.  But not by God.  God knows and cares about every single detail– from the  individual hairs on your head, to the variations and whorls of each of your fingerprints; from the gradations of colors in each moment of each sunrise, to the exact air temperature in each square foot of atmosphere around the world; from the wings of every butterfly to the fins of every fish– nothing escapes his notice or falls through the cracks.

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We can pray with confidence that God hears every word we say, and knows the thoughts we can’t even put into words.  I believe God loves to hear all our details.  He loves listening to us, because of his great love for us.  He wants us to hold nothing back.  This is especially true when we pour out our deepest delights and our most pressing burdens.  He wants to share them with us– to double our joy, and shoulder our pain.sea-nature-animals-fish.jpg

I was reminded about God’s attention to detail while reading His word this morning.  I was reading through one of the books of history (II Kings) in which the various kings of Israel and Judah are listed, along with short accounts of “what happened” during their reigns–some kings are given several paragraphs or a couple of chapters;  others merely a sentence or two.  In the midst of all this, there is a curious reference in II Kings 14:25.  King Jeroboam II of Israel is accounted a generally wicked king, but he did restore some of the ancient boundaries of the country, “in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah, son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher”– that’s right, THAT Jonah– the one of the giant fish and the adventure in Ninevah (see Paltry Prayer ).  How many times have I read the story of Jonah, and passed right over this reference to him in another book!  The Bible is full of such hidden hints and corroborating details.  I believe that God put them there to remind us of his great attention to detail.  The God who lists genealogies throughout his word— long lists of otherwise forgotten names;  the one who makes a point of listing palace guards and minor officials, and builders and temple workers–this God sees ME!  He sees YOU!  He hears us when we call.  He knows all of our quirks and idiosyncrasies– and loves each unique detail of our makeup.

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Paltry Prayer

A couple of days ago, I wrote about “Little Prayers.”  I believe God hears our prayers about the so-called “little things.”  But I think there is a type of prayer that is not “little”, but “paltry.”  What’s the difference?  “Paltry” doesn’t just imply little or trivial, it connotes something meager and petty.  And I think we waste a lot of time on it.

Paltry prayer is generic and insubstantial.  It’s like the horrible small talk at a social event one doesn’t want to attend, but feels obligated to show up at, because it’s expected.  When we throw up a prayer, but we really don’t want to get “real” before God, we’re offering crumbs instead of a sacrifice; face-time, instead of intimate conversation.

There are times when we cry out in desperation; we have no words or fleshed-out thoughts, only groans.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the times when we want to reassure ourselves that we’re one of the good guys– that our plans and wishes have God’s stamp of approval–without actually risking God’s authoritative answer.  “God, help me to do your will today,” sounds like a great prayer, but do we really mean what we’re saying?   Or are we really asking God to approve of our own will  and plans as we go through the day?

I’m especially concerned that we are offering paltry prayers in regards to evangelism and revival.  We want it to come– we want God to send a fresh wave of revival to our communities, our country, and our world– but let it begin and end without making us too uncomfortable, too aware of our own need for confession, forgiveness, or change.  We want our neighbor to be saved– without the pain of witnessing and being laughed at or ostracized.  We want to be emboldened to witness, but we don’t want to be humbled into listening.  We want to be blessed; we don’t want to be tested.

 

I get very discouraged sometimes, when I realize that my own prayers have been paltry.  But there is good news– the same loving Father that wants deeper conversation with me is endlessly forgiving, encouraging, and loving.  And I am not alone in offering meager conversation or selfish complaints before His throne.

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Jonah (yes the “Big Fish” guy of the Bible) was a prophet– a very successful one, except for the episode with Nineveh.  Not only did Jonah run as far from Nineveh as a ship could take him; he basically committed suicide to avoid doing God’s bidding.  When his shipmates are in a panic, Jonah demands that they throw him in the sea.  This is not as a result of consulting with God, nor does the Bible suggest that it is at God’s command.  The sailors continue to panic at the thought of throwing Jonah overboard, and are astonished when the storm stops as Jonah sinks toward the ocean floor.  If not for the fish, Jonah would have drowned.  God sent the fish to save Jonah, but there is nothing to suggest that Jonah had any idea of being rescued. However, from the belly of the fish, Jonah lifts up a poetic prayer, in which he sings the praises of the God who spared his life.   He marvels at his rescue and restoration, and vows to go back to Nineveh and fulfill his destiny.  His prayer strikes all the “holy” notes one would wish to see, but I would contend that this is, at its heart, a paltry prayer– sincere in the moment, but not the prayer of a man fully transformed by his near-death experience.

Fast forward to the fourth chapter of the book of Jonah.  Nineveh has heard Jonah’s message about God’s wrath and impending judgment; the people have had a miraculous change of heart, and God has agreed to spare them from destruction (for a time– the Ninevites went back to their old habits and were eventually destroyed).  Imagine if the late Billy Graham had held a rally in Moscow or Tehran or Los Angeles and the ENTIRE CITY had repented?!  This is success beyond imagination.  But we don’t find Jonah grateful and poetic as he was at the end of chapter two– instead, he is hateful and bitter, and praying for death!  God causes a small vine to grow and provide some shade for Jonah as he sits and sulks, but then he sends a worm to chew up the vine so it withers.  Jonah is more heartbroken at the loss of the vine then he was over the possibility of the destruction of an entire city.  Jonah’s story doesn’t end in triumph, but in triviality.

Prayer is a great opportunity to pour out our hearts before God– but it also reveals the content and character of our hearts.  If our prayers are paltry and our hearts shallow, God will often humble us.  But he will also rescue us from our own sinfulness and sulking, and give us all that we need to finish victoriously.  The book of Jonah is a great cautionary tale– let’s learn from it, today.

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What can we do to make our prayers less “paltry” and more proactive?  Check out the suggestions on the attached pages of this blog, or look online for prayer groups and prayer sites that offer constructive ideas.

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