Weak, Weary, and Worn

It is not popular to write about weakness. We all have moments when we feel weak, overwhelmed, defeated, and depressed. Sometimes, we are just physically exhausted, and emotionally drained by the piling up of little stresses and routine tasks. Sometimes, we are overwhelmed by loss or grief, guilt, or worry about situations beyond our control.

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We want such feelings and situations to go away, to be replaced by peace, comfort, and contentment. And while well-meaning people tell us that “this too shall pass,” or “God has a plan,” or “you will get through this– I’m here for you,” we are still weak, weary, and worn down by the struggles of the day.

Jesus gave some incredible and inexplicable advice to people who would follow him. He said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11: 28-29 from the Christian Standard Bible via biblegateway.com)

The first part of his advice offers great comfort– “come to me…and I will give you rest.” But then, without even a breath, Jesus tells us to take up his yoke! A yoke does not seem to offer rest– I want the burden to be GONE–I don’t want to put on a yoke like an ox or a plow horse. How could this be comforting or restful?

But this is the promise of God– not to make all our burdens disappear (though he often chooses to give us total relief from a particular burden)–instead, He asks us to put on his yoke. He will share the burden with us, and He will teach us how to make the load bearable, even lighter, by following Him.

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And, though we have moments of exhaustion and setbacks, God’s purpose is not for us to give up or be defeated by our circumstances, but to be victorious over them, and turn to Him. In order to “take up (his) yoke” we must take the burden off our own shoulders and give it to Him. He will distribute the load, direct our path, and set the pace. And not only that, He will take our hand and speak words of wisdom and peace as we carry the load together. And THAT is truly comforting!

Dona Nobis Pacem*

*”Grant Us Peace!” (In Latin, Dona Nobis Pacem)
“When Peace like a River attendeth my Soul…”
“Peace be with you..”
“Give Peace a Chance..”
Peace that passes all understanding–Phil.4:7

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We spend our days rushing, working, worrying and stressing, always hoping for a time of peace, believing that if we work hard enough, rush fast enough, hope fervently enough, we will be rewarded with peace.

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But this is contrary to the Biblical pattern. God has already given us a blueprint for peace, rest, and contentment. And it doesn’t involve working harder! It involves trusting more. God wants us to work, yes, but He also wants us to rest, to seek times of solitude, meditation, and silence. This is not a suggestion given to a lucky few–it is a principle to be practiced by all of us. God wants to give us peace for the asking—not for the earning.

When prayer becomes a priority, and not just something that happens in our “spare” time, or after all the “important” things get done, we should find that peace is a by-product of our pursuit. Taking time for prayer gives our mind a new focus, calms the rhythms of our heart and body. It forces us to step aside from the frantic pace of life– to lift our eyes (or close them) away from the flickering light of the tablet or phone, to sit (or stand or kneel) still and apart from whatever task is beckoning, and listen, not to the blare of the radio or TV or street noise, but to the underlying sounds of life–heartbeats, breathing, the slow ticking of a clock, or the retreating rumble of the world.

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Most importantly, through our time spent in prayer, we access the source of peace– The Prince of Peace! And it is this same Prince of Peace who will “grant us peace” if we just ask. You may not be able to set aside hours for blissful meditation. But if you ask, God will help you guard your time, and help you find those few precious moments of prayer and peace– peace with Him, peace from Him, peace that passes all understanding.

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Whom Shall I Fear?

Psalm 27

Of David.
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
whom should I dread?
When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh,
my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell.
Though an army deploys against me,
my heart will not be afraid;
though a war breaks out against me,
I will still be confident.
I have asked one thing from the Lord;
it is what I desire:
to dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
gazing on the beauty of the Lord
and seeking him in his temple.
For he will conceal me in his shelter
in the day of adversity;
he will hide me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
Then my head will be high
above my enemies around me;
I will offer sacrifices in his tent with shouts of joy.
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
Lord, hear my voice when I call;
be gracious to me and answer me.
My heart says this about you:
“Seek his face.”
Lord, I will seek your face.
Do not hide your face from me;
do not turn your servant away in anger.
You have been my helper;
do not leave me or abandon me,
God of my salvation.
10 Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the Lord cares for me.
11 Because of my adversaries,
show me your way, Lord,
and lead me on a level path.
12 Do not give me over to the will of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing violence.
13 I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart be courageous.
Wait for the Lord.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+27&version=CSB
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There are a lot of scary things in our world– war, disaster, taxes, death, violence, injustice, disease, uncertainty, evil, darkness, even supernatural and spiritual darkness–enough to keep us frightened and sleepless every night! And we spend a lot of our time fearing the unknown–worrying about the future; worrying about things that have not happened, and may never happen! We worry about things that matter– the health and well-being of our loved ones, uncertainty about our job or home, crime and civil unrest in our nation or neighborhood, difficult decisions with serious consequences. We worry about things that are less urgent–someone laughing at us, hair loss, dropping a phone call, running out of gas, losing a game or an argument…

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David had some real reasons to be fearful as he wrote Psalm 27–evildoers, enemies, war and armies, false witnesses, and violence. Yet, he found safety and strength in the Lord. We can take comfort in the message of this Psalm–God is faithful. He is strong. He is eternal and unchanging. He is a stronghold we can trust.

But before we get too comfortable, let’s take a closer look. David’s trust is not based on a superficial knowledge about God. David’s trust comes as a result of seeking God’s face and following in “your way” (v. 11). David’s life was proof of God’s strength and protection, because David’s life was filled with fearsome adversaries!

Many generations after David penned this Psalm, the prophet Amos wrote to the people of Israel– people who knew this comforting psalm, but had lost their fear–people who no longer sought the Lord’s protection or His ways.

Amos 5 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

Listen to this message that I am singing for you, a lament, house of Israel:
She has fallen;
Virgin Israel will never rise again.
She lies abandoned on her land
with no one to raise her up.
For the Lord God says:
The city that marches out a thousand strong
will have only a hundred left,
and the one that marches out a hundred strong
will have only ten left in the house of Israel.

For the Lord says to the house of Israel:
Seek me and live!
Do not seek Bethel
or go to Gilgal
or journey to Beer-sheba,
for Gilgal will certainly go into exile,
and Bethel will come to nothing.
Seek the Lord and live,
or he will spread like fire
throughout the house of Joseph;
it will consume everything
with no one at Bethel to extinguish it.
Those who turn justice into wormwood
also throw righteousness to the ground.
The one who made the Pleiades and Orion,
who turns darkness into dawn
and darkens day into night,
who summons the water of the sea
and pours it out over the surface of the earth—
the Lord is his name.
He brings destruction on the strong,
and it falls on the fortress.
10 They hate the one who convicts the guilty
at the city gate,
and they despise the one who speaks with integrity.
11 Therefore, because you trample on the poor
and exact a grain tax from him,
you will never live in the houses of cut stone
you have built;
you will never drink the wine
from the lush vineyards
you have planted.
12 For I know your crimes are many
and your sins innumerable.
They oppress the righteous, take a bribe,
and deprive the poor of justice at the city gates.
13 Therefore, those who have insight will keep silent
at such a time,
for the days are evil.
14 Pursue good and not evil
so that you may live,
and the Lord, the God of Armies,
will be with you
as you have claimed.
15 Hate evil and love good;
establish justice in the city gate.
Perhaps the Lord, the God of Armies, will be gracious
to the remnant of Joseph.
16 Therefore the Lord, the God of Armies, the Lord, says:
There will be wailing in all the public squares;
they will cry out in anguish in all the streets.
The farmer will be called on to mourn,
and professional mourners to wail.
17 There will be wailing in all the vineyards,
for I will pass among you.
The Lord has spoken.

18 Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord!
What will the day of the Lord be for you?
It will be darkness and not light.
19 It will be like a man who flees from a lion
only to have a bear confront him.
He goes home and rests his hand against the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
20 Won’t the day of the Lord
be darkness rather than light,
even gloom without any brightness in it?
21 I hate, I despise, your feasts!
I can’t stand the stench
of your solemn assemblies.
22 Even if you offer me
your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
I will have no regard
for your fellowship offerings of fattened cattle.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice flow like water,
and righteousness, like an unfailing stream.
25 “House of Israel, was it sacrifices and grain offerings that you presented to me during the forty years in the wilderness? 26 But you have taken up Sakkuth your king and Kaiwan your star god, images you have made for yourselves. 27 So I will send you into exile beyond Damascus.” The Lord, the God of Armies, is his name. He has spoken.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Amos+5&version=CSB
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The people have an outward confidence– they believe themselves to be under God’s protection and blessing. They offer sacrifices and sing worship songs and revel in their success and peace. But God’s words are frightening and urgent. Those who arrogantly call for the “Day of the Lord,” expecting God to pass judgment on their enemies will find to their shock and horror, that God’s wrath falls on them as well. Their confidence has been misplaced, because it has rested on a false picture of God, and an exaggerated sense of their own righteousness. God warns them that judgment is coming– and even as He does, He issues an invitation– “Seek me and live!” (v. 4– see also v. 6 and v. 14). God has withheld judgment, He has given His people opportunity to follow His way. Instead, they have followed the ways of the very enemies they used to fear! Their feasts and festivals have become nothing but a mockery and an affront to God–the same people who claim to worship Him are perverting justice and oppressing the poor. They cheer for evil and refuse to listen to the truth.

God is a stronghold and a light to banish fear and darkness–but a stronghold or tower cannot protect you if you are wandering alone and unprotected or worse yet, if you are leaving the tower to embrace the enemy in the dark! God doesn’t just want to be a light at the end of the tunnel– He wants to be a light to show us the road right in front of us, and a light to banish the darkness where our enemy hides! When we have a proper “fear” of the Lord– when we recognize His wisdom, strength, and sovereignty– when we seek Him in humility and awe and need, and dwell with Him, we need not fear anyone or anything else. When we make empty boasts about God’s favor and protection while ignoring His ways, we drown out His loving warning and His call to return to safety…we should be afraid– very afraid!

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Father, may I find my confidence only in You. I want to dwell in Your house and seek Your face today and every day. Thank You for being eternally strong, righteous, faithful, and merciful! Thank you for giving us warnings and providing restoration, hope, and salvation. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Birds of the Air

Yesterday, I was working in the Toddler Room at church.  The children had been playing and singing, when suddenly, our attention was caught by something happening outside our window.  Hundreds of birds were gathering in the front lawn and in the parking lot of the church, resting and re-organizing for the next leg of their long migration.  Birds were swooping in, landing, hopping about, lining up, changing places with other birds, circling in low flight, rearranging, and chattering before the entire flock took off and headed south.  The children gathered by the window in fascination for a few minutes, before returning to their play.

afterglow art backlit birds
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I was reminded of the passage in Matthew 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Ironically, yesterday was the first day of “falling back” from daylight savings time to “normal” time– literally trying to add a single hour to our lives by changing our clocks!

close up photography of wristwatch
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The birds were not worried about clocks, or falling leaves.  They were not nervously searching about for seeds or worms or bread crumbs to eat.  They didn’t compare feathers or try to ostracize birds who were “different” in size or coloring or age.  Each year, the birds fly hundreds of miles, over lakes and fields and cities, to get to their “winter” home.  They repeat the process each spring to get to their “summer” home.  God has created them with a special GPS that not only gets them where they need to go, but helps them find food and resting places along the way– including the lawn and parking lot of our church!  And this is only one of thousands of flocks of birds.  They arrived, rested, regrouped, and left.  They didn’t collide with another incoming flock; they didn’t arrive upset or confused about the repaving that occurred this summer.  They didn’t need reservations or recalculations, credit or debit cards, cell phones with wi-fi hotspots, or pilots’ licenses.  God did not forget about them, abandon them, or set them up for failure.

The birds still have to face the long journey– they must gather food each day; rest each night; they must brave the very real dangers along the way.  Not every bird will reach its destination.  Some will be injured or become food for predators; some will succumb to bad weather or old age.  Some will even be blown off course or become separated from the rest of the flock.

flock of birds flying above sky during sunset
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God doesn’t promise that we will never face danger, or that we will never have to struggle.  What He does promise is that we can trust Him to always be present and that He will provide all that is sufficient for us to follow Him.  There is nothing we can do to add an hour to our life– and nothing we can do to erase, amend, or alter His Love for us!

“Now I Lay Me Down…”

We used to teach children to say bedtime prayers by rote:

Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I don’t actually remember praying this prayer at bedtime– partly because it seemed morbid and the stuff of nightmares more than peaceful rest.  Thankfully, my parents taught me more about praying than just this little prayer.  We learned the Lord’s Prayer, and to lift up our friends and family to God’s care.  We prayed for family stationed far from home, family members who were ill or suffering in some way, and for neighbors and classmates we cared about.  We prayed for missionaries and the people and places that called them far away.  We prayed for our nation and leaders. And we prayed confession, and thanksgiving, and worship, and intercession.

prayermotherdaughter

But I was reminded of this old prayer when I watched a video our aunt sent us the other day.  It was a short documentary about a nature photographer who spent over 18 months building up trust with a wild cheetah in order to get “close up” shots of her in the wild– hunting, eating, resting, bathing.  All was going well, until she disappeared on him.  Several months later, a park ranger located her– and her five newborn cubs.  The photographer knew he was taking a huge risk, but he drove his jeep (known to the mother cheetah), and went to the area where she was now caring for her young.  He got out of the jeep and sat down in the grass nearby.  Mother cheetah was nervous, but did not attack.  Hoping this was a good sign, the photographer did the unthinkable– he lay down in the grass, helpless, to show that he was not a threat.  As he moved from the sitting position, the mother cheetah stood up and watched.  As he lay sprawling on the ground, she too lay down, letting her cubs know that they were free to explore.  They came over to the photographer– they bit at his toes, climbed all over him, and let him pet them and poke at them with his finger.  He never sat up, lifted his head, or played rough with them.  He never grabbed them by the nape or spoke.  When they got tired of “the new thing” and returned to their mother, the photographer was able to sit up, move close to the family, and take some incredible photos of the whole group.

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Why did this remind me of a child’s prayer?  The photographer kept saying in the voice-over that it was all about trust– he was patiently building a relationship with this single cheetah for over a year and a half, showing her that he could be trusted.  And he was rewarded by her reaction when he signaled that he wanted to be close to her cubs.  His act of lying down and essentially putting his life in the balance caused her to respond with a similar act showing her trust was complete.  And her act of trust signaled to her cubs that this “new thing” was safe to approach– he could be trusted.  A mother cheetah in the wild can run faster than a sports car and kill without a second thought to protect her young.

animal animal photography big cat carnivore
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But she lay still and rested in her trust of this man.

How often do we “lay down” in our trust of God– stop brooding, worrying, fidgeting, and fighting to make sense of things, to build a safety net, to get ahead, to keep up with the neighbors, to feed our dreams and aspirations?  The Psalmist in Psalm 23 says, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures…”

high angle view of lying down on grass
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Trust isn’t just about lying down and resting– we are commanded to “Go” to “run the race” and to “stand firm in the faith”.  But what would it look like if people could see followers of Christ at rest in the certainty of God’s provision and power?   What if we opened our eyes to see God patiently building a relationship with us, waiting for the day that we would trust Him enough to enter our daily life?  How much more might our children learn to trust God if they saw parents who followed God’s cue to lie down in peace and hope, instead of scurrying around trying to do God’s work in their own (used up) energy?   What if, instead of praying with a morbid expectation of dying, we lay down to sleep, knowing that our soul is eternally safe, and that our future is secure and blessed because of the One who hears our prayer?

man person cute young
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“Now I lay me down to sleep;
I know the Lord my soul will keep.
If I should live another day,
He then will light my every way!”

Perfect Peace

I know several people (myself included) who are facing stressful situations on a daily basis– some are fighting cancer, some are caring for aging parents, some have rebellious teens, some have lost jobs or are in danger of losing their home, some are fighting depression or addiction, others have lost close family members–some are facing multiple stressors every day.

Stress is a killer and a thief.  It robs us of energy, time, and focus.  And it isolates us– as we focus on our stressful surroundings, they begin to close in on us, hemming us in and keeping others out.  We long to be stress-free–sitting on a beach or lying in a hammock  or on a chaise without a care in the world– no worries, just peace.  And we pray for it.

But peace isn’t the absence of stressful circumstances.  I once met a man who was, in fact, lying on a chaise by a poolside, a sandy beach less than 100 feet away– palm trees and gentle breezes relieving the searing heat, icy drinks available at a whim.   He had nothing to do but soak in the heat and sea air, relax, and enjoy his day.  He had all the time and money he needed to find perfect peace– but he didn’t have it.  He was bored, and restless, and dissatisfied with life.  He couldn’t lie still, and he found no wonder in all the beauty and peace all around him.

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Peace doesn’t come by denying stressful circumstances, or running away from them, either.  Ask the next three people you meet how they are doing, and they will likely answer, “I’m fine.”  We know they’re not really “fine”– they know that we know they’re not “fine,” yet neither of us tells or demands to know the truth.  Stress isn’t contagious, but we avoid sharing it.  I don’t want to hear about your stress, in case it reminds me of my own; you don’t want to share your stress in case I judge you as being weak or whiny.  We learn from others around us that “success sells.”  “Fake it until you make it,” as some would say.

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We can’t get peace by any means in our own power– we can’t manufacture it, legislate it, demand it, buy it, trade for it, or wish it into being.  In fact, the more we try to chase after it, the more elusive it becomes.  Peace is a by-product of faith and trust– the result of a relationship in which circumstances are not borne or understood only by us, but shared with someone all-wise and all-powerful.  Our circumstances don’t need to disappear, but we must believe that they are not insurmountable or permanent, and that we are not forgotten in the midst of them.

Peace comes from knowing and sharing with the Prince of Peace.  He doesn’t take away our circumstances (though he can, and sometimes will remove some of our stressors–even against our will).  Most of the time, Jesus will take away our blinders, instead.  He will turn our focus away from our own pain, loss, frustration, or confusion, and allow us to see Him working around us, in us, through us, in ways that put things back in perspective.

sosua

The peaceful scene I described above– the beach, the pool, the gentle breezes– I was in the same location, and enjoying every minute of it.  This in spite of numerous bug bites, an almost certain case of sun burn, and a very short time before I had to return to the snowy Midwest, and the normal stresses of my ordinary life.  But, while I knew they were waiting for me, I wasn’t concentrating on them.  And even while I enjoyed the beauty of the beach, I wasn’t focused on the sun or the sand, or my tan/burn progress.  I was enjoying the memory of working with rescued children, of meeting amazing foster parents and missionaries, and of seeing what God was doing to heal and bring peace to lives that had been ravaged.  I was seeing in the beauty of my short stay at the resort the promise of what God has in store for me throughout eternity.  THAT will be perfect peace– not shortened by time, not diminished by restlessness or dissatisfaction, or denial.

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