Content, But Not Complacent

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.11 But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 

1 Timothy 6:3-12 (NASB)
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“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6) We are entering a season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it can be a wonderful time to count one’s blessings and give praise with a humble and thankful heart. But it can also be a season of discontent, envy, overspending, and even depression. Many people are restless. They want “more”– more stuff, more respect, more power, more popularity, better health, a bigger house, trendier clothes…the list can be endless. Advertisers work hard to stir up this kind of discontent in the hope that people will buy their products. Politicians stir up discontent and fear to get more votes. Even religious leaders can stir up discontent in the hope of gaining influence, respect, and money.

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God will not stir up discontent in our hearts. Instead, He wants us to learn to be content and grateful for the blessings we already have, and to trust Him for the things we both need and desire. He will see to it that we get what we need to live a Godly life, even if it seems meager compared to others who boast of their circumstances. Those who trust in their wealth or power will find it is never “enough.” Discontent breeds more discontent– envy gives rise to anger and bitterness. Greed gives way to dishonesty and violence. It is the enemy of Godliness and Humility. It is the enemy of the Christian Walk.

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But there is another danger to the Christian. We should desire to develop a spirit of contentment, but we must be careful not to let contentment become complacency. The Apostle Paul does not stop in his message to Timothy, but reminds him to both “flee” the temptation of greed and discontent, and “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” Contentment is not an excuse for complacency. We are to “fight the good fight of Faith.” We are to be content with what we have, but not complacent about where we stand or how we live.

Discontent says– “I don’t have enough. I need more! (Even if I must take it by force or manipulation)”. Complacency says–” I have everything I need. I am an island of self-sufficiency. I don’t need anything (including God!) Both attitudes are conceited and fail to acknowledge God’s provision and His Sovereignty. The discontented, greedy person will be at war with God’s laws. The complacent person may not be fighting against God’s laws, but s/he will ignore God’s will, and refuse to stand up for justice or mercy. The complacent person is complicit in evil, even when they are not the ones doing it. The complacent Christian is ungrateful, and has only half-hearted praise for the Author of the blessings they enjoy.

There are many “Christians” in both categories. Many who claim to follow Christ, but are really following what they think will bring them power, wealth, health, or popularity. Many are being lulled into complacency by their blessings and comfortable circumstances. Both groups have lost their focus. God is to be the center of our lives– not our own comfort or our own pursuit of it.

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This season, may we be content, humble, and willing to give God the Thanks, Praise, and Worship He deserves. And may we not become complacent about doing good, standing firm in the Faith, and helping others.

Prayer on a Dreary Day

Father,,
Today is a dreary day.
It is not warm or sunny; it is not filled with joy or peace.
The house is a mess.
I’m not even dressed.
I feel emptied and drained.

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And yet…

Even though I can’t see
Your glory in my surroundings,
I know You can see
The glory of eternity.
You see the brighter days ahead.
You are already there,
Celebrating.

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You have not journeyed here to
Listen to my prayer…
Because You have always been here
Right beside me.
You are not put off by my
Dirt or disheveled appearance;
You are not unaware of my sadness–
You know my thoughts before I think them!
You know my emotions better than I know myself!

Today is a dreary day,
But it is just a speck in the fullness of
Your Eternal Light.
Shine into my darkness
Dispel the dreariness around me.
Help me to reflect, not the clouds,
But the Son!

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Thank you, Lord.
Even on a dreary day,
In Your presence, there is fullness of Joy–
Not the giddiness of a sunny springtime,
But the glow of a hearth-fire,
Sustaining me.

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So my praise today may not explode
In bright colors and exclamations.
But it will be a steady and steadying
Ember–warm enough to survive
Ready for You to
Ignite tomorrow’s fresh flame!

Infinite Variety

As I look out my window today, I see a wonderful palette of fall colors waving in the wind. There are trees still filled with dark green; others with variegated shades of red and orange and yellow; some have brown leaves– so brown, they are tinged with purple! Back in the spring, the trees had so many subtle shades of green– bright green, yellow-green, and un-nameable greens in between. The colors of nature are astounding in their variety and their ability to change throughout the seasons.

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God loves variety– not just in colors, but in all of life. Giraffes and gerbils; elephants and eels; ladybugs and llamas; koalas and kingfishers; swans and sloths; trees and termites; roses and raccoons…different shapes and sizes, with different lifespans and different habitats. Nature is a kaleidoscope. And precious people, too. Skin tones that span a vast spectrum; different hair; different eyes; different noses; different heights. But also different speech; different ways of thinking and doing; different ways of life–people living in city apartments, isolated huts, houseboats, underground houses–infinite variety.

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Our prayers are also uniquely different from those of other people. And God LOVES to hear the differences as we lift up our unique praises and petitions. God created us to be uniquely ourselves– and uniquely His!

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Just think– at this very moment, someone is praying in a language you’ve never spoken, in a place you’ve never visited. Someone else is praying for needs you have never even imagined, and thanking God for blessings you’ve never dreamed of.

It is a wonderful exercise to pray in a group– dozens, even hundreds of God’s people speaking the same thing in agreement; raising united hearts in praise or even in pain. But there is also something wonderful about listening to others as they express their hearts, knowing that God values each of us for the unique person He made us to be. We can be just as awed by the variety of amazing people we meet as we are by the amazing colors of the autumn leaves. The same God loves to fill the world with infinite variety and beauty.

Today, let’s try to see people for who God made them to be–infinitely precious and unique. And don’t forget that person in the mirror! God loves you. He loves to hear from you. He loves to lavish His love on you and through you, in ways that only He and You can experience.

Leaning…

“What a fellowship; what a joy divine,
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms…”

Bethel Church, Penn Twp., Michigan

Years ago, growing up in a small community, and attending a tiny rural church in southwestern Michigan, we sang this song often at church. As a child, I liked the tune, but had little idea what the song meant. I knew the word fellowship– that was what we called the pot-luck meals and social times we had in the church basement. I knew that Joy was like happiness, only better. I knew that “divine” referred to God and Heaven, and Holy things. But I also knew that leaning was frowned upon– I was told to stand up straight, sit up straight, and never lean back on the two hind legs of the chair in class. How could there by fellowship, and divine joy in leaning? And what were the Everlasting Arms?

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As I have lived, I have grown to understand and cherish these words. There IS a fellowship and a joy divine in learning to lean on the Everlasting Arms of Jesus; to experience the strength and peace that passes my own understanding when I trust fully in Him, instead of in my own plans, whims, dreams, or wishes. There is no shame in leaning on God– in fact, if we don’t learn to lean on the solid wisdom and faithfulness of God, we will slouch into bad habits, “fall” into false teaching, or simply collapse in our own limitations and weaknesses, much like a chair leaning on just two legs! And this fellowship is not only with my Creator, Sustainer, and Savior; it is with all the brothers and sisters around the world who have learned to trust Him, too. I can travel to foreign countries, with different languages and customs, and still feel the kinship and “belonging” with other Christians. It is deeper and more mysterious than just the recognition that we are fellow human beings. It goes even deeper than the love for others who are loved by God. It is the recognition that God’s Holy Spirit surrounds us, flows in and through us, strengthens us, and unites us IN HIM. We are fellow travelers; fellow workers; fellow members of a universal family– one that is more inclusive than nationality, race, ethnicity, language, ideology, or denomination. We can (and do) lean on the ONE who is eternally trustworthy, eternally faithful to walk beside us, empower us, comfort and heal us, and lead us home. And we can lean on each other, knowing that our mutual strength comes from Him.

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I love worship services, and I’m thankful that we have an active church where people worship; where the Bible is taught and revered; where families and individuals are welcomed and loved. But I sometimes miss the old “prayer meetings” in the church where I grew up. Every Wednesday night, while the children were (supposedly quietly) playing games, singing songs, and listening to the great stories of the Bible, a faithful (and sometimes rag-tag) group of adults were upstairs in a huddle. Some pulled up chairs and sat in a circle; others knelt the whole time. They prayed for nearly an hour–prayers of thanksgiving and prayers of urgent needs; prayers expressing worship, and prayers expressing inadequacies and failures; prayers for the children downstairs, for other members of the church family; prayers for the community, the country, and the world. As I became a teenager and a young adult, I was privileged to join in. I watched wise, older men and women express their confidence in God’s provision, and pour out their hearts for their children and grandchildren. I listened to young adults asking for wisdom and guidance as they raised families and witnessed to co-workers. I felt the joy and grief and true “fellowship” that came when several hearts turned as one to God.

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I have since attended many “prayer meetings”– some planned, some spur-of-the-moment; some held in churches; others held in homes or dorm rooms, even on street corners or grocery stores; some lasting only a few minutes; others lasting hours. I was thrilled to be able to attend a “prayer meeting” again this past week. There is something mystical about communal prayer– listening and sharing in prayer with others. The prayers of God’s people are compared to incense– and communal prayer is like a delicately-balanced blend of fragrances, infusing very the room with blessing, and even a touch of Glory. (For more about how prayer is likened to incense, see https://the-end-time.org/2017/06/13/how-is-incense-like-prayer/) It is yet another miracle of the power of prayer, that we can combine hearts and voices to honor God; to lift up very human concerns to the One powerful enough to hold each one in the palm of His hand. It should not replace personal prayer and Bible Study, or communal worship services, but it is a wonderful practice for any Christian to “come alongside” in prayer with fellow believers. It is also humbling to think about how such a seemingly small act can have far-reaching consequences.

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God “inhabits” the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). When we show up and participate in communal worship and prayer, we get a greater sense of God’s presence, His power, His Glory, His Love, and His eternal purpose. What a Fellowship! What a Joy, Divine!

Holy, Majestic, Awesome God!

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message) (emphasis added)
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I think one of the hallmarks of a Christian is not knowledge about God, but personal experience of God. And one of the signs of such experience is a reverent wonder– an overwhelming AWE– of God. Of who He is and how He works, what He has done, and what He has promised to do. As we grow in faith, good character, understanding, discipline, and patience, we are ready to absorb the absolute WONDER of this majestic, mighty, amazing God we serve. We revel in our own personal experience of Salvation, but we also begin to see the magnitude of God’s Grace, His Power, His Wisdom and His Holiness.

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Many of the ancient prophets tried to describe their encounters with God’s presence. Daniel and the Apostle John were paralyzed and prostrate when visited by angels. Paul was blinded by the light. Moses’ face had to be covered after being in God’s presence. because his face was so radiant. Isaiah was struck dumb. The list goes on… We may not experience the presence of angels or receive prophecies like they did, but we can experience a sense of ecstasy in contemplating our marvelous Lord and Savior.

One prophet who had such an experience was Habakkuk. Habakkuk lived in perilous and evil times. His nation was in rebellion toward God’s law, and its citizens, from the leaders and priests to the farmers and townspeople, were paying lip-service to God while prostrating themselves to foreign gods and foreign countries. The leaders lived in splendor, while many of their own people starved, or were sold into slavery. Habakkuk, in frustration, prayed to God, pleading for relief from evil, and judgment for the righteous. He had faith, was of good character, understood the law, had developed discipline, and had a passionate patience– but his patience was mixed with frustration. “How long must I wait to see justice and reform?” “How long will my people keep seeking help from wicked foreigners?” “When will we be free of oppression?”

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Habakkuk was not just whining. He had a heart for his own people, and wanted to see what God would do. God’s answer was not what Habakkuk was expecting. God promised justice and redemption– but only after invasion, more oppression, and exile! God was sending a vast and merciless army to crush not only His own people, but all the wicked nations in whom they had placed their trust. God was going to “pull the rug out” from under the entire region. But then, He would punish the invaders, wiping out their power and restoring His people to their own land.

What was Habakkuk’s reaction to such news? At first, he was stunned; then confused. But in a very short time, his horror turned to worship. He resolved to stand at his watch; to station himself on the ramparts to see God at work. And as he waited, his perspective changed. God DID see the injustice and wickedness; the violence, lies, and betrayal. God had a plan– a plan so much grander and glorious in scope– a plan that had been in place from long before Habakkuk was born; long before his complaint. It was a plan that would not leave wickedness unpunished, but would bring justice in its proper time, and allow for redemption, restoration and renewal.

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Habakkuk’s prayer (chapter 3) is a marvel of praise and worship:
“His glory covered the heavens, and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand where his power was hidden…” (v. 3b-4)
“You split the earth with rivers; the mountains saw you and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high. Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear… (v.9b-11)
“I heard and my heart pounded; my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines; though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food; though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to go on the heights.” (v. 16-19a NIV)

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How often does my heart pound and my lips quiver as I contemplate our Awesome God? How often am I joyful in God my Savior– especially in the midst of expected hardship and continuing evil around me? How often do I limit my sight to what is immediately before my eyes, instead of looking up at the one who holds every moment of the past and future; who controls the vastness of millions of galaxies, yet also sees each individual hair on 7 billions human heads, knows every grain of sand in the desert, and every drop of water in all the oceans; who tracks every molecule in the universe, but knows me by name?!

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May today be a day filled with reverent wonder, as we consider the Holy, Majestic, and Awesome God who has the power to redeem, inspire, and strengthen us for whatever lies ahead.

“Idol” Thoughts…

I was in an odd mood the other day, and I started thinking about “Christian” Book Stores. There used to be several bookstores in the area that were “Christian” book stores. They sold Bibles, Bible study guides, devotional guides, prayer journals, hymnals and song books, contemporary Christian CDs, Christian DVDs, and all sorts of “Christian” gift items– tee shirts, wall hangings, jewelry, even candles! If it looked, sounded, felt, or even tasted “Christian” you could probably find it there.

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Many of these stores are now out of business. And it made me sad at first, but I think it’s worth a little analysis:

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  • Maybe the most obvious reason why any store or set of stores goes out of business is the law of supply and demand. As more and more Christian book stores popped up, they filled the market with more and more “stuff.” Every store had Bibles and books, but the demand was for “stuff.” Bracelets and CDs, Mother’s Day gifts, Christmas- and Easter-themes decorations…Bibles were relegated to the back of the store on a couple of shelves. And most of the stores ended up with the same “stuff” as the other stores– the same candles and t-shirts and throw-pillows and coffee mugs with the same “Christian” sayings. Other store chains caught on– you could buy the same coffee mug or DVD at Hobby Lobby, or Walmart– at half the price! And, of course, with e-publishing, streaming services and Spotify, etc., books, DVDs and CDs are almost a thing of the past, anyway. Years of buying “stuff” has resulted in families who can’t even give away all their “precious” used art and decorative items from 20 years ago. The demand just isn’t there.
  • More subtle is the psychology of the “Christian” Book store patron. Buying mugs and key chains and bracelets at a “Christian” book store is a form of virtue signaling. Buying a t-shirt with a provocative Christian message can make you feel like you’re witnessing for Christ– without actually having to engage in conversation or develop a relationship with anyone! That feels great for awhile, but the reality is that feelings and virtue signals change. It’s not trendy to wear WWJD bracelets anymore– it’s not even trendy to be a “Christian” anymore–much better to be an open-minded, accepting, and loving “Christ follower.” “Christian” has a bad connotation these days– judgmental, narrow-minded, and hateful. People who used to proudly stroll the aisles of Christian book stores are now full of disclaimers about their church affiliations.
  • More subtle still is the psychology of the “Christian” Book Store itself. There really is no such thing as a “Christian” book. There are books written by Christians, and about Christians, and for Christians, but a book is an inanimate object. It cannot be a “Christian” or a “Christ Follower,” or a “Believer.” The same is true about any of the other products sold at any store. There are no “Christian” pot holders or hand lotion sets or wall art. A store catering to a “Christian” audience must not expect to be wildly popular in a secular world. We don’t see a trending wave of Buddhist book stores or Muslim book stores, or book stores specializing in Wiccan coffee mugs– though we may see such trends come and go in the future.
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What makes me saddest about the disappearance of the “Christian” Book stores is not that there are fewer cool t-shirts to consider buying, or that I have to travel farther to find a bookstore with a great “Christian” Sci-fi section, or a larger selection of devotionals. It is that, on some level, my “Faith” became an idol. I filled my bookshelf with “good” books, while neglecting to read the most important book of all. I spent time browsing aisles of great music, but less time singing from my own heart. I spent money on items that proclaimed my Faith, but spent less time and energy living it out.

There is nothing “wrong” or sinful about “Christian” Book Stores. I am very grateful to live in a country where I can freely shop for Bibles, and even a couple of throw pillows that remind me how much God loves me. I love that I can wear cross necklaces, or listen to wonderful songs about Christ without facing imprisonment or torture. But I want to be careful not to take for granted a culture that makes following Christ easy. I don’t want to worship the “Christian” culture and not the Christ it claims to love.

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One of the first items I remember not being able to find in the “Christian” Book Stores was a prayer journal. Oh, they had several leather-bound journals where you could write notes, or ones that had “prayer prompts” written on gilt-edged pages. But I wanted one like the one I had found years before– it had pages with information on various people groups around the world as prayer prompts, and space to list names and even answers to prayer. I have since created my own notebook-style prayer journal that tries to replicate that older one.

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And perhaps that is a good thing. “Christian” books promise a lot–journals that prompt us to pray; devotionals that basically do the “worship” for us; even Bibles that speak to us in comfortable language, so we don’t struggle with unfamiliar words. But ease and comfort do not produce growth. “Christian” book stores do not necessarily produce strong Christians, either. Only Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, can do that. Christian Book Stores can be a valuable tool, or an idol.

Exceedingly, Abundantly, Above…

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,”

Ephesians 3:20 (KJV)
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What do I expect as I pray? What is the outcome that I hope for? Most of the time, it looks like one of the following:

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  • I expect to praise and worship God; I hope that He will hear my heart of gratitude and worship, and that He will be pleased with my words and actions
  • I expect Him to act on or through a particular circumstance, such as providing healing or guidance to someone in need
  • I expect to hear from Him, or to gain wisdom or guidance for myself
  • I expect that He will honor His promise to forgive my sins when I confess them
  • I expect to grow closer to God as I speak to Him and wait to hear from Him

But Paul reminds us in the book of Ephesians that God is able, through the power of Christ at work in us (emphasis added), to do much more than anything we can imagine or ask! What does that mean in my pursuit of prayer?

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Well, it means more than I can explain in any blog entry, but let me attempt to imagine a few outcomes that go beyond my normal expectations:

  • Prayer is a matter of choice. It is also a matter of obedience and acknowledgement. No matter how short, or faltering, or disorganized it may be, each prayer proclaims that God is GOD–worthy of praise, able to save and forgive, supremely authoritative over my life and the lives of others, and ever present to listen to every voice that calls out to Him. And it proclaims this both to the physical world (if we’re praying aloud or with others) and to an unseen and metaphysical world inhabited by spiritual beings who also owe God their worship and obedience.
  • Prayer is a partnership. In some mysterious way, God allows us to participate in His ongoing work– whether it is bringing healing, joining the chorus of angels in songs of praise, praying for God’s hand to move in global and historical affairs, or developing our personal relationship with Him–God chooses to let us “have a voice” in what He does. God is still in charge. Our prayers will not cause Him to go against His own will. But as we pray, we grow to understand God’s heart. We begin to want what He wants, and to ask for His will because it is what we want most. As we see and hear about miracles, we can know that we are “part of the team.”
  • Prayer changes things–often in ways we cannot ever see or measure. Someone may pray for years to see a relative or neighbor come to Christ– seemingly without success. What they may NOT see is how their testimony, though spurned by the object of their prayers, has brought others to Christ over the years. And each one of THOSE people has the potential to witness to others– including the one who rejected the original efforts! A prayer for healing that seems to go unanswered may inspire someone to commit their life to researching a disease of find a cure so that thousands of others may be spared the suffering you prayed to alleviate. Praying for peace or justice may not have immediate effect. But we cannot know or imagine the cumulative effect of such prayers in bringing lasting peace or more perfect justice to our children or future generations.
  • Prayer changes people– especially us! If I am praying for someone, my thoughts and actions will follow. I will take a more active interest in those for whom I pray. I will (or should!) reach out with practical efforts and partner with others who share my concerns. I will give, share, encourage, work, and advocate– not just pray and move on unchanged.
  • Prayer has substance. We imagine prayer to be ethereal and mental or spiritual. But the Apostle John, writing in Revelation 8:3-4, describes the prayers of the believers (saints) as incense. Our prayers have a pleasing odor, and they rise like smoke into the presence of God. There is nothing empty or “fake” about prayers lifted to Almighty God. Our prayer is not just an exercise in wishful thinking or the power of group-think or “positive vibes.”
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We serve an amazing, limitless, all-powerful, all-wise God! Our prayers may seem like just words–humble, inadequate, or even unintelligible– but in God’s hands, they are mighty tools, bringing Him glory in ways we can’t even begin to explain or imagine!

Building Walls

I’ve been reading in the book of Nehemiah this week. Nehemiah’s quest to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem may strike a discordant note in today’s Western culture. Back in ancient times, most cities were enclosed with high walls. This kept invaders out, and gave protection and a sense of identity to those who lived within. Today, we have cities spilling into other cities in sprawling metroplexes. We have trains, buses, and airplanes constantly shuttling between cities. Walled cities are not practical. Even the borders between nations have become porous and flexible (except during times of war or distress!) It can be difficult for modern readers to share Nehemiah’s distress at the state of Jerusalem’s wall, or his passion to see the walls rebuilt. After all, Jerusalem was a conquered city, being ruled by foreigners–the invaders had already gotten in! The project seems to us like a waste of time, materials, and energy. Even in his own day, the project seemed problematic, and Nehemiah faced resistance on many fronts.

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Yet God put it upon Nehemiah’s heart to do this; He answered Nehemiah’s plea to soften the King’s heart, and provided Nehemiah with an abundance of materials and even protection for the journey. It seems as though it was important to God that these walls were rebuilt. Why? How does God feel about walls, anyway? Did He not give Joshua great victory by making the walls of Jericho collapse? Does He not command the Israelites to welcome and be kind to foreigners? Did the Apostle Paul not say that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”(Galatians 3:28 ESV)? How do walls fit in with God’s plan for our lives?

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Part of our confusion may lie in our understanding of walls in ancient cities. We know they provided protection from invading armies, but they did much more–and they represent much more in the Bible. Walls not only provided protection to ancient cities– they provided structure and definition. Walls kept strangers out, but they also had a series of gates to let people come and go in an orderly fashion. There were gates used for commerce, gates that served ceremonial functions, gates that smoothed travel through the city, and even gates that were mostly used to transport garbage and dung outside of the city.

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Walls and gates also gave a sense of identity to people in and around the cities– some people lived close to (even in or on) the city walls. All those who lived within the city “belonged” to that city– and those who lived and farmed close by could claim the protection of the city walls in times of danger– whether from siege or natural disasters. They could also expect the city dwellers to be a ready market for their products or services. Travelers and traders could expect to be safe inside the walls of a friendly city– such protection could not be found on the open road, nor in many smaller towns. Cities tended to have more public services, better systems of laws and more stable economies. Walls could help control the flow of commerce, ideas, and loyalties.

Just before the book of Nehemiah is the book of Ezra. Ezra was a priest and historian who also traveled to the fallen city of Jerusalem. His mission was to help rebuild the Temple, and to make sure the priests were purified and re-establishing the Jewish religious practices after years of exile. At the end of the book of Ezra, it is discovered that many of the returning exiles have broken the Jewish laws by intermarrying with foreign women, and “adding” idol worship and pagan practices to their worship of the One True God. The city –and all of its structure and identity–had been destroyed; the Temple and the Walls were gone, and the area was open to all the peoples and practices of the surrounding cultures. Over time, even the priests had become defiled, no longer obeying, or even knowing, their own laws and customs! It is in this context that Nehemiah’s book begins to make more sense.

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God is concerned about the “walls” in our lives– boundaries in our behavior and worship. Some walls may need to crumble and fall like those of Jericho– walls that keep us locked away, smug and proud, defiant and unapproachable. Walls that create barriers without providing protection or shelter. Walls that stand in the way of God’s authority in our lives. Other walls may need to be strengthened and rebuilt– walls pocked with compromises that have eroded our commitments; unguarded gates where lies and confusion have stolen in and weakened our faith; areas where the pressures and stresses of life have chipped away at the building blocks of our Christian walk.

In the very first chapter of Nehemiah’s book, there is a prayer– it is not about rebuilding a wall for power or protection–it doesn’t even mention the wall– rather it is about repentance, restoration, and recommitment:

In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.  We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.  Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

Nehemiah 1: 1b-11 NIV
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May we be willing to pray for the walls in our lives– those that need to come down, and those that need to be rebuilt!

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

I just finished reading a book about atheism– or more accurately, a book about the unreasonableness and faulty logic of modern atheism as espoused by many scientists and philosophers. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56614922-is-atheism-dead One of the arguments concerns the view, held by many atheists, that life exists only in the material– in other words, that only “matter” “matters.” They argue against the existence of the soul, or the uniqueness of mankind in relation to other living things. There is nothing beyond science and whatever science can explain. Therefore, there is no God. If there is no God, and we were not created in His image, they argue, then there is no Heaven or Hell, and nothing beyond what we can experience with our senses. There is no purpose for our lives; no consequences for our thoughts or actions; no higher power or authority than our own. We are simply a product of the evolutionary process and a sum of our material components. Our thoughts are simply products of brainwaves firing in a certain pattern; our emotions conditioned and triggered by no more than a series of chemical and physical reactions to stimuli.

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It is not my intention to argue or take the time to explain in the same detail that was in the book I finished, but I was struck by one of the points the author made. Without a belief in the God of creation, it is illogical and inexplicable that we should be affected emotionally by ANYTHING outside of the realm of material experience and scientific study. That means that we cannot fully explain or appreciate art, music, the grandeur of the night sky, the softness and warmth of a baby’s cheek, the thrill of a perfect sunset, the memory-evoking smell of a loved-one’s perfume or after-shave…our senses should not “move” our emotions. We can analyze a piece of artwork– it’s color or composition, the balance of light and dark, or the perfection of its perspective. But we cannot explain why it is “art,” or why it “speaks” to us (or turns us off!) We can discuss sound waves and tonality in music, but we cannot explain why certain songs move us to tears or cheer our spirits. We cannot say what makes a poem “connect” to something in our psyche, such that its lines come to us almost unbidden in times of distress.

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But all of this makes amazing sense in a world where God exists– a God that is the Author of Creation; of Glory; of Compassion and Wonder. God not only exists– He makes Himself known in the music of a waterfall, in the gentle fall of snowflakes, in the scent of lilacs, and in the smile of someone we love. And He has given us the ability to feel awe, and to strive to add beauty, art, and meaning to the world around us. This is unique among His creation. Birds sing; dogs romp and play; flowers bloom– but they do not fall to their knees in worship; they do not compose sonnets or build cathedrals in acts of sheer adoration. They are not moved to tears or stunned into silence by sun glinting on a spider’s web– even the spider ignores the beauty of its own functional creation.

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We are fearfully and wonderfully made–and wonder-ful-ly made! Today is a great day to look and listen for God’s glorious touches all around us. And it’s a great day to reflect back to Him all the wonder and glory of Who He Is in praise!

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.  Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

Psalm 19:1-6
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Praying Scripture

This is not a great secret or a new discovery, but a reminder that we can “pray” the Scriptures. Sometimes, we do this in corporate prayer, as in a congregation reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” together. But often, it is when we are reading God’s word, or a particular verse haunts our memory that we echo the words in our prayer life. There are so many benefits from this:

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  • We are joining in a great tradition– much of Scripture records the prayers of the patriarchs and of Jesus Himself. When we echo those words, we affirm them–both to God and to ourselves.
  • We are praying in the light of the truth–God’s own words on our lips can keep us from trying to put our words in God’s voice!
  • We are deepening our understanding and experience of Scripture– making it personal, rather than just a learning exercise or a daily duty.
  • We are deepening our experience of Prayer– it is more than just me talking to God. It is me agreeing with God’s Word, and God’s Word literally speaking through me.
  • We are reminded of what prayer can do– many of the prayers of Scripture are followed by answers, from prophecies to miracles to movements of the Holy Spirit.
  • We are reminded that God answers prayer that is consistent with His will– not all Biblical prayers were answered in the ways that their petitioners hoped or expected!

The Bible is full of wonderful examples of prayers. Here are just a few to get started:

  • Abraham’s prayer for God to spare Sodom in Genesis 18 (v. 23-32).
  • Moses praying for God to forgive Israel’s sin and disbelief in Exodus 32 (v. 31-32)
  • Moses praying for a successor to lead Israel into the Promised Land (Numbers 27:16-17)
  • Gideon’s prayer for guidance in Judges 6
  • Manoah’s prayer for help in raising his son Samson in Judges 13
  • David’s prayer in 2 Samuel 7 (v.18-29)
  • Elijah’s prayer for God to send fire from Heaven in 1 Kings 18 (v.36-37)
  • Several of the Psalms, including 3, 51, 90, 102, 103, 105, and many others.
  • Hezekiah’s prayer for God to save Israel from their enemies in Isaiah 37 ( v.16-20)
  • The prayer of Jebez in 1 Chronicles 4:10
  • Habakkuk’s prayer for revival in Habakkuk 3: 2-19
  • Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 11:25
  • Jesus’ prayer for His disciples (John 17)
  • Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39-44)
  • Jesus’ prayer from the cross in Luke 23:34
  • Stephen’s prayer in Acts 7:59-60
  • Prayer of worship in Heaven in Revelation 5:13

https://christian.net/resources/the-top-most-powerful-prayers-in-the-bible/

In addition, Bible passages that describe the Character and Majesty of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit can be used as prayers of worship and adoration. Bible stories and events can be lifted up in worship of God’s power and faithfulness through the ages. Jesus’ teachings (such as the Beatitudes) can be lifted up as the desire of our hearts, and as requests for the strength and wisdom to follow Him.

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Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

Jude 1:24-25

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