There is a story of a man who played his violin in the subway. He played a classical piece; and then another. He played for 45 minutes. Trains came and went. People rushed by. A few paused for a moment– some dropped a dollar or two in his open violin case.
The same man played his violin later that evening in a grand concert hall. He was the featured soloist in a symphony orchestra. People dressed in gowns and suits paid a couple hundred dollars each for tickets to hear him play. They sat spellbound as his music filled the air. This was the same music, played by the same man, on the same violin as before. The only difference was how people listened.
When we pray, we’re not praying to an audience of rapt listeners. We’re pouring out our heart to our Heavenly Father. And it is music to His ears! Whether we are praying through our tears in a lonely jail cell or a war-torn shelter, or praying in a grand cathedral, or on a yacht in the Mediterranean; whether we are praying in broken phrases punctuated by heartbreak, or singing praises– it is the same music to Our Father’s ears.
Others may judge our words or our lives to be worthless. Others may not bother to listen to us; they may even try to silence us or drown us out. But God is ready to listen even to our weakest whimper, or our loudest scream.
God sends us music in return– the smile of a neighbor; the sunlight breaking through clouds; that unexpected sense of His presence in the middle of the darkest night.
Are we listening? Or are we rushing to catch the next train?
My husband and I own a small shop. It’s actually a two-part shop, with used items, antiques and collectibles in the front, and amateur radio gear in the back. We have a few “new” radios, books, and other items, but most of our items are second-hand. This sometimes creates a problem in pricing.
New items usually come with a manufacturer’s recommended price, based on what the item costs from the factory or warehouse. Sometimes, price is based on what we pay at a wholesaler. But used items aren’t coming from a wholesaler or a factory warehouse. Often, we pick up pieces from an estate sale or another shop like ours. Sometimes, we are selling items that were salvaged or even donated.
So how do we determine a price on a used item? For that matter, how are prices determined for some of the new items that we sell? Of course there are a few guidelines:
Basic costs– what did it cost to produce the item (or procure the item)? How much for the materials? Labor? Shipping? Packaging? Also, what are the basic costs of running the store– will the sales of these items be enough to cover expenses like the light bill and rent and miscellaneous supplies as well as covering the cost to replace them?
Supply and Demand– how rare is this item? How easily can someone find a similar item at a similar price? How easily can we find more of this item (or something similar)? Do we have “too many” of the same item? Which items are selling “too fast” at a lower price?
Quality– some items involve more craftsmanship. Some contain sturdier or more expensive materials–real copper wiring, metal gears instead of plastic, silver v. silver-plate, hand-carved instead of mass-produced, etc.
“Aesthetics”–Antiques are often valued for their condition. But it varies from one piece or type of piece to another. Glass and ceramics are more valuable if they are unchipped. Old magazine ads carefully cut out and attractively framed can be more valuable than the entire magazine from which they came. Certain colors of glass are worth more than others. Wooden items that have been repainted, repaired, or refinished can actually lose value over those left in their original condition. Some items sell better with a “patina,” while others do better if they are polished and clean.
Ultimately, however, the items in our store are “worth” only what we decide, and what our customers are willing to pay for them. If we are “wrong” about the worth of an item, it may sit on the shelf collecting dust– either because we have priced it too high, or because the price is so low that a customer mistrusts our judgement about the quality of the product.
Why am I writing about this on a blog about prayer?
We have a tendency to place values on people and situations, as well as items. Sometimes, we think it “isn’t worth it” to pray about a minor problem that we face, or someone we don’t know very well, or don’t think of very highly. Perhaps we think that our requests are too ordinary, or too small, or too chronic to bring before God. Lost keys; that lingering pain in the elbow; the barking dog that keeps us up at night; the sibling that hasn’t spoken to us in 15 years–we wonder if they are worth making the effort (or continuing to make the effort).
But, in God’s economy, every person–and each moment in each person’s day–is of enormous value! God uses the small things of life to make a big impact. Every prayer that is lifted to God from a sincere heart and with even the tiniest grain of faith can have unbelievable consequences. There are hundreds of examples throughout the Bible, and hundreds of thousands of other testimonies to illustrate this truth The same is true for “big” prayers– the impossible situations– that plague us. War, famine, disease, corruption and injustice are NOT too big for God to handle. Just because they are too big for us to solve (or even understand) does not make them too big for us to pray about, or our prayers too little to make a difference.
I was reading in 2 Samuel 16 the other day. King David faced betrayal– from his son, Absolem, and also from one of his counselors, Ahitophel. David prayed– almost as an afterthought– that Ahitophel would give Absolem bad advice. And he did! But God also prompted David to send another counselor, Hushai, as a secret agent. At first, Absolem followed the advice of Ahitophel without question, and it seemed to work in his favor. But at a crucial moment, Absolem hesitated and asked for a second opinion. Ahitophel’s advice, according to the writer of 2 Samuel, was actually the better advice. But Absolem chose to follow the clever but ineffective advice of Hushai instead! David’s prayer was answered, and even when it seemed that David’s prayer “wasn’t enough,” God protected David, frustrated Ahitophel, and brought judgment and punishment to Absolem, ending in his death. There is no record of either Absolem or Ahitophel praying at all during the rebellion.
God won’t judge the quantity or quality of what we pray for, or who we pray for, or how we pray– He values it all. Prayer is truly “priceless!”
We had an unexpected visitor to our store the other day…a sparrow somehow managed to get inside our store over the weekend, after we closed on Saturday. We assume it found its way in through a small vent, in an attempt to get out of the heavy rain, and couldn’t find its way back out. We don’t know how long it was trapped inside, but by the time my husband found him, its leg was caught, and it was unable to fly away. It was scared, dehydrated, and weak. My husband gently and carefully extracted its leg, and I got a small dish of water. The sparrow was listless, and its breathing was shallow. We feared the worst. Putting small drops of water on his fingertips and holding it up to the bird’s beak, David finally got it to drink some water. After several attempts, the bird started perking up, and finally flapped its wings and flew off!
I was reminded of Jesus’s words in Matthew 10: 29-31–Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
Sometimes, we pray for guidance, or protection, or safety when we know we will be facing certain trials or long journeys. And we should acknowledge known dangers and our continual dependence on God. But how many times does God guide and protect us without our awareness!? How many times do we, like this little sparrow, find ourselves in an unfamiliar or dangerous situation and wonder whether anyone even knows where we are? We struggle, only to find ourselves caught– helpless and without much hope. God’s eyes are always on us– wherever we are, whatever our circumstances. His love is unchanging and sure. And sometimes, He sends help in the most unlikely ways and times. Sometimes, He chooses to work through US to help the most unlikely candidates– even a sparrow!
God gave us the opportunity to save this little sparrow– and He gives us opportunities throughout each day to help those around us– to encourage, give, protect, defend, support, and even “save” them as the arms, hands, feet, and voice of God in the world. Similarly, He sends others to cheer us, to warn us, to come alongside us, and to “save” us when it seems like all hope is lost.
Lord, for today, I pray that you will open my eyes to the “sparrow” moments– whether I am the one offering help, or the one who needs to accept it. May I see my worth, not in my circumstances, but in my relationship to you. May I see others as precious and worthy of care, respect, and love. Thank you for sending a little sparrow to remind me how much you love us all.
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 (NIV via biblegateway.com)
The persistent theme of Ecclesiastes is that everything done “under the sun” is meaningless–wisdom, riches, hard work, morality, pleasure–it all ends in death and futility. In the end, the author (presumed to be Solomon, the wisest king who ever lived) concludes that the whole “duty” or purpose of mankind is to fear God and keep His commandments, because God will judge every deed and hidden thought.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to pray when life seems “meaningless.” I was reminded recently of a time when my life seemed pointless and pathetic. I was nearing 40, single and childless. I had a good job, and enough to live comfortably, but I wasn’t a “success” by many people’s standards. I owned a car, but it was getting old. I did not own a home, and I hadn’t taken a vacation in years (although I had traveled for work, and counted that as something). I had a cat. I was a single, frumpy, middle-aged cat lady. And when I prayed, I often asked, “Why, God?” And when I read Ecclesiastes, I got depressed.
But Solomon is writing about life from a distinctive point of view. He sets out to find a purpose for life “under the sun.” When I was looking at my life from that perspective, everything DID seem meaningless. It was meaningless for me to save up for a house if I had no one to leave it to; meaningless to pursue higher career goals or travel, when I had no one to share it with.
A very wise co-worker noticed my depression and dissatisfaction. She pointed out that purpose, happiness, and satisfaction came from God, but that I had to choose my perspective. God had given me life, and purpose– a job, shelter, comfort, family and friends. I could grump and grouse about what I didn’t have, or the meaning I couldn’t find– OR I could trust that God would reveal meaning and purpose as I kept pursuing Him.
Instead of asking, “Why, God?”, I began asking other questions. “What do You want me to continue doing?” “How can I serve You right where I am?” “Who can I bless and encourage, today?” And even, “How can I use these experiences and feelings to honor You?”
God stepped in and offered me the opportunity to change my circumstances–I became a wife, a step-mother, a grandmother. I left my job–now I make even less money, and I’ve had to learn new skills and deal with new challenges, but I have also learned more trust in God’s wisdom and timing. But it didn’t happen right away. What DID happen was that I gained a renewed sense of purpose and a new focus. I wasn’t doing things “under the sun,” but “under the Son!” Somehow, I had forgotten to look for my meaning and purpose in being a child of God, and had turned my eyes inward.
It seems like a bone-headed mistake in retrospect, but, then again, even Solomon wasted some of his life looking for meaning and purpose in all the wrong places! And those years were not meaningless or wasted. I learned patience, perspective, compassion, and wisdom to pass on to others who may be in similar circumstances.
“Father, today, may I focus on the meaning and purpose that can only come from seeking You. You are the author of purpose, of wisdom, and of wholeness. And as You reveal Yourself to me, help me to reflect and share Your wisdom and character to others. Amen”
Jesus was born in obscurity– yet he was also born during a Census year…
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:1-7 (NKJV via biblegateway.com)
This is a Census year in the U.S. (something that has largely been forgotten in the wake of the COVID pandemic.) I actually worked for the Census Bureau for a few weeks this year, doing follow-up interviews for addresses which had not responded for various reasons. Census taking is much different now than it was in Jesus’ day. I had a script, and a smart phone, and several different forms to fill out or hand out to explain what we were doing–one form contained information in at least 14 different languages, and all of them had phone numbers and web addresses where people could “respond” electronically without ever leaving the comfort of their living room, let alone traveling over dangerous hills and trying to find room at crowded inns. I was the one who had to travel– mostly around my small town and within a 20-mile radius. One interview required me to travel 100 miles; another required me to utilize my ability to speak and understand Spanish. Otherwise, the interviews were simple and straightforward. Except when they weren’t.
“Everyone Counts,” the Census Bureau told us, and I did my best to get names and ages for everyone at every address I visited. But many of the addresses were abandoned buildings– even demolished. Others were summer homes or vacation rentals–I had to be careful not to count the same people twice! Often, I could tell that people were living at the residence, but either they weren’t home at that time or they would not come to the door. Some houses required several attempts before I got any response, and it wasn’t always positive or cooperative.
I imagine the scene in Bethlehem, though lacking the technology and ease of travel of our modern age, wasn’t so very different. There were people who wanted to do their civic duty; those who were annoyed at the inconvenience and general bureaucratic chaos; those who hated the Roman Government and everything it represented; and some who just wanted to get it all over with and go back to “normal life.”
We know that Joseph was called up to go to Bethlehem because is was his ancestral home. And we know that Joseph would have been counted as the head of the household. But is it possible that Jesus was counted in that census? That he was numbered among his people and with his family? That the God of all creation became a simple hash mark among thousands of others that year? “Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth.” “Infant son.” “Male child.” Jesus was counted. But He was also lost in the shuffle; discounted and ignored.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
John 1:10-11 (KJV via biblegateway.com)
This season, it’s easy to feel left out, discounted, passed over. This year, especially, it can be lonely and discouraging as we look out on the world from lockdown, or look at faces covered by masks, unknown or unrecognizable. It’s easy to feel that no one sees us. Rest assured, Jesus knows what it is like to get lost in the numbers. He knows what it is to be discounted and misunderstood, rejected, and scorned.
And He knows exactly who you are and who I am– better than we know ourselves! We count! Not because of who we are, but because He is the creator and author of all life. No matter where you are, no matter who has rejected you in the past, no matter how dark and grim things look– God sees you; God loves you; God has taken you into His count. He doesn’t need a census count to find you, and you can’t get “lost” or hide in the crowd.
My husband and I run a shop. He sells new and used amateur radios and supplies; I sell antiques, collectibles, and resale items. The nature of our business means that we often get merchandise that is “incomplete.” We have used radios– occasionally, there is a knob missing, or a component that needs to be replaced or repaired. We have used games and jigsaw puzzles, packs of playing cards, sets of dominoes, old silverware and buttons and dishes–mismatched, incomplete, and sometimes damaged or chipped. I spend many of my days surrounded by items that some would consider “junk.”
But what some would consider junk, others consider treasure. Collectors come in looking for specific items– old tobacco tins, embroidery samplers, antique kitchen tools, wooden toys, fishing rods, or costume jewelry. Crafters come in looking for old buttons, clothespins, linens, or keys. Some people come in to browse, and end up finding an old book, or a doll that catches their eye. And most items create conversations, spark memories, or inspire curiosity.
Ours is not a busy shop. We don’t sell convenience foods or new shoes or cell phones. We don’t offer fancy coffees or tea “bombs,” or expensive hand lotion. We don’t sell sporting goods (other than really old skis or the occasional tennis racket). We sell a few new batteries and antennas, and we offer a few local packaged food items (honey and maple syrup, craft sodas, etc.). We don’t make a lot of money at our shop–but we’ve made some friendships, and we’ve had the joy of seeing our customers find unique and useful items. We’re part of something bigger than just making a sale: like so many others with small businesses, we’re making a difference.
God created each of us to interact– to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Each of us has a need to find “missing pieces”– friendships, experiences, conversations, ideas, even old chipped dishes– that help us discover where we “fit” into a larger picture. As we interact, we make a difference, for better or for worse. We smile or we scream, we create unity or division, we spread hope or we spread hatred, we destroy or we build up. And we search for meaning and fulfillment. Ultimately, we are searching for God, who has promised to make all things new and bring wholeness, completion, and life to our “used” world. There will be no “junk;” no missing pieces or chipped plates or broken antennas in God’s perfect plan. Each of us is treasured by our creator. Even if others see us as filthy, broken, rusted, or worn out, God can says we are priceless and worth redemption. He has a place for us.
10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Last week in America, we marked two important dates. We celebrated the birth of a great hero, patriot, and statesman, Martin Luther King, Jr. And we marked the 47th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which effectively legalized abortion across the land.
The life of Dr. King was marked by hardship, oppression, violence, and assassination at the age of 39. Dr. King was a brilliant student and gifted speaker. He led peaceful protests and civil rights marches calling for justice and equality under the law for all people. More than 50 years after his death, there are still issues of racial discrimination and racial tensions in this country. The disproportionate loss of life and liberty among blacks in urban areas has led to a new round of protests, some of which go under the name of “Black Lives Matter.” There is a feeling that, especially with the police and government officials, black lives don’t matter– that black lives are devalued and dismissed as less deserving of respect and protection.
In light of this, there has been “push back” from those who argue that “ALL Lives Matter”, or that “Blue Lives Matter” (blue for police who have become victims of mob violence and angry crowds who feel that the police are responsible for racism and corruption). The argument is that groups like “Black Lives Matter” are not so much about bringing awareness or promoting justice, but are meant to divide us as a nation and exact revenge for past offenses, slights, and perceived slights.
There is speculation about what might have happened if Dr. King had not died when he did. Would he have continued leading non-violent protests? Would the Civil Rights movement of the sixties gained more momentum under Dr. King’s leadership? Would our nation have achieved a new dawn of equality, freedom, and unity, greater and stronger than what we have seen in the last five decades? Would Dr. King be pleased with the progress we have made, or ashamed? Did his life make a difference? Yes. But was it “enough” of a difference? Does it matter to a young person of color growing up in Baltimore or Chicago that Dr. King spoke out, marched, and died for a dream that seems frozen in time and unfulfilled?
In looking at abortion, we see millions of lives who were determined NOT to matter. They didn’t deserve respect, protection, liberty, education, dreams, food, shelter…not even breath and a heartbeat!
Oh God– let us see life as YOU see it. Every life matters infinitely to You. You have created all life–unique, precious, priceless, glorious, fragile, and yet eternal. You walked among people, healed the sick and broken, reached out to the outcast and isolated, welcomed children, and brought the dead back to life. In Christ, you took on human life– breathed the air, knew joy and pain, weariness, hunger, and strife.
One life– every life– matters. It matters, not because we are important to the world, but because we are precious in the eyes of our creator. We celebrate the life of Dr. King, because we was considered important in the history of our nation. But God celebrated Dr. King’s life from the moment of his conception. God knit him together in his mother’s womb, just as He does for each of us. God knew the moment of Dr. King’s birth. He saw every tear, heard every laugh, felt every bruise that Dr. King experienced. And God knew the moment of Dr. King’s assassination. He knew the shock and horror it would be for his family. He knew that years later, we would quote Dr. King’s words and even argue about his relevance and impact. But Dr. King’s life mattered to God even if it had been a life of obscurity or failure.
Similarly, and incredibly, every one of those 60 million lives that have been lost to abortion “mattered” to God. He knew and loved them from the moment of conception. And He knew– He KNEW– that they would be aborted; thrown away and discarded by those who should have loved and protected them. And He LOVES those who killed them– their lives “matter” to God as well. Dr. King’s dream was that his children would be judged by the content of their character. God will judge us one day on that basis; but He offers to judge us by the content of HIS character, if we will trust Him to forgive us for the past, and transform us as we live for Him.
Your life matters to God. It has worth and meaning. You are infinitely precious– so much so that God sent His only son to live and to die for your sake. What an incredible love He has for you! What an incredible love He has for every person you will encounter today!