A word to focus on for every month.
Quotes. Scripture. Thoughts. Photos. Musings.
Mine. Yours. God’s.
Hope is for January
a good word for new beginnings:
Hope a good word for January:
Hope a good word for winter:
Hope a good word for the year to come:
Hope a good word for the changes that will soon come:
Hope a good word for life:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade–kept in heaven for you… –1 Peter 1:3-4
This is the verse that encouraged me to use Hope for the first word study of this new year. Encouraging and amazing, it quite sums up the whole of our belief in Jesus. This verse covers it all — praise, mercy, death, rebirth, justification, eternity — and is the reason for our hope.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19 that if we only believe in Jesus for our life here on earth, we are to be pitied. He goes on to say that in Adam, we all die, but in Christ, we all are made alive. (Oh how my heart is made happy when the New Testament writers explain the Old Testament through Christ.) My hope in that belief has lessened my fear of death. My hope is that this has pervaded my view so much, that when I am staring death in the face, I will be able to be confident, unafraid, and
ready eager to face the next journey.
…“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, But the word of The Lord stands forever! –1 Peter 1:24-25
There is a double meaning here — the word is Christ and the word is scripture. Picture the image of a flower-filled grassy meadow, withering, turning brown, and fading into the image of Christ who is standing with his arms spread — welcoming the tired, weary, and broken. Yes, my hope is in Him. 5
There are 38 references to the word hope in my study Bible’s concordance. I won’t be covering them all because even though the word is important, there are phrases, thoughts, and verses that mean hope without using the word. For instance, the beginning words of Psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God; The skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.
If you saw the sunset last night, you know why this verse is quoted today. It is easy for me to see and feel God in looking at his creation. And if the creation is extolled in scripture in beautiful language, then my heart is filled. This particular psalm leaves me filled with Hope as well — for there is no place that the voice of God’s nature is not heard; even those who have not heard the good news of Jesus can recognize the existence of God through His creation.
Thinking about the creation sent me to Genesis for the creation story. I love Genesis 1 for its poetry — it feels as if the first gift from God was the poetic form and love of language.
And God said … Let there be … And it was so…
But there is nothing hopeful from Genesis 3 on for quite awhile. Disobedience, sin, murder, curses, more disobedience, more sin, more murder, until finally God has become so disgusted with his beings that he decides to wipe mankind from the face of the earth. Total hopelessness and destruction — it was what we deserved. But Noah found favor in the eyes of The Lord. –Genesis 6:8 Then in Genesis 9 comes the first symbol of hope: the rainbow — God’s promise, or covenant, that he will never again destroy all life through a natural catastrophe.
Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth. —Genesis 9:16
Hope springs eternal…
After I wrote the last line above, I wondered where that quote came from. Here is the partial quote: Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed: The soul, uneasy and confined from home, Rests and expatiates in a life to come. – Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man. I must confess that the first thing I had to do was look up the word expatiate. It means to expound on or to write clearly about. That helped a little, but the vagaries of that second line leave me a bit, no, a lot confused. I tried to read the entire poem but failed miserably–and finally admitted to myself that I didn’t want to spend the time or brainpower needed to understand a fairly obscure medieval poem. (I similarly failed with Ivanhoe — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started to read that one, only to give up a few pages in.) So why do we give up hope? How do failure and discouragement gnaw at the very fibers of hope, and what is the difference between those who succumb and those who persist? Attitude? Belief in yourself? Belief in God? Because I am a believer, my attitude to life, my world view, is colored by God’s love for me. It wasn’t always so. When I believed in only myself and other people, I was often depressed; happiness depended on circumstances; and my tendency to see the glass as half-empty often got the best of me.
That’s not to say that I never struggle with that now. The difference is that now I am sure of a loving God who will never let me go. My faith and hope are in Him and his son and a life beyond –a glorious life beyond. I am forgiven and when my human tendencies get me and my attitude down, I only need to go back and read and remember His promises. And it is those promises that fill me with hope.
Hmmm. You’ll notice that day 9 is missing. Talk about discouragement! I had to take my own advice and go read God’s promises. I’m starting to use Face to Face: praying the scriptures for spiritual growth by Kenneth Boa. And I found this scripture from 2 Corinthians 3:5-6: Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant– not of the letter, but of the Spirit… And in verse 12 — Therefore since we have such hope, we are very bold… and in verse 17 — Now The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of The Lord is, there is freedom. My prayer — Increase my hope in the competence that comes from you, dear Lord. Give me the freedom to become bold for you. Amen.
My blogger and writer friend Jeanne Takanaka wrote these words in one of her last posts: Sometimes, I see beauty with my eyes, like the mountains in the distance I glimpsed from that lanai in Waikiki. Sometimes, I have to see beauty with my heart, like when I re-discover hope. Hope that enables me to move forward from where I am to where God wants me to be.
Sometimes I have to “rediscover hope” daily — no — hourly! And I wonder that discouragement seems to be the automatic response of my heart, rather than the great Hope that has been promised me. In my mind I know, but that daily grind makes me forget. Oh how I wish I was like Brother Lawrence — being able to find joy in doing the dishes; in taking nails out of junk boards; in waking up to another gray day… Today her words will be my focus –taking me “from where I am, to where God wants me to be.” …
Since I have been concentrating on hope this month, not a day goes by that I don’t hear the word — once, twice, three times. Today, in the sermon alone, I lost count. But it did cause me to remember three verses that I will use for this week. The first is the memory verse for this month; it is another one of those verses that is filled with hope, even though the word hope is not used.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. –Colossians 1:15
I am also studying the gospel of John this month, and his first words reiterate that verse of Colossians — In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. — John 1:1
The Word, the Christ, the firstborn over all creation, the son of God, became flesh and dwelt among us. And that fills me with hope.
We woke today to a glorious sunrise.
The sky was filled with pink, coral, lavender, mauve, orange, and blues in every direction. If an artist painted it on a canvas, we would comment on “artistic license.” 360 degrees of wild, beauteous color — and by the time I put on my sweater and slippers and ran out with my camera, the intensity was already fading.
What a hopeful beginning to the day — Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his mercies never fail. They are new every morning… –Lamentations 3:21-23
Hope is the thing with Feathers
“Hope” is the thing with feathers— That perches in the soul— And sings the tune without the words— And never stops—at all— And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard— And sore must be the storm— That could abash the little Bird That kept so many warm— I’ve heard it in the chillest land— And on the strangest Sea— Yet, never, in Extremity, It asked a crumb—of Me. — Emily Dickinson
The first two verses of this little poem speak to me in whispers — like the little bird in my soul. Singing through it all –storms, gales, cold, and rain — and keeping warmth alive.
But the last two lines puzzle me: Yet, never, in Extremity, It asked a crumb of Me. For I think Hope does require something from us; it doesn’t just happen, does it? Hope does disappear sometimes; hence the word hope-less. Now I’m remembering a Langston Hughes poem: Hold fast to dreams For when dreams die Life is a broken wing That cannot fly. (How interesting that in both poems hope and dreams are compared to birds. Or rather, wings.) It’s tragic when that little bird stops singing; hope and faith and prayer are so intertwined. Prayer leads to hope leads to faith leads to prayer…
And sometimes we must force our focus on God who promises us that hope that will not disappoint (Romans 5:5). For God has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecc 3:11), and sometimes it requires all our strength to hear again that song of the little bird. Sometimes it requires a continual refocusing (prayer) and concentration (more prayer) to mend that little bird’s broken wing. It’s something we have to struggle for, but God can do in an instant. And that is only one reason for putting your hope in Him. But oh, the joy, when we can faintly hear the song once more.
I wanted to read that whole passage in Romans about the hope that doesn’t disappoint. I think several verses are worth quoting here:
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given to us.
On the 18th I wrote some words that I was very pleased with–if you ever play with words, you know the feeling. I even posted a photograph that illustrated the thoughts. Later that evening, I sat down to add to it, and it was gone. Poof! Vanished not only from the page, but from my brain as well. I can’t even find the photograph! So disappointing! But it is such a little thing. Sometimes I tend to lose sight of the large amazing painting that I am in, because I am only focusing on one little detail, one small day in a lifetime of days. And so I am building character, perseverance, and the hope that does not disappoint.
Peter is one of my favorite disciples and in his words in 1 Peter 3:15 he writes: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… My answer is prepared. But no ones asks. In a way, that relieves me because I used to be a non-believer. I was on the other side and I know how I felt when people “went off” on Jesus or God-stuff. Usually I just tuned it out. So. I. Know. I know how a non-believer thinks. And believe me, quoting the bible to a non-believer doesn’t work. Why should it? If they don’t believe in God, they certainly aren’t going to believe that the bible was written by God-inspired humans. In fact, many non-believers think that Christianity (or other religions too, for that matter) was made up by primitives who just couldn’t deal with death.
Yet my hope has much to do with the belief that after death, I will meet Jesus. I will get a new everlasting body. I will be in the perfect place that my heart yearns for now, here on earth, but can never be found here. Eden. Paul says that if our belief is only for here on earth, we are to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19) So my answer is personal, and it doesn’t quote scripture. Even though I would like to. I would like to quote Romans 15:4 — For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
And so my answer doesn’t talk about death either, although I would like to tell them how little I fear death, now that I know where I am going on my next journey. My answer? My hope? It comes from Jesus, the man-god-spirit who has looked at my sins and the messy life I have and has forgiven me. Died for me. Lives in my heart. And since I know him personally, my life has changed. I am forgiven. And no power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand…Till he returns, or calls me home, Here in the power of Christ, I’ll stand… from In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty.
My hope is that someone will ask…
Human love fails so often. My love fails so often. Crumbles into a pile of selfish rubble. Degenerates into a pitiful Me-party. Burns good intentions into ashes. And then rises again as the cold smoke of guilt. Forgive my inadequacies and my guilt and let me remember that your love Is unfailing and that it Rests Upon me — Rains upon me — Pours down upon me — as Grace that washes me clean, and shows me how to love. Again. And again. And again. Gracious Father, help me to get it right, even as I put my Hope in you. Amen.
I can’t let January and this discussion of hope go by and not write the words to one of my favorite hymns. My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name. On Christ the solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand; All other ground is sinking sand. When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil. On Christ the solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand; All other ground is sinking sand.
This hymn was written about 1834 or so by Edward Mote. In the short biography of him at http://www.cyberhymnal.org, he said he wanted to write a hymn about the graciousness of the Christian life. There are two scripture verses associated with it: 1 Timothy 1:1 and Matthew 7:24-27. The verses in Matthew are the parable of the foolish builder who built his house on sand and the storm came and blew it away; but the wise builder built his house on the rock — which Jesus says are “these words of mine” — and the house stood amidst the storms and the floods. This passage comes right after The Sermon on the Mount, which are some of the most difficult words that Jesus ever said. In 1 Timothy, Paul simply refers to Christ as our hope. Our hope is built on the rock of the Word and his blood; when we live out his words in obedience, we are protected from the storms and floods. That is not to say they won’t come, but the things of the world lessen in importance when one considers the eternal.
Last evening I struggled with Psalm 91. The insurance policy against storms and floods, it reads in part:
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday…
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.
It’s lovely, isn’t it? That is, if nothing bad has happened to you lately… But what if the terror of night has come on you? or the pestilence? What if you aren’t protected or satisfied with a long life? What if disaster has come near your tent?
I can say truthfully here, that even if we are obedient, our lives are not protected from the storms and floods. And sometimes it doesn’t even seem that the world’s evil lessens in importance when we consider the eternal, because let’s face it — we are here now and these burdens are hard to carry.
I am sure this Psalmist is speaking of salvation and the Lord’s faithfulness to those who love him. And yes, this life is a flash, grass that withers, flowers that fade, flesh that fails, but I rail against the Psalmist using such worldly metaphors for an eternal concept. Yes, hope is a daily struggle sometimes, when the lion prowls and the serpent
29 – 31
I think that Hope has more to do with the mystery of tomorrow than with God’s “present” of today. In truth, I think that today and its busyness often defeat hope. Or defer hope. We collapse into bed exhausted — too tired to say more than a cursory prayer and hope that tomorrow will be different. And yes, there’s a bible verse about that… Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. — Proverbs 13:12
So don’t defer hope if you can help it. Think about what gives you hope. Do what gives you hope. Focus on your hope, and…
All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. –Julian of Norwich from Revelations of Divine Love
Obedience is for February
Yesterday this quote from C.S. Lewis came to me in my inbox:
The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s “own life” is simply a phantom of one’s own imagination.
…the life God is sending us day by day… This is another one of those quotes that means obedience to me but doesn’t use the word. For if God is sending this to us — whatever it is, blessings or rain — it must be for a reason, and we need to discern the reason. It’s likely we won’t know immediately, because we are humans and God is God. His thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways. So while we are processing, discerning, praying, we need to be obedient in order to fully learn (and comprehend) what lesson God is trying to teach us. Yes, forget our own life, that “phantom of our imagination”, those plans we are making, and give it all up to God.
And just how do we give it all up to God? I don’t have the answers– I struggle with this daily, hourly — and this month I’m going to be struggling openly and honestly right on this page. I will be writing what Obedience is to me. It is not meant to be a list of rules, because as the apostle John famously said, Jesus did not come to condemn, he came to save. (This is paraphrased from John 3:17, which should be more well-known than the famous verse that precedes it…)
Worship. I’ve listed this one first because for me it is the easiest. I love worship; I love church; I love making a joyful noise to my Lord; I love hearing the word read and preached. Of course, there are times when I don’t feel like going — those are the times when I need to just be obedient and go. And those are the times when God speaks to me in the clearest voice — those times of obedience, those times of grace. Today we sang the most wonderful song about obedience and grace. It is called All I Have Is Christ, written by Jordan Kaufler. Here is the last verse: Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone And live so all might see, The strength to follow Your commands Could never come from me. Oh Father, use my ransomed life In any way You choose; And let my song forever be My only boast is You. © 2009 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)
“The strength to follow your commands could never come from me…” Amen.
Bible Reading. Pastor John said in his sermon, Some people think the Bible is a book of rules and laws. And it does have laws and God’s commandments in it, but it is also a book of history, a book of poetry, a book of prophecy, a book of biographies, a book of theology, a book of stories, and all those books are interwoven to tell one great story — what God has done. And if we want to know God, to be obedient to him, we have to read His book. For this is one of the main ways he speaks to us. If we are trying to hear His voice, discern His will, or understand what He wants of us, we must read His word.
And this quote from CS Lewis came this morning to my inbox. It is from The Weight of Glory:
For it is not so much of our time and so much of our attention that God demands; it is not even all our time and all our attention; it is our-selves. For each of us the Baptist’s words are true: “He must increase and I decrease.” He will be infinitely merciful to our repeated failures; I know no promise that He will accept a deliberate compromise. For He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself; and He can give that only insofar as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls.
My whole life surrendered That is, no part of my life left to me. No secret sins. No hidden agendas. Nothing that is mine alone. Everything shared with God — even the darkest thoughts — for He alone can redeem them and forgive us for thinking them. And what are those dark parts of my heart likely to be? Stubbornness. Pride. Selfishness. Materialism. (Just to name a few…) “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of Gods wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will give to each person according to what he has done.” –Romans 2:5-6 I pray to have a repentant heart because, believe me, this verse fills me with fear. And yet, His grace and mercy covers all our repeated failures — T’was grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace, my fears relieved…
Richard Foster says,
…the path cannot produce the change; it can only place us where change can occur.
And that is in God’s hands. For in His hands we can change; in His hands we are humbled; in His hands we learn Prayer.
If any discipline helps in the struggle with obedience, it is prayer. Crying out to The Lord in sorrow or in angst or in pain usually calms my heart. But I must admit that sometimes at night, when worries keep me wakeful, I may have to repeat prayers. For what is worry but a distrust of God’s promises? A big-time Disobedience!
We usually think of disobedience as breaking the big commandments, but the small sins are disobedience too — perhaps more so, because those are the daily struggles — selfishness, pride, anger, grumbling… To you, O Lord, I give my heart, mind, and soul so that you will mold me into the Christ-like person I want to be.
And I need to add here, …so that I may become the Christ-like person you have called me to be. For He did call me. Kicking and screaming, I came to Him (which was my first act of obedience!) and it has been a daily struggle to throw off that old nature and Submit to the new. We can all make excuses — and I excel at them — about discernment of God’s voice, or finding His will, or even our own personalities, but the truth is We don’t want to give up our own plans and selfishness to submit to Gods plans. And yes, there is a verse for this too.
Romans 1:25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”
The Bible uses a stronger term for “worshiping created things” ; they are called idols. Material goods, comforts, our stuff — yes, I love my stuff. Can I turn my back on it if God asked me to? Oh but, He wouldn’t ask me to do that, would He? Would I be like Lot’s wife? Could I walk away from the cottage without looking back? And my beautiful new kitchen? Could I give it up for the kingdom if God required it?
Dear God, forgive my foolish attachments to earthly possessions, and let me follow you without looking back. Amen.
Another word for submit is surrender; a similar word is Trust. This verse from Proverbs comes to mind:
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
If we trust God’s promises, we should have no problem submitting, surrendering, living free in His perfect plans for us, not worrying about tomorrow, not fretting about yesterday. Have a cup of tea and say thank you for today.
That brings me to Gratitude. I spent all last year on a Thankfulness 360 project, which has deepened my sense of awe and joy at the amazing blessings our Creator pours out for us daily. It has made counting my blessings a habit, and it is one habit I don’t want to break. I start every morning off, thanking God for waking me up. And maybe that sounds trite? But it isn’t. Because even though that it the beginning of the prayer, it goes off from there into many, many thank yous from the day before. I’m not saying I’ve perfected gratitude by any means. I still whine. I still complain. But not so much as I used to do. And this moment? I’m grateful that the days are getting longer. I’m grateful that I can sit in my jammies and write this thank you prayer to the Lord. Because unless we admit that Everything — Everything — is from Him, we will never understand His character, and we will never be able to be obedient to him. Lift up your hands in grateful praise for all that you have been given…
It’s Valentine’s Day today, so I’m bringing up love. Sacrificial love. The love of the father for us, and the love he wants us to give others. Oh, the love we have for our husbands, our parents, our children — is wonderful; and it is (for the most part) the closest we get to sacrificial love, or being able to understand the Father’s love for us. What he wants for us is this:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” –John 13:34-35
There is nothing new here. It is hard. Perhaps it isn’t hard in the big, sweeping overview — Oh, Yes, “I love mankind; it is people that I can’t stand.” (That quote is attributed to Charles M. Schulz). And let’s face it, there are people, lots of people, who are hard to love. And it is obvious, isn’t it, that Christians don’t have that new command down. For it we did, everyone would want what we have. And the truth is, most people don’t care about what we’ve got. So we (I) need to work on that unconditional love bit, don’t we (I)??? And perhaps we can start each day by
thinking for a few minutes dwelling on the sacrifice of Christ. For us. You. Me. Humankind. Even those people who give us a pain. That is real obedience.
Now I want to go back to Submit, Surrender, Trust, (or however you would like to phrase it). For I have been reading (struggling with) Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love and she says something that I don’t want to forget. God is our Maker, our Lover, our Keeper, and until we entwine ourselves (our souls) with Him, we will never find rest. And I think that the rest she speaks of — yes, it is peace — but I also think it is that elusive obedience. I don’t have that total peace I long for — that total obedience that He longs for me to have. Until I submit my will to His perfect will (which is perfect obedience) I will never have peace. Oh I have knowledge of that peace, and in my head I know of it, but my heart isn’t there yet. Trust = Obedience = Peace. In the sermon today I heard: Faith, Belief, and Action are intertwined; they cannot be isolated from each other. When we choose to disobey God (sin) we reject the Holy perfect way God has planned for us, and choose to do life our own way, thinking we know better than God. That goes for Small things as well as Big Things. Small sins as well as big sins. Small mercies as well as big mercies. Holy and Merciful God, allow my faith and my actions to be entwined and grow larger and with each new hour praise and love you in a larger, more glorious way. Amen.
What constitutes disobedience? Ignoring little thoughts of good and gracious Deeds that should be done? I am champion at that. And yet, part of me also says that I am my harshest critic. I could never do enough good deeds to satisfy my own incessant brain. And I can never do enough good deeds for God either. So I plug along doing one here, one there, and feeling totally unhappy with myself. There is grace, I say to myself. Yes. And faith without deeds is dead….(James 2:26) I’m reminded of Paul when he says,
Romans 7:18-19 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
And he ends this discourse with the words, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this plight?” If Paul, one of the most holy and zealous saints can say this, well, it makes me feel better. Jesus saves us from this plight. Covers over our sins. Walks with us. Carries us. Gives us mercy we don’t deserve.
Since we are speaking about undeserved mercy, I have another disobedience issue to bring up. Discipleship. I’m not very good at it. Actually, it would be specifically talking about Jesus that I’m not very good at. Listen to these words from John 15:8:
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
And these from Matthew 10:32:
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.
Bearing fruit, making disciples, speaking His name, telling my story — I need help with this Lord. And so I am asking for you to put people in front of me, Lord, that I can speak to and be unafraid. “He will be infinitely merciful to our repeated failures…”
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. –Titus 2:11-12 Phil Ryken in Grace Transforming explains it this way:
When Paul says that this grace “has appeared,” he is talking about the manifestation of salvation in the person and the work of Jesus Christ… Paul is talking about an epiphany — something that has suddenly come to light…
What is it about Grace that takes away our disobedience? I’m going to be quoting Phil Ryken here extensively, because not only is it written beautifully, it is truth come to me in the form of this little book just as I am contemplating obedience and grace. (God does wondrous things like this all the time.)
- First, grace always gives us a another chance.
- Second, grace makes us grateful for His unending mercies and forgiveness.
- Third, grace brings us into a personal relationship with a living Savior. Obedience, sanctification, holiness — they do not come by trying harder to do or be good; they come by having more of Jesus in your life.
More praying, more reading scripture, more listening, more worship, more leaning on His spirit — that will bring obedience.
I want to quote one more passage from Grace Transforming by Phil Ryken. When I read it last night, it made my fingertips ache with its power and beauty.
Grace is not just the way into the Christian life; it is the also the way on in the Christian life. So as we seek to live a life that is pleasing to God, we never stop needing his mercy. We are called to a life of grace — a life of unmerited favor and undeserved blessing. This gift comes to us from the God who ‘saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his … grace’ (2 Timothy 1:9).”
Further up and further in, indeed.
I get words of wisdom from C.S. Lewis everyday in my inbox from Bible Gateway, and it is such a comfort to start my day with interesting, God-inspired quotes from his writings. Sometimes, as in today, the quote is simply from a letter he wrote to someone — they have been gathered together in several volumes called Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis. Today’s quote was very interesting in light of this discussion on obedience. He says that sometimes, obedience is all we can do. Perhaps we are let down, or feelings of emptiness surround us, or we have that vague feeling that God is absent or we have been put on hold. And during those times, obedience will get us through to the other side. Here is the full quote:
…Don’t worry if your heart won’t respond: do the best you can. You are certainly under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, or you wouldn’t have come where you now are: and the love that matters is His for you — yours for Him may at present exist only in the form of obedience. He will see to the rest.”
Remembering His love for us, for me specifically, is another way to obedience. You could also call it, remembering the Cross. For when we think on the crown of the thorns, the cross, the broken body of God’s son, sent be the savior of our lives, how can we be anything but obedient? Love comes down in the form of Christ’s sacrifice for us, and love goes up in the form of our obedience to Him. I was checking back to make sure that I hadn’t forgotten any words that help me to be obedient to God. I’ll go over them one more time, but Humility was in my notes, and I haven’t written about it yet. There are lots of hard ideas to wrap your head around, once you accept Christ and He begins to lead you in a different way of living, but one of the hardest is to realize that God does His best work through weak people. Humble people. People with humility who put their own selves below God, so He can get the glory. Our culture is such a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” “I can do it myself” type of place, that humility is just not valued at all. It is considered a weakness; and indeed, it is being weak so God can be strong. Story after story in the Bible shows God working through people who don’t think they can do it, or don’t want to do it, or they are only used by God after He weakens them… Examples? Yes, here are some:
- Moses begging God to not send him to Pharaoh because he couldn’t speak well, and he knew that Pharaoh was a smooth talking King. (Exodus 3-5)
- Gideon’s small army of 32,000 men is too big for God to use, so God made the Israelites send all but 300 men home. (Judges 7)
- Jonah thinks he can run away from God when He sends him to Nineveh to tell them they will be destroyed. (Jonah 1-2)
- Samson is only used by God to destroy the Philistines after he is weakened and blinded by Delilah and her compatriots. (Judges 16:25-30)
- and of course, Jesus, a King born in poverty, who lived and died a humble servant, for us.
Sometimes God humbles us into obedience; sometimes we see that obedience is necessary for humility, but either way God requires humility from us and we respond in obedience because of His absolute, undeniable love for us prideful, sinful children.
We have been thinking about what disciplines help us obey God — worship, scripture, service — but I think that humility and obedience are wrapped around each other in a beautiful dance to God. Sometimes humility leads; sometimes obedience leads, but they both bow and swirl in rhythm to the glory of God.
And sometimes the glory of God breaks through…
In this discussion I have listed the ways to Obedience (for me) : worship; scripture; surrender, submit, trust; prayer; gratitude; remembering the Cross and God’s sacrificial love for us; deeds; discipleship; humility.
There are others — for each person the way to obedience is a different path. But there is one word that is above all — Grace. For when Grace appeared (Jesus, the Word) with it came salvation for everyone who admits, “Yes I am a sinner in need of mercy.” And that mercy overshadows all and binds all together in His perfect love. So when we fail, that grace covers us like the beauty of the new-fallen snow covers the ugliness of the junk. What a wonderful metaphor for winter. It is a way to love that snow, I think — however, imperfectly.😍 One more quote from CS Lewis?
When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”
That’s from The Screwtape Letters. I especially like “the clamour of self-will” — it even sounds harsh and off-key, doesn’t it?
And even better is the thought that when we are wholly His, we will be more ourselves than ever. When we shed the skin — the protective coatings of this world that we use as barriers — and we “entwine our selves with His” we will be Holy, we will find rest, we will be obedient without struggle.
May it be so.
Prayer is for March
Even though the calendar page has turned to March, and my word for the month has changed to Prayer, I’m still seeing obedience everywhere I read.
One of the ways to obedience is prayer (see last month’s posting…) and this month begins the 40 days of Lent — a perfect time to deepen one’s prayer life and contemplation. If you have never read Richard J. Foster’s book Prayer, I highly recommend it. I will be referring to it this month, as well as applicable quotes from C.S. Lewis from my daily inbox. I will also be reading Paul Miller’s A Praying Life. My goal for March is to deepen my prayer life. I’ve tried to keep a prayer journal before, and it has never worked beyond a week or two, so I’m not sure that will be part of it. I know many people are helped by them, but to me, it just seems as if a check-off list to see if God is paying attention. And I’m not trying to be flip here… I am good at short prayers and talking to God in conversation through the day, but I don’t do so well with lengthy meditations and long prayers. I lose focus and my brain starts thinking of other things, and I end up apologizing to God for not being able to focus on Him. I am going to try to see if God can show me a way to center my concentration and prayer on Him. Reason for prayer, Meditations, Techniques… I am praying that God will lead me into a newer place where prayer comes more easily. 2
Just last night after I wrote the above introduction, I read this lengthy quote by Lewis. It is from Letters to Malcolm, chiefly on prayer.
To think of our prayers as just ‘causes’ would suggest that the whole importance of petitionary prayer lay in the achievement of the thing asked for. But really, for our spiritual life as a whole, the ‘being taken into account,’ or ‘considered,’ matters more than the being granted. Religious people don’t talk about the ‘results’ of prayer; they talk of its being ‘answered’ or ‘heard’…. We can bear to be refused but not to be ignored. In other words, our faith can survive many refusals if they really are refusals and not mere disregards. The apparent stone will be bread to us if we believe that a Father’s hand put it into ours, in mercy or in justice or even in rebuke.”
And I think what he means here is just what I was saying –although not as eloquently — that prayers can’t be just a list to be ticked off if or when they are answered. It is more important that we know The Lord has heard us than if they are answered satisfactorily. I love his thought– Even a stone can be bread if we know it was given in love…
3 Pray without ceasing;
— 1 Thessalonians 5:17 This instruction we must take to heart if we are to go deeper into a relationship with God. The disciples, who were with Jesus continually for three years, were so impressed with his ability to pray that they asked him to teach them. And so we have The Lord’s Prayer as a guide. Praise and glory to the Father; Submitting to His will; Petition for his providence, and his Forgiveness, and his protection; Our own promise to forgive others; Praise and glory to the Creator; For it is all His, For all time.
Yesterday I started Letters to Malcolm: chiefly on prayer; I decided if I was going to quote it so extensively, I should read it. And what do I find in Chapter 5 but a discussion of the phrases in The Lord’s Prayer! And of course, I found something to take away from it. When Lewis discusses thy will be done, he tells of how, lately, he sometimes interprets it to mean thy will be done. As in God’s will, done by me. The Hands of Christ are our hands. So that this phrase becomes a “doing” phrase as well as a “listening” phrase. That is my shortcoming — doing; so perhaps that’s why it stood out to me.
Father, I kneel before you, with ashes on my forehead, asking you to forgive my selfish living, create in me a clean heart and the desire to live a daring life for you;to trust you with this new chapter in our lives; to be assured that you have been preparing us for it; and to be assured that you will provide kingdom work for us to do for you. In our precious Savior’s name, I pray…
I heard a bible verse used in a new meaning today from a teacher friend who follows Ann Voskamp’s blog. Do whatever He tells you. It is Mary the mother speaking to the servants at the wedding in Cana where Jesus performed his first public miracle. He turned the water into wine at a feast. The Lord’s ministry begins and ends with a feast. I find that so comforting. It is so … Human? So down to earth? That our savior tells us that life with him will be a feast. And we won’t ever run out of wine. 🙂 …Do whatever He tells you. –John 2:5
Circumstances of our lives sometimes make us wonder “why pray?” What good is it doing? It doesn’t seem as if God is hearing? It is just what I talked about above — we can bear it as long as we know we are being heard. But what about those prayers that go up as incense yet seem to fade before God hears them? I was reading in Our Daily Bread, a free daily devotional that usually sits in the back of churches just waiting to be picked up, for Friday, March 7. Bill Crowder wrote it — a little article called “Not Lost in Translation.” He reminds us of the verses in Romans 8:26-27 —
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Not only is Jesus interceding for us, but so is the spirit. Crowder writes, “The spirit translates our prayers according to God’s good purposes for our lives.” How indescribably amazing! Not only is our Savior interceding for us, but the Spirit is translating our babble to make it in line with God’s will for our lives. 9
In the sermon today I heard this: When God made His covenant with Abram, he brought him outside and told him to count the stars and then promised that his descendants would be as just as numerous. Abram was old; Sarai was old; they had no children, and what God promised didn’t seem likely. As far as they could see… Inside the tent we see limitations and barriers and stuff; outside the tent we look into the endless night sky filled with billions of stars and it is limitless. In our small human minds (that live inside the tent) we can only conceive of what we know, what we see, what is real. God dwells outside the tent and is more real than the temporal things of this world. Despite what we can see with our eyes, do we trust God above all? That no matter what is happening in our lives — no matter what we see — do we believe that God is working all things together for our good. And that is — to make us more like Christ. To live outside the tent. Pray to Trust God and See through the Eyes of Christ.
Malcolm Guite writes in his blog that the first Sundays in Lent are centered around the temptation of Christ in the desert. You can read his beautiful sonnet about that first temptation here. But think — how ironic that the tempter wanted Jesus to turn stones into bread for his own selfish good — to feed himself — when Christ is the Bread of Life for us; when we eat bread at Communion and remember his body broken for us; when He multiplied the bread to feed thousands from one little loaf; when the disciples bring him food in Samaria while He is talking to the woman at the well, and He tells them that He has bread they do not know about. We are nourished by the word, which is the bread, which is the Christ. One other thing I’ve been thinking about are the words in The Lord’s Prayer — “and lead us not into temptation”. They have always bothered me, because it is not God who leads us into temptation. God is the one who helps us struggle against it, say no to it, and dismiss it with power. In Letters to Malcolm Lewis discusses this and comments that in Greek, the word means more like a trial, not necessarily a temptation. My vote is to say “protect us from trials and deliver us from evil…” Although we all know that trials deepen our faith… and even Christ was not protected from his trial though he sweat blood praying about it. Thy will be done… Thy will be done…
“Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” –James 1:2-3 And I might add that trials bring us closer to God and increase the likelihood of prayer. When I was caring for Dad during his last days, it was such a struggle for me, and I totally leaned on God. I truly did pray continually, and I felt so close to Him during that hard time. He was carrying me then; it was a stone given in love that was indeed bread. A few weeks ago I read a comment online from someone who admitted that since his wife was now cancer free, he had stopped praying. And he felt guilty. I pray for him now that he read that short message from a stranger — a message of God’s grace and His love for us — encouraging him to just say a short gratitude prayer each morning before getting out of bed. And soon it may become a habit. A habit that is good for you. A habit of holy prayer.
12 – 13
‘ve discovered that I am reading and writing about prayer more than I am actually doing prayer. So I am giving myself permission to do a few short entries while spending more time in silence with the Lord.
I saw this quote on a sign outside a church yesterday :
Until you are convinced that prayer is the best use of your time, you will never make time for prayer.”
There is so much to pray for, and so many people to pray for, not to mention one’s own self, that sometimes it boggles me and my little mind. How can I ever pray as I ought for as much time as I ought? And I have discovered something — that I already knew — but have just recently admitted to myself. I can concentrate on praying better on my knees. And this means that I must go somewhere with the express intent of prayer. It might just be the bedroom, but it has to be somewhere alone. Because I am convinced that prayer is, if not the best, one of the best, uses of my time…
“The praying life is inseparable from obeying, loving, waiting, and suffering.” — A Praying Life by Paul Miller
Yes, it’s been 5 days. It is not that I haven’t been praying; but I feel like C.S. Lewis when he wrote to his friend Malcolm specifically on writing about prayer. He said — and I don’t have the exact quote or book with me — that it was for certain books needed to be written on prayer; but how dare he have the audacity to write one. He felt his own prayer life was so up and down and helter skelter, that he couldn’t possibly advise anyone. Lewis, who is one of the great writers on Christianity in the last hundred years, said that! And so how could I even think that I could write for a month on prayer? God loves me. He knows my struggles about works and grace. The one thing I don’t want to do is make prayer another struggle about works. And so today, I offer up praise to the creator for this sign of spring. 25
Our prayers don’t exist in a world of their own We are in dialogue with a personal, divine spirit who wants to shape us as much as he wants to hear us.” — Paul Miller
So as we pray, pouring our heart to God, not only does He hear us, but He answers us by shaping our own prayers, softening our own hearts, and changing our own self-will.
As I’ve been reading A Praying Life I’ve been struck by one of Miller’s techniques — Prayer Cards. He uses 3×5 note cards, but this could easily be adapted to a notebook (or a note on your phone). He puts the name of the person he wants to pray for, a bible verse or two that he will use for them that defines what he wants for them, and then a few keywords that jumpstart the prayer. Mostly these cards were for his family, so he considered them long term commitments. But one comment he made seemed incredible to me. He said that he rarely changed them. He used the same verses over and over. Oh, he might have added a keyword here and there as the children grew, but mostly the cards stayed the same. I’m about to try one tonight; this seems more do-able to me than an actual prayer journal…
I made up several pages in my notebook last night. Prayer cards. They include two verses from the Bible and three difficulties in life that I would like to see God assume control over. I am also going to make one for myself. I think I can be diligent about this. And I like that I will be praying the same verses over and over for that person. A side benefit? I hope I will commit those verses to memory…
“Our prayers don’t exist in a world of their own We are in dialogue with a personal, divine spirit who wants to shape us as much as he wants to hear us.” –Paul Miller What a great thought to remember! That as our prayers go up like incense to The Lord, He is shaping us by His answer; forming His words in our soul.
I’ve not been so faithful in writing about prayer. I think I feel incompetent to write about it. I have been praying; on my knees and from my new prayer cards and also from Ken Boa’s Face to Face, which is praying scripture. I think that is more important than writing about it. Prayer is so … Personal. It is our quiet one-on-one time with God. And if we view it that way, why wouldn’t we want to always be in prayer? With the one who loves us and knows us more than any other. Thank you God, for that love, and that is why we pray in the name of your precious son, whom you gave in love…
April is for Love
When it (the soul) is willingly made nothing for love, to have Him that is all, then it is able to have spiritual rest. –Julian of Norwich
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis defines the four types of love as affection, friendship, romantic (Eros), and charity (Agape). I might have to go back and check on that; I read it fourteen years ago while I was in counseling. I was suffering from a lack of all four loves. I saved love for this month — for Easter — because there is no greater love story. Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends. –John 13:15 But I am also planning on writing about the other love — romantic love — which Lewis says is most like the love Christ has for us. We are after all his beloved bride. I’ve always thought that was an odd metaphor, but it is all through the Bible, so I’m thinking to explore that as well. I think this month will be easier to write about than last month… 🙂
The symbols under which Heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert. It would be grotesque to suppose that the guests or citizens or members of the choir didn’t know one another. And how can love of one another be commanded in this life if it is to be cut short at death? Think of yourself just as a seed patiently waiting in the earth: waiting to come up a flower in the Gardener’s good time, up into the real world, the real waking. I suppose that our whole present life, looked back on from there, will seem only a drowsy half- waking. We are here in the land of dreams. But cock-crow is coming.”
from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 111
There it is — the wedding feast — the ultimate symbol of romantic love in our world, both now and then. Before I knew anything about Jesus, I thought it strange that he would do such a silly miracle of changing water to wine at a wedding. I think it still flummoxes some believers. But Jesus was extravagant; he did nothing by halves.
And just in case we don’t get it the first time, his ministry begins and ends with a feast. With wine. With His Blood. Poured out in love for anyone who accepts His extravagant, outrageous claims to be the Son of God. Poured out in love at the Passover feast; poured out in love on the cross the very next day. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all…
Unending, Extravagant, Amazing, Unconditional love without strings; it is so different from what culture tells us love is. Instead of receiving love, having love done to us, love is more about giving — no, it is all about giving.
Jesus’ unconditional love for us is the model, of course, and we fail miserably at it. (Thanks be to God for Grace…) Our self-loving culture doesn’t help; neither does the cultural expectation of romantic love. Culture says love is what happens; it is automatic; it is sexual; and that it comes and goes. Love is gone? Move on. Make excuses. (Please understand here, that I am guilty of this — as Paul says, I am the number one sinner…)
In The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm (another book I read 14 years ago in counseling) he talks of love as a skill to be learned. And many other books on marriage speak of love as “not a feeling, but an act of will”. I admit this is true. I love my husband so much. He is a kind, generous, patient, honorable, hard-working, easy-going man. But on a day-to-day basis, when I have to wait for him to do something that I think should be done now? or he says something I don’t agree with? or I have to make him a meal when I don’t feel like cooking? (Hear all the I words?) What do I do to show that love on that daily basis? Many times I fail. But when I know that I’m failing at it, I pray. God give me the strength to keep my mouth shut. God give me the strength to go out and see what’s in the fridge. And this never fails… God never fails. God helps us with that “act of will” when our feelings shout out “What about me”?
I read a blog post a couple of weeks ago titled The Sacred Us. I found it on Scully Speaks, but it was written by Amy Carroll as a Proverbs 31 devotional. In it, the author posted a challenge to not criticize your spouse — she was specifically talking to wives — in front of anyone else. Not in the office break room, not in girls’ nights out, not at Moms’ meetings, not in Ladies’ Bible group. To stop doing it altogether and instead, remember why you married him. She spoke of an older member of their church and how she did this intentionally and was such an inspiration to those around her. Carroll writes, “Praising my husband to my friends actually grew my love for him.” I was convicted; and I’m doing it for this month. And maybe longer..
I have trouble loving people. Putting on a smiling face and greeting people joyfully is not my natural M.O. I especially have trouble with people who drive recklessly and beep their horns at other drivers in the early morning commute to work. (Not that my commute is far or hard.) I try to pray for them, but my general first reaction is “You Jerk!” So why can’t I just let that insignificant stuff go? I don’t have to fret and fume about it, do I? But do I have to love them? I especially have trouble with angry people. I listened to the guy across the street on the phone the other day. (I couldn’t help it; I was outside cleaning the porch.) He was shouting and swearing at some poor person on the other end. He eventually hung up on them. I try to pray for him. Sometimes I succeed, but sometimes my reaction is “You Jerk!” He’s my neighbor. He’s unfriendly; he has a big dog that he doesn’t control; he has an unhappy life. I should be loving him, but I’m not… Love might cover a multitude of his sins. It covers a multitude of my own…
I try not to beat myself up about un-hospitable-ness. I’m friendly to strangers in stores. I smile and talk to clerks. I drive friendly–or at least I try. But I fall so short of having a fervent love for others — see above… I’m asking God to help me with this lack of love. I’ll report back.
God is our Maker, our Lover, our Keeper and until we are substantially oned to Him, we may never have full rest or bliss.” —Julian of Norwich
I’m not sure what to make of the above quote. I have only read a couple of chapters in her book — it is slow going, and I just haven’t had time to pick it back up. “Substantially oned to Him” — is that the difference between those who have a full life in Christ and those who just desire to have it? Those who have that joyful peace vs. those who are restless to know it? And how big is substantially? And now I’m going to quote myself: back in February when I was writing on Obedience I wrote: And even better is the thought that when we are wholly His, we will be more ourselves than ever. When we shed the skin — the protective coatings of this world that we use as barriers — and we “entwine our selves with His” we will be Holy, we will find rest, we will be obedient without struggle. May it be so. Entwining our selves with His; substantially oned to Him; they are the same I think, and they bring rest, obedience, and love.
On heaven “But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.” — C.S.Lewis. The Problem of Pain
I read something somewhere this week (how’s that for nailing the sources?) and the question was asked, “what do you think about the fact that scientists have discovered what they call a ‘God gene’ — that humans were made for a relationship with a holy ‘other’ and when there is no relationship, that person cannot have a full, successful, productive life?” What a loaded question! Because the person who answered said, in effect, “Bah, humbug!” Obviously a person who thought of themselves as a successful person who is ‘Just Fine, Thank You’ without God. And yet, there’s that quote above from Lewis that feels so right. And the writer of Ecclesiastes who tells us that God has put Eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11). Because He loved us with a fierce love — a love that breaks His heart when we act like the stubborn, sinful, unrepentant children that we are.
1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. The next verse? And these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. These days I am praying for the parents of a child who committed an evil, despicable act. I don’t know them. I only know that they are regular folks who are horrified. How can they bear it? I am praying that God will touch their lives and help to heal them. But I also think: this is what God must feel all the time when He looks at our puny, self-centered lives. He must say, “Oh but I created them for so much more…I created them to live in Eden, and they can barely even see the reflection of Paradise.” Yet still He loves us; and that longing in our hearts that can’t be filled or stilled? It’s for God. It’s for paradise. It’s to know that one love that is above all the rest — that fierce unrelenting, unconditional love. That fits as a glove is made for a hand…
Because of His love for us, He sent a redeemer: A redeemer will come to Zion the prophet Isaiah wrote.
Isaiah 59:21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.”
…thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer and friend… I love this photograph. It was taken in the front yard of the cottage as a storm was blowing through. It is such a metaphor — about storms and life and God remaining behind and in the midst of the storm. Light in the darkness. And look at the top of the pine tree. See the cross? Jesus knows about storms. There is nothing that we can go through, that He does not understand. That He did not suffer tenfold. A hundred fold. A thousand fold. Somewhere recently I read about the symbol of the cross. I think it was in one of Max Lucado’s writings. The crossbeams are a perfect reminder — the vertical beam pointing up to God from earth and reminding us of His holiness; the horizontal beam stretching out like arms to show the breadth of His love. Stretching out to encompass those who believe, and those who choose to scoff. Even the thieves crucified next to Him that day show us of that choice — the one thief who scoffed, the other who asked for forgiveness. And that’s all it takes. The asking. The admitting. That we are not all right without God, Thank you very much. That we are broken and weak; self-centered and proud. And we need His forgiveness. His love. His gift.
I chose love for April so I could write about the greatest gift of love ever given. And during Easter week I became pen-tied. It seemed that every post I read talked about His love. His sacrifice. His amazing gift. And what could I add? So I prayed. Went to services. Had my feet washed at the Maundy Service communion. Cried during the Good Friday Tenebrae service. Went to sunrise service communion and the later Easter worship. And my pen was still silent. I had an epiphany one day during that week — a daily C.S.Lewis quote that spoke about the necessity of keeping silent when there are no words. Maybe it’s just an excuse? I don’t know. But I worshiped instead of wrote. And I raised my hands and wiped my eyes in thanksgiving to my savior, who has provided a new life and grace for me, a sinner. Sometimes there are no words…
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. … Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” –Colossians 3:1, 12-14
I had a family weekend. It was lovely in its own way. Cousins I hadn’t seen in 30 years, cousins’ children I had never met — now grown with children of their own — and cousins it is likely I won’t ever see again — all gathered to inter the ashes of a beloved aunt and uncle, father and mother, gigi and pops, Ruth and B. Family. And even though we haven’t seen each other for years, we gathered in their memory and reminisced about childhoods, the fun times, their special personalities, foibles, and wonderful qualities that made us love them. We all brought memorabilia and passed it around the lunch table. We laughed. We cried. We thanked Jesus for His sacrifice that will enable us to see them again. In that place that He is preparing for us. The place where we will have new bodies; the place so wonderful we cannot even conceive of it, for we see through the glass darkly. Where we have set our hearts on things above….
As I close out April I have one long C.S. Lewis quote that struck me so beautifully — I want to be able to go back to it again and again.
But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.” The Weight of Glory
And here is where I fail. I don’t have any problem loving the people I like. But my neighbor who is vulgar? He swears, drinks, shouts obscenities, is lazy… need I go on? How do I go about loving him with a real and costly love that isn’t merely tolerance?
And the next day, C.S. Lewis answers my question with a quote from Mere Christianity:
…we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves — to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.”
I don’t have any answers for myself — this journal isn’t about finding answers. It’s about accountability and devotion to my savior, who died for me with the costliest love of all. Today I received a T-shirt to wear for tomorrow’s work-a-thon — a day when kids and teachers go out to serve their neighbors in a wide variety of ways. The t-shirt says, Live Love Out Loud. Perhaps I should just wear this t-shirt every day to remind me… Alas, I care too much what the world thinks, and not enough about what He will say to me on That Day. Perhaps if I keep that in mind, I will be able to love better? Our life in Christ is a journey, after all. A journey of one who learns to love the unloveable. As He did for me.
Beauty is for May
I think May will be heavy on nature photos. I am so thankful for spring, for green, for flowers, for the rebirth of nature, for the new life that (nature reminds me every day) I have.
The waxy petals of white hyacinths hold the scent of purity.
Their lingering perfume baptizes the water,
bringing holiness to the mundane
and beauty to the ordinary.
The intricacy of petals proof of a God
who creates for the joy of beauty.
Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting — a wayside sacrament.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
We want so much more—something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. –CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory
That yearning for the beautiful, the glorious, the sun shining through the mist, is a desire for God. It is holy. It is pure. It is why we create — art, song, laughter, stories — it is our desire to know and honor Our Creator. We must not take it lightly; we must not do it sloppily. The making, the seeing, the protecting of beauty? It is God-honoring work.
And so is sitting on the porch, resting from your labors…
Lacy white blossoms everywhere, Must be May…
24 Beauty is the shadow of God on the universe. — Gabriela Mistral
26 “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” — Kahlil Gibran
“The purpose of art is washing the daily dust of life off our souls.” — Pablo Picasso
The last few weeks there has been a lot of daily dust on my soul. On my body too, as we sweep the city house clean of grime, stuff, and collected junk. Touching every single item that takes up space in this house, getting rid of the stuff that needs gotten rid of, and storing and keeping the sweet memories. It has taken its toll. Alternately at peace and anxious, content, yet wistful, it’s lovely to see the gardens beautiful again, the rooms freshly painted, and junk cleared out. At work, too, it is the same. You must give up the old to embrace the new, and I’m ready to do that. But then I get sixty cards from students telling me how much they will miss me, thanking me for being in their lives, drawing me pictures of their favorite books, hugs goodbye, and I’m wistful again. Beauty helps. I’m so glad that we are not moving in the winter. I can sit outside in the green and watch birds, take pictures of flowers, and feel the beauty of it all washing the dust away from my tired body and needy soul.
31 Buzzards aren’t usually photographed for their beauty. But the turkey buzzard on the barn roof was a beauteous sight. There he sat, with his wings stretched out like that for several minutes — long enough for me to admire him, run inside to grab my iPhone, take his picture, and then admire him for a few more minutes. Soon he was joined by his mate, but I didn’t get that photo. It looks to me as if he is praising God for this sunny, glorious spring afternoon. Oh yes, I know that is anthropomorphism, (Perhaps it sounds more acceptable if we make it a literary allusion and call it personification?) and he was probably just airing out his wings… Yet it reminded me to stretch out my arms and praise God for the beauty of this day. I’m going to end this month with the repetition of a Lewis quote from The Weight of Glory:
We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”
This segues perfectly into June, when the word for the month is …
Receiving is for June
I had planned on beginning June with a totally different quote, but when I opened the free devotional that I pick up at church every few months, the opening bible verse was this one:
Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, –John 1:12
My study bible emphasizes here that membership in God’s family–the right to be His child–is through grace alone, never works or human achievement, but that saving grace does depend on our receiving of it. Receive and believe and be saved. It is free to us because of the cost He paid. Call upon the name of The Lord and be saved…
There’s been much receiving in my life this week: hugs, cards, flowers, gifts, thank yous… I don’t do receiving well. It is lovely, yes, but there is always that nagging feeling of undeserving, or the issue of repayment. You know, like when someone gives you a Christmas gift and you don’t have one for them? A gift is a gift and it should be received with pleasure, with graciousness, with humility, with thanks. And this is such a metaphor for Christ’s gift to us, that I can’t let it pass. The undeserving receiver of His gracious gift must give up human guilt, for that guilt is from the world, not from above.
I will write you a letter,
June day. Dear June fifth,
you’re all in green, so
many kinds and all one
green, tree shadows on
grass blades and grass
blade shadows. The air
fills up with motor
mower sound. The cat
walks up the drive
a dead baby rabbit
in her maw. The sun
is hot, the breeze
is cool. And suddenly
in all the green
the lilacs bloom,
massive and exquisite
in color and shape
and scent. The roses
are more full of
buds than ever. No
flowers. But soon.
June day, you have
your own perfection:
so green to say
goodbye to. Green,
stick around a while.
These last two days I’ve been quietly busy receiving the perfection of these June days…
“And in all things, whatsoever you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” — Matthew 21:22 These last few days I’ve worked hard and slept well.
On Friday of last week Michael said I was waking up to the first day of my new life. That’s how it felt for a few days–my shoulders felt light and unburdened, even in the face of so many things to do at the city house. I’ve longed for that. I’ve wondered why I have felt so burdened when, really, my life is blessed. But then last night, back here at the city house, I lay in bed wakeful. One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock… I was grateful to not have a chiming clock.
So I prayed for everyone I could think of on my prayer list. And then I wondered about that verse above. About how to gratefully receive answered prayer and how to gratefully receive unanswered prayer as well. The key word here is grateful (but that word isn’t until November!) Gratefully receive. Yes, the two words should always go together.
The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.)” — CS Lewis
I will be bold and add to Lewis’ quote here — that every thing we do in life requires this surrender in order for us to do it well. It is so easy to hold out, hold ourselves apart, not be “all in” — it keeps us from being vulnerable, getting hurt, or worse, looking stupid! Lack of surrender also keeps us from receiving all God (and life) have to offer us. Guilty, as charged.
Yesterday and today I’ve been stuck on how to gratefully receive unanswered prayer. I had a big one — one that I’ve been praying for fervently for a year or so — and not only was it not answered, it was slammed in our faces the other way… a wrong answer, an answer that can be no good for anyone, an answer that brings churning rather than peace. Do we surrender to the events rather than fight?
Or pray more? Harder? Stronger? On my knees? I read the following quote today on a blog book review post. It is taken from the book The Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Proper Graves. I think I did not find this accidentally. (I just ordered her new book.)
“It is we who must learn to receive God’s gifts. Only a soul wide awake, a heart tenderized through suffering and sacrifice while in communion with God, learns to receive with gratitude. God desires that we know him as loving and most generous, always providing for his children and for those who do not even acknowledge him. With the same affection expressed toward the older brother in the story of the prodigal, he beckons us, saying, “Everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31). . . So much of provision is a matter of seeing. If we could but see.”
…comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair. another quote from Lewis, On Comfort from Mere Christianity.
That’s the trouble, eh? We all just want comfort and are dissatisfied with God’s provision because the world tells us it is never enough.
And I’m still thinking on that quote from Marlena Graves — “…only a soul wide awake, a heart tenderized through suffering and sacrifice… learns to receive with gratitude…” and it also has me thinking about how I receive God’s provision best. I daily thank him for the provision of beauty in my life — nature in particular moves me to great thankfulness; I daily thank him for the provision of food, but honestly? it might be the rote mealtime prayer…; generally on Sunday I thank him for the blessings that I don’t always see or be grateful for during the week. Am I ever grateful for unanswered prayer? for suffering? for sacrifice? Not often… Usually, only in hindsight.
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
–Lewis in The Problem of Pain
A few months ago, I wrote down some words from the Sunday sermon, and stuck them in my notes for under “receiving.” Yesterday, I ran into the same thought, while reading a section of his book The Kingdom Adventure that was published some time ago. I never think that this is a coincidence — so I’m going to write it here and think on it.
The Bible is not meant to be a 21st century science book. It is not meant to be a 21st century history book. It is a revelation. The love story of what God has (and is still) revealing to us. What he reveals to us today will never contradict scripture.
This is my note from the sermon; but I think the reason I wrote it down under the word receiving is when we remember that The Bible is not a history or science book, it becomes easier for us to receive the words and give them back to others. There is so much hoopla and anger today in the world about Christian witness and being close-minded and sure that we are right, that many of our friends just close their ears when we begin to speak about Jesus. (If indeed, we ever do.) There are debates on proof that there was a flood or an ark or a resurrection, etc., etc. etc. But if we take the words as a love story between God and us — if we make it personal and revelatory, it seems to be less of an issue. Let’s face it — if we have a relationship with Jesus, we know He is real. No debater, no mocker, no unbeliever can take that away from us. We have received it, taken it in to our hearts, and in some kind, loving way, we have to pour it out again. Maybe not in words, but in actions and love and forgiving ways. To not insist that the Bible is science or history, but a revelation of God, His love story to us, it makes talking about Him easier, doesn’t it?
One of the main reasons that I even chose the word Receiving is because of the story of Peter at the last supper. Jesus “took up the basin and towel” to serve his disciples in order to show them how to serve, and Peter refused to receive it. At first. Until he realized that unless he received the foot washing that Jesus was offering, he would miss out on Everything that Jesus offered. And so, in true Peter fashion, he said, ‘Then Lord, wash all of me — my head, my hands…’ This story can be read and interpreted many different ways, but one thing that strikes me is that it is so difficult for us to receive. We are raised to be just fine thank you very much. It is a mark of accomplishment to be self-supporting and independent; it is a mark of weakness to be needy and dependent on others. Receiving from others is often awkward and hard to do graciously; it doesn’t come naturally to let others do for us. This was brought home to me as my Dad got older and his health failed and he was suddenly dependent on his daughters (and very unhappy about it.) Yet I’m the same way. My first instinct is to say no when asked if I need help. About anything. Even if I might need help. It takes humility to receive well; it takes humility to model Christ. There’s no room for pride when following Christ. Pride gets in the way of our receiving everything he has to offer. It took Peter only a minute or so to realize this; how long will it take us?
Saints are intentional about living a quiet, hidden life. They are not involved in noisy efforts to draw attention to themselves. “– A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves
A Beautiful Disaster is thoughtfully and beautifully written. It is very quotable — her words just seem to flow over and through my head — and last night I read this on receiving:
…each of us decides whether we’ll graciously receive the gifts of God in the form of the people of God, or whether we’ll spurn them. We reject God’s grace by turning them away and by failing to reach out to them. God uses others as a means of grace.”
And I would add that we also reject God’s grace by failing to allow others to reach out to us.
I’ve been reading the chapter on waiting in Marlena’s book and it certainly parallels my life right now. The wait is where we learn humility, which in turn enables us to receive Gods grace. She calls it “practicing the sacrament of the present moment.” It is where He detaches us from the old and prepares us to receive the new. He uses time to let us grow into what He is preparing us for and for us. Even in the waiting He is walking with us; for He has called us by name; when we walk through the rivers the waves will not sweep over us: when we walk through the fire, we will not be burned. We are His, the Holy One of Israel, our Savior. (Paraphrased from Isaiah 43:1-3)
In the liturgical calendar, June 29th honors St. Peter. Malcolm Guite, an English poet and Anglican priest (and fellow CS Lewis lover) wrote a poem about Peter which can be found here: Two lines in particular spoke to me. I love the way that Jesus chose to name you, Before you knew how to deserve that name Jesus gave Peter his new name before Peter was ready to receive it. Peter made dreadful mistakes even after he was given his new name, but he learned the power of love and the power of forgiveness: “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes Lord, you know I do…” We are sometimes given new names before we are ready to receive them. And sometimes we are asked to wait. But His timing is always perfect, and so who are we to ask why. We’ll understand it all by and by.
The last day of June… I’m sorry to let the word Receiving go. It has so many ways to understand it, and I haven’t had the time to study it as I should have. I originally planned to study on Peace in July, but, not being sure that July will be peaceful, I am now hedging. Perhaps that is even more reason to dwell on it — for God does not give peace as we expect. We have to receive the peace that He gives in the way that He gives it, and that is not as the world gives, nor is it how we expect it. It is His peace: in the midst of uncertainty, we can be sure of His promises; in the midst of trials, we can be certain of His care; in the midst of anxiety, we can be sure that it is our own making, not His. For the peace He gives us is the peace and surety of His everlasting love and life — if we will only put down our expectations and receive it.
Peace is for July
The concordance in my study Bible has over 100 verses in which the main word is peace. There is peace among nations, peace between people, peace in our own hearts… There is the peace of God, the peace that Jesus gives, peace as a fruit of the spirit. I can’t begin to cover every verse — not even a quarter of them; my goal is to be able to increase my own ability to find peace, to know peace, and to feel peace even in the midst of the world’s (and my own) chaos. 2
…difficult to have peace about change not because i don’t want change (i’m one of those few who likes change don’t want to get stagnant, bored, stuck) instead it is trusting that God will provide — finances, a buyer, a new job, energy to get it all accomplished — and according to my plans. i give this struggle over to him once, twice, three hundred times a day, knowing that his plan is good, whatever it is, whatever it will be. it has not gone according to my plan, so i must give it over to have peace. but i do so wondering why i have that overall peace of knowing him and knowing my ultimate future, yet sometimes it isn’t enough. Forgive me.
When my brain starts going in the wrong direction — as it has very often lately — I am practicing the memorization of scripture. It stops me from getting in a funk, and refocuses my mind on God and his provision. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Ah… Maybe it was an answer to prayer!
During the weekend, I sought peace by turning off my computer. Didn’t turn it on once between Friday and Monday. I did check my email…but that was on my phone.
If the vessel of our soul is still tossed with winds and storms, let us awake the Lord, who reposes in it, and He will quickly calm the sea. –Brother Lawrence
Perhaps the sea is discouragement? Anxiety? The wish to have a closer life with God? The realization and disgust of your own sin? Awaken the Lord with your prayers and cries. What a beautiful vision of His peace… In a garden, on the sea, on a mountaintop, in a crowded city street, He will meet you where you are, walk with you there, and calm your heart.
I read this today from CCW.com: Your rest in God, while simultaneously praying to the God who answers prayer, will be an encouragement to others in the same situation…. and will make your life far more joyful than your anxiety ever could. Even though this was about a totally different subject, peace is that lack of anxiety, which prayer addresses. So far there are three very practical ways to increase that feeling of the Lord’s peace: 1) Memorize scripture to remember His promises; 2) Prayer to help you rest in those promises; and 3) Counting the blessings that The Lord gives you. 1
Another quote from C.S. Lewis: Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. from The Problem of Pain Yes. At this moment I’m feeling benevolent. 🙂
Today, peace is getting the little attic bedroom finished without having to buy new carpeting…
Today I was flipping through some notes that I had made and found this quote from John MacArthur on peace:
The biblical concept of peace does not focus on the absence of trouble. Biblical peace is unrelated to circumstances; it is a goodness of life that is not touched by what happens on the outside. You may be in the midst of great trials and still have biblical peace. Paul said he could be content in any circumstance; and he demonstrated that he had peace even in the jail at Philippi, where he sang and remained confident that God was being gracious to him. Then when the opportunity arose, he communicated God’s goodness to the Philippian jailer, and brought him and his family to salvation. Likewise, James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2).
It is still difficult for me to have the peace that is unrelated to circumstances. Eighteen days into July — studying peace — and still I’m trying to arrange and rearrange my outer life so that my inner life is peaceful.
Today I’m taking note of the phrase above in the MacArthur quote “…remained confident that God was being gracious to him…” When I think of the times of discouragement, all I should really do is remember that He called me; He redeemed me; He summoned me by name; I am His. (I know that, by the way, because of memorized scripture — Isaiah 42:1-2!)😍 And that is really all grace. I think that should be added to my practical list for being aware of the Lord’s peace for your life. So here is the new list:
- Memorize scripture
- Count your blessings
- Remain confident of (Remember) God’s grace to you
Someday, God willing, we shall get in… (to heaven). Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. So take up your cross and follow me, Jesus said. What is your cross? And is it standing in the way of your peace? Yes. It often does.
God of the nations, whose kingdom rules over all, have mercy on our broken and divided world. Shed abroad your peace in the hearts of all men and banish from them the spirit that makes for war; that all races and people may learn to live as members of one family and in obedience to your laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [An Australian Prayer Book, p96]
No, I haven’t even begun to touch on peace between nations, mostly because I don’t think it will ever happen. In the history of the world it has never happened, why should we think it ever will? And though I think this is a beautiful prayer — and worthy — evil and wars will never be ended until the real end and He comes again in peace. 22-23
Today as I was doing a boring, but strangely satisfying task of demolishing the basement ceiling, I accidentally hit the radio tuner on-button. After I jumped, I realized it was K-love and the song playing was actually one I knew and liked. I generally prefer silence to radio/cd/audio, but I left it on for a few songs. And I heard these words from an unknown singer — There is no place The Lord’s love can’t go, There’s no place The Lord’s peace can’t go… We’ve all known them — those people whose face, whose smile, whose eyes radiate peace. I want to be one of those people.
The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety. —George Muller
I found this quote today on Tim Challies’ blog and it struck me because of peace/anxiety that I’m studying for July, and also because I read a biography of George Muller this past year and I was amazed, awestruck, and jealous of his great faith. As I finished the book, I remember yearning to have a fraction of his faith.
The end of July has just whizzed by, and though I’ve been remiss about this on-line journal, I haven’t been remiss in thinking and focusing on peace. Comments, quotes, and bible verses on peace have been everywhere in my life these last few days. God has been and always will be faithful to give us what we need, emotionally, spiritually, physically… It comes down to trust. That old bumper sticker comes to mind — No God, no peace, Know God, Know peace. The trusting, the knowledge that He will provide what we need for abundant living in Him, the letting go of our own agendas — that is what will bring peace. The solid rock foundational belief in Jesus, the solid rock of our lives, gives us a place to stand where we can celebrate Him and the peace He brings, and not drown in the sinking sand of the world.
It is almost August, and usually I know what my word for the next month is by now. I’m saving some words for special months — Gratitude for November, Joy for December — and I had originally planned on Grace for August. I’m hedging. Grace is so important, so huge, I want to do it justice; and quiet has to fit in here somewhere, but next month is not going to be quiet… I read a fascinating quote today from Tim Challies’ blog on a book called Essentialism. I thought I had saved it, but… what it came down to was the fact that every one of us struggles with doing too much and wishing we could just do what we are called to do and do it well, but instead we find ourselves doing non-essential things and then feeling guilty because we aren’t doing what we should be doing, whatever that is. Another reason for the anxiety of no peace: guilt! And so tomorrow, I will close with that discussion, and segue into grace for August. There it is — the decision is made. Grace and peace are entwined one with the other as a vine and its branches; they may not be possible on their own.
Hebrews 10 is a great chapter to read and re-read if we suffer from guilt. For guilt is not from God, it is from the world and the prince of the world. Jesus’ sacrifice has made perfect forever all of those who believe in him (Heb.10:14). And then comes the Holy Spirit who testifies in verse 16:
“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.”
That’s verses 16 through 18. So when there is no peace, or guilt, it is clearly not from God. For all three of the Trinity are represented here: God’s covenant, Jesus’ sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit’s testimony. There can be no doubt here. And just in case, to make it clear, the author of Hebrews reiterates this in the next paragraph where he writes, “…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” –Hebrews 10:22
…and so we move on to grace, which really should have come before peace. Oh well, when these meditations are published, I’ll switch them around. 🙂
Grace is for August…
I have collected many quotes and verses about grace during these past six months. But I have to start with this verse from Romans, chapter 8, which, to me, is the epitome of what grace is to a believer:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2
Yesterday I read an interesting post on the Christianity Today blog.
It referenced Paul’s greeting in most of his letters to the churches, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. ” Each one of the pastoral letters attributed to Paul contains some form of that statement in the early verses. The word for peace, Shalom was/is a Hebrew greeting. The Greek word for grace, was a traditional greeting. Paul was combining the two words theologically and intentionally to unify the children of God, no matter if they were Gentile or Jew, Greek or Hebrew. Not grace for the Greek and peace for the Jew, but grace and peace from God the father to all the children who are called by his name. Amen.
It constantly amazes me that when I am tuned into a word, a concept, an idea, it is suddenly everywhere. God is so faithful that way — to provide us with nourishment for our spiritual life, as well as our physical life. I was expressing this once to someone much wiser than I, and he agreed with me and then said, ‘But why should we be surprised? He is God, and He knows our every need…’ And so it has been with these beginning four days of studying grace. Today I was reading one of my new favorite blogs — the Housewife Theologian by Aimee Byrd, and she wrote:
God has ordained the preaching of the Word so that we may be rescued yet again.’ We were there (at church) because God ordained it. And that makes all the difference.”
The first part of the quote was from their guest preacher for the week, Paul Wolfe, who said (in his sermon) that the preaching of God’s word is a means of grace. We go to church every Sunday to be rescued from the dust and grit of the world that falls on us during the week. Temptation, pride, self-righteousness, envy, gossip, ________ (fill in the blank here) — and each Sunday we gather to ask for forgiveness, hear and learn His word, and worship. Rescued from the world each Sunday — by His grace.
Those who aren’t believers can’t understand it. But if you’ve ever woken up on Sunday morning and thought, ‘Oh I don’t feel like going to church this morning,’ then you know that is when you really need to make the effort to go. To win the small battle; to repent in order to be refreshed and renewed; to bask in His grace. To be rescued Once Again.
a loved one
once asked me
about the confusing words
to Amazing Grace.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
and grace my fears relieved…
She has not yet come to that hour
when Grace flows unhindered
through your heart within your soul
into your head beyond your fingertips…
When all those gerunds —
hearing seeing listening being doing knowing —
are entwined with His essence,
and your own past fears fall away
to expose a divinity
not of your own,
but granted to you
Relieved fears —
That is grace.
These flowers (Coreopsis) remind me that God and His grace are everywhere — With those in a bud still closed tightly, With those in full flower, With those fading blooms, With the spent blossoms, withered and brown. We all grow at different times and hear the word in different ways, but through grace, God is always available to us. All we need do is hear and respond. He will never force us to believe. I am thankful that, after a long time in the desert, He gave me ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart that is open to Him.
I would be lying if I said I understood the word Grace every time it is used in the Bible. Yes, I can define grace. I can tell you that it is undeserved forgiveness, mercy, kindness given to us by God because of what Jesus did on the cross. Died for our sinfulness, in our stead, His son in exchange for our lives. But still, sometimes the word is murky for me — unclear. When it shouldn’t be. It should be as clear as the fresh water of life that we gain from that Grace. So when I am struggling with one of Paul’s lengthy discussions of grace, I turn to this little book by Phil Ryken, Grace Transforming.
It never fails to clarify and instruct. A small book, only 8 chapters and 109 pages, I can read it again and again, and still get something new from it. I’ve been re-reading it, wondering if this is the book I want to use in our small group women’s bible study this fall. I wasn’t planning on using it; I had planned another book that might be easier to do… But sometimes, God puts new things on our hearts. Is this the book, God?
At church today my question of the bible study book was answered by God through another woman who spoke to me about how anxious she was to read that book on envy. Not grace. But it was God’s grace that sent her to answer me. Coincidence? No such thing. I believe that things happen for a reason and God’s grace and the Holy Spirit can be credited
A thankful heart is constantly extending grace because it has received grace.
–Paul Miller, A Praying Life
And so I sometimes wonder why it is difficult for me to extend grace to those I love so much… I don’t think it is just a thankful heart (though i would say it is a heart issue). It is the little irritations that bother me the most. How do I let them go, gracefully, as the Father has let go of my own sins? It is a constant struggle. And so I ask with an open heart, Father, I pray that you would allow me to grow in grace, so that I may extend it abundantly to those around me. Amen.
And Paul Miller answers me as well…
Usually what bugs us the most about other people is true of ourselves as well. A Praying Life
I signed up for an online writing workshop and I’m about to sign up for reading a classic online at Tim Challies’ blog. The classic is by John Owen, and the line that hooked me was this:
What Owen offers is not quick relief, but long-term, deep growth in grace that can make strong, healthy trees where there was once a fragile sapling.”
The book is Overcoming Sin and Temptation and just click on the title if you would like a free PDF to it.
This also might be the answer to my prayer to grow in grace… I will be posting my reactions to the chapters here; I don’t know about you, but I have a few sins I’d like to be rid of for good.😊
from a sapling to a healthy tree…
This is why I was hesitant to choose grace for August — a whole week without posting anything! Aaagh!
On the 14th I started to read Overcoming Sin and Temptation. It is very hard; I hope I will persevere. But I did find this quote, while reading what Tim Challies had to say about this book:
Christ is the head from whence the new man must have influences of life and strength, or it will decay every day. Oh that our people would feel the urgency of daily supplies of grace because “grace decays.” How many try to live their lives on automatic pilot with no sense of urgency that means of grace are given so that the riches of Christ may be daily obtained with fresh supplies of grace.”
This struck me — Grace is like manna? The bread from heaven that must be gathered and eaten daily or it will spoil. This is Christ — mercy, grace, the bread of life — oh, such a rich metaphor!
And how many times do I skip my morning visit with Christ and cruise on automatic pilot during the day with “no sense of urgency” for a fresh supply of grace? And what’s that we say about God seeming to be far away? Oh…convicted!
Anniversary flowers a week later
Reminds me that each day is not
Beautiful fresh roses —
Some are days in need of
A fresh supply of the mercy and grace
Yes–this week is why I didn’t really want to do Grace in August. A whole week without posting anything!
In defense of moi — we worked at a CBM (Children’s Bible Ministries) for five of those days and had no access to technology. We worked hard, ate comfort food, and fell into bed exhausted before 9 every night. My body kept telling me it was too old … But you know? I heard the word grace every day at least once, often twice — thank you, Jesus, for your daily supply of grace.
September is for
September is for Joy
When I think of the word Joy, the words to a favorite Christmas carol comes to mind.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing…
Nothing Christmas-y about those words. Not only are the words joyful, but so is the tune. So catchy. So praise-ful.
Have joy because Jesus is here; receive him; love him; honor him.
God will be praised
and the earth will sing
as we raise our voices
in glory to the King.
I’ve been thinking these last few days about the brouhaha that the Osteens caused with the video clip of Mrs. Joel essentially saying ‘Just worship God for yourself, because God wants us to be happy. When we’re happy, God is happy…’.
I’m very grateful that much of the Christian world has seen this for the false teaching that it is. Watching the video clip of her in the spotlight, exhorting thousands, made me cringe. And many pastors and teachers who are much wiser than I have written great words about it — J.Ligon Duncan and Al Mohler and Tim Challies to name a few. But my second thought after watching it (the first was –Oh God, forgive her and the many people who shouted Amen) was that she has confused happiness with joy.
The world loves happiness — Don’t’ worry, be happy. The Bible itself tells us not to worry for the Father has our backs. And Worship to the King definitely makes me happy. But the primary reason to worship is to give God joy. Is this just a lesson in semantics?
The Very First question in the Westminster Catechism is What is the chief end of man?
And the answer? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Note the word Enjoy.
Mrs. Osteen — Joy is Not happiness. Although joy can bring happiness, you can still have Joy without it. In fact, this might be a very hard Christian truth to learn and take to heart: You can have a joy-filled heart in the midst of trials.
Yes, Don’t’ worry, be joyful.
And one last discussion on happiness vs. joy: a quote from Al Mohler’s website that reads:
As writers from C.S. Lewis to the Apostle Paul have made clear, happiness is no substitute for joy. Happiness, in the smiling version assured in the Age of Osteen doesn’t last, cannot satisfy, and often is not even real.”
Joy is one of the fruits of the spirit — happiness isn’t listed in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. And in 2 Corinthians 8:2 Paul writes:
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”
There it is — joy in the midst of a great trial. And me? I have been anxious and worried all day, giving this anxiety to God over and over again. Asking for that joy and peace that comes from knowing He will provide. At some point during the day, I stopped worrying and felt more at ease; but I think joy is a contemplation, not an emotion. Perhaps that’s a difference as well — happiness being the emotion. And we all know how unstable emotions are. 🙂
Studying on this verse brings joy.
and just to be clear, prosperity from the Lord is not necessarily prosperity in the way regular Westerners think of prosperity… (Since we’ve been talking about the Osteens and their false theology…)
Ah the joy hard physical labor brings. Aching muscles, but a sweet satisfaction that you have done your best for God.
C.S. Lewis writes eloquently of joy in The Weight of Glory.
Apparently then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache… The whole man is to drink joy from the fountain of joy.”
I have been reading about longings this week. And I found another quote from Sarah Young in Jesus Calling that I underlined sometime ago. She writes:
I carefully crafted your longings and feelings of incompleteness, to point you to Me. Therefore, do not try to bury or deny these feelings. Beware also of trying to pacify these longings with lesser gods: people, possessions, power.
Those longings! They lead to idols, envy, an ache we try to fill with things other than God. They are joy-stealers. So I’m trying this week to think on what about the nature of God gives me the most joy. What is easiest to find in all the amazing things He has done to remind me of that joy? Nature, creation, the beautiful world are the easy ones. The Cross is another. His love in caring for me when I was still an unrepentant sinner. Those are the things that can sometimes make my fingertips ache with joy. So I’m going to try to think specifically and directly on those when I find myself angry or complaining or frustrated. To get rid of that neurotic fancy of being on the outside of the door I’ve longed to enter.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears and listens to and heeds My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will eat with him, and he with Me. — Revelation 3:20.
Is happiness external and joy internal? I’m thinking on this today…
That happiness might be based on events and circumstances and thus, is fleeting. That joy is that amazing gratefulness we feel welling up inside when we consider that we are loved by the one true God, saved by Christ, and held up each day by the Spirit.
In our book study last night we determined that God does not want us to be happy-la-di-da all the time. He wants us to long for Him (which does not preclude joy) and some of those desires and longings may cause us pain. They certainly might not bring happiness. We were created for Eden, paradise, and we long for that perfect place, which will only be with Him, and can only be filled by Him, not our idols nor our false gods nor the events in our lives that bring or don’t bring happiness. And when we are filled with Him, that is the deep joy of a Christ-filled life.
I think Gratitude helps us reach down deep to see and feel that joy.
While all men seek after happiness, scarcely one in a hundred looks for it from God.”
May God strengthen me ‘with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified me to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.’ (Colossians 1:9-12,
And who do we think Jesus is? If he is the one who commands the winds and the waves to be quiet (Matthew 8:23-27) then He is certainly The Lord of the universe who can calm all storms. And yet, He is the one who took our sins on himself and did it for us so that we might live. There is no greater joy…
Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Today I was reading
the housewife theologian’s
review of Michael Horton’s new book Ordinary; she wrote this beautiful paragraph:
I’ve always said that I love it when people are good at what they do and do it with joy, whether it is my grocery bagger or my chiropractor. Our vocations are about serving God and neighbor, and Horton explains that “true excellence has others in mind.”
Brother Lawrence wrote about doing menial tasks and serving others with joy hundreds of years ago in his book The Practice of the Presence of God. If only I could focus on that each time I start a task. Pray for joy in doing it, no matter what it may be.
I have a bag that reads Do Small Things with Great Love. Yes.
I have one more good quote to close September. It is from Edward Welch, counselor, writer, theology professor, blogger.
On this side of the cross, misery persists; but the scales are tipped in favor of JOY.
Usually by the last day of the month I know what I’m going to do and provide a good segue into the new month. It’s been crossing my mind to do 31 Days of Giving. I don’t know if I am being nudged by the spirit or if it is just my own brain talking.
I’m not a good giver. At least, not as good as I’d like to be, but maybe no one is?
I don’t know if I can do it — Give something every day? And keep a record of it? We are to do our giving in secret aren’t we? This is not what I was thinking of when I chose the word giving to write about for a month.
The words I have left to meditate on: Quiet, Thankfulness, Giving.
Maybe I can figure out a way to do it so God gets the glory — although December was supposed to be for giving…
October: 31 Days for Giving
Ideas for this first week of giving:
Take your neighbor a jar of homemade applesauce; sponsor a child; send a grocery gift card to someone who needs it; invite someone for dinner; write that note that you’ve been meaning to write; send a birthday gift in the mail; make some special lotion to give as little gifts.
But just as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us–see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:7
…this grace of giving…
What a beautiful way to think of giving–as a grace.
And so, in part, it is dependent on the Holy Spirit, to give wholly and sacrificially; to be the widow with her last coin; or the Samaritan who gave of his time; or to just do small things with great love…
…Or the boy who gave his bread and fish lunch to Jesus in order to feed the five thousand. Something humble, given gracefully and sacrificially becomes a miracle.
Ideas for this second week of giving: Give away the little gifts made last week; visit someone you don’t normally visit; write a thank-you card to someone special; go volunteer in a new place; write a letter or email to someone you haven’t talked to in a long time; offer to blow leaves from neighbor’s yard; donate an extra amount for water wells in Burkina Faso.
…For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. 2 Corinthians 8:12
Hmm, I have to think on this for awhile…
What I think this means is if your heart is right, it is not the size of the gift that matters. If you truly can’t afford $200 then $20 is good. But God knows the truth of your heart. The widow’s two copper coins were worth more than the rich man’s gift because it was all she had.
I’m going to try to find The Message version of this verse….
Today I’m going to quote from the pastor’s sermon. It’s a good thing I can go back to it online, so this is the conclusion to the sermon in his exact words:
That’s what is required for life in the Kingdom. Leaving behind that life that is all about me, me, me and entering, choosing to enter into that life that is all about Jesus. Now that is, as i said to begin with, incredibly simple and straightforward but it is counter-intuitive to life as most folks live it in 21st century America where what I can get from a relationship is what matters, what I can get from a church or my job or my free time is what matters, where what I can get from God is what matters. Jesus says “No” to all of that getting focus to life and offers in its place a willingness, and eagerness, a joy in giving. giving to, giving up: giving not with the intention of getting but giving because we recognize the invaluable treasure that we have been given in Jesus Christ, our Savior and King. — John Dorean
Not of our own power, but through the Holy Spirit’s power because of the Greatest Gift, His life for ours.
Since I’ve started this month’s word Giving, I’ve been uncomfortable with it. Not only have I been failing at giving every day, but I was hindered by the verse in Matthew that tells us to not let your giving be seen by men. This week I was led to this page from Randy Alcorn’s book Money, Possessions & Eternity. It is a lengthy article, with much interesting material, but I will only quote part of the conclusion:
I shouldn’t be bragging about my Bible study, prayer, evangelism, parenting or giving, but I shouldn’t be covering it up either. It’s easier for people to follow footprints than commands. If we aren’t willing to openly and humbly discuss giving, how can we expect to raise up givers? The church has plenty of examples of consumers—we need to see examples of givers. Hebrews 10:24 tells us to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” We can only be spurred on by what we can see.
He discusses how the “secret giving” must be balanced by the command to let your light shine in front of all people. He argues that giving can’t be covered up, shouldn’t be covered up, because as Christians we need to set the example for the world. We must give humbly, not for self-aggrandizement, but to raise up givers.
Ideas for a third week of giving:
Do an errand for an elderly friend; Do a random act of kindness; Ask someone to lunch; Donate toiletries to a women’s shelter; Buy/give your favorite book to a friend; Spend some time talking to someone you don’t normally talk to; Bake something for someone.
This You Tube video is 12 minutes long, but it’s lovely and brought tears.
The point is: give the gift, no matter how small, because small things turn into big things.
Two loaves is one too many for this two-person household…
It’s ironic that this month I’m focusing on giving, and we have sort of a cash-flow shortage this month… It is making me (Is that you, God?) come up with things other than just giving extra money to the food bank or donating to another person on Kiva or paying for someone in the line behind me…
Because we are doing without, it has made me more aware of the sacrifice of giving. And trusting God that He will provide when I step out on a limb and give extra when there isn’t much in the old bank account this month.
We middle class Americans — the statistics tell us we are richer than what? 95% of the rest of the world? Just click on Am I Rich?, or check out the Global Rich List and you will be stunned. One site tells me that if I have $2200 in assets I have more than 50% of the people in the world. That’s a junky car for us westerners… Sort of puts giving in perspective, doesn’t it?
In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
I know that gratitude is NEXT month. But somehow in my brain, gratitude, grace, giving, receiving, love, and prayer are all tangled up — perhaps a better analogy is a tapestry of different colors and textures of yarns. Singly, they are nothing special, but woven or sewn together they form the whole. A big picture. Taken as a close up, it isn’t always in focus; zoom out and the entire picture becomes clear. We are up close and personal, living our lives often without the clarity of focus that comes from stepping back and trying to see the whole.
Perhaps gratitude is one key that enables us to step back and consider the whole; thus its importance.
Gratitude enables us to defeat envy as it makes us focus on our blessings rather than our wants.
Gratitude enables us to give more than we ordinarily would as it makes us focus on how much we have.
Gratitude encourages humility as it makes us aware of what we have received.
Gratitude encourages prayer as we give thanks for what we have been given.
Through all this we become aware of the Grace and Love that is over all, above all, and through all.
Ideas for a fourth week of giving: (I’m struggling to come up with something new, here…)
Give your house up for a time to someone who needs a place to stay; Make a nice dinner for your sweetie; Pray for someone you’ve never prayed for before; Pray for an enemy — or at least someone you have trouble loving; pay a compliment to a stranger; instead of Christmas gifts to your family, plan giving charitable gifts in their honor; send an encouraging email; instead of asking to be paid back for what you bought, donate it.
Today I opened Becky’s Thankful Thursday post and at the bottom I found another quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer — one of my favorite theologians — on gratitude:
We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”
I know that I have been writing about gratitude in the last post; but somehow this quote just seems to tie it all together — gratitude for the ordinary gifts each day, which somehow makes the trying times, the unhappy times, the times of darkness, seem bearable.
Concentrate on the beautiful fall leaves against the bright blue sky, and your pain lessens a bit.
Say thank you for the small “coincidences” of daily life, and suddenly you can see God’s hand in your life.
Utter a prayer of gratitude that your husband comes home from work and gives you a kiss, and the blessing of life shared with someone comes to your mind.
When you remember all you have been given, your abundance is more readily shared.
Today I remembered a favorite quote from a favorite children’s book.
A gift is no gift if the giver loses nothing.
It’s from The Wanderers by Elizabeth Coatsworth, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. It’s old, and out of print , and I would pay a good bit to get a pristine copy of it. (but not $475 which was the price of a new copy on Amazon.) I need to read it again before I do a review of it — but tomorrow I am going to discuss the quote.
If the giver is not deprived of something it isn’t a gift. It might just be money that the giver is deprived of; or it might be the object itself that is the gift, but if it isn’t a loss, what is it? What can we call it? A donation? A barter? A transaction? The point is that it has to be a sacrifice. If the giver gives away something they don’t want, it’s not a sacrifice, not a gift. If I put my junk by the side of the road, and someone else takes it, it’s not a gift. And now we are back to sacrificial giving. Giving when it is hard. Giving when you don’t have much to spare. Giving when you can only trust that God will provide. It is close to the edge, this sacrificial giving. It is uncomfortable. It is stepping out on a limb, when that limb could break and send you crashing to the ground. But for trust in the God who says He will give us what we need. That’s what it really comes down to — do we believe He will do what He says He will do? Can we trust Him with our money?
The cardinal in this photo seemed like a gift the other day, even though it cost nothing to let us see it. He was so enjoying himself in our bird bath — and it was cold out! Frigid water didn’t seem to bother him at all. And speaking of that — the bird bath is empty today; I will go fill it with warm water — Just for that cardinal who gave us so much pleasure.
Sacrificial giving does not just apply to finances. It can be something that is a sacrifice of lifestyle or your time as well. Or simply a sacrifice of your own plans. I’m familiar with sacrificing my own plans… Although I must admit, I don’t always do it gracefully. And so today, I am once again grateful for Christ’s grace, which covers my lack.
Father full of grace, Thank you for overlooking my lack of grace when my plans have changed. Thank you for making me aware of the need that changed my plans. And I ask for a fruitful outcome of this sacrifice, even though it is nothing compared to the ultimate sacrifice of your son — his life, given freely, that we may have life in abundance. Amen.
This month has been a struggle. I feel weary — like Jacob wrestling with God. And I think I will never be able to live up to being the giver I want to be. I long for grace to rain down and to be able to feel it.
And once more a quote from Mere Christianity came to me in my inbox this morning:
Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not.
I’ll be glad to move on to gratitude…
November is for Gratitude
and my gratitude project is being posted on daily blog posts for the month. Start here.
December is Quiet
I’m taking a break from blogging this month to be quiet and rest in Him.
This will be hard. I’ve really enjoyed taking photos every day and writing poems to go with them. I’ve enjoyed the new friends, and part of me says this is really dumb to stop doing something you are enjoying. But the other part of me — the part that knows — knows it is the right thing to do for this season of Advent.
To truly live the way I am called to live. To immerse myself in the Word, in prayer, in quiet and rest in him. And I have a very good quote to start this quiet season:
Your restless heart will only find rest when it rests in the person, presence, and promises of Jesus.” — Paul David Tripp
“With an eye made quiet with the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.” — from LINES WRITTEN A FEW MILES ABOVE TINTERN ABBEY by William Wordsworth
But what beauty in that phrase. (No wonder he’s famous.) I had to go over and over it in my head, and I’m still not sure I’ve got it all — but harmony and joy together enable us to see rightly. To see the true nature of things without fanfare, without inserting ourselves, but in humility and quiet.
Yes, something to pray for…
As I leafed through the devotional that I’ve been using sporadically for the year, Streams in the Desert (by Mrs. Charles Cowman in 1925) this was the first entry I found. It is long — but well worth reading and digesting and taking to heart. They are a combination of writings from Andrew Murray and an old book The Still Hour by Austin Phelps.
He went up into a mountain apart to pray; and when the evening was come, he was there alone. –Matthew 14:23.
We are often in a religious hurry in our devotions. How much time do we spend in them daily? Can it not be easily reckoned in minutes? Whoever knew an eminently holy man who did not spend much of his time in prayer? Did ever a man exhibit much of the spirit of prayer, who did not devote much time in his closet?
It has been said that no great work in literature or science was ever wrought by a man who did not love solitude. We may lay it down as an elemental principle of religion, that no large growth in holiness was ever gained by one who did not take time to be often, and long, alone with God. –Austin Phelps.
The man Christ Jesus felt the need of perfect solitude — himself alone — entirely by himself, alone with himself. We know how much intercourse with men draws us away from ourselves and exhausts our powers. The man Christ Jesus knew this, too, and felt the need of being by himself again, of gathering all his powers of realizing fully his high destiny, his human weakness, his entire dependence on the Father.
How much more does the child of God need this himself alone with spiritual realities — himself alone with God the father. If ever there were one who could dispense with special seasons for solitude and fellowship, it was our Lord; but he could not do his work or maintain his fellowship in full power without his quiet time.
Would God that every servant of his understood and practiced this blessed art, and that the church knew how to train its children into some sense of this high and holy privilege, that every believer must have his time when he is indeed himself alone with God… –Andrew Murray.
and more from Streams in the Desert…
One of the blessings of the old-time Sabbath was its calm, its restfulness, its holy peace. There is a strange strength conceived in solitude…
Strength is not in bluster and noise. Strength is in quietness. The lake must be calm if the heavens are to be reflected on its surface.
The one thing needed above all others today is that we shall go apart with our Lord, and sit at his feet in the sacred privacy of his blessed presence. Oh, for the lost art of meditation. Oh, for the culture of the secret place. Oh, for the tonic of waiting upon God.
This time of isolation is a gift for you—even though you may not see it that way. Don’t fight to fill your life when God is trying to empty it. Yield. Lean in. Go lower. And open up. When the isolation has been initiated by God, take it …This time alone with God is GOLDEN! Why not finally surrender to Him, and allow HIM to begin his inner work in you today? Will you allow Him to cure the stubbornness, the stonewalling, the inflexibility, the impatience, the overbearingness, and the little white lies of untruthfulness in your inward parts that have for so long been unaffected?
I’ve just begun to read The Still Hour by Austin Phelps –quoted above. He begins with a description of a normal person’s prayer life.
…He not only experiences no ecstasy, but no joy, no peace, no repose. He has no sense of being at home with God. The stillness of the hour is the stillness of a dead calm at sea. The heart rocks monotonously on the surface of the great thoughts of God, of Christ, of Eternity, of Heaven.”
This sounds dangerously like mine. I’ve often struggled with prayer. I pray short conversational prayers all day long, because if I try lengthy prayers or meditation, I lose focus. I wander. I fall asleep. I find myself planning my day tomorrow. And so, I stay on the surface and experience little joy or repose.
I hope Mr. Phelps can offer some practical advice…
Further on he suggests that to solve the problem of not finding God’s presence when we pray, instead we redouble our efforts in spiritual duties which cost us nothing. He says,
Are we strangers to an experience like this? That when we mourn over our cold prayers as a misfortune, we evade a search of that disputed territory for the cause of them, through fear that we shall find it there, and we struggle to satisfy ourselves with an increase of spiritutal duties which shall cost us no sacrifice?”
I stepped out in faith today.
Did something uncomfortable.
I prayed about it last night —
and this morning before I left.
I promised God that I would not be anxious,
that I would leave it all to Him
to work out as He willed.
And it all went smoothly…
just as He planned…
The sky was ablaze with sunset colors tonight, and after two days of dismal gray, it was like seeing a rainbow after the storm.
360 degrees of dazzling light in the sky — from feathery clouds to giant stripes of gold, red, and purple — the colors lasted for 45 minutes or more. My photos don’t do it justice; how amazing are the colors of a sunset sky.
This is what the sovereign Lord, the holy one of Israel says,”In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. — Isaiah 30:15
The Lord your God is with you; He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing. — Zephaniah 3:17
How I love the visual of the Lord taking delight in me — quieting me with his love — rejoicing over me with singing!
Isn’t that an amazing picture to keep in your mind? Like a father holding and singing his child to sleep. Yes, Lord.
This was my daily CS Lewis quote. It is from The Screwtape Letters.
[The demon Screwtape writes:]
Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express—no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise— Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it.”
Yes. Great strides have been made in making the Earth a noise…
Here I sit in the truck,
Home Depot parking lot
Amidst the noise.
This is Sunday?
I should have never agreed to come.
I should have stayed home
And hung lights around the window.
Or baked. Or something.
Hear me grumble.
Noise does that to me.
Commercial Christmas Noise.
Tony Bennett sings Silver Bells
Cheap lights and crappy junk
Made in China
Fill the shelves
And I am the Grinch.
I think I’ll take a nap.
In the quiet of this month, I’ve been doing a lot of reading.
This morning I was reading How to Listen to God by Charles Stanley. As I was reading the chapter about listening, I came across his discussion of A.W. Tozer and his five keys to a deeper spiritual life. One of them is to never defend yourself.
This hit home with me. Most arguments around this house start with one or the other of us defending ourselves from an assumed slight, or harsh word, or complaint or …
When your defenses go up, so does your guard —
emotional guards that make us
hard, self-centered, and prideful.
Hard to talk to
a crust around our hearts,
to protect ourselves.
It is the beginning of blame.
Peel off that crust
and be gentle with the one
who holds your heart.
Handle with care.
read on Tim Challies blog:
“Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake, Amen!”
–Robert Louis Stevenson
“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
—C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle
The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.
I didn’t finish well with quiet, although this Christmas was comparatively quiet, I didn’t find time to write about it or wrap things up in a tidy package.
I found that I was alternately at peace and restless with the word. Quiet is what I long for, yet enforced quiet was not the spiritual well that I prayed it would be. Perhaps it was the timing? But I did indeed find that I could not sit still for times and do nothing. My mind was restless and focused on what I should be doing, rather than on God.
I wouldn’t say that I felt a total failure; there were times when I felt His presence; there were wonderful times of study and spiritual insight. Did I expect too much from just a month? Perhaps. This is a spiritual journey; a pilgrim’s progress filled with valleys and hills.
I will be content in what He has laid before me. Amen.