Category Archives: loving God

Acquainted With Grief

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ACQUAINTEDWITHGRIEF

 

Something was terribly wrong

The two women knew something was wrong when their otherwise strong, vibrant brother went to lie down on his bed in the middle of the afternoon.  “This isn’t like him,” they thought but dared not say, though the glances that they shot at one another told them both they were thinking the same thing.  In the morning he had been fixing the gate at the pasture, at lunchtime he was not his normal light-hearted self, but quiet and tired.  Now he was in bed.

 

“I’m sending a message for the physician,” the older one whispered.  “He’ll know what to do.”  With all the speed she could manage she found someone going to the city to take the message that he was urgently needed and to come quickly.

 

When she returned, her brother was burning with fever, writhing in pain, and moaning in a delirium.  The two sisters prayed that the physician would get there soon.

 

He didn’t.

 

By morning the women knew it was just a matter of hours, if not minutes, and their dear, kind brother would be gone.  They had seen this many times before.  Death – or rather dying – was not the unfamiliar thing to them that it may be for you or me.  They had watched their parents die, and the tell-tale breathing, weakness, and draining color were all there.

 

And they were right.  He was gone by mid-morning.

 

The tears flowed freely and the pain of losing him was almost more than they could bear.  The sobs racked their small frames and though they were surrounded by a host of neighbors and family members, all they wanted was for him to come back.  They had never been without him.  Ever since their parents died, the three siblings loved and cared for one another as few have known.

 

Because of the heat and the lack of provisions to keep his body at home for a few more days, the burial arrangements were made quickly.  He was laid to rest with all the honor due a wonderful man, but he was dead – and gone – nonetheless.  The sisters were heartbroken.

 

The Inexorable Grip of Grief

Grief is a terrible thing.  It holds captive the mind and the emotions as few experiences can.  It is all consuming, inexorably gripping, and in its rawest moments, literally painful. Grief hurts in a way that no other emotional experience can.  Breathing hurts.  Sitting, lying down, and thinking all hurt.  And these two sisters, at a time and in a culture where their brother was not only their dearest friend, but also their protector and provider, were not only grieving the loss of their beloved friend, but also facing a future of unimaginable consequences.  

 

Four days later the physician, their very close friend, finally arrived.  They were so happy to see him, but nothing could assuage their deep, abiding, and overwhelming grief.

 

They asked with aching hearts and burning, tear-filled eyes, “Why didn’t you come sooner?”  “If you had come right away he wouldn’t have died – I know you could have helped him.”  “What kept you?”

 

When Jesus saw them weeping, and those who were gathered together with them also weeping, he was moved and greatly troubled at their distress.  When he asked the sisters, “Where have you laid him?” and they showed him, Jesus wept in such as way that others gathered near whispered to themselves, “See how much he loved him!”

 

This story can be one of the ones that we become a little callous to – because we know what happens next.  But the truth is, Jesus knew what was going to happen next, and yet he grieved with them.  

 

Isaiah 53 tells us that Jesus was a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” and until I heard this story again about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus the other night, I had never connected the two.  I know that Jesus bore many griefs that we will never begin to understand – the sin of the world, the rejection, the agony of the wrath of God and the separation he felt – these are real and undeniable (and not even close to an exhaustive list).  So Jesus knows what it is like to feel grief – more intensely and more profoundly than we ever will.

 

Jesus enters our grief

But this story makes it clear that Jesus knows what it is like to enter into another’s grief as well.  Jesus knew  that he would raise Lazarus from the dead – he told his disciples so before they began the journey to Bethany where he already knew that Lazarus had died.  But the sight of the sisters in deep, agonizing grief moved him with visible compassion.  Jesus wept because he saw the pain that death had caused his dear friends.  He wept for their sorrow and for their broken hearts.  Jesus wept because he became acquainted with their grief.

 

What kind of love is this?  He didn’t need to do that.  He could have just gone straight to, “Lazarus, come forth!” and gotten him out of his grave clothes.  He could have said, “What’s all this fuss about?  He’s not dead, but only sleeping.  Come now – stop your crying and see.”  But he wouldn’t deny the pain that these two sisters were in – even though he knew their sorrow would turn to joy in a few moments.

 

Beloved – this is our same Savior.  He knows that our lives are but a vapor, but he is acquainted with our griefs.  He doesn’t just relate to our grief because he has felt his own – he enters into our griefs with us because he loves us that deeply.  He knows that he will change our sorrows into joy before we know it – and that from the perspective of eternity, this is very, very little.  But as Jesus entered into the pain and sorrow of Mary and Martha’s grief, even knowing what he was about to do, he enters into ours as well.

 

Jesus was indeed a man of many sorrows of  his own.  But he was also a man acquainted with grief – not only his own, but his beloved’s as well.  Jesus doesn’t only enter into our grief because he knows what grief is like and can understand what we are feeling.  He enters in and feels it with us because he knows and loves us.

 

That is a good and kind Savior.  May the joy of this Risen Friend be more deeply yours than it ever has been – each and every day.

 

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Lay it down…

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suffering

 

When Joseph was thrown into the pit by his own brothers, I’m sure there was some clawing and scraping at the sides of it to try to get out… but there was no escape.

 

When he was sold to the traders on their way to Egypt, I’m sure there was some begging and pleading and serious efforts to wrest himself from the chains… but no one’s heart stirred to relent, and he was hauled away.

 

And when he was unjustly thrown into prison, I’m guessing there were some pleas and cries for justice… but bars and locks only mocked his appeals.

 

When Job learned that all of his possessions and ten children were gone in a succession of calamities that would make anyone’s heart faint – his did.

 

The raw reality of human suffering is not meant to be sugar coated with platitudes and “sticker-verses” that make the speaker feel better but not the sufferer.  But it is meant for something.

 

Suffering is agonizing.  It is life-stealing.  Suffering is loss of the most intimate kind and produces groans too deep to understand.

 

But it is also good.

 

We may suffer evil, but the suffering itself is good.

 

We may fight and claw at it.  We may plead with God for it to stop.  We may cry and rail against the injustice inherent in much of it.  And almost always, our hearts grow faint under the weight of it.  But in the end, those of us who are called by King Jesus, must greet it as the good gift it is intended to be – that it actually must be – because of the One who has placed it in our lives.

 

The struggle is real, and it is part of the process we all need to go through to learn what we need to learn from the suffering.  But eventually, if we are to gain anything at all from pain and sorrow and loss, the struggle against it needs to stop.  We must all – every one of us – come to the place where we can hold that burden of struggling against the trial, look at it with full-frontal, honest scrutiny and lay it down.

 

If we believe what we say we believe – that for those who love God all things work together for  good for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28) – then this, too – this suffering, was meant for our good. If we believe that 1 Cor 4:17 is true – that our sufferings are producing an eternal glory that far outweighs them all – then we can begin to see that God is giving us something better than we would have even imagined to ask for.  If we believe what Eph 3 says – that this is the very way that we are strengthened to be able to comprehend the love of God – then we can see this as a gift from our Father who says, “I want you to know me this deeply, and widely, and broadly, and for this long.”  And that none of these things can separate you from that love (Rom 8:35).

 

If all of these things are true – really, actually, undeniably true – then we can begin to loosen our grips on the hair roots that promise to lift us out of the pit but never deliver, and the shackles that delight to keep our minds and bodies enslaved, the prison walls that mock our broken hearts, and even the soul-rending cries that long for good to be restored… and cling instead to these promises of God for our deliverance.

 

We can lay down the struggle against it all.  We must.  Or we miss the good that is inherent in it and we miss the good that only comes from believing and trusting Him through it.

 

This isn’t a decision that someone else gets to make for you, beloved sufferer. No one can tell you when it is time to cast your burden aside.  The only words that can help you are the ones that help you get to the end of your struggle – not avoid it.   You and I, each in our time, must struggle through the suffering.  We may feel alone, but our Savior, who is able to sympathize with our grief because he has borne the same, has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  He is patient, though and will wait for you to lay down the burden of struggling against his good gift on your own.

We are not wrong to rail against the evil in this world.  We are not silly to want love to prevail. We are not idealistic fools to long for peace and joy and goodness to be reality. God agrees.  But God’s path for us to see and know and live those things is not the path that we would choose.  There are no shortcuts for mercy.  There are no detours that bring peace.  

If we are to experience the full measure of God’s ultimate gift for us – Himself – we must do things his way.  We must accept that he knows what we do not and that his hard path is better than going the wrong way, no matter how tempting it may be.  

We learn how strong God is through the struggle, but we learn how good he is when we lay it down.

I’ve already failed…

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I’ve already failed…

I was so excited when it came!  A gift to myself – it’s truly beautiful.  I couldn’t wait to take it out of the wrapper and finger the crisp pages of my new Bible.  Here I am – “way old” as my grandson describes me – and this was the first time I had picked out my own Bible.  So really, I was very excited when it finally came.

I looked at the beautiful cover and the perfect pages and wide margins in it  – just calling me to invest in the treasures that are there.

But I have only written in it twice since then.  And I’ve only read it to find other things – not to simply spend time with my Maker.

It’s January 10th of the New Year, which isn’t very many days into the New Year… But I’ve already failed at my reading plan.

I’ve been reading blog posts about how important a Bible reading plan is – how God sovereignly works through your reading plan and why I should keep at it even when I don’t want to keep at it… But there is this heavy weight of guilt and obligation that can clang through the lines of those blog posts, isn’t there?

So I’m not here to tell you that you should have a plan to read your Bible.

I’m here to give you reasons that you’ll want to read have one.

  1. Your Bible is a love-letter from your Dad.   I first realized this when I was about 40 years old.  I really wish I had realized this earlier in my life.  It revolutionized how I looked at the pages of Scripture.  Perhaps this realization hit me hard because the failings of my own dad, but I’ve talked to people who have had great dads and they are moved by this as well.  The Almighty Creator of the Universe has cared enough about you to tell you about himself and why you are here. Don’t you want to hear him tell your story?
  2. There is an understandable story line… if you know the story.  When I’m teaching students how to articulate and defend their faith, I start the year off with this news:  The overarching story of the Bible is this – that God has created and redeemed a people to Himself.  They rarely have a clue what I’m talking about in September.  I have to repeat this many times through the year and have to point to it again and again through our lessons, but usually around January or so, some of them start to get it.  “Wait, Mrs. Chapman – this is what you meant!”  Yes, child, now you see.  God didn’t need anything or any one.  He was enjoying sweet and perfect fellowship already.  But He was so full and overflowing with love and generosity that he chose to create mankind so that we could participate in the beautiful communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, too.  And He has woven the story in such a way that He has permanently secured the safety of his beloved children by including sin and rescue and all-powerful safe-keeping from all that would work against us.  Everything in Scripture is an explanation of how and why and who and when and where God has gone about creating and redeeming His people for His glory and for our good.  
  3.  We can know this good Father – intimately.  When my circumstances are hard I feel far away from God.  I know that’s pretty normal – but I also know that it’s not good.   I need to be reminded that I am loved.  I want to know that there is a purpose in all of this harsh reality and that I am not being subject to the whims of “fate.”  I know that isn’t true, but I have to struggle hard not to believe it.  When I separate myself from my maker, the silence that I allow to creep in is menacing.  Once it becomes menacing, it’s not long before it becomes crushing.  But this is something I am doing to myself!  All I have to do is browse the Psalms to see that David ran to God when his heart was broken, not away from Him.  I want my heart to stop aching.  The only way I have found for that to happen is being reminded of the infinitely good purposes of God.  Joseph, Job, David, Isaiah, and so many more remind me that my circumstances and gut-wrenching sadnesses are not unique to me and are nothing new.  God has seen all of this before.  He doesn’t just get His people through the horrors that sin produces, battered and scarred to go on another day.  He uses every shred of every second for good purposes that far, far outweigh their cost.  One day, we will say, “Huh?  What sadness?  Oh, yeah – I’d completely forgotten about that!”  It will be like the trash in the dump – nothing to even consider.  But I can’t remember that if I’m not being reminded of who God is.  I need to know Him.
  4.  He prepares us for what lies ahead.  I like the verses that talk about “living in peace with all men” and all things being done “decently and in order.”  I mean – I like the thrill of adventure and all, as long as it’s all fun and good.  But my life just isn’t like that.   So try as I may to have things run smoothly, they don’t.  They get screwed up and wonky, and downright nasty and ugly.  Unforeseen circumstances, unmet expectations, unrealistic notions, and hey, let’s just call a spade a spade – selfishness, greed, angry demands, and short tempers can mess with the whole “decently and in order” thing… often before 7:30am!  How can we live in peace with all men if we can’t even live in peace in our own minds?!  I need instructions.  Carefully worded, re-readable, understandable instructions for how to handle the things I know will come along.  So do you.  Thankfully, God has been kind in this regard.  There are lots of places to start but may I suggest First and Second Corinthians?  Those people were messed up…. like us.
  5.  Like begets like.  That’s a quaint way of saying, once you start it’s easier to keep going.  Reading and understanding produce more reading and understanding.  If you want to know God better, understand how to live a life that honors him better, and not struggle with the same old garbage that keeps dogging you year after year – there is one simple solution.  Read God’s instruction manual and pray for understanding.  He will help you keep reading and increase your understanding again and again.  When I was about 21 or 22 years old I realized that I wasn’t being very purposeful in how I read the Bible.  I started out plowing through Genesis but the brakes of overwhelming confusion seized up when I hit Leviticus.  I remember thinking, “WHAT is with all these rules and all of this blood?!?”  Let’s just say it didn’t go well after that. After a long hiatus, I determined I could spare 10 minutes per day.  That was my limit or I knew I would get frustrated and just quit again.  But soon, my 10-minutes per day of gritted-teeth determination melted into a desire to know and understand. It’s a little amusing to me now that reading the Bible 10 minutes a day seemed like such a chore – but the memory of it is clear enough to have compassion for anyone who is struggling.  Give yourself the gift of 10 minutes a day.  You’ll soon be craving more.
  6. It’s a balm for our souls.  I’ve hinted at this above, but I don’t want anyone to miss the point.  Reading Scripture helps!  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being selfish in a way that looks to God to help!  Reading the Bible gives me perspective on the details that sometimes try to swallow me up.  It lifts my gaze to One who is higher than I.  It reminds me who I am and Whose I am.  Reading my love letter from my Dad reminds me that I have one, and that He’s a good, good father.  He reminds me that I can run to Him and cry or even rail and that he will always be there and still love me.  Reading my Bible helps me live better – love better.  And probably, most importantly, keeps me worshipping the One who loves me most.

So, don’t feel guilted into developing the discipline of daily reading.  Start again today because you’re shamelessly looking for God to bless you.  Look forward to all the benefits and fulfilled promises of knowing and serving the God who made you and takes care of you.  

Below are some sites for plans that are really helpful.  Some love the 1-year plans – I don’t.  I like the 3- or 5- year plans.  I’m a slow reader and I like the freedom of being able to park somewhere for a while if I want to.  But if I have no plan I can get lazy and have trouble getting “un” parked.  Hopefully, these will help you, too.

Lots of plans to choose from here

Design your own plan here

Get your kids in on the reading here
How do you keep yourself on track?  Was this post helpful to you?  Leave a comment below!

When we focus on the problem rather than the promise…

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pic-of-david-and-goliath

I read again this morning the account of Joshua and Caleb and the other 10 guys.  You know, the 12 who were sent into Canaan to spy out the land… that God has promised to give to them.

 

After reading I asked my husband, “Would you have been a Joshua or Caleb, or would you have been one of the other guys?”  I know we can never really know what we would do in someone else’s circumstances, but it is good to play “what if…” now and then.

 

We’ve been talking about “risk” lately – when it’s right to take risks and when it isn’t.  And as I heard the story of the 12 spies again this morning a connection was made:  we are not willing to risk when we ought to be eager to do so when we are focusing on the problem in front of us rather than the promises given to us – or more precisely, Promise-Maker who has given them.

 

Example 1:  The Israelites had just left their 400-year slavery in Egypt.  They walked right out from under Pharoh’s nose because God made it possible.  But they encountered a road-block – the Red Sea stretched out before them, and Pharoh’s army was not in hot pursuit to get their slaves back.

 

Admittedly, this was a big problem.  But they had just witnessed their deliverance from the 10 Plagues – including the Angel of Death!!!  They had seen the pillar of cloud that day and the pillar of fire last night that had protected and guided them!  Had they forgotten already?   I mean, we’re talking hours at most here.  Were their memories really that short?  I don’t think so.  But their faith was really that small.  Moses saw the problem for what it was, too, but focused on his great God, who had already proven Himself to be a Great Promise-keeper, instead.

 

Example 2:  The Israelite army was at a stand-still, being held hostage by the taunts and derision of a surly, stupid, bragadocious bully (named Goliath).  He was an oaf, but a huge one, and apparently big enough to send a whole army of God’s men to the other side of the valley to quake in their boots.

 

So, OK, Goliath set the terms for a potentially bad deal.  But the Philistines had invaded Israel’s land that God Himself had given to them.  Every single Jewish boy or girl grew up from infancy knowing that God had given them this land as an inheritance.  It didn’t get lost in history but was central to their identity as a people!  Saul’s army of capable, trained warriors knew it, too.  But they were focusing on the problem of Goliath.  Youthful David, (aka shepherd boy who had just been named King) saw the problem, too, but focused on the Great God who was also the Promiser of the Land (and ultimately their securety) instead.

 

Example 3:  Jesus had begun his ministry and had gathered his 12 specially chosen, closest disciples.  The word had gotten out about Jesus and he was attracting multitudes of men, women, and children who wanted to hear for themselves what great things this teacher was saying.  They had gone out to the countryside and the spent the entire day traveling and then listening to Jesus’ every word.  When the day was waning Jesus told his 12, very special, hand-selected, closest followers to feed these hungry people on whom he had compassion.  Their reaction?  They looked at their relatively empty hands, then at each other, then at Jesus and said, “Umm…With what?!?”

 

OK – there was a lot of people – 5,000 men, plus women and children.  And OK – they didn’t have much to work with – five loaves of bread and two fish.  The problem wasn’t the situation – the problem was that the disciples were focused on the PROBLEM and not the Promiser.

 

So we’re clear here, these guys – these 12 close students of Jesus who followed him everywhere he went – had just seen and heard Jesus do amazing things.  They had just heard him preach the Sermon on the Mount, they had just seen him heal a woman with a long-standing bleeding disorder that no one else could fix.  They had just seen him deliver a man from a demon, heal the Centurion’s soldier without even touching him, raise a little girl from the dead, and oh yeah, calm the storm that the seasoned, hardened fishermen thought they were going to die in.  We’re talking just seen and heard these things!!!  

 

Jesus, however, knew well the Father he served and knew that He would supply all their needs.

 

It seems, folks, that we might want to pay attention to the typical, human responses here.  We are prone to doubt.  We are prone to lose sight and forget.  We are prone to focusing on the problems rather than the promises.

 

We don’t do ourselves any favors by reading these accounts and thinking that we’d be the first to line up to take the land, watch for the sea to part, fight the giant, or figure out how to feed the crowd.  We probably would be with the group that said, “We’d be better off dead than in this predicament!”  But if you’re at all like me your heart leaps at the prospect of being with Joshua and Caleb, David, and Jesus instead!

 

The key in all of these accounts is to KNOW THE GOD WE SERVE.

 

We do not have to fear natural or man-made disasters when we know the One who holds every molecule in his hands.

 

We do not have to fear those who can hurt – or even kill – us when we know the One who has already numbered our days before one of them ever came to be.

 

We do not have to fear the challenges that we face that seem impossible when we know the One who shall supply all our needs – and give us abundantly more than we could ask for or imagine according to his riches in glory because He loves us and takes care of us.

 

How do we know God?  It’s really, really, really simple:  read his love letter to you.  Open up the pages of Romans and John and Isaiah and Genesis and all of it and soak it up as your personal love letter to you from your Dad.  Then, read it again because there are layers and layers and layers of love and goodness there that you can never fully plumb the depths of.  And share it with someone who really needs to know God, too.
*You can read the fuller stories of the examples above in Numbers 13-14; Exodus 14; 1 Samuel 17; and Luke 9.  But I would encourage you to also read the surrounding chapters (and books!).

When Loving Seems Risky…

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image-of-broken-heart-e1438801033741“Risk is right,” or so says John Piper.  And David Platt.  And my pastor, and a bunch of other people I respect and admire.  I’ve heard risk loosely defined as, “an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury.”

 

Well, sometimes that word “possibility” is a little misleading…

 

We take risks all the time (unless we live in a hole somewhere).  We consider the “pros” and “cons” of a situation – and what that often really means is:  If I do this what could I gain compared to what it will cost me?  We are willing to take risks because there is a chance – often a good chance – that it will pay off and bring us great rewards.  We take a new job, we move to a different house, we go to grad school, we get married, we start businesses all because the possibility of reward is worth any loss that we might have to face.  We risk, because we’ve measured and concluded that there is a reward to be had – here, now.  A tangible, definable, measurable reward.

 

But there is one area of our lives that doesn’t – or really shouldn’t – work that way.

 

Love.

 

Let me try to explain first by way of example.

 

When you have a child, an odd (but wonderful) thing happens – to many of us for the first time.  We love another being more than we could have ever imagined being capable of loving without that creature being able to return that love – or anything – at all.

 

Mothers and fathers the world over know this from their experience.  If you’re not a parent you will just have to imagine, and trust that what I’m telling you is the truth.

 

That tiny lump of flesh and bones is precious in your sight despite the blood, the mess, the strange color, and the frantic, self-absorbed screaming coming out of it.  You don’t care about any of that.  You love that little baby with more than all your heart – your capacity to love swells immeasurably and no matter what, you find yourself full to the brim and overflowing with love for that wee creature.

 

They make you crazy.  They suck your energy dry.  They bleed your bank account faster than leeches draw blood.  They are relentlessly demanding, and selfish, and hungry, and needy…

 

Yet, you love them – simply because they are ours.

 

Now we may derive some joy out of caring for them, and we may build relationships that teach them to love us, too – but that is not why we love them.

 

And we know that if something were to happen to them – or if something already has – that would forever prevent them from being able to love us in return, we would still love them with all of our hearts – because our love for them was never based on what they could or couldn’t do for us.  It’s a one-way street from beginning to end, whether or not they ever love us in return.

 

Trust me, I’m thrilled beyond measure that every single one of my kids loves me.  My heart would be broken and full of a terrible sorrow if they didn’t…

 

But I would still love my children if they didn’t love me – and so would you.

 

We feel as if there isn’t a great risk in this kind of one-way love.  Pretty much everyone (unless there are unnatural problems involved) loves their kids.  We know that the normal course of events is that when we love someone, they love us back.  

 

But what do you do when it isn’t that way?  We’re not called to only love our children, are we?  What do you do when the risk of loving is terribly high because you know it will be painful and sorrowful and hard no matter what you do when you try to love a neighbor, relative – or even a spouse who doesn’t love you?  We want a good return on this love-investment.  We want riches and plenty – compound interest on our principle deposits of care and concern.  We’ll settle for equal contributions to these transactions but we’re all hoping for dividends instead.  Who keeps investing in something that never gives any kind of increase or accumulation in return?  It’s just foolish to keep throwing good love, after bad, isn’t it?

 

Actually…. No.  It isn’t.

 

Loving the unlovely – the selfish, the stubborn, the mean, the angry….  This is exactly what we are called to do.   It is exactly what Jesus did.  Loving those who insulted, ridiculed, slandered, maligned, persecuted, and even abused him  – this is what he did.  With compassion he looked at the ones who were crucifying Him and said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”! 

 

I know, I know – there are caveats and disclaimers that always need to go in right about here. I don’t have time to go into the differences between lovingly standing against sin and sinfully letting it go (that’s another post someday).  But let’s not use the exceptions – the extreme cases of horrifying evil and abusive sin – as excuses to keep the rest of us from doing the hard work of loving the unlovely.

 

We all have people in our lives who are truly difficult to love – I do, too.  We have neighbors, relatives, and family members who are so caught up in their own lives that they seem incapable of empathy, much less selfless love.  All hopes of mutually loving relationships have probably vanished long, long ago.  But here’s the thing:  We have to learn to choose to love them anyway.  We have to learn to choose to love them even though there will be little – if anything – given in return.  We have to learn to be willing to risk being hurt – again – by them, because we love them because of who Jesus is and what He has done – not them.

 

“Why?” you ask?….  For the sake of the Gospel.  Romans 5:8 and 1 John 4:10 both tell us the same thing… God demonstrated and proved His love for us in that while we were still sinners – selfish, mean, hard-hearted beasts – Christ died for us.  Did you catch that?  He laid down his life for us – you and me – when we were still nasty, biting, ill-tempered sinners.  He didn’t love us because we loved him back.  He loved us in spite of the fact that we didn’t.  As every good father does, he loves us simply because we are His.

 

What a beautiful portrayal of Christ-like love our journeys can be when others can marvel at the love we give when it looks like this, and know that it comes from a supernatural Source!

 What a loud, unmistakable testimony our lives become when we say from our hearts, “Lord – I can’t do this without you!  I cannot love this person – I don’t even want to – but I love YOU and I know that is what you want me to do.  Help me to be willing to risk the hurt, the pain – all the messiness of this risky, one-way love.   Help me, please to love the way that you have loved me,” and he does all that you ask.

The world notices, and when they do we can point them to Jesus when they ask – “HOW do you do it??” 

But even if they never do – even if they never notice or ask or admire or appreciate this risky, selfless, one-way love you give, God does.  And that is worth far more than we will ever lose in these costly love transactions.  Our returns will be a hundred-fold – and that is a promise from God Himself.  So you see, this kind of “risky” love isn’t really risky after all.  It’s a sure-fire investment given by the One who manages the Books.

May the Lord bless you and keep you

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If you have gone to church for any services during your life (weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc.) there is a good chance you have heard words like these before:

 

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

 

It’s a blessing.  It is given from one person to another.  But it is also a prayer prayed by someone for the benefit of another.

 

It’s taken from the book of Numbers in the Bible, which reads like this:

 

The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (ESV)

 

You can see that the wording is similar – but not exactly the same.  And that is what I want to explore in this post… praying scripture personally for one another for their good and for God’s glory.

“I’ll pray for you,” is something we might say often enough – or think we should say – but my experience is that, in general, we are very weak in this area.  And brothers and sisters –  we need to be better at it.  That’s just the simple truth.

 

I first read about blessing others in a little booklet called A Father’s Guide to Blessing His Children, by David Michael (you can find it here).  In it the author not only tells why father’s should seek to bless their children, but how.  I highly, HIGHLY recommend the book – and the practice.  (I know others have written on this as well, but this little resource was powerful, easy to read and understand, as well as inexpensive.)

 

Michael shows how we can take scripture that is full of instruction and warning and encouragement and all manner of teaching – and pray it for our kids.  His emphasis is on blessing them personally, in Christ’s name and for His name’s sake.

 

It’s not hard at all to motivate people to want to ask God to bless their children (who doesn’t want the blessings of God to be showered upon their offspring?).  But I have found that using this same concept of taking passages and praying to God on someone else’s behalf is a powerful tool in the believer’s hands.

 

Saying things like, “Lord, I want to lift up my friend Tim as he goes for his new job interview, I know he really needs a better job,” is OK, and the Holy Spirit knows your heart so if that’s all you’ve got, by all means pray it!  But it’s weak, and it’s not OK to just stay there.

 

How about praying like this instead, “Lord, please bless my friend Tim as he goes for his new job interview.  You know that his heart is anxious – calm him and grant him peace.  Help him Lord to remember that whatever circumstances he finds himself in to be content – for he can do all things through You who gives him strength.  Lord, fill him as only the God of hope can.  Fill him with all joy and peace as he trusts in You, so that he may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Help him to remember Lord, to cast all of his cares upon You, for You care for him.  Help him to remember that you have promised to supply all his needs according to all Your riches and glory in Christ Jesus, and that we serve You, Lord, our God who is able to do infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine.  Grant Tim peace today in You.”

 

If you were praying these words with Tim which one do you think would fill him with courage and confidence in the Lord?  Which one would remind him who has his future and his good in His hands?  And probably most importantly, which of these two prayers would bless Tim – and also, at the very same time – honor God the most?

 

These aren’t my words – I’m no better at praying than you or anyone else – these words are all from scripture: Philippians 4:11-13, 19; Romans 15:13; 1 Peter 5:7; and Ephesians 3:20.

 

I learned a long time ago that the Bible expresses my deepest needs and longings far better than I can.  If it’s true for me as I’m trying to figure my own life out, it’s got to be true for all the people I care about, too!  

 

If we believe that God himself breathed his very words into Scripture, and that they are life-giving truth sufficient to save, I’m guessing it’s a pretty good source to get our prayer-language from, eh?

 

Here are a few more so you can start to get the hang of this:

 

A prayer of blessing from Psalm 23 could be like this:

 

“Lord, show ______________ that you are her Shepherd.  Help her to see that because of that, she will never be in want.  Show her Lord, that in the greenest of pastures she can be content and lie down in rest.  Show her that you will provide still waters for her thirsty soul.  Lead her Lord, in the paths of righteousness, for Your name’s sake.  Remind her Lord, that even when she walks through the darkness and in the shadow of death, she has nothing to fear, for You are with her.  Teach her Lord the goodness and comfort of your rod and staff.  Give her abundance in the face of her enemies.  Anoint her and cause the cup of your goodness to overflow in her hands.  Help her to know that Your goodness and mercy will follow her all the days of her life.  And remind her, Lord, that in the end, she will live with you, in your house, under your protection and provision forever and ever. Amen.”

 

Do you think that if your daughter or friend or sister heard you praying for her like this it would speak to her inner-most being?

 

A prayer from Matthew 5:3-11 could go like this:

 

“Lord, grant __________________ the kind of poverty of spirit that leads him to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Comfort him as he grapples with are mourns over his own sin, and also over the injustices he sees around him.  Help him to be meek – seeking your will and not his own.  Cause his soul to hunger and thirst for righteousness as he hungers and thirst for food and water today.  Satisfy him with only Yourself.  Give him wisdom and power to be merciful, and do as You’ve promised Lord and show him mercy.  Help him to see the state of his own heart as You see it Lord, and purify it so that he can see you clearly.  Remind him of his calling to bring peace – your peace – to those around him and give him courage to speak boldly to those he interacts with today.  Cause his speech to be so clear that everyone around him identifies him quickly as your son.  And Lord, if he is persecuted because of it, remind him that nothing can take away his citizenship which is with You in heaven.  If others speak ill of him, or lie about him, or scorn him because he is Your faithful servant speaking the truth in love, remind him of the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before him, who were faithful in the face of persecution and death because loving You and being faithful to You was worth far more than even their own lives.  Grant him strength to follow hard after You today and every day Lord, for his good and for Your glory.  Amen.”

 

Do you think your husband or your son or brother would go into their day differently being prayed for like this?

 

I think I would.

 

Listen – I need this, too.  I pray this way often by myself, but I don’t do it often enough in the hearing of others.  What a precious gift I withhold from those I love and care about when I don’t.

 

Will you join me today in looking for ways to bless others AND honor God in this way today?
Share your stories with me.  Help us, Lord, to encourage one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds…. That’s my prayer for YOU.

Fasting gives me a headache…

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In case you haven’t heard there’s a lot of talk about fasting this month.  It’s Ramadan, but Muslims aren’t the only ones who fast.

 

Recently a friend of mine asked me if I would fast with her and pray for some friends, pray for her work, and pray about the “stuff” of life.

 

“Sure!” I said on the outside.  “ugh… “ I said on this inside.  And so, like the angels and demons I’d seen on peoples’ shoulders in the cartoons of my youth – my internal war began – again.

 

Fasting gives me a headache.  A serious, throbbing, cannot-ignore-it sort of headache.  I feel grumpy and distracted and completely out of sorts.  I can’t believe how much I think about eating when I’m fasting!  It’s astounding to me that I can spend so much time thinking about what I could be eating – when my goal is to forget about eating!

 

Have you tried it?  Have you struggled?  Have you quit in the middle and said, “This is STUPID!!”?  I have.  I hate to have to admit it, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has had to come face to face with how weak and distractable and cowardly I really am.

 

But that is precisely the point.  It is because each and every one of us is weak and selfish and filled up to the brim with lies that we believe about our own abilities that we need to fast.  Contrary to what many believe:

 

We do not fast to make ourselves clean before God.

We do not fast because it somehow convinces God to accept us.

We do not fast to pay for the wrong things we’ve done.

We do not fast to atone for the wrong thoughts we’ve had.

We do not fast to in any way clean up our act, straighten ourselves out, or try in some way to “get things right with the Man Upstairs” (as some of my childhood friends explained their fasting during Lent).

 

Fasting will show you how woefully short you fall of being in any way clean before the Lord.

Fasting will show you how prone you are to pleasing yourself rather than God.

Fasting will reveal to you how many more wrong things you do than you ever wanted to admit.

Fasting will kick up the settled dust of wrong thinking, and show you just how prone you are to thinking about ridiculous things that don’t matter – at the very least – if it doesn’t also reveal to you how prejudiced, sneaky, snarky, and just downright mean you can be.

 

By now you might be saying, “Um, and why is this a good thing?”  It’s good because we need to know these things about ourselves.  We need to know our sinfulness more and more completely, because doing so reveals to us the beauty of the cross and the glory of our Savior in ways that we can’t comprehend without it.

 

How else can the sacrifice of a perfect lamb become truly precious to us if we don’t understand that Christ died for us while we were swimming around in a sewage-filled ocean of our own making?  How else will we treasure the gifts of redemption and adoption if we never realize how far we have alienated ourselves from God and chosen instead to dirty ourselves by continuing to wallow around in and fill up our ocean with more and more insanity?  We lie to ourselves about ourselves far too easily.  We need disciplines like fasting to shake us awake to reality and remind us why we needed a Savior in the first place.  As it turns out, quietly sitting next to Jesus for any length of time will make you want to slither away from Him rather than present your “cleaned up” life to him, because we all know what it’s like to try to clean ourselves up from that kind of mess with a hanky that we’ve had in our pockets the whole time – it’s impossible.  

 

And that is why we fast.

 

When we get to the place where we realize the very best we might possibly hope for is to sneak away unnoticed by the brilliant Son of God, it is then that we can see clearly that He is coming after us – pursuing us with gentleness and love and forgiveness that we know we don’t deserve.  And yet, he brings us to stand there in His presence and accept His thorough cleansing from top to bottom, inside and out.  

 

Do you know that He loves you this way?  Do you want to know?  Come and fast with me.

 

There’s no formula – you will likely need to experience some failures and successes on your own in this because that is part of the discipline.  But we all need someone to disciple us.  It will become painfully clear to you – within about the first 20 minutes or so – that this is going to be harder than you thought.  But here are some practical things that have helped me keep my focus through the struggle to fast.

 

Hunger Pangs:  Saying “no” to food shows us how much we need to say yes to hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matthew 5).  Hunger is a powerful drive that God has given us.  He has intended it for our survival, but He has also intended it to teach us to hunger and thirst for Him.  When I’m fasting and I want to eat something, I pray, “Lord, help me to hunger and thirst after you even more than food.  Help me to know you in such a way that you fill me up and I am satisfied, no matter my circumstance, no matter if my belly is full or empty.  Lord show me what you want me to learn about you through this fast and help me to see you clearly.”  In practical terms though, I have to steer clear of the kitchen and keep my fast elsewhere.

 

Distractions:  It’s usually about half-way through that prayer that I find myself thinking about other things!  It’s as if my heart says, “Fine, if you’re not going to give in on the food front how about we talk about the laundry that needs to get done, or the dishes, or …that stinkin’ kid didn’t take the trash out… again!”  Maybe for you it will be your boss, or the incompetent drivers on the road, or your classmate’s weird outfit, or your coworker’s bad breath, or… you get the idea.  I can be distracted by anything when it comes time to pray.  I have to have a plan.  I have found that writing out my prayers is enormously helpful, and writing out what I want to pray about first, so that my “prayers” don’t become a rambling stream of consciousness instead, is almost critical.  (go ahead, laugh, but you know it’s true…)

 

Sometimes sitting and praying close to electronics is too distracting.  I use prayers written on index cards that I can take into another room or into the car or on a walk or anywhere that I won’t be tempted to “just check real quick.”

 

Boredom:  Yeah, I know – we shouldn’t get bored when we’re trying to talk to God.  But since I’ve already been brutally honest, I figure I might as well go all the way.  Sometimes I feel as if I’ve run out of things to talk with God about.  I get bored with the whole idea of focusing on Him and I just want to do something mindless and easy.  This, too, can lead me to pray, “Lord – teach me to want you!”  And if that doesn’t spark some other requests, then simply spending some time doing ordinary tasks and then thanking and praising Him for them is unbelievably helpful.  “Lord, thank you for this laundry to do for it means you have blessed me with clothing to keep me warm and covered.  Thank you for the family members who wear these things and forgive me for grumbling about serving them.  Thank you for ordering the world in such a way that families are your design that we can learn to trust and grow and know you.  I praise you Lord for you have formed me and each of these whom I love so dearly in wonderful ways.  I praise you Lord for you have created beauty and goodness and truth that surrounds us everywhere.  Help me, Lord, to point others to you so that they, too, can worship you in Spirit and in Truth.”  Sometimes it’s helpful to simply keep your hands busy while your mind is refocusing on why you’re fasting.

 

Sleepiness: Yes, it’s tempting to just go and take a nap rather than try to keep alert and focused – especially when everything is warring against that.  Sometimes I have to absolutely command myself not to give in, but because I am doing most of my work at home, my bed or that comfy chair can be really tempting. If you’re working somewhere else, you might not have this trouble during your work hours, but when you get home you will.  When it happens, you’ll need a plan:  take a walk, put on some worship music, clean the bathroom if you have to, and commit to talking with your Heavenly Father while you’re doing them.  

 

Headache:  Yes, I really do get whopper headaches when I fast.  Sometimes I push through them, and ask God to use them to draw me closer to Him.  If they’re helping me do that, I deal with the headache.  But sometimes, I take some pain reliever.  It’s not about the headache – it’s about my heart’s cry.  Sometimes the headaches helps me to cry out to God, sometimes it really is a distraction.  Talk to God about that, too, and ask him for wisdom to discern which it is.

 

The key to all of this is that we see how much we need Jesus.  Fasting confronts us with our utter incapability of doing all that God requires of us – and realizing that we are hopelessly trapped in that condition is the first step on the journey of sweet, satisfying communion with God for eternity.

 

Come and fast with me as I hunger and thirst after the righteousness that only Jesus can supply.  Come fast with me as I seek to put to death all the loves in my life that keep me from loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Come fast with me as I ask for wisdom to know what those things are and look for ways to be thankful and joyful right where God has me now.  Come fast with me as I ache to be reminded of the One who loves me enough to rescue me from my own willful wickedness.  And come fast with me to rejoice in a salvation that is complete and glorious and free – for we have been loved with an everlasting love and fasting helps us know it.

Let me know how you have learned how to fast – or what you’re struggling with.  Let’s encourage one another as we walk this journey of faith together.

 

(image credit: https://www.magnoliabox.com/search?q=sad&type=product)