Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Enjoy and remember

Yesterday was one of those ordinary days that I will treasure.

Nothing unusual happened.  I did some reading, took some friends to the airport, picked up some milk at the store, prayed and read the Bible, prepared for a lesson with our prayer group, sat outside on our balcony with my wife and enjoyed a lovely summer evening chat, and had a warm-hearted, joyful prayer time with friends in our prayer group.

But, as my wife and I drove home from our prayer group, I thought: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 188:24)

Why do I make such a fuss about it?  Because I so often forget what gifts God has given me.

Often I find myself complaining about my circumstances, or myself, or others.  But what about the good things that I tend to overlook?

My wife and I had a wonderful cruise to Alaska with our children, their spouses and our grandchildren in May.  We have been talking about it ever since and we have been repeating the voyage again and again as we look at the video our son and his wife made, supplemented by pictures from other family members.  It is a trip that my wife and I will always remember.

Once in a while, I remember to store away an ordinary moment that has been touched by God.  It is good to look back at these moments when going through a rough spot.

People in the Bible made a practice of looking back at major events in the lives of the people of Israel.  The patriarchs set up stone altars to commemorate great events – particularly encounters with God.  Passing these monuments, the people would remember what had happened in the past.

I think we can do the same with ordinary moments, too.  God is good.

Reputation

My reputation has always been important to me.

I wanted a reputation for honest, hard work.  And I longed for recognition as outstanding in what I do.

I never reached the “outstanding” level, but I believe people considered me competent, honest and hard-working. Yet I always felt my reputation could be destroyed in a moment.  As many people have discovered.

This all came back to me this week as a friend and I talked about bullying in the workplace.  In my case, I remember that a person I was helping prepare for an important government conference denounced me in front of others – in effect, she was questioning my competence.  I was not the only person who felt her wrath because she tended to lash out at those who worked with her.

But I was devastated.  Now that I reflect on it, I think I was hurt because I felt my reputation was being cut to pieces.

In that particular case, I chose to let it pass because I felt a Christian should turn the other cheek.  I am not sure it was the wise choice.   I believe I should have talked about it with her and asked her to explain herself.  And I should have voiced my feelings about her tactics.

But, in the end, should a believer put all his hopes in his reputation?

I think about Jesus.  The prophet Isaiah says in his great 53rd chapter: “Like one from whom men hid their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not.”

I think about the apostle Paul.  He was a highly-respected Pharisee, part of the Jewish establishment in Judea.  But after his conversion to Christ, he became a hunted man when he dared to preach the gospel.  In effect, he was a criminal in the eyes of those he once considered colleagues.

But Jesus and Paul accepted humiliation for a higher purpose.  Jesus bore humiliation in order to win the greatest victory in history, the victory of the cross and the resurrection.  Paul accepted the taunts and beatings so that the gospel would spread and people find Christ.

From a believer’s standpoint, the only reputation that really matters is my relationship with God and my treatment of others.  Love is what counts.

Control

My wife was speaking today of someone we know – “she wants to stay in control of her life.”

Don’t we all?  I certainly do.

But life experiences have taught me that there is a lot I can’t control.  To a certain extent, I can control when I get up in the morning and when I go to bed at night.  But, even there, I am influenced by circumstances and people around me.

So now I’m pondering: Is control a bad thing in the life of faith?

It isn’t if you think of self-discipline – exercising control over the way you eat and drink or speak.  But it is if you try to decide how God should act in your life and in the lives of those around you.  He can’t be controlled.

I have known that truth for many years.  And yet, I have trouble giving things up to God.

One of the areas I have tried to control is the ministry of prayer in our church.  I am our church prayer coordinator.

With others in our church, I have helped prepare prayer strategies and I have developed prayer courses.  But I am not sure that all that effort has had much effect.

As I read the stories of some Christian leaders, I see that this experience is not unusual in the Western Christian church.  Many leaders have worked hard to build their churches only to see little change.  But things change when they come to the end of their ropes and throw up their hands and say: “God, I give up!  You do what you want.”

I can see this in the Bible. Moses thought he knew how to help his Hebrew brothers, but found himself fleeing into exile and spending 40 years in the desert.  His way was not God’s way.  God prepared him in the wilderness for the time he would lead his people out of Egypt.  When Moses did take leadership, he would not budge without God’s presence and guidance.

That’s where I need to be.

But I am plagued with questions: What does God want me to do in this area of prayer?  Does he want me to step back entirely?  Has he other plans?

I am spending time now in prayer and Bible reading and listening to people to see if God has something to say to me.  I am learning – slowly – to listen.

Faith and prayer

Like many Christians, I have long wrestled with the idea of faith and prayer.

Why is faith so important in prayer?  Can I work up enough faith to get my prayer requests answered the way I wish?

Yesterday, I was reading the great faith chapter in Hebrews – chapter 11 – when my eyes fastened on verse 6: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

There it is again, I thought, the importance of faith. The writer of Hebrews says it is so important that I can’t please God without it.

But the writer doesn’t stop there.  He explains why it is important.  It is important because it shows God what kind of heart I have.

If I am so faint of heart that I don’t believe God exists, I am basically shutting the door on the Lord.  It is like being thrown a lifeline and saying: “I don’t believe the guy at the other end is going to pull me in.  So I won’t grab it.”

However, the good thing for believers is that we DO believe God exists.  Everyone who has believed that Christ died for him and rose again to give him eternal life has a basic faith that the Lord exists.

This faith comes from God himself.  In Romans 12:3, the apostle Paul talks about the “measure of faith that God has given you.”  As believers, we all have some faith.

But often this has not seemed to me to be enough faith to see the more difficult prayers in my life answered the way I wanted.  Do I need more faith than what I have to see these prayers answered?

There is some scriptural support for that view.  Jesus scolds the disciples for having “little faith” when they cry out in fear in the midst of stormy waters on the Sea of Galilee.  In Matthew 9:22, he tells the woman who has been bleeding for 12 years that “your faith has healed you.”

On the other hand, there are places where Jesus healed people who had no faith – including a dead boy.  Perhaps it is the faith of Jesus that brought healing in these cases – not that of the person who was ill.

So, how do I deal with my little faith when I pray?

I think the latter part of Hebrews 11:6 may give a clue.  It is not only important that I believe that God exists, but I must also believe that he “rewards those who earnestly seek him”.

The doubt in my heart can be traced to wondering whether God will reward me when I seek his face.

In effect, it is important for me to believe that God will reward me when I earnestly seek him – even if there is no immediate evidence.

That is the message of Hebrews 11.  All the great heroes of the Bible listed in Hebrews 11 did not see the promise of Christ’s life, death and resurrection in their lifetimes.  But still they believed.

They were not believing a fairy tale.  Their faith was well founded – Christ came, he died, and he rose again.  But they did not see the answer in their lifetimes.

So, in sorting this out, I am coming to see that my faith depends on believing what God says, no matter what I see in my life and in the world around me.  I must believe that God will reward my faith by answering my prayers just as he said he would in the Bible.  If my prayers are in line with what God says in the Bible, God will reward them with a “Yes.”

I may not see the “Yes” while I am alive, but God will fulfill his promises.

His hand on me

Psalm 139 tells me that God knows everything about me and that he has his hand upon me.

That could be frightening for some people.  For me, it is a word of hope.

Let me deal with the frightening part first.

The Psalmist says that God “perceives my thoughts from afar” and that he knows what I am going to say before I say it.  I can hide nothing from God.

I am not proud of many of my thoughts. At one time or another, I have probably broken all the 10 commandments in my thoughts.  There is enough there to send me to hell for eternity.

But the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:1 that “there is now no condemnation” for me because Christ has died for my sins and the “law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death”.  I am going to heaven, not hell.

Which brings me to the message of hope in this psalm.

Running through this song is the idea that God won’t let me go.  He won’t let me go because he loves me and wants the best for me – which is knowing and loving him.

I can struggle out of his arms but he will pursue me until I realize I can’t do without him.

I have been meditating for several days on the words of verse 5: “You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.”

That can be seen as a threat – who wants to be hemmed in?  But think about it for a moment.  God is protecting you from behind and leading you by hand.  He is all around you as your loving guide, protector, and friend.

For me, the words “you have laid your hand upon me” are very powerful.  I think of Jesus with his strong hand on my shoulder.  It is the hand of power, of courage, of resolve, of strength – and of love, comfort, and compassion.

It gives me hope and joy just to think of it.  Jesus is by my side.  Nothing else matters.