Prayer


Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4: 8

 

The human mind is amazing. We are capable of processing vast amounts of information and of managing a life that is lived out in an ever-changing and fast paced world. The thoughts that we have often come at a pace that is dizzying in its nature; yet, we seem to mostly keep then flowing in, through, and out of our minds in such a manner as to maintain life’s balance and processes. This is true because of the remarkable and the marvelous way that God designed and made us, but the quality and the nature of that design and its creation are still not enough to live in the fullest appreciation and application of all that we were made to be. We all need the presence and perspective of the Creator as an essential aspect of daily life.

 

This is where Paul’s exhaustive list of things to think upon comes into play, for he is describing many of the attributes, characteristics, and qualities of God in this recitation of what we should focus our minds upon. For me, thinking about these highly desirable values and life processes and their outcomes leads me to consideration of their source. So, it brings me to meditating upon God, Himself. The Lord granted His truth, honor, justice, purity, love, and all else that is good to His Creation; thus, to us. In kind, all that flows out of these qualities is also something that God has imparted to us and into this world, and the ultimate means that God used to do this is found in the coming of Jesus Christ into our world and the subsequent granting of His Spirit to travel through life with us.

 

So, we can fill our minds with the cares, worries, and concerns of our days and focus our considerable mental capacity upon solving and resolving these issues on our own, or we can take time out from all that we are dealing with and allow for the voice of eternal wisdom and truth to speak to us. God is fully aware of all that is on our minds and in our hearts. He desires to walk into each and every aspect of our days with us, and His understanding and knowledge is greater than any challenge that we may face. God’s Word provides the guidance that is required for all that life brings our way, and His Spirit is with us to reveal its deeper wisdom to us in each of the circumstances that we encounter. It is up to each of us to turn to God and to slow the frantic pace of life down so that we can step out of the rest of life and listen to God’s words of truth, love, and hope as He speaks into those marvelous minds that He especially designed to hear His voice.

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In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4: 8

 

God’s concept of safety is rather strange or even strangely odd. As a parent, I have often taken action when my children seemed to be heading toward something dangerous. We parents try to anticipate our kids actions and pull their hands back from the hot or the sharp objects, and we hold those same hands when we head out of buildings into the areas where cars or other dangers are present. We warn them about the perils of life and give them instruction about safe navigation through those places and situations as we hope and pray for that safe return at the end of the journey. There is no question in my mind that God functions and operates as a parent to us all; yet, His concept and approach to this activity is different from mine in some very important ways.

 

The Lord is far more concerned with the security of the soul of His children than He is with our flesh remaining intact, unbruised, and our bodies staying unshaken. He cares most deeply about the sorts of harm that our minds takes in and the ways that our hearts are bruised by exposure to the sinful distractions of this world. I am not trying to say that God doesn’t enter into protecting our bodies or that He is not concerned about taking us through our days whole and safely complete, but I do believe that this outcome is not first in His order of priorities. I am also not suggesting that the spiritual health of our children is not of paramount importance to most parents, but we still tend to engage more of the time in their physical protection and in our training of them in how to stay whole and physically safe.

 

Thus, David sings out his praise to the Lord for the way that He alone brings about the true safety that our souls, hearts, and bodies need in order to fully rest. The Lord grants to us a dwelling place within the security of His presence so that we can lie down and get the sleep that we so desperately need. This is a form of slumber that can take place even when we are surrounded by the forces that God’s enemies have called up against Him and us. The rest that God grants to us is a gift that flows out of His presence as we turn toward His face in thanksgiving and prayerful meditation on His Word and in submission to the words of life that He speaks into our racing hearts and that He pours over our aching muscles. We can place our trust in the Lord as He tucks us into the security of His loving care and sings His words of truth to sooth our hearts and calm our minds into a state of peaceful slumber.

Clap your hands, all peoples!

Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

Psalm 47: 1

 

Unfortunately, there is plenty of shouting going on in our world today. We can all attest to being exposed to hearing people literally yelling at each other when quiet discourse would be far more effective in accomplishing what needs to be done. Even when the volume of the voices is held in check, the nature of the words and the intensity of their delivery can still equate to a shouting match. We do it in print, and we do it by using our electronic communication devices. There are days when it seems as if our whole planet has decided to join in a dysfunctional and discordant chorus of worldly hymns in celebration of disagreement and entrenched position holding. Unfortunately, at least for me, none of this is very pleasant, and it does not get much that is good and worthwhile accomplished either.

 

God did not design His creation to be dysfunctional, and He does not desire for us to be contentious with each other. This fact leads me to consider if there might be a better way to engage with each other in the process of operating this planet. Perhaps if we stopped focusing so intently upon what it is that we want and desire and started to turn our eyes toward the Lord with the same concentrated gaze, we would see the world and each other differently. It might just be worth it for people to stop working so hard to establish their own points of view and start to meditate upon what it is that God would have us think, say, and do. In this process, we could relieve the silence and celebrate God’s revealed truth by joining together with others in singing songs of praise to God and by joyously clapping our hands and dancing.

 

My point is that worshiping the One who has answers and focusing upon His truth is far more likely to solve the issues that we are facing than is any of the loud and self-serving discourse that is so common these days. May I be so bold as to suggest that we could enter into a period of fasting, as it were, from all public position stating expressions, from calling out the failings of those who hold opposing views about issues, and even from the processes of gathering in the halls of governance to debate and to contest laws and such so that we can turn all of our attention toward the Lord and listen together for His will to be expressed in all matters. Then, as God, who is King and Sovereign Lord over all of Creation, speaks and provides us with His perfect will, we can break out in songs of praise and join hands in a celebratory dance as an expression of delight at the harmony and peace that our God brings to all people.

Thus says the LORD:

Cursed is the man who trusts in man

and makes flesh his strength,

whose heart turns away from the LORD.

 

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,

whose trust is the LORD.

Jeremiah 17: 5, 7

 

The prophet says it all with a few very direct words. Where we place our trust directly relates to the results that will come our way. The trust that is under consideration is, in itself, a big issue. It is foundational to the conduct of the day, for the way that we handle almost everything in the course of life is impacted and effected by the nature of the foundation that we stand upon when making decisions, both small and great. When we trust in ourselves and in the wisdom of other people as our primary means of discerning what is right, wise, and just, we will be disappointed and even abandoned at some point in the process. People are fickle and self-interested and are almost always guaranteed to fail to live up to the highest of expectations when we stand on our own without the guidance and the strengthening that God provides to us.

 

Jeremiah goes on in this passage to describe the person who places his trust in the ways of people as being isolated and even as being starved for the things that sustain life and bring about flourishing during it. This person is like a plant that is standing alone in the desolation and bareness of the desert. There is little for his soul to feed upon, and there is no sustaining support and encouragement to be found in these places. In contrast, the person whose “trust is the LORD” is compared with a tree that has been planted by water. In other words, one that is close to, focused upon, and remains connected with this unceasing and completely trustworthy source of nourishment, strength, and guidance in the ways of truth and righteousness. Although a tree does not make the choice to be planted close to the stream, we are different from these analogous plants in the text. We do have the option and the opportunity to make these choices for ourselves.

 

We can turn toward the ways and the thinking of this world for our guidance in various matters. We can even think that it works for us to seek out God’s Word and His path for some things, those that we deem to be religious in nature, and at the same time turn to the more comfortable understandings of this world for the rest. Yet, according to the thoughts of the Prophet, which experience has demonstrated to me to be correct, neither of these approaches to life will work for very long. We will always end up thirsty for truth, starved of wisdom’s nutrients, and isolated from the fellowship of faith where we can find real and lasting encouragement and strength. So, we can also choose the path wherein we place our trust in the Lord alone and turn toward Him absolutely and totally. In so doing, we turn to God’s Word as our primary and final authority for everything, all other ideas and thinking is tested against Scripture, we pray and listen to the Lord’s responses to our prayer as a regular aspect of each day, we engage in the fellowship of other followers of Christ and we seek out the counsel of these like-spirited people, and we recognize the fact that we are living as imperfect beings under the gracious and loving care of the Lord. When we choose this last approach to life, the roots of our hearts, minds, and spirits are planted in the singular source of nurture that will never fail to provide what is necessary for the day at hand.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s,

he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3: 19

 

Some people really like heights, but most of us would prefer to be much closer to the ground. Those few are always the first to agree to climb up the tree, to walk near the cliff’s edge, or to place the topper on a Christmas tree while standing on a shaky old stool. From my point of view, it is good to have these folks around, for they can have any of these tasks or adventures and serve as my representative in doing them. So, I think that the point of this verse is related to the idea that high places are not the most natural location for people to walk about. It also points to the fact that those challenging locations provide some of life’s most spectacular vistas as they take us out of the haze and the clutter of the world and grant to us a perspective that is close to that from which God evaluates and processes that same world.

 

The clear air and the all-encompassing outlook make that difficult climb worth the effort, and the way that we are required to trust in the Lord for showing us the path to the top and for guarding our steps from slipping or falling is in itself an important aspect of the journey upward. The climb up God’s mountain is something that we all should undertake on a regular basis. At least it seems to me that most of my life is spent in dwelling in a valley of one sort or another. These are not bad places, and they are not indicative of living outside of God’s will. Instead, this is where almost all of us are placed by Christ, for these lowlands are where most people reside and where the Lord wants us to live out His love, truth, and deliver His message of hope and redemption. This is where we are placed in order to contend with the forces of this world for the souls of many.

 

Yet, in order to more clearly see God and also to be able to more fully testify to who He is and to what He is calling people, it is important to make the pilgrimage that the prophet describes. That high place may not always be elevated in altitude, however, for it can be found in the presence of the Lord regardless of where we are located. What matters is that we take ourselves out of the clutter and the noise of the day and turn all of our attention onto listening to God, to speaking out what is on the heart to Him, and to allowing the Spirit time and mental and emotional space to guide us into truth, understanding, and wisdom. Even doing this requires faith in a God who desires to be close to each of His people, and it demands that we trust Him to enter in with us when we devote ourselves to growing closer to the Lord. As I have seen it, these high places of the Lord are always worth the risk and the effort that it took to get to them.

Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

3 John 11

 

John is giving us a proverb here. He is setting out a very simple and direct statement about an aspect of living in conformity with God’s will. This is the sort of thing that is intended to guide a follower of Christ into engaging with the world in a manner that will actually make a difference in this place and that demonstrates Christ to the people that we meet. What John tells us might seem to be very easy to agree with, for most of us would say that we do not go about looking at evil actions and embracing them as the model to follow for the day at hand. Yet, is that really true for the manner that each of us does, in fact, conduct life?

 

If I give it some careful thought and consider each interaction that happens during my day, I start to lose confidence in the nature of some of those engagements. Then, when I play back my internal audio track that records what I was thinking during some of those moments, it gets worse as I hear the negative, defensive, and down-putting words and feelings that went unspoken during those instances. So, it would seem that there are times during the course of my days when I am imitating the words, manners, and way of that which God deems to be evil, and if that is true then I am certainly not imitating Christ, who is the totality of goodness, during these times.

 

John’s proverbial warning is essentially a cautionary statement for each of us as we seek to live out our days as a follower of Christ. It is very easy to get caught up in a moment in the sort of worldly thinking and acting that pulls us off of our Lord’s righteous path and that, in so doing, diminishes the credibility of our witness to the love, grace, and redemptive nature of His Gospel. Evil does surround us, and its words of negativity and death saturate the very air that we inhale; so, it is easy to be influenced by it. However, God and His word of truth is even more present and is much more powerful than all that evil can throw at us. God’s Word itself provides guidance and encouragement to love others and to engage with creation as Christ does. The Spirit dwells within to speak truth and grace into each encounter and engagement that we face during our day, and prayer is our way and means for bringing all that Christ provides to us by way of goodness to bear upon every moment of the journey that our Lord is taking us on. So, the goodness that we are called upon to imitate is with us, and in so imitating it, we truly do see God and so does the world around us.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable in your sight,

O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19: 14

 

We might think that words are a small thing in the grand course of the affairs of our world. They are so easy to throw out, and there certainly are many of them in the air at all times. Even the ones that are written down in some form or other are as numerous as those ancient sands on the beach. Most of us say things that we do not really mean, and we enter into discussions wherein the way that we engage with others is not well considered or given much weight. We humans just tend to be careless with our words. But carelessness is really no excuse, and thoughtlessness is no reason for us to put out words that are harsh, demeaning, and rudely inconsiderate. I don’t think that it is accidental that David not only prays for the words that he speaks but links them to the things that his heart contemplates. Our words are a reflection of the state of the heart, and the state of our hearts is influenced greatly by what we say and how we say it.

 

With the wonderful complexity of the languages that God has given to us for use in expressing ourselves, there is really no excuse at all for using words and expressions that are demeaning or imprecise unless that is exactly what we intend to do. So, when someone makes reference to others in ways that set them apart as inferior or as undesirable, this is not a casual event or just a picturesque way of speaking; rather, it is a deliberate attempt to set up the speaker as the superior being and the object of the statement as the lesser form of humanity. This sort of thing is directly opposed to the way that God views others and it is also a specific contradiction of the manner that Christ has instructed us to view them. In simple terms, thinking and speaking of people in a derogatory manner is sinful and stands under God’s condemnation as such.

 

Like all sin, there is grace for the sinner and repentance brings that person under the restorative care of Christ. But that is the only answer to this pervasive problem in our world. The use of our words for the sake of diminishing others and thus for building up ourselves, the application of coarse and vulgar speech, and the harsh nature of our rhetoric is a pervasive concern in our day. This sort of sinful behavior is coming out of the mouths or presidents and kings, and it has infiltrated into our houses of governance and of worship. It is time for us all to repent of this sort of thinking and the words that flow out of it. It is time to say “enough, stop!” to all of this sort of interchange. We do not need to listen to it, and we certainly must not engage in it. All who do engage in this sort of behavior are sinning in the eyes of God and their thoughts and words should be rejected as those of the ungodly so long as they continue in this manner. Human nature is no excuse, and passion is not a valid reason for this sort of thing, for the Lord has granted to us His Word of life and His words for use in expressing love, edification, encouragement, and praise. Let’s make those Godly thoughts and words what we reflect upon and the manner of expressing what our heart contemplates.

 

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