Prayer


But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

Jude 20, 21

 

Jude is dealing with the fact that there were people inside of the church who were not following the teachings of Jesus as they were taking people in a direction that was dangerous to their souls and that was destructive to the life of the church at that time. So, Jude counsels the people of the church in how to remain true to Christ and to stay on the path that leads to salvation. These are the sorts of issues that have existed throughout the history of the church, and they continue to trouble us today. Staying true to Christ has never been easy. There will always be people who believe that they have a better way or that there is an alternate doctrine that will make life more enjoyable and less challenging to live than does the rigid doctrine that comes out of a strict reading of God’s Word and a dogmatic following after of what Jesus taught and demonstrated.

 

Thus, Jude instructs us to stay engaged in and with God’s Word. This is the primary way in which we build ourselves up in our faith. God’s Word is dynamic and alive with truth that has no boundaries of time or place attached to it. The more that we encounter it in the course of living out our days, the more of the content of those days that will be spoken to by that living word. Through it God supplies wisdom, counsel, guidance, and the capacity to apply it all to living well in the time, place, and situation where we have been placed by God to dwell. Everyone who knows Christ has a place and a purpose in the church and in this world that we are to fulfill. God has useful and important plans for every life, and His will is often found and is always more fully comprehended through study of His Word and by virtue of meditation upon its content and meaning.

 

In addition to study and contemplation of God’s Word, Jude tells us to pray. Talking it all over with God and listening to the ways that the Lord speaks into us and responds to us is a vital part of living out our days as a follower of Christ. The Holy Spirit imparts that same wisdom, counsel, guidance, and application to us and helps us see all that is contained in God’s Word and guides us in applying it to our own situation and circumstances. The Spirit also comforts us when we are troubled and distressed, and He gives us the gift of courage when it is needed and pours strength into us when we are facing challenges of all types and causes. God’s love is found in His will, and it is expressed by us by embracing that will with all of our being. This is accomplished by entering fully into the truth of God’s Word as we communicate with God in prayerful submission to Christ in all things. The path through this life can be hard and the journey is filled with challenges and trials, but Christ has promised us His presence for every step of the way, and eternity with Him at the end of our travels.

Advertisements

Be angry and so not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

Ephesians 4: 26, 27

 

Anger is a natural and a normal response to forces, factors, and situations that do come about during the course of our days. The capacity to feel anger is something that God placed within us in His creation of our nature. We are told that God, Himself, feels anger. So, we cannot just discount these feelings as something that is wrong or that comes solely from some dark place within our fallen natures. Anger, itself, does not demand redemption; however, the way that it tends to play out in our lives is another story, indeed! For, anger is far too often something that we do not resolve. We carry it around with us and even summon it up again and again in order to fuel a particular need or desire to convey personal perspective or to gain an advantage in situations. This retained anger adds force and fury to words and expressions that might otherwise have gone unnoticed or under-appreciated, or so we think.

 

Yet, anger can turn from something that is a part of the nature that God gave to us and that is good and useful and become sinful in a very short amount of time. When we hold onto it and do not seek to resolve its causes it begins to eat away at our souls and to erode the love out of our hearts. The force and the power that may have driven us to seek justice and to demand righteousness quickly becomes a corrosive substance that defaces our understanding of the value and the beauty that God placed in others. We begin to see an enemy when we should see a sinner that is in need of understanding mixed with truth in order to bring about Christ’s redemptive work in them and in our relationship with them. That is why Paul places so much urgency in his directive about resolving our anger. Although there are some cultural aspects to what he says about not carrying anger with us over night, the more important aspect of this is the fact that resolving our differences needs to matter above and beyond all else as it is more important than sleep, itself.

 

Almost everyone will be angry from time to time, and there will be a number of different causes for this anger. Some of it will be generated by the injustice, violence, and oppression that are rampant in our broken world. At other times, anger will arise when people that we know are either harmed by the sinful actions of others or when sin is perpetrated upon us. Still, other anger boils up out of disagreement and dispute with others. Regardless of the cause, the emotion that is anger has a short life span as a healthy response to people. It needs to be worked through and responded to in a manner that leads toward resolution. Sometimes that next stage in its expression is found in prayer, in writing letters to governmental officials, in bible study that leads to the teaching of correct, Scripture-based responses, and in forgiveness of wrongs real or imagined. Sometimes anger is resolved by repentance and by entering into a dialogue with another person. Anger is powerful. It is a big emotion. It is best worked out in the much bigger power of the Spirit as that working out, that resolution, requires commitment and hard work to accomplish; yet, that end result leads us closer to Christ and to the center of His unfailing love and grace.

 

 

 

 

Know this my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

James 2: 19, 20

 

Speed kills, or in paraphrase, Haste lays waste. The point is simple, direct, and well-known. Anger can overtake us and when it does it operates much like a threshing machine in that it mows down everything in its path so that there is nothing except stubble left behind. I am not saying that there are not situations and circumstances that warrant anger, for there certainly are those times, and we all encounter them with too much frequency in our violent and oppressive world. I think that James makes an important distinction between the sort of anger that comes out of a foundation in God’s Word and one that is established within ourselves and that functions to establish personal power or dominance. It is in this distinction that lies the difference between that which is destructive and that which seeks to redeem.

 

For people, our first response is often to draw upon our own understanding and strength to attempt to handle whatever it is that we are facing. This is our go-to, fast response in many instances. When it comes to the highly charged environment that surrounds an angry response, rapid deployment of our words is frequently the first thing that we do. We toss out the most powerful and often the most caustic of remarks that we can summon up, and we do, in fact, intend to use this expression as a form of artillery barrage. We want the other person to be set back on their heels, fearful, and ready to concede to our point of view. We seek to win almost as much as we desire for them to lose. This is not the way that God operates, and it is very far removed from the manner in which God’s anger is known to be employed.

 

When we are counseled by the Lord to speak slowly, He is asking us to enter into His Word, especially as it is implanted in our hearts, and to listen to the prompting of the Spirit before we engage with other people. This moment or two of hesitation and contemplation can be truly valuable for both parties when we are face to face, and it can lead to saving us from the sort of ruinous written statements that flow far too freely in our fast moving world of electronic expression and communication. In most tense situations it is best to pause before speaking, seek the Lord in the moment, stopping to pray may seem strange to many of us, but it is never the wrong thing to do, and then speak with redemption as the intent of the words. The other thing that the Lord counsels us to do is to listen. Jesus was a good listener, for He knew the stories of the people that He engaged with. We, too, can allow others the space to tell us their concerns and let us into their journey before we pronounce judgement or attempt to solve the issues at hand. In all of this contemplative approach to conflict, Christ is glorified; for in it, Christ is revealed as the source of our strength as His love sooths the situation and seeks to redeem the relationship.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,

whose trust is the LORD.

He is like a tree planted by water,

that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

for its leaves remain green,

and is not anxious in the year of drought,

for it does not cease to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17: 7, 8

 

The setting of these verses would suggest that the person described here by Jeremiah was something of the odd duck, the outlier, in his day. The nation, itself, had taken a turn away from God. It was operating out of the wisdom of man, and the people were choosing to follow the counsel of profane and worldly rulers. The Lord was clearly upset with His people, and He was troubled by the impact that His nation, Israel, was having on the world. There was no longer a national witness for justice, peace-making, righteous living, and outreach to all who were world-weary and oppressed. This was God’s calling for Israel and for that nation’s people, and it remains a significant part of God’s calling for people who know and follow Him today. We are to be the voices for compassion, love, acceptance, and peace in our world. We are to stay true to truth as it is presented to us in God’s Word; so, we are to follow the example of this outlier, this odd duck in Jeremiah’s narrative.

 

The prophet is not speaking about a place; for, it is neither a nation nor is it a religion that will set God’s people in the right situation and location to be fed deeply by God’s truth. He seems to be suggesting that it is an attitude of heart and mind that creates the setting for this sort of nourishing of the soul and body, and the only physical local that matters in all of this is the one that comes about as we seek after the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and body. God works in and through people who are different and even more so through those who choose to be on the outside of the cultural norms in our times. Since humanity turned away from close communion with God, we have developed and promoted a law of moral and ethical conduct that has shifted by degrees away from the pure and wise guidance of God’s Word. This reality of our world makes it inevitable that Godly thinking and acting will be differentiated from the way that the majority of our societies engage in the same processes.

 

So, from God’s perspective, there is nothing at all wrong with drinking from that rare stream called Absolute Truth when those around us are gathering to satisfy their thirst at the river of The Worldly Way with its abundant supply and somewhat murky lack of real clarity. It is worthwhile to be left off of the invitation lists for society’s gatherings in order to spend that time in contemplation, prayer, and listening for the God’s voice of wisdom, insight, and direction. There is a time and a place for engagement with the world and with its activities, but these are not the places where our roots sink down into the life-giving source of the counsel and the nourishment that will sustain us through the harder days that will inevitably come. Finally, there will be days when God’s people will stand out from the crowd by virtue of our vibrant and healthy peace, calm, and assurance that stand in stark contrast to the distress that droughts of various causes and types have brought upon the world at large. These are days when the true fruit of God’s love, grace, mercy, and redemption will draw people toward their Savior. These are the days when all of that time spent living as one who is different, that odd duck, will be counted for the glory of the Lord.

For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and firmness of your faith in Christ.

Colossians 2: 5

 

A crisp, tightly organized marching band is something that I enjoy watching and hearing. There is a quality of unity and singlemindedness that is impressive in them. This particular interest is directly related to my own experience of marching and playing in bands for many years during my school years, I am certain. I know that the end product that we see on the street in a parade is the result of hours of practice, commitment, discipline, and design. The well-oiled machine that is a polished and skillful band doesn’t just happen, and this is also true when it comes to living as a community of followers of Christ, too. Paul has chosen his words with some real care here. He uses the terms “good order” and “firmness” that come from the world of military science and practice, and the marching bands that I envision are designed to be examples of this same military order and organized strength or firmness.

 

Like the military unit or the band, there is strength to be found in numbers of people who are headed in the same direction with like-minded purpose. This is one of the reasons that God leads His people into gathering together in communities of faith. We gain support and we also benefit from the collected wisdom and understanding that several Christ -filled hearts and minds bring to bear on all of the issues of life. People were not meant to live on our own, and this is even more true when it comes to navigating a course through the perilous waters of our world with doing Christ’s will as our desire and with righteousness as our set of guideposts. There is no place other than the body of Christ where we can go to engage in this daily journey with arm-in-arm support. Marching through the often hostile territory of our world is made both safer and more effective when it is done with spiritually connected companions.

 

So, where does this order and this ability to venture out into the world with firmness of purpose and resolve of heart come from? All strength comes from Christ and is founded on God’s Word. This is true for each of us individually just as it is so for His body gathered together in various forms and structures. We enter into this unified strength by praying together regularly and through the deep study of the Word with each other. These are things that are to be done in large gatherings and in small ones. God also intends for us to take time to meditate on Him and on His Word and to listen for the utterances of truth and direction that He does speak to us. These practices are the foundation for living in that well-ordered manner that Paul is describing, but the true life of a body of Christ followers is gained and is made tangible by the way that we go into our world to proclaim the truth of Christ’s Gospel by the words that we say and more so by the way that we love and care for the people of who dwell outside of our fellowships. Christ deepens our faith and grows our character as we trust Him to take us into the world for the sake of the glory of His name.

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down,

but a good word makes him glad.

Proverbs 12: 25

 

Anxiety is real. It is not a false emotion or the result of a failure of faith, of trust, or of any other aspect of discipline or understanding. When a person is anxious, normal processes and functions are disrupted and are often interrupted. An anxious mind is seldom one that clearly processes information, and it struggles with making quick and well-reasoned decisions. This all happens in degrees, for sometimes we experience a sense that things are not alright or that there is something unpleasant coming our way. However, at other times, this same sort of feeling can become so strong as to set off hormonal responses in the body as it starts to trigger strong responses such as fight or flight. There is something in the nature of our world today that is causing us to be an anxious people, too. There is certainly much to be uncertain about, and our days are burdened with concerns and cares that are present on every level of society and in almost every culture, nation, and group of people.

 

God has given us the gift of science and also the gift of the knowledge and skill of people who have learned to assess and to diagnose the issues that plague our bodies and our minds, and He has also provided us with treatments and with medications that work to combat the disabling effects of anxiety. I endorse the seeking of professional medical and mental health support and the appropriate use of therapies and medications. I also believe that God has given to us tools of faith to use in order to gain the upper hand on our concerns, fears, and other disabling feelings and emotions. As we can see from this proverb, anxiety is not new or singularly a part of our troubled modern world and its culture. Anxiety goes back to the beginning of human existence, for I would not be surprised if we could speak with Adam and Eve that they would be able to testify to their own highly anxious moments of hiding out from the presence of God as He was taking His afternoon garden stroll. However, anxious thoughts can lead us to something very good.

 

Adam and Eve came out into the open and faced into the issues at hand with the Lord. Not all that happens as a result was pleasant for them, for sure, but not all of it was bad, either. Their anxiety was the direct result of their disobedience to God; yet, that is not always the case with others. When sin is the causal issue, confession, repentance, and seeking God’s gracious wisdom is often a means to find relief from the disabling aspects of the concerns at hand. In other situations, we can still turn to God in honest and open prayer while also seeking out the wisdom that is found in God’s Word and through the counsel and advice of other people with faith in Christ. We can also turn to the people in Christ’s body, the church, to walk through these difficult times with their arms enfolding us in the tangible presence of Christ. These people of faith, God’s Word, and the voice of His Spirit are all sources for those good words that the Lord gives to us to encourage our spirits and to focus our minds on truth. The presence of Christ brings peace and clarity of thought, and from this hoy place, we can more readily face the challenges of today with Christ’s joy in our hearts and on the mind.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

1 Corinthians 1: 26, 27

 

Of the many things that come our way as a result of having a relationship with God in and through Christ, calling is one of the most difficult to grasp and to understand. It often seems to defy the usual processes of analysis and definition. Calling can be very certain for some, but it is most frequently something that floats in the realm of the mystical. Yet, it also serves to define us in many ways, and it also forms the shape of how much of the world views our place in life, especially in life’s economy. I believe that God does call each of His people into service to Him and for the sake of His kingdom. Our calling is specifically related to the gift or the gifts that we are given by Him as a part of the transformative work that the Spirit does in and upon all who come to Christ. So, in part, we are given spiritual gifts in order to enter into our calling.

 

In fact, I would propose that calling is one of the ways that God enters into the life of each individual follower of Christ. Every one of us is unique, different from every other person, and given certain qualities and characteristics that mark out our individuality and that also form and define our role and place within the body of Christ. When it comes to actually entering into the work that we do, there may be many possible courses that we could take that will still follow God’s will and engage in His calling of us. The Lord equips us and then wants us to trust Him and to follow our dreams and our passions into the way that we use His giftedness and the skills that we develop along the way in service to Him and for the glory of His name. This rather vague and general sense of what we are to do in life can be frustrating or troubling, but God wants us to engage with life in a manner that sees it all as a journey of faith so that we continually step out in trust of His provision and guidance.

 

The real calling for each of us who follow Christ is to do exactly that. We are firstly children of the Living God and followers of the one true King. This fact helps to frame in the structure of life so that many of our world’s possibilities are eliminated from our consideration; however, that same framework opens a wide array of other choices for us to make. As we look at, pray over, and seek the wisdom of other people of faith regarding the direction that we might go in life at this time, we can hold one thing before us as certain fact that should help to define our reality, and that is that we are each a unique expression of what God sees in us as possible. We can enter into these possibilities at any point in life’s journey and we can do so with confidence in the will of the Lord to walk with us and to empower the processes of doing the work of this endeavor. These choices and decisions will not always make sense in the world’s view of what should be done with a life, but God’s concept of worth and true value do often seem foolish in that economy of self. Rather, in Christ, we can follow our dreams, engage our passions, and walk through our days with the joy and the satisfaction of serving Christ as our greatest reward.

Next Page »