Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26: 41

 

Whether you think that this is a good thing or is troubling, God knows everyone of us in ways that no one else will ever grasp. He is aware of the half-hearted commitments that we can make so readily, and He is also completely tuned into the passionate yearnings for righteousness that fuel our best acts of loving service and times of deepest interaction with the Lord. For most of us, we live a life that is filled with times of contradiction as we may desire to always respond to others in a manner that speaks Jesus’ love; yet, we actually deliver a message that is a potent brew of frustration, anger, and self-defensive criticism. Jesus responds to me in these times by saying, “Keep watching and praying.”

 

So what does Jesus want me to keep watching for and what is the subject of all that prayer? It seems that the Lord is mostly interested in the fact that we are pulled to Him by this process; for, as we take up our vigil and allow our hearts this calming time of prayer, amazing visions and powerful words of truth and enlightenment will be spoken by God and into our hearts and minds. The visions may be as grand and as powerful as an epic film, or they may be seen as a spirit-lifting impression that is planted deep in the heart. At times we will hear and see words that clearly state God’s will and desire for us, and at other times, we will be left with the reassurance and the understanding that all is well with our life’s direction. At other times, the Lord leaves us with unresolved tension and in need of further contemplation and prayer.

 

Jesus is not calling us to a specific time of watching and praying. This is not an hour on a daily calendar or a week out of a month; for, the Lord doesn’t see time as we do, and He doesn’t plan His involvement with each of us around that sort of human concept of relationship. Jesus wants to watch and to pray with us through every beat of our hearts for the balance of our lives. Christ is aware of the challenges that we each face as we journey forth in this world. He is also attuned to the cares, concerns, and passions of our hearts; so, He desires to guide us into serving Him with all that we have. He knows me and you too well, and He is fully aware that for us to resist temptation and to continually seek to live righteously, our weak flesh needs His strength to hold us upright and strong in order to fulfill Christ’s calling for the life that He has given to us.

 

 

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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.

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

1 Peter 2: 9

 

This is a true statement about everyone who knows God; for a relationship with the Creator involves a total change in all of our core forms of identity and expands our connections and affinities by an unimaginably large factor. As we are in Christ, we are also included in this very select but substantial family that occupies God’s household; thus, we are among a group of people that God has committed to love and to protect despite our lack of worth or our unloveliness.

 

When the Lord possesses a person, He doesn’t just grab us and hold us captive. Rather, He wins us over by showing us that He has a love for us that penetrates to the depths of our need and that His love is the only truly unconditional and unchanging one that exists. As we allow the Lord to possess our hearts and our minds, His Spirit works on them to transform us into people who also understand God’s will and who act out of righteous love. It is a part of our human nature to fight back against God’s possession, to hold on to parts of our old ways of viewing life and of living it, but darkness tends to fill these areas where we hold back.

 

One of the best things that we can do to eliminate these dark corners from our hearts is to express our praise for the Lord. This praiseful practice can to become a daily part of how we live until it is an important part of who we are. Just consider the goodness that Christ brings into your life, read of God’s mercy and grace in His Word, thank Him for the ways that He has touched the lives of those around you, and develop your own thoughts of the ways that God’s presence infuses your world. Then, start to talk with Him about it. As you let God know how much you notice and value who and what He is to you, He will speak these same truths back to your heart in ways that will make them even clearer and more understandable. The best way to fill your day with light is to continually speak praise for God from your heart. As you do this, He will shine the warming light of peace, joy, and freedom onto every step of your path.

 

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name,

   for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

Isaiah 25: 1

 

The Prophet is talking to me. He is providing my fickle heart with an example of how it could respond to life. Instead, I am too often caught up in the issues at hand or with the problem that I am facing; so, I lose sight of what really matters. When I get into solution mode, I readily access those resources that are close at hand. Then my arm just reaches out for what is on the shelf near by, and I start to operate out of my own wisdom, experience, strength, and understanding. These are all problem solving aids that have been with me for many years. However, on their own, they seldom create truly lasting solutions, their use can be exhausting, and they can quickly become a form of idol that demands ever greater sums in tribute.

 

Isaiah was doing a great work, and he was engaged in this work because God had called him into it. He was a man who possessed all of the intelligence, strength of character, and determination that this task required. Yet, he seems to have realized that nothing that he had or was would be useful in completing God’s assignment on its own. He placed his total focus on the Lord and sought God’s leading, wisdom, and strength for every decision and action. It was not that Isaiah was indecisive or slow to engage with the situations that he encountered; instead, he was always ready to follow God for the Prophet continually kept the face of God before him.

 

He seems to have lived a life of contemplation and prayer. Even in the most trying of circumstances, Isaiah knew this one simple fact; that is, “You are my God”, and these words were always being spoken by his heart. Like Isaiah, we can have lives that are defined by contemplation, even meditation on the same reality-shaping truth, “You are my God”. This focus leads me to understand that God has plans for me and for my life that are far older than any of my thinking. Also, His performance is perfect. God does not fail, and He always leads His people into the wonderful rest and peace of His salvation.

 

It will be said on that day,

“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.

This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25: 9