Love and Struggles

I often blame my New York City roots for much of my negativity and perhaps it is partly the source of my proclivity to go to the dark side of my brain. For years there has been a debate raging in my mind.. it goes like this: God is good but my life sucks.. maybe a bit too transparent but none-the-less where I find myself more times than I want. Interpreting health failures and disappointments in light of God's love really challenges me and I often find myself gravitating to the Dark Side.. I know in my head that the proverbial glass is half full but I can't seem to get past the idea that it is half-empty.. it drives me nuts at times.

King David had similar struggles. I think about what he wrote in the Psalms 6:
LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long? Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. Away from me, all you who do evil, for the LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.
A passage like this helps me when my body hurts and soul is in distress. It is comforting to know that great people like King David struggled. Overcoming struggles is the heart of life because trials, unlike anything else, bring reality to our faith.. they can soften our hearts while toughening our faith.

Persevering 'in hope' is something that you can only experience for yourself.. it is impossible to teach it to someone else. That said, let me close with a few words from 1Corinthians 13:7.. let these words sink into your guts.. let them refresh you.. speaking of love it says..
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
When struggling in life love will cause us to trust, hope and persevere. Could it be that the heart of a trial is to test and refine our love as well as our faith?

The Purpose of Pain

Pain is a somewhat relative phenomena ... for someone in a wheelchair pain is quite different from someone who has lost a loved one - but pain is pain nonetheless and our challenge is to find a way to let pain achieve its purpose in our lives. The Apostle James writes:
"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
The 'all joy' part is where life often begins and sometimes ends ... I often think that joy is only joy when every ounce of our being rails against it ... when we have to fight for joy, not giving in to despair but embracing joy despite the reality of our situations. The Apostle Paul writes these words to those in pain:
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. ... we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son ... What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? ... in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us."
A few years ago I was going through a dark place of depression when I some how understood that I was becoming more like Jesus ... God was turning my pain into joy as I realized He was using it to make me like Jesus. The Lord often asks me "Why do you want an easy life?" ... it is a sobering question that goes to the root of our pain. Maybe if we all saw pain and suffering as unwilling vessels in His hands ... molding us ... conforming us into the matchless image of Jesus ... maybe then we would rejoice. You know, it seems that, because of pain, we often reject the very instruments of change ... instead of letting pain do a deep work of change we seem to 'consider it all pain' instead of 'all joy'.

I think that "the glory that is to be revealed to us" is the glory of being like Jesus ... but the cost of being like Jesus is often pain.

The Prayer of Jesus

Last time I spoke to the verses leading up to the Lord's prayer. Today I offer some more reflections from my prayer blog on the Lord's prayer (as recorded in Matthew 6) one line at a time:

This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, (v9)
I cannot hear the words "hallowed be your name" without flashing back to a worship song that I used to sing.. I guess worship is a great way.. maybe the only way.. to begin prayer. It reminds me of how the psalmist tells us to enter His courts with praise. It is necessary to have a worshipful heart when we pray. When we pray with a heart overflowing with praise our prayers often look very different.
'Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. (v10)
Here is the way that The Message bible expresses this verse:

Set the world right; Do what's best-- as above, so below.

When we ask for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done we are asking for a heavenly influence to come into our lives and our world. Jesus included this as He taught His followers to pray because He knew what heaven is like. Often we do not understand what this looks like. It is at those times especially when we need to pray these words.
Give us today our daily bread. (v11)
Back when I first accepted Christ I had a mindset that God would take care of me and I really didn't need to ask Him for my personal needs.. don't remember that lasting too long :) In this verse Jesus is telling us that God wants us to come to Him and ask him to give us what we need.. food being one of our needs. Prayer of this kind is humble.. it acknowledges our need of God to meet even the basic of our needs.. it expresses a simple and basic trust in our Father.
Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others. (v12)
There is no sweeter request than the request to be forgiven. The request, whether it is directed at God or to a person, is one of deep humility. The request acknowledges wrong doing and confesses the need to be reconciled. Interesting how part of the prayer commits to forgiving others.. the one reconciled must also accept all requests for reconciliation.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (v13)
Have you ever wondered about this part of the Lord's prayer? The Message Bible puts it this way:

Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.

Once again we see Jesus teaching us about humility. In a sense there are two entities involved in temptation.. a human and an evil enemy. One is called The Tempter and the other is The Tempted. It is an act of humility to acknowledge our inability to resist temptation apart form prayer.. apart from the Spirit's influence in our lives.
Some newer translations omit this part of verse 13:
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Whenever I hear this I think of my wedding day when my good friend Ollie sang the Lord's prayer in his beautiful voice. I think that it is a somewhat majestic way to end this prayer. When we affirm His kingdom and power and glory we submit ourselves to them and we say amen to them. Amen.

Jesus on Prayer

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:5-8)

This is Jesus' introduction to the passage we commonly call The Lord's Prayer. This week I have been praying and sharing some thoughts on this passage at Daily Prayer. Here are some of the thoughts that I shared:

When You Pray: I want to speak to the idea that believers pray.. it is in our spiritual DNA. Before I gave my heart to the Lord I never prayed.. never thought of it.. even though my first wife went blind in her early twenties. Today it seems that my life is a living prayer.. I seem to talk to Him about everything.. I have a heart to pray.

Hypocritical Prayer: What it is like to pray like a hypocrite? I think that praying in this way means to pray superficial prayers.. prayers that do not engage your innermost being.. prayers that simply regurgitate platitudes and cliches.. sadly.. I have prayed these kinds of prayers. I am reminded that Jesus (in Luke 18:9-14) warned of praying proud prayers saying that only people who pray humble prayers will be justified before God.

The Seduction of Public Prayers: Praying to be seen and heard by men.. I have witnessed.. and participated in.. this kind of religious seduction that engages the darkest part of us. The desire to be seen is an insidious one.. many are duped by the enemy thinking that they are being "spiritual" when they are just being Pharisaical. Jesus says don't do it. If you find yourself praying in public just pray from your heart.. and keep it real.. pray to that audience of One.

Secret Prayer: I once heard that the measure of a person is what they do when no one is looking. When everything else is stripped away we will pray in secret only if we really believe that God hears us. In a sense all other types of prayers can be rationalized away.. all other forms of prayer can be done for reasons outside of faith. Secret prayers bring a reality to bear where it is just us and God.. face to face.

Babbling Prayer: I sometimes wonder how much of my prayer life is just repetitious babbling.. praying with my head but never really engaging my heart.. never really going deep.. just uttering superficial genie-in-a-bottle type of requests. Reminds me that the root of babbling is Babel.. that place where our language was confused.. maybe that is why we babble when we pray.. we are simply confused.

Inviting Prayer: I am blown away by the way Jesus wraps this up.. He seems to be saying that the idea of prayer is not really the effective communication of our prayers but simply the exercise of our wills in prayer. He says that God already knows what you need indicating that God is waiting for us to simply pray.. to simply invite Him to help us. This is so different.. it has the potential to revolutionize the way we pray.

I invite you to join me once a day at Daily Prayer to consider prayer and to pray for the many needs on The Prayer List.. and to add a request there if you have one.

The Fruit of the Spirit

Today I finished my prayers for spiritual fruit at Daily Prayer. I thought that I would re-share a few of those thoughts here. But first the passage from scripture:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Love: 1Corinthians 13 gives us a structure to form our prayer: Father, we ask you for love that is not loud and brash.. grant us love that is patient and kind.. love that does not envy or boast.. love that is not proud, rude, self-seeking or easily anger.. grant us love that readily forgives.. love that rejoices with truth and not evil.. please give us love that trusts, protects, hopes and perseveres.. give us unfailing love.

Joy: I am reminded how the scripture speaks of sorrow being turned into joy.. and of how the joy of the Lord is our strength. Life is hard and can often suck the joy out of us.. we need to pray it back.

Peace: I find that peace only comes when I quiet my mind.. even my prayers seem to be expressions of worry when my mind is engaged. Philippians 4:6-7 speaks to the type of prayer that brings peace.. read it if you get a minute.. in essence it says:
If you pray.. why worry? If you worry.. why pray?
I think that peace comes when we are trusting God in prayer in our heart.

Patience: It brings to mind this lighthearted prayer: God give me patience and give it to me now. I think that when we pray for patience we are really praying for endurance.. asking God for grace to wait on Him.

Kindness: A few verses come to mind when I think about kindness. The first is the one that says that the kindness of God leads me to repent. The second is the verse in Proverbs (19:22) that says it is desirable for a person to be kind. I think that we offer mirror the heart and love of God when we are kind.

Goodness: Ever wonder what it means to be "good'? The scriptures have much to say about God being good but not that much about us being good. Here is the definition of from Easton's Dictionary:
Goodness in man is not a mere passive quality, but the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good.
I think this speaks to our ability, through His Spirit, to actively walk out God's goodness in our hearts.

Faithfulness: When I think about God I often think of this - He is faithful. Hence it is no surprise that faithfulness makes this list.. it is the heart of our relationship with God.. it is an extension of the word faith.. and it is what I think James is speaking to when he say faith without works is dead.. faith without faithfulness is not faith at all.

Gentleness: The word gentleness is translated from the Greek word Πραοτης which can also be translated meekness or mildness.. the word communicates:
  • an indulgence toward the weak and erring, 
  • patient suffering of injuries without feeling a spirit of revenge, 
  • an even balance of all tempers and passions, 
  • the entire opposite to anger.
I am not sure how to pray this word.. it is such a powerful one.

Self-Control: A few years ago I said this in a post about control:
Self Control is not mind control ... actually it is the opposite of mind control. Self Control is the exercise of the inner man over the outer man.
It is a fitting conclusion to this list of spiritual fruit. It represents the way that character is manifested - from the inside out.

If you have a minute please visit Daily Prayer and pray with me.

The Fear of the Lord

Lee Grady's latest article titled Where Have All the Leaders Gone? has a section on Leaders who fear God. Here is an excerpt where he bemoans leaders that lack this quality:
You don’t have to look far to see that the American church has fallen short when it comes to the fear of God. In 2008 one popular charismatic preacher led a series of revival meetings and then ran off with another woman after four months. Another popular minister from Atlanta assaulted his wife in a parking lot and was arrested; after his divorce he cavalierly announced that he wanted a new wife who was “sensual.” Another preacher in Baltimore fathered a child with a mistress and then bragged from the pulpit that he was “still the man” even though he had committed adultery. And one preacher in Florida carried on an affair with a stripper and then divorced his wife when she found out about it.
I wish that Lee was writing some sort of Elmer Gantry type of fiction here.. unfortunately this kind of behavior is more commonplace in the body of Christ that I want to admit. The correlation of a true fear of God and righteous behavior is borne out in these scriptures:
The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding. (Job 28:28)

The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. (Proverbs 19:9)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise. (Psalm 111:10)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7)

The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:33)
There are more verses but I think that you can see from these scriptures that the fear of the Lord leads people to:
  • shun evil - it is sad when people don't get this and seem to have a warped sense of God's love that gives them license to sin;
  • accept the authority of the bible - not in a mere legalistic sense but in a way that put the wisdom of the scriptures over their own understanding;
  • obey the scriptures - both in doing what is right and not doing what is wrong;
  • be teachable and receive discipline - one who fears God is a humble person.. they understand that God sometimes teaches and speaks a word of correction through others;
  • become wise and understanding - I believe that people who do not fear God are fools.. the beginning of Godly wisdom is the fear of the Lord.
I think that the fear of the Lord sometimes gets a bad rap because people don't believe that we need ever fear God.. possibly it would be helpful to use the word respect instead of fear. A child who respects their father acts differently than a child who does not. I think that respect is probably a more contemporary word than fear.

All that said, I have to say that I really do not have a problem with the word fear.. I have sensed this fear at times and it has kept me from doing some foolish and unwise acts. I remember one time when I was in the process of being laid off.. I was upset and one day, as I sat at my computer composing an angry e-mail message to an executive in my organization, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper this to me:
“You can go there if you wish … but if you do I will not go with you.”
I’m not sure that I can adequately put into words the sense that came over me. I can only describe it as the fear of God. I immediately deleted the message.

I am not alone in this kind of response.. Moses sensed this fear at the burning bush.. Isaiah was awestruck in God's presence.. Paul experienced the fear of the Lord when he was knocked off his horse.

The fear of the Lord.. when understood within the confines of the love of God.. is a healthy and awesome respectful fear.. and nothing to be afraid of :)