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Stars of the Soul

stars of the soulAnd there is the language of thanksgiving, for prayer is what Washington calls “an attempt to count the stars of our souls.” The words “Thank you…Thank you…Thank you” are a way of calling to mind, one after another, the gifts of God, the stars of the soul.– James M. Washington, Conversations with God.

In my Lent 2015 Devotional, I found this excerpt from Washington’s book and I have been touched by the phrase, “stars of the soul” ever since. Naturally, I’ve ordered the book from the library. I must know more.

On the heels of praying continually, I am also directed to give thanks in all circumstances [I Thessalonians 5:16-21]. Can I imagine those prayers, those utterances of thanksgiving to be as plenteous as the stars of heaven. Or have I been stingy in that regard, focusing on that single morning star or worse, allowing the lights of the city to outshine the stars. Those artificial lights are the cares of this world.

Lord forgive me. For my life is rich with grace of You.

Throughout scripture, humans ask for God to “hear” our cries and to answer our prayers and to heal us. But I see now I have been like one of the nine lepers who were healed along the way but kept on going the way they started;  only one, the tenth, turned around and ran back to Jesus to give thanks [Luke 17:11-19].

I am running to you tonight. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am alive and although this day is nearly done, a new day is rising and anything can happen. Thank you.

Pray Continually

prayer bwPray continually. Are you kidding? Who can do that?

Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. [I Thessalonians 5:16-21, CEB]

I mean it! Outside of Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite “lay brother” (not even a monk because he did not have the necessary education), who does that? It was Brother’s Lawrence’s words, maxims, and prayers that were compiled after his death into the Christian classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. And what does Brother Lawrence “do” most of any day? He was the cook and bottle washer in the monastery, and all the while, he practiced awareness of God and ultimately, prayer. He prayed continually. Yay Larry.

But what about you and me? I can barely manage to remember to pray the hours, that’s one prayer every 4 hours during the day.

So, just to get a little break from this guilt-producing mandate, I googled it. And there might be a reprieve of sorts. One writer suggested that this passage could have more to do with consistency than non-stop talking (although, I have been known to do the latter under certain circumstances). Another writer advanced that the passage could mean a “ready response” to circumstances, so that the first comeback is a prayer instead of a smart remark. And yet another writer proposed that the verse could refer to an awareness of the beauty around us, thereby giving thanks or when tragedy strikes, ask for mercy, etc. Or, perhaps all of these together make for continually?

Or, perhaps, it’s the goal. Is this verse any more difficult (or easier) than this one, “ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matthew 5:48, NIV]

And for this reason, I pray this prayer willingly. Join me. Daily.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Under His Wings

Sometimes I just need to know that I am safe.

He will cover you with his feathers,  and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. [Psalm 91:4, NIV]

under wingsI remember a story about a woman who loved this psalm in particular and memorized it but when the time came, when she was grabbed by a man who wanted to hurt her, all she could think of and imagine were the feathers of God as a great bird protecting her young. And so this woman cried out, “feathers, feathers, feathers.” But God knew and the man, inexplicably, let her go, almost as though a force field was drawn about her.

This is my cry today, my prayer.

I’m Asking

askgodIn the same way, you have sorrow now; but I will see you again, and you will be overjoyed. No one takes away your joy. In that day, you won’t ask me anything. I assure you that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Up to now, you have asked nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive so that your joy will be complete. [John 16:22-24, CEB]

Won’t ask, ask, not asked, ask. What a strange passage with its combination of not asking and asking. Here’s my simple take on this: in the day of Christ’s return, we will not need to ask (we will get it), but until then, we can, not only ask, but ask with the name of Jesus as our co-requestor. Before Jesus, humans could not invoke His name or His consciousness, but now, we can.

I have had an additional bit of a revelation through the writings of Oswald Chambers on this matter.

We hear it said that a person’s life will suffer if he doesn’t pray, but I question that. What will suffer is the life of the Son of God in him, which is nourished not by food, but by prayer. When a person is born again from above, the life of the Son of God is born in him, and he can either starve or nourish that life. . . . To say that “prayer changes things” is not as close to the truth as saying, “Prayer changes me and then I change things.” God has established things so that prayer, on the basis of redemption, changes the way a person looks at things. Prayer is not a matter of changing things externally, but one of working miracles in a person’s inner nature. –Oswald Chambers [My Utmost for His Highest, Aug 28 entry]

In the days of “blab it and grab it” teachings, this selected verse in John was often used to encourage people to pray, in faith, for anything, including a new car, a job, a mate, etc. All was possible, as long as we believed and prayed this scripture. But now I see, most clearly, what is offered–a life within, one completely surrounded by the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus through the Holy Spirit (for it was the Spirit that given to us at His resurrection). How different the ask becomes then. What would God withhold? Nothing.

  • Create in me a clean heart, O God. [Psalm 51:10]
  • Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. [Psalm 4:1]
  • Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. [Psalm 86:11]
  • Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart. [Psalm 119:34]
  • Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. [Psalm 30:2]

All for the asking.

To participate in an ongoing 2015 Lenten devotional, download the PDF here.

 

Hocus Pocus

 

hocus pocusWe can’t understand everything. In fact, we can’t understand most things. When life moves along logically, the idea of “why” we choose to go one way or another might make perfect sense in the moment. But as soon as circumstances drop a bomb in our midst or we look back with 20-20, no answer to “why” explains or justifies the outcome. Not now, not ever. Whether the events are good or traumatic, the why this or why now will remain a mystery. Some can accept the miracle and others cannot.

As soon as Jesus threw the evil tormenting spirit out, the man talked away just as if he’d been talking all his life. The people were up on their feet applauding: “There’s never been anything like this in Israel!” The Pharisees were left sputtering, “Hocus-pocus. It’s nothing but hocus-pocus. He’s probably made a pact with the Devil.” [Matthew 9:32-33, The Message]

Personally, I would say it’s equally miraculous to make a pact with the devil as it would be to make a pact with the Lord. Both require a leap of faith. But what these Pharisees were really doing was rejecting something that was  “not-I.” They did not enter into the event; they remained aloof and thereby guarded.

It’s a negative view of the world: It’s a trick! The devil made me do it. My glass is half-empty. Fake! Liar! Thief!

All of these possibilities may be true since I would be the last to say that evil does not exist and people can be less than altruistic.

miracle02But, when a person crosses the line into faith, the potential for good manifesting out of the seemingly bad circumstances goes up exponentially. When a person accepts the Presence of God in the universe (both macro and micro), then why becomes less important. (Please, scientists, I’m not blasting your world at all, you grace our world with understanding.) I simply believe that there will always be inexplicable events and human decisions that cannot be explained away by what we know now, or more likely, ever. Our reality is not driven by 3-D but by an unseen realm we cannot fathom.

Miracles are possible because this world is fleeting. And in the same vein, sorrows happen too.

God Definitely Listened

God listensI have been told, eventually, I would grow angry over the loss of my husband, who died so unexpectedly. It’s only been a couple of months and people may be right, but today, I can’t really generate emotional wrath. With whom should I be angry? Should I blaze at Mike who experienced the widow maker, when a specific artery to the apex of the heart was blocked and caused nearly “sudden death” (or certainly within minutes). Should shake my fists at adult children who didn’t even know their father was home? Should I chastise myself for being out of town . . . again? Or, the most common fury, at God, who allowed or orchestrated this moment. But if Job couldn’t get away with it, why should I? “I know you can do anything; no plan of yours can be opposed successfully. . . . I have indeed spoken about things I didn’t understand, wonders beyond my comprehension.” [Job 42:1, 3, CEB]

Instead, I see God’s hand manifesting in my daily life now in a way that I never did before. Into my confusion, God still is. Into my sorrow, God speaks. Into my fear, God breathes.

Come close and listen, all you who honor God;
I will tell you what God has done for me:
My mouth cried out to him with praise on my tongue.
If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened.
But God definitely listened.
He heard the sound of my prayer. Bless God!
He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me.
[Psalm 66:16-20, CEB]

Back in the day when I used to speak to women’s groups and conferences as well as perform my one-woman show, I would share my testimony. And at the end of the story, I would always remind them that I was the “woman at the well,” “the woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her hair,” the woman caught in the sin of adultery.” And now, in my widowhood, I am her again, for I am thrown into His mercy.

Today, I am able to stand against the bitterness that stole Naomi’s heart [Ruth 1:20] and instead, I take the refrain of Ruth, ““I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” [Ruth 3:9b, NIV] It’s enough for today.

Into the Wild

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. [Matthew 4:1, The Message]

wild placesOnce it’s clear that God has something for you to do, there’s little doubt that a time of testing will come along just to make things interesting. That testing may start quietly, like a little voice in your head, like Eve’s serpent whispering, “Did God really say that?” Maybe you misunderstood. Look around. These circumstances sure don’t support that plan.

Or, maybe the testing is more like the day you decide to clean out the hall closet to get it organized, and what do you get first? The biggest mess ever! That’s right. Before there is order, there is chaos. The job just got bigger than you expected.

Or, maybe you decide to get ready for the test and study hard: read the Book, take notes, create flash cards, memorize key points, arrive early with pencils sharpened and coffee in hand. And still, despite all that preparation, none of the test questions are the ones you expected. [In one of my morning comics, the teenager comes out of class and bemoans, “Why am I never tested on the things I know!”] Doesn’t work that way in the wild.

Artwork by Michael Perchard

Here’s what I know about the wild: it’s rarely what you expect it to be and the timing is usually less than perfect. The wild is called the wild for a reason: untamed, uncultivated, unrestrained, and unchecked. In this particular wild, you are asked to depend on your faith, not your wily smarts or superman strength or clever answers. In this wild, paradox reigns supreme, where less is more and waiting wins.

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