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Posts Tagged ‘fear’

Asking and thanking go together. They are a song that has perfect but unique harmonies. Asking & thanking in prayer is a tight union, like an A Capella group that intertwines the main melody with sounds and riffs, highs and lows.

Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. [Philippians 4:6, CEB]

I cannot ask without thanking. Well, I should not.

If I take my anxieties and concerns to God in prayer, then the next thing from my lips needs to be my thanksgiving because “God’s got this!” That’s the point. The prayer part, the appeal, is not so much about God or Christ, but about me. I am sharing, as transparently as possible, how I understand my  situation and what I believe I need to happen. But listen, I may (more than likely) be wrong about the best outcome. Thank God. I mean, sincerely, I thank God who listens but is not particularly moved by my limited discernment.

But when I’m hurting, I tell God. When I’m confused, I complain. When I’m angry, I confess. When I’m convinced, I give God an opening to disagree.

Thanks for your patience Lord. Sing with me.

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grateful heartSaying “thank you” should not be just a polite expression or automated response. When the words come from the heart, they can germinate and roots will strengthen them. The words sound differently when they bubble up from the truth center of our selves, and as a result, they have the power to reach into the hearts of others. True thanksgiving is compelling. But, ya gotta mean it.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. [I Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV] and The Lord does look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. [I Samuel 16:7b, NIV]

When expressing thanks to another person, I think it’s important to make eye contact to reveal one’s intent, an acknowledgment and appreciation for the efforts of another. It is an I/Thou interaction. Another way of saying this: when a person feels thanks and shares that thankfulness with another, there is an exchange of energy and recognition, much like saying, “I see you and you see me.” It is the simplest form of gratefulness.

surrender 1God asks no less. Acknowledge Me, appreciate what I-God has given to You-Human, celebrate gratefulness, and express all of it with thanks. Trust Me.

No doubt, when circumstances are difficult, I tend to withhold thanks. I make assumptions and judgments: no, not this, no, this is a bad day, no, this is a bad choice, no, this is too sad, no, this is too painful. And so I reject the situation and look for another. I decide on my own that this is not the way I want to go, that this can’t be the path God intended me to take. I’m outta here.

But there is more loss; I’ve missed important lessons along the way because I ran, I eluded, I buried my head in the sand.

aloneI am facing such a time again, this newly minted widowhood. Can I find an inner thanks, a genuine “yes” to God, despite the tears, the loss, and the anxieties? Can I surrender into gratefulness? Can I fight off disappointment?

Little by little. Little by little. I must. I can. I will.

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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.

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Facing My Fear

fear not

Photo by Tom Ryaboi

According to the verse counters, there are more than 500 verses in scripture that address the matter of fear. Some of them say, “be not afraid,” some say, “fear not,” and others compare the power of fear against the power of God (no contest). And yet, we continue to fear.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid? [Psalm 27:1, NIV]

Fear can be defined as an emotion induced by the perception of threat to oneself. As a result, we have responses such as flight or fight. If the threat is completely out of our control, fear may be partnered with anxiety, and then our set of responses is diminished because anxiety often causes a shut-down or meltdown (note, anxiety can exist without fear but the combination is lethal).

Life prepares us for fear . . . or not. So much depends on our experiences. If we have successfully navigated a difficult situation or person at one time, the next occurrence will be less fear producing (but of course, the converse is also true). If we are thrown into circumstances for the first time, despite their newness, there is usually something we have done before that will drive our response (even if it’s the last time we tackled a new environment, activity or person). In other words, how we respond can become habitual.

The question then is critical: If God is God and I believe God is “for me” and not against me, why do I continue to fear?

Because I continue to leave God out of the equation.

It’s time to build a new set of responses, consciously, if necessary. Like breaking any habit, it will take some time and some practice, but it’s time to really stand in the promise of Presence.

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promises of GodJust a quick look in Google yields a number of websites people have created to lay out a full list of the promises of Christ, primarily based on things Jesus said, such as John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [Of course, that verse seems to be a combination verse, a promise and a consequence. Or are they the same?]

Near the end of the book of Joshua, it is written,The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. [Joshua 21:44-45, NIV] Most of these promises dealt with the land and conquering the pagan peoples who lived in those lands. All was fulfilled in that time. But we know how the story goes; not long afterward, the people jettisoned the plan and the covenant once Joshua passed and the last of the generation that saw God’s miracle-working power from Egypt to the promised land.

We are no different.

The words are still out there for us to embrace. The promises are still real and concrete. But we hedge our way, like the story of Eve and serpent, we hear these words instead, “Did God really say . . . ?” [Genesis 3:1b] Really? Did God promise this or that? Did Jesus really mean . . . isn’t it more likely that . . . ” And on and on and on we go, further afield of the simplicity of the gospel, either making it too complicated or too simplistic and in both cases, opening a door for doubt and confusion.

Today, I read on Facebook of a woman who was struggling with someone who questioned the “race” of Jesus. Was he white? Was he black? And so on. Is this a worthwhile discussion? Does it do anything for our faith? Or, is it just a surface issue that bypasses the central truth? Also today, I attended a funeral of a 19 year old daughter of a family friend and my own adult daughter was surprised how the young woman in the coffin did not really resemble the girl she knew. I had to remind Lily, the body is but a shell and it is the Spirit that gives the human body dynamics and life. Hannah was no longer there.

Painting by Jonas Gerard

Painting by Jonas Gerard

So it is with all things of God. The promises of God may appear to be about outer things, land and so on, but in reality, they are about the inner truth, the inner person, the relationship between my “self” and the God who lives in us through Christ. God’s promises are about eternity and living outside and beyond the body, the truly promised land. The enemies we face are the challenges of 3-D life: sin and selfishness, distrust and fear, evil from without determined to destroy the good within.

If only we . . . well, I can’t speak for you . . . if only I could engage fully in the truth of the fulfilled promise. It’s all done, completed from the day of Joshua to the day of Jesus, also a Joshua, who fought for my salvation and won. It is finished.

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regretWhat a pathetic phrase, “if only.” It’s all about yesterday, the milk is spilled and the people whine. Oh, if only I hadn’t said that or done that or gone there or looked there. So sorry. If only I could change it back to the way it was.

All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” [Numbers 14:2-3, NIV]

If I hear myself actually use this phrase in regular speech, I’m going to excise it as fast as I can.

This was the Israelites lament in the desert after Moses had sent a representative from each clan to scope out the promised land. Out of all those emissaries, only two came back with courage, trusting God to fulfill the promises. After all, this was the same God who had poured out lamentations about the Egyptians and who rested on the Tabernacle in a cloud by day and a pillar by fire at night. This was the God who had orchestrated the great escape from the Egyptians through the Sea (one way or another). This God had shown God as miraculous and specifically in their cause. Why was this day different? What made the giants and foreigners of the land of Canaan so frightening, so indomitable?

Did the Israelites forget what God could do? Why? The only thing I can imagine is that their eyes became stronger than their faith. What they saw overwhelmed what they could not see. And lastly, the messengers themselves were suspect.

Had the spies who went into Canaan come back with confidence, the people would have followed. Instead, those men sowed fear and discord, questions and distrust. It was those few who did not believe who led the majority astray. And that’s a lesson as well.

Who do we believe? Who do I believe? The Press? The politicians? The blogs?

In some ways, I think it’s my own fault when I am so easily swayed. I am turned when I don’t have enough reliable information. I am unsure when I have not invested in discovery and latched on to the easy answer. And then, what about those trustworthy characters? What exactly draws me to trust in a leader?

I remember how appalled I was the other day when a person I have always admired in politics, suddenly took a turn in a direction I could never have foreseen. Has the person’s character changed or merely his/her point of view. Do I move my point of view along with the person? Or was the person’s change merely politically advantageous or necessary for success or advancement?

The Israelites chose to believe their representatives and in the end, as a result, they lost the promise altogether and were “banished” to the desert for forty years, two full generations. They paid a steep price for their herd mentality.

They were afraid of the unknown future so much that the past, as wicked as it was seemed more appealing. They remembered the foods and some of the minor comforts, but forgot the violence and the slavery. The future is always a surprise. That’s true. But, if we have just enough confidence in God, to believe that our lives are ultimately fashioned by the Spirit, then we should never go back. It’s unproductive to even contemplate it. In fact, it’s Lot’s wife, looking back toward Sodom & Gomorrah.

If only. . . no more. Instead, I will say when.

 

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I was thinking today about the feelings and thoughts of someone on death row. And I wondered how I missed the similarities between myself, while I was still isolated away from God/Spirit/Yahweh, while swimming in a sea of self-manufactured detritus. The sentence is the same. The mega-tube slide relentlessly taking me downhill.

break freeI sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
    he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
    and he delivers them.  [Psalm 34-4-7, NIV]

Once an inmate is on death row, there is no action that can be done on one’s own to stay the sentence. The “help” must come from the outside, others who plead one’s case, a judge who might rule in the inmate’s case, a government official who might vacate the sentence. Salvation is offered. The inmate must choose to accept.

I just say “choose” because it’s not always the case that a person wants to live and it could be that the restraints on that “life” may not be acceptable. You see, despite the reprieve, a convicted criminal who somehow receives clemency will still be bound by a system of checks and balances. Each day and each morning, calls for a choice, to live.

There is a good reason that Moses writes, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” [Deuteronomy 30:19-20a]

This morning, I attended a prayer breakfast sponsored by our city’s Chamber of Commerce. I find this event so very puzzling as many people attend out of some kind of civic obligation or opportunity for networking and not necessarily for prayer or religious instruction. And yet, the speaker is always clear on the message: God in Christ, the Way, the answer, the hope. It is not watered down. The speaker today was no different from years past. In fact, he called his chance to speak for what it was, “crossover evangelism.” I had never heard the term, but it reminded me of Christian artists who had crossed over into the secular market or country singers who achieved crossover into rock ‘n roll. He was reaching a group that may not have heard a message of reprieve from a life in emotional, relational, or financial chains in such a way.

The speaker, Robert Kossack, is the founder of an organization called Project Crossroad, an organization whose sole mission is to aid youth as they come to one of those many crossroads in life. (Of course, these crossroads happen all along our lives and not just in our teens or twenties.) Kossack spoke passionately and from the heart about his own crossroads and how his choices put him in prison. He, too, was on one of those rapid rides downhill. But through circumstances and epiphany, he chose life in the Spirit of Christ Jesus. And in this place, stopped the spiral downward. My favorite part of his story was when he told of the “walk” he took with a guard in the last minutes of incarceration, a long walk designed for him to remember that place and all that it held (chains and cells and barbed wire and strip searches). The guard insured that Kossack saw these things one more time and told him to “never forget.” And finally, when he had reached the area called R&D (Receiving and Discharge), his family waited for him on the other side. He could see them through the doors. Kossack wanted the guard to remove his chains before he stepped through the door, but the guard commanded him to step aside. And the revelation occurred to him, that the door to the outside would not open until the door to the inside was closed. The only thing that stood in the way was he, himself.

This is so for all of us. Reprieve is offered and we tend to stand in the way of it. We say we want help but then stand in the way of its offer. I am guilty of the same.

The promise is that God will deliver us from our fears and from our prisons. That promise is faithful and true but it is we ourselves who may be missing it. Stand aside for the power of God. Accept reprieve, immunity, and forgiveness.

Choose life.

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