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Posts Tagged ‘enemies’

Psalm 143 is filled with urgency and no less in these two verses:

hidingplaceLet the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,

    for I hide myself in you. [Psalm 143:8-9 NIV 2011]

I don’t know this kind of urgency very often. From day to day, I live a life of relative ease. There might be emotional upheavals and drama (after all, I have two young adults still living at home with us), but none of these cause me to burrow into the hiding place of God. I do not live in a foxhole as many people do throughout the world today. Instead, for all I know, I may be luxuriating in pot of water on the stove, getting warmer and warmer, but not realizing I am actually dying.

Well, we all are. From day to day, closer each day to some inevitable transformative moment that will take us out of our bodies in an instant or on a journey of pain and disease, a slower but nonetheless equally lethal end. This is part of living, the dying.

There have been several deaths around me of late: husbands of friends, old friends, passing acquaintances, relatives of colleagues, and on and on the list seems to get longer each year. We have a patron who comes into the library every week to look at the local newspaper for one thing only, to check the obituaries. There is always someone she knows, she has lived in this same community all of her life.

Is the shadow of death the only real urgency in a life? Or, is that merely self-serving to the end?

Or, are we to live with empathy for others in their crisis?

No one can sustain the stress of true crisis for an extended time. The body cannot generate enough adrenalin. I could help by if I knew how to envelop this person in need with the love of God, with the touch of authentic human, with the promise of rest. But then, I must really know what it means to shelter in God before I can bring someone else into the hiding place.

Back in my childhood, I was never very good at playing hide and seek. Either my hiding place was too good (and no one could find me so I would come out – who wants to be alone in a hiding place?) or the spot was too easy and I was found right away. Often, I would keep peeking out just to see what was going on around me. Just in case. And of course, this would be another way I would be pulled free from safety.

And there’s the problem, the human tendency to peek. To hide in God works better as a permanent solution, not just in a state of emergency. If I could stay in the hiding place of God, within the Spirit of Christ, my view of the world would be through a completely different lens. I would see more clearly; I would recognize needs in others; I could envelope and invite them in, for the place is large and plentiful. The hiding place of God knows no limits, nor does it include chains. It’s a choice to remain, just as it is a choice to enter.

So, does the hiding place mean I won’t experience urgency and fear and pain? On the contrary, those moments will still happen, I’m sure of it. The difference is in walking out trauma with an ongoing confidence in the Presence: “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan” [Romans 8:38, The Voice].

And remaining “in” God. No peeking.

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When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh,
My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me,

My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
In spite of this I shall be confident.

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple.
For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;

In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;
He will lift me up on a rock.  [Psalm 27:2-5, NAS]

enemy proverbI am to walk in confidence and pray so since the promise is plainly spoken, my enemies will fall before and I will dwell safely. But there is no promise of the timetable. And I must remember this. I may be safe in the stronghold, but the outer keeps and lands around my stronghold may suffer pain or loss or injury. There is no promise of a pain-free life, just a promise that no enemy will prevail.

Who are these enemies anyway?

Are there, literally, people out there who want to specifically do “me” harm? Are there people who would intentionally hurt me? I don’t think so, not really. Of course, if I put myself in dangerous places, if I travel in war-torn areas or walk the streets of brutalized neighborhoods, I might indeed become a representative of everything someone hates: while, middle-class, Christian female. For some, that might be enough. I cannot say or expect that I, as an individual, would be excused from misfortune or injury in that situation.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure my biggest enemy is within, that “old self” who continues to look for footing and place where none should be. It is that untamed part of me that kicks against surrender to the Christ Spirit. That part of me continues to behave like a stubborn step child, unwilling to adapt to change, and unwilling to live under spiritual authority.

The prayer, then, makes sense: to remain in the “house” of the Lord (that inner stronghold). For me, this passage has more depth than simply going to church on Sunday mornings. The words ring truer when I consider the house of God within me, that shelter of the most high, where the Spirit meets me willingly and lovingly. This is the place for I have free access to the God of the Universe, where I can see and feel the light ad beauty of God.

The more familiar I become in this place, the more clearly I can experience true peace, and that clamoring enemy and the traps of the worldly concerns have less and less power. Here is the core of worship.

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I wouldn’t normally say I am persecuted on a regular basis: you know, things like domination, fanaticism, and intimidation. But, what if it’s as simple as someone who is “cruel in their attitude toward me” [Amplified]. In either case, I’m supposed to bless them. What does that look like?

Romans 12:14-16a
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. . . .

When I teach a Bible study, I am constantly asking the participants, “What does that look like?” I ask because most people who come to these studies have a pretty good handle on the scriptures, but they have lost the specificity of how the words apply (manifest) in their daily lives. It’s one thing to read about “blessing the persecutors” and another to figure out how to do that on a regular day.

For one thing (and for the sake of transparency), I’m still contending with the implications of the word, “bless.” Usually, I can get past these verses by including the “haters” (as my kids call them) in prayer: “Bless so and so, like the woman who gave me a dirty look, or the man who yelled at me over the phone, or the boss who challenged my ability, or the teen who blatantly lied to me. Oh yeah, bless them Lord. (The hidden message: You bless them God because I sure can’t/won’t.)

But I think that’s a dodge of the truth behind the words. To bless someone goes beyond a pat on the head or a passing verbal gratuity. Blessings begin in the mind and then need to manifest into some kind of action. To bless is a verb. Just a little look at a dictionary or thesaurus is quite revealing. Everything is included from “sanctify” to “protect from evil” or “confer well being upon someone.” So, yes, there is a speaking component to blessing someone. And when we are speaking this blessing, it is a request that God confer well-being, prosperity, health, and holiness (wholeness). Every time we say “Bless” it’s a prayer.

I believe there is a second component. The command for me to bless others is not just about me “praying” a blessing over someone but to do what I can to give that person the ability to receive those blessings. If I want to bless someone truly, then I am helping that person receive what God has to offer. I am participating in the process with God. I may be called to be the hands and feet of the blessing.

To only say, “Bless them” is an empty prayer if I am not offering my own commitment to that person’s transformation or change in circumstances.

On a personal level, if someone is treating me badly, cruelly, or even betraying me and accusing me wrongly, while God is telling me to bless that person, then what? Romans 12:20 says “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” My job is to do what is best for the person, no matter how they treat me. To actively bless someone is really just another word for loving them. I do my piece of it and the rest is up to God. If that person does not receive the blessings (mine or God’s) then the “burning coals” may indeed be brought into picture. But that’s not my job. My job is to bless/love.

Help me today, Lord, to “bless” and thereby extend love to everyone I meet today, but in particular, the persecutors. Oh, that feels overwhelming to say.

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Acts 7:59-60a
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Interesting that Stephen does not say, “I forgive them,” but asked, as Jesus did, that the Lord God forgive them. There is a fine line difference and it’s worth noting, I think.

I’m guessing Stephen never held anything against them in the first place. From the get-go, he was able to keep their “issues” separate from his own. But to pray to God and ask Him to forgive one’s adversaries is proof of a higher concern: that their actions would not block them from eternal things.

Hmm. I’m a long way from this place, this higher level of forgiveness. I’m still struggling with the one on one type. Maybe I should try this God forgiveness first. Would looking at the difficult relationships in my life through the eternal eyes of God give me new personal perspective? Perhaps the little irritations would be less irritating. Perhaps the memories would be less vivid. Perhaps the patterns would finally break.

Have I secretly hoped that God would take on my banner of revenge? Romans 12:19 does say that God will avenge. Have I been playing a game of extending personal forgiveness while hoping all the while that my magnanimity would heap burning coals on the heads of my “enemies?”

Oh, secret heart, look what peeling away some layers has revealed. Forgive me… and yes, forgive them… the list is long, but you know them all… my friends, my colleagues, my staff, my neighbors, my family, my customers, my classmates, my church, my students, my politicians, my leaders, my relatives, my strangers… who am I to say that my feelings, my pain, my fears, and my disappointments must be avenged? Who am I to say?

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