487) Prayers by Samuel Johnson After the Death of His Wife

 

 Samuel Johnson’s wife Elizabeth (1689-1752)

    (After 27 days) Almighty and most merciful Father… look down with pity upon my sorrows, and grant that the affliction which it has pleased thee to bring upon me may awaken my conscience, enforce my resolutions of a better life, and impress upon me such conviction of thy power and goodness, that I may place in thee my only happiness, and endeavor to please thee in all my thoughts, words, and actions.  Grant, O Lord, that I may not languish in fruitless and unavailing sorrow, but that I may consider from whose hand all good and evil is received…  Grant, O merciful God, that by the assistance of thy Holy Spirit I may be comforted, obtain that peace which the world cannot give, pass the residue of my life in humble resignation and cheerful obedience; and when it shall please thee to call me from this mortal state, resign myself into thy hands with faith and confidence, and finally obtain mercy and everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

    (After 28 days) O Lord, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are life and death, who givest and takest away, castest down and raisest up, look with mercy on the affliction of thy unworthy servant… and speak peace to my troubled soul.  Grant me the assistance and comfort of thy Holy Spirit, that I may remember with thankfulness the blessings so long enjoyed by me in the company of my departed wife; make me so to think on her precepts and example, that I may imitate whatever was in her life acceptable in thy sight, and avoid all by which she offended thee…  And now, O Lord, release me from my sorrow; fill me with just hopes, true faith, and holy consolations; and enable me to do my duty in that state of life to which Thou hast been pleased to call me, without disturbance from fruitless grief, or tumultuous imaginations; that in all my thoughts, words, and actions, I may glorify thy Holy Name, and finally obtain, what I hope thou hast granted to thy departed servant, everlasting joy and bliss, through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

    (After 39 days) O Lord God, our heavenly Father, without whom all purposes are frustrated and all efforts are vain, grant me the assistance of thy Holy Spirit so that I may not sorrow as one without hope.  May I now return to the duties of my present state with humble confidence in thy protection.  I pray that you so govern my thoughts and actions, that neither business may withdraw my mind from Thee, nor idleness lay me open to vain imaginations; that neither praise may fill me with pride, nor censure with discontent; but that in the changes of this life, I may fix my heart upon the reward which Thou hast promised them that serve Thee.  And that whatever things are true, whatever are pure, whatever are lovely, whatever are of good report, wherein there is virtue and praise, I may think upon and do, and obtain mercy and everlasting happiness.  Grant this, O Lord, for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

    (After two years…four years…six years) Almighty God, sanctify unto me the reflections and resolutions of this day.  Let not my sorrow be unprofitable; let not my resolutions be in vain.  Grant that my grief may produce true repentance, so that I may live and please thee…  Grant me that the loss of my wife may teach me the true use of the blessings which are yet left me, and that however bereft of worldly comforts, I may find peace and refuge in thy service…  May my affliction be sanctified, and that remembering how much every day brings me nearer to the grave, I may every day purify my mind and amend my life, by the assistance of thy Holy Spirit, till at last I shall be accepted by Thee, for Jesus sake.  Amen.

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John 16:20  —  (Jesus said), “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.  You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”

I Thessalonians 4:13-18  —  Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage each other with these words.

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PRAYER AFTER THE DEATH OF A GOOD FRIEND by Samuel Johnson:  

O Lord God, almighty disposer of all things, in whose hands are life and death, who givest comforts and takest them away, I return Thee thanks for the good example of H. Boothby, whom Thou hast now taken away.  I implore thy grace, that I may improve the opportunity of instruction which Thou hast afforded me, by the knowledge of her life, and by the sense of her death; that I may consider the uncertainty of my present state, and apply myself earnestly to the duties which Thou hast set before me; that living in Thy fear, I may die in thy favor, through Jesus Christ our Lord.    Amen.

486) A Life Changed by Jesus

From John Stonestreet’s August 7, 2014 blog at  www.breakpoint.org

     In 1980, the New York Mets selected an 18-year-old baseball phenom, Darryl Strawberry, with the first pick in the Major League draft.

     Being a Mets fan in the 1970’s was tough, so it’s not an exaggeration to say that many saw the outfielder from Crenshaw High School in LA as a potential savior for the moribund franchise.  And he delivered.
     Strawberry played in eight consecutive All-Star games, seven of them while playing for the Mets.  In 1986, he helped the Mets win the World Series, hitting a moonshot in the seventh and deciding game that put the game out of reach.
     But while Strawberry delivered on the field, his life off the field amply demonstrated that the so-called “savior” was desperately in need of, well, a real Savior.  And, God be praised, he found Him.
     It was clear early on that Strawberry was, to put it mildly, a troubled young man.  As a recent profile of Strawberry on HBO’s “Real Sports” told viewers, his friends worried about what would happen to Strawberry after his playing days were over.
     Their fears were well-grounded.  While playing, he became a regular cocaine user.  And after retiring, he was in and out of rehab at least five times.  He was arrested several times and spent eleven months in jail.  He despaired of ever breaking his addiction.  As he told a judge, he had given up on life.
     Well fortunately, God had not given up on Darryl Strawberry.  At a Narcotics Anonymous convention he met Tracy, a recovering addict herself.  He told her to stay away from him, but she didn’t.  And when he relapsed, it was Tracy who went banging on crack house doors looking for him.  She took him home to her parents house and to St. Louis.
     And when Tracy became a Christian, she eventually led Strawberry to the Savior he had desperately needed all along.
     Today, Darryl and Tracy, who were married in 2006, run a ministry for people struggling with addiction.  When Bernard Goldberg entered their home, he was struck by the lack of any reference to Strawberry’s big league career.  He told Strawberry that he saw “no indication that he used to be a major league baseball player,” to which Strawberry replied “you said it clearly– ‘used to be.’”
     As Strawberry told Goldberg, the old Darryl Strawberry “had to die.”  Not just the addict, but the self-centered celebrity, as well.  In its place, there’s now a new man—just as the Gospel promises—dedicated to restoring people whose lives are teetering on the same self-destructive precipice as his once was.
     We see evidence of human brokenness all around us.  But in its midst, grace abounds.  God unceasingly works to heal wounds created by sin and to restore the wholeness—the shalom—our sin causes us to forfeit.   My Mets-devoted colleagues saw it by watching, of all things, HBO, as did anyone else who caught that special on the former baseball great Darryl Strawberry.
Darryl and Tracy Strawberry
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Philippians 3:13b-14  —  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Luke 18:13  —  …The tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
II Corinthians 5:17  —  …If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!
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PRAYER OF DAVID FOR A FRESH START AFTER FALLING INTO SIN  (Psalm 51:1-4a,  10-12, 15, 17):
Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight…
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me…
Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise…
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

 

485) Being ‘In Love’ and Living ‘Happily Ever After’

 By C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

      What we call ‘being in love’ is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us.  It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality.  In that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust.  No one in his senses would deny that being in love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centeredness.  But, as I said before, ‘the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.’  Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing.  There are many things below it, but there are also things above it.  You cannot make it the basis of a whole life.  It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling.  Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all.  Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go.  And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last.

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     The idea that ‘being in love’ is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all.  If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made.  The curious thing is that lovers themselves, while they remain really in love, know this better than those who talk about love.  Those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises.  Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy.  The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion’s own nature:  it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do.

     And, of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love.  A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions:  no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way.  He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry.

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     If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married’, then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were.  Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years?  What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships?  But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.  Love in this second sense—love as distinct from ‘being in love’—is not merely a feeling.  It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God.  They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself.  They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else.  ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity:  this quieter love enables them to keep the promise.  It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

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Genesis 2:18  —  The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Mark 10:6-9  —  (Jesus said),  “At the beginning of creation God made them male and female.  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Ephesians 4:2-3  —  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

I Corinthians 13:4-7  — Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

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 A MARRIAGE BLESSING:

May the Lord make you holy and bless you, and pour the riches of his grace upon you, that you may please Him, and live together in holy love until the end of your lives.  –John Knox

484) On Being Content (part three of three)

From Holy Living by Jeremy Taylor (1613-67) (paraphrased)

    9.  Let us often call to mind what it would be like to be without such blessings as we now possess.  Consider how desirable health is to a sick man or liberty to a prisoner.  If even a toothache seizes you with violence, all of your other troubles instantly disappear and seem inconsiderable.  He who is troubled that he is in debt, and spends sleepless nights, and refuses to eat because of his anxiety, let him get a kidney stone, and he will forget to be concerned about anything else.  So remember to value all those blessings that God is allowing you at the present moment, and be thankful and contented.  If God should send a cancer upon your face, what would you all be willing to give then to be as you now are?  Would you not then choose your present loss or affliction as to be preferred to that greater affliction?  You are right now free of a thousand calamities, every one of which, if it were upon you, would make you forget all your present sorrow.

    10.  If you want to have a contented spirit, be governed by your needs, not by your fancy; by nature, not by artificial customs and ambitious principles.  He that would hunt a hare with an elephant, is not unlucky for not being able to catch his prey; but foolish for choosing the wrong method.  Such is he that searches for contentment with appetites not springing from natural needs, but from false necessities.  These cannot to be satisfied, for God did not intend rest to a man by the filling of such desires.  When we create needs that God or nature never made, we have erected to ourselves an infinite stock of trouble that can have no end.  Sam complained of lack of clothes, and was very anxious to get a new suit, being ashamed to appear in the theater with his old suit.  When he got it, he gave his old clothes to poor Tom; and the poor man was filled with joy, and went and gave God thanks for it.  Tom was made cheerfully warm by that which Sam was ashamed to wear; and yet, their natural needs are the same.  The only difference was that Sam had some artificial necessities, which Tom did not have, and so Sam was harder to be relieved and could not have joy at so cheap a rate.  Tom lived only according to nature; and Sam by pride, ill customs, and measures taken by other men’s opinions.  He that believes he needs such fancy things, and is discontent and troubled when he is not able to make such purchases, ought not to complain to God, or blame his fortune; but the blame rests on his own folly.

    11.  In all our troubles let us take sanctuary in our faith, and by innocence cast out anchors for our souls to keep them from shipwreck, even though they may not be kept from storm.  When a man suffers in a good cause or is afflicted, and yet walks with God, then he may be killed, but he cannot be harmed; as St. Paul said, ‘We are troubled on every side, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.’  For indeed, God is the fountain of our greatest good, and when things look sad all around us, only then shall we find how excellent a fortune it is to have God to our friend.  Let us, therefore, not be governed by how things appear in the present, judging by the usual understanding; but let faith and hope be the measure of our judgment, and rest content on God’s promises.

    12.  Consider how many excellent persons in all ages have suffered greater calamities than this which now tempts you to impatience.  Our Lord Himself was the King of sufferings, suffering all the sorrows which we deserved.  We therefore have reason enough to be content; for it is a strange pride to expect to be more gently treated than the best and wisest men, than apostles and saints, and even the Son of the eternal God.  When your little misfortune troubles you, remember that Jesus, the best of men, was put to death publicly by His own people.

    13.  Consider that afflictions are oftentimes the occasions of great temporal advantages; and we must not look upon them only as they bear down heavily upon us, but as they might very well be serving God’s greater purpose.  If one could have at the beginning explained to Joseph the future results of his being sold into slavery, he might have dried up the young man’s lonely tears.  When God’s purposes were later seen in the unfolding of events, as when Joseph became lord of Egypt and prevented a great famine and saved many people, then we see what wrongful judgment we make of things.  For God esteems it one of his glories to bring good out of evil, and therefore that should be reason enough to trust God to govern his own world as he pleases, and we should patiently wait until the change comes or the reason is discovered.

    14.  If you will not otherwise be cured, remember that time will at last relieve you.  Be content to bear your calamity, because you can be sure that it will end, for to a Christian no evil is without end.  The worst that can happen is for it to end in death, and we know that to be near enough anyway; and then we inherit eternal peace.

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Romans 8:35… 36-39  —  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…   No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
II Corinthians 4:8-9  —  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
II Corinthians 4:16-18  —  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 
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        O Lord, let me not desire health or life, except to spend them for Thee, with Thee, and in Thee.  Thou alone knowest what is good for me; do, therefore, what seems best to Thee.  Give to me, or take from me; conform my will to Thine; and grant that, with humble and perfect submission, and in holy confidence, I may receive the orders of Thine eternal providence; and may equally adore all that comes to me from Thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.                  

–Blaise Pascal  (17th century)

483) On Being Content (part two of three)

From Holy Living by Jeremy Taylor (1613-67)  (paraphrased)

        4.  Never compare your condition with those who have more than you; but to secure your contentment, look upon those many with whom you would not want to exchange your fortune and condition.  There are but a few kings in the world, but countless are those who are very miserable compared to you.  It is a huge folly to grieve that some have more, rather than to rejoice for the many good things which God has placed in your hands.

        5.  We will be more content if in times of trouble, we recall what is pleasing and prosperous, so that by the remembrance of the better, the worse may be blotted out.  And even at the worst, you have enough to keep you alive and to improve your hopes of heaven.  If I be defeated in my lawsuit, yet my house is left me still and my land; or I may still have a virtuous wife, or hopeful children, or kind friends, or good hopes.  Reckon the blessings which already you have received, and therefore be pleased in the changes and chances of life, to receive evil from the hand of God as well as good.  Or else please yourself with hopes of the future.  A change brings you into a sadness, and a change will bring you out again… 

        Suppose you were in as great a sadness as ever did load your spirit, would you not bear it cheerfully and nobly if you were sure that within a certain space of time a surprising and excellent fortune would relieve, enrich, and recompense you, so as to overflow all your hopes and desires?  So then, when a sadness lies heavy upon you, remember that you are a Christian, created for the inheritance of Jesus, and that great fortune gives you a place in eternity.  Now, if you are not a Christian and do not believe in eternity, then I cannot blame you for being sad, but even at that, would it be the loss of money that saddens you?  What should a condemned man do with money, which in so great a sadness it is impossible for him to enjoy anyway?  Does anyone despair over the particulars of a purchase when upon the gallows?  If you really believe you are condemned, I do not say that would cure the sadness of your poverty, but that greater despair will swallow it up.  But if you believe that you shall be saved, consider how great is that joy, how infinite is that change, how unspeakable is that glory, how excellent is the compensation, for all the sufferings in the world, even if they were all at once loaded upon your spirit!  So let your present condition be what it will, if you compare it to your future condition, the present pain of a misfortune will be eased by the hope of that far bigger joy.  

     Here you are but a stranger, traveling to a country where the glories of a kingdom are prepared for you.  It is, therefore, a huge folly to be much afflicted because you have a less convenient inn to lodge in by the way.  This way of looking forwards and backwards is more than enough to support the spirit of a Christian…  

     Everyone has blessings enough in present possession to outweigh the evils of a great affliction.   I may have all my possessions taken away, but even then I can still look about and see all that I have left.   I still have the sun and moon, fire and water, a loving wife, and many friends to pity me and some to relieve me, and I can still enjoy a conversation; and, unless I give in to despair, I will still have my cheerful spirit, and a good conscience.   And I can still have hope in the providence of God, and all the promises of the gospel, and my hopes of heaven; and still I sleep and eat and drink and read and meditate; I can walk in my neighbor’s pleasant fields, and see the variety of natural beauties, and delight in all that in which God delights, that is, in virtue and wisdom and in the whole creation.   He that has so many causes of joy is very much in love with sorrow and peevishness if he can ignore all these pleasures, and choose only to sit down upon his little handful of thorns.

        6.  Enjoy the present, whatsoever it be, and be not anxious for the future.  If it is well for you today, it is madness to make the present miserable by fearing that it may be ill tomorrow.  If tomorrow you shall suffer want, your sorrow will come soon enough, but do not hasten it.  Let the trouble come when it comes.  And if it is bad today, do not increase it by worry about tomorrow.  He, therefore, that enjoys the present if it be good, enjoys as much as is possible.  Christ said, ‘Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof;’ sufficient but not intolerable.  But if we look abroad, and bring into one day’s thoughts the evil of many days, certain and uncertain, our load will be as intolerable as it is unreasonable.

        7.  Let us prepare our minds against changes by always expecting them, so that we are not surprised when they come.  Nothing is so great an enemy to tranquility and a contented spirit as the amazement and confusions that come when our fortunes are violently changed in a way we thought could never happen.  ‘O death, how bitter art thou to a man that is at rest in his possessions!’  The rich man who had promised himself ease and enjoyment for many years, had a sad shock when his soul was surprised on the very first night by death.  But the apostles, who faced death every day, went to their martyrdom in peace.

        8.  Consider that a state of affliction is a school of virtue.  It reduces our spirits to soberness and interrupts the confidence of sinning.  ‘It is good for me,’ said David, ‘that I have been afflicted, for thereby I have learned thy law.’

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Psalm 103:2  —  Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. 
 
Psalm 119:71  —   It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.  
 
Proverbs 19:23  —  The fear of the Lord leads to life:  Then one rests content, untouched by trouble. 
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        Lord, teach me the art of patience while I am well, and give me the use of it when I am sick.  In that day, either lighten my burden or strengthen my back.  Make me, who so often in my health have discovered my weakness in presuming on my own strength, to be strong in my sickness when I solely rely on your assistance.  Amen.  

–Thomas Fuller

482) On Being Content (part one of three)

From Holy Living by Jeremy Taylor (1613-67) (paraphrased).  Taylor was an English clergyman, author, and chaplain to King Charles I.  He was called “the Shakespeare of the pulpit.”

    God has appointed a simple remedy for many of the evils in the world and that is a spirit of contentment.  For since much of the evil in life consists in there being a difference between the way things are and the way one wants them to be, he that adjusts his spirit to his situation will not be as often troubled, because his desires will not go beyond his present fortune.  For no matter what troubles one finds himself in, there is in the trouble some virtue or another to be learned or exercised, be it patience, thanksgiving, love, fear, moderation, humility, charity, or contentedness; and all of them can serve the purpose of his overall happiness.  After all, beauty is not made by blue eyes and a round face and a perfect body and smooth skin; but by how it fits with what we fancy to be beauty.  Our happiness and contentment is created in our minds, and by the grace of God we can be reconciled to even poverty.  For no man is poor that does not think himself so; and even if he is very rich, if with impatience he desires even more, he will even then think himself poor.

    1.  Contentment in all situations consists in the good sense of complying with the Divine Providence which governs all the world, and has so ordered us in the administration of his great family.  All gifts come from God, and therefore it is fit He should dispense them as he pleases.  God is the master of the scenes, and we do not get to choose which part we shall act.  It concerns us only to be careful that we do our part well, always saying, ‘If this please God, let it be as it is.’  We who pray that God’s will may be done in earth as it is in heaven, must remember that even the angels do whatever is commanded them and go wherever they are sent and refuse no circumstances.  You should do likewise, keeping to the station where God has placed you, not longing for something else, but simply accepting God’s providence.  For are not we his creatures?  Are we not as clay in the hand of the potter?  Do we not live upon his provision and move by his strength?  Are we anything but what we have from him?  God, who can do what he pleases, is wise to choose safely for us.  Here, therefore, is the wisdom of the contented man– to let God choose for him; for when we have given up our wills to him, and stand in that station of the battle where our great general has placed us, our spirits can rest while we have for our security the power, the wisdom, and the love of God.

    2.  Contentment in all afflictions brings great peace of spirit and is the only way to happiness in this life.  It removes the sting from the situation, and makes a man not dependent upon chance, but only upon God.  Our place in life is what we make of it; and when God lets loose a tyrant upon us, or a sickness, or scorn, or a lessened fortune, if we then fear to die, or know not how to be patient, or are proud, or covetous, then the calamity brings us to despair.  But if we know how to be faithful and noble, and fear not death so much as a dishonest action, and think impatience a worse evil than a fever, and pride to be the biggest disgrace, and poverty to be infinitely desirable before the torments of covetousness; then we shall find that we can bear all things and be content.  But no man can be happy that has great expectations and hopes and great fears of things outside of himself that depend upon other men or upon the chances of fortune.  The rewards of virtue are certain, but he that has all his hope in things that are within the power of others will certainly be disappointed.  My fear can make me miserable, and possessions can be enjoyed only by those who are not afraid to lose them.  Fear of the future takes off all the pleasure of the present possession.  Therefore, if you have lost your land, do not also lose your contentment, and if you must die a little sooner, yet do not die impatiently.  For no chance circumstances are evil to him that is content.  No man can make another man to be his slave unless be has first enslaved himself to life and death, to pleasure or pain, to hope or fear.  Command these passions, and you will be freer than any king.

    3.  When anything happens to our displeasure, let us endeavor to take off its trouble by turning it into spiritual advantage.  When an enemy reproaches you, look on him as an impartial revealer of your faults, for he will be more truthful with you than your fondest friend; so make use of his words.  That is better than to be flattered into pride and carelessness.  When a storm of a sad misfortune beats upon our spirits, turn it into some advantage by observing where it can serve a godly purpose.  If nothing else, it may make us weary of the world’s vanity, take off our confidence from uncertain riches, and make our spirits content.  And if it does any good to our souls, it has made more than sufficient recompense for any temporal affliction.

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Philippians 4:11b-12  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 
1 Timothy 6:6-8  —  But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 
Hebrews 13:5  —  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
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        Almighty God, have mercy upon us, forgive us all our sins, and deliver us from all evil; confirm and strengthen us in all goodness, and bring us to life everlasting.  Amen.     

Book of Common Prayer, Scotland

 

481) More Plain Advice from John Ploughman

From John Ploughman’s Pictures: More Plain of His Plain Talk for Plain People by Charles Spurgeon, English preacher and author, 1880.

NEVER STOP THE PLOW TO CATCH A MOUSE

    Think of a man, a boy, and four horses all standing still for the sake of a mouse!  They have a great work in hand which needs all their efforts, and they leave it to waste time over nothing.  The main work must be done and the main concerns tended to, and one must just put up with the little things.  Nobody would burn his house down to kill the ants, nor is there any use in stopping your fishing because of the seaweed.  If the butcher closed his store until he had killed all the flies, we would go many a day without meat.  If the water companies never gave us a drink till they had fished every carp out of the river, how would the old ladies ever make their tea?

    Our minister said to me, “John, if you were on the committees of some of our congregations you would see this mouse-hunting done to perfection.  And not only congregations, but whole denominations, go mouse-hunting.”  He said, “A society of good Christian people will split into pieces over a petty quarrel, or mere matter of opinion, while all around them the masses are perishing for want of the Gospel.  A miserable little mouse, which no cat would ever hunt, takes them off from their Lord’s work.  Again, intelligent people will spend months of time and heaps of money inventing and publishing mere speculations, while the great field of the world lies unplowed.  They seem to care nothing how many may perish so long as they can make their points and get their way on these minor issues.  In other matters, a little common sense is allowed to rule, but in the weightiest matters foolishness is sadly conspicuous.  As for you and me, John, let us kill a mouse when it nibbles at the bread on our plate, but otherwise, let us not spend our lives over it.  The paltry trifles of this world are much of the same sort.  Let us give our chief attention to the chief things– the glory of God, the winning of souls for Jesus, and our own salvation.”

YOU MAY BEND THE SAPLING, BUT NOT THE TREE

    Ladder, pole, and cord will be of no use to straighten the bent tree; it should have been looked after much earlier.  Train trees when they are saplings, and young lads before they grow beards.  Begin early to teach, for children begin early to sin.  Catch them young and you may hope to keep them.  What is learned young is learned for life.  The bent twig grows up a crooked tree.  When a boy is rebellious, conquer him, and do it well the first time, that there may be no need to do it again.  A child’s first lesson should be obedience, and after that you may teach him what you please.  Yet, the young mind must not be laced too tight, or you may hurt its growth and hinder its strength.  Nobody needs so much common sense and wisdom as a mother and a father.  A child’s back must be made to bend, but it must not be broken.  He must be ruled, but not with a rod of iron.  His spirit must be conquered, but not crushed.  Nature does sometimes overcome nurture, but for the most part the teacher wins the day.

    Children are often what they are made; the pity is that so many are spoiled in the bringing up.  A child may be rocked too hard; you may spoil him either by too much cuffing or too much kissing.  There’s a medium in everything and they are good parents who hit upon it, so that they govern their children with love, and the children love to be governed by them.  Some are like Eli, who let his sons sin and only chided them a little; these will turn out to be cruel parents in the long run.  Others are too strict and make home miserable, and so drive the youngsters to the wrong road in another way.  So you see it is easy to err on either side, and hard to dance the tight-rope of wisdom.  Depend on it, those who have children will never be short of burdens and cares.  In these days children get their own way too much, and often make their parents their slaves.  It has come to a fine pass when the kittens rule the cat; it is the upsetting of everything, and no parent ought to put up with it.  It is as bad for the children as it is for the grown folk, and it brings out the worst in all.  The head must be the head, or it will hurt the whole body.

SCATTER AND INCREASE

    People will not believe it, and yet it is true as the gospel, that giving leads to thriving.  If a man cannot pay his debts he must not think of giving, for he has nothing of his own, and it is thieving to give away other people’s property.  Be just before you are generous.  But then, be generous.  You will find that generous people are happy people, and get more enjoyment out of what they have than the misers of the world.  Misers never rest till they are put to bed with a shovel.  Generous souls are made happy by the happiness of others.  The money they give to those in need buys them more pleasure than any other that they spend.  He that gives God his heart will not deny him his money.

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Proverbs 12:15  —  The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. 

Ephesians 6:4  —  Fathers (and mothers), do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 9:7  —  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

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    Dear God, help me today to watch my mouth so what goes in and what comes out won’t make me regret or hang my head with shame; so that this evening I can say, thank you, God, for helping me again.   Amen.  –Hilda Nelson

480) Samuel Johnson on ‘The Need to be Reminded’

18th century linguist Samuel Johnson often said that in the area of morality we do not so much need ‘instruction’ as we need ‘reminding.’  Most of the time, he would say, the problem is not that we don’t know what is the right thing to do, but, for whatever reason, we often do what we know to be wrong.  The best remedy, Johnson says, is to find ways to constantly remind ourselves of God’s presence in our lives, and of his commandments.  Weekly worship and daily devotions are good ways to keep us mindful of God; and, remembering God, says Johnson, is the most effective incentive and encouragement for the doing of what is right.  Or as Moses said, we must be careful and watch closely so that we do not forget what God has done for us and let his Word slip from our heart.

What follows is from the writings of Samuel Johnson.  Johnson was not a pastor, but occasionally wrote sermons for his pastor.  A couple sections from two of these sermons are here edited and paraphrased.

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From #19, Sermons:

     Most of the wrongs we do in our lives arise not from ignorance, but from negligence.  We know what we should do,– we just don’t do it.  And sometimes, the obligations that are best known, are most readily forgotten.  However strong or durable our knowledge of right and wrong, our resolve to do the right is weakened by time or by distractions.  It is necessary then, that our minds be enlightened by frequent repetition of basic moral instructions, which if not recollected, quickly lose their effect…

      If we truly observe our own hearts and conduct, we see how difficult it is to preserve the precepts of religion in their full force and how easily we forsake the ways of virtue.  Many temptations surround us and many obstacles oppose us.  We are lulled by laziness, we are seduced by pleasure, we are led astray by bad examples, and we are betrayed by our own hearts.  Very quickly do we relax our attentions to the doctrines of pure Christian living, and we grow cold and indifferent to religion.  When we are then called on to do the right thing in the moment of decision, we find our minds entangled by a thousand objections and we are quick to make every excuse.  And because we readily satisfy ourselves with our excuses, we are willing to imagine that we shall also satisfy God.  But the God of infinite holiness and justice sees into our hearts and minds and penetrates our hypocrisy.

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From #9, Sermons:

     All sin that is committed by Christians is committed either through an absolute forgetfulness of God, or, because the ideas of God and religion that were in our minds were not strong enough to overcome and suppress the desire created by some other, more pleasing, or more terrifying choice.  That is to say, the love or fear of some temporary good or evil, were more powerful that the love or fear of God.

     The ideas that influence our conduct can be more strongly impressed on the mind only by frequent recollection.  For every idea, whether of love, fear, grief, or any other passion, loses its force by time; and, unless revived by regular meditation, will at last vanish.  But by dwelling upon ideas, we increase their force, gradually making those ideas predominant in the soul.  These moral values and virtues can then become more powerful than our passions, so that morality shall easily overrule those appetites which formerly ruled within us.

     Therefore, when a person neglects worship and God’s Word, he may begin to lose all ability to distinguish good and evil, and having no fear of God to oppose his inclination to wickedness, he may go forward from sin to sin with no remorse.  But if one struggles against temptation and does not give in to idleness and despair, he may find himself able, at least at times, to resist the wrong and do what is right.  And that resistance is greatly aided by a diligent attendance upon the service and the sacraments of the church, together with a regular practice of private devotion.  This strengthens faith, imprints upon the mind an habitual attention to the laws of God, and gives one a constant sense of God’s presence– all of which will help one in the avoidance of the snares of sin.  The one who thus regularly reminds himself of God and his commands, will find that the fear of God will grow superior to the desires of wealth or the love of sinful pleasure.  And by continuing to receive the blessings and wisdom of worship and God’s Word, the attributes of goodness and faith will be preserved and not weakened, and he will be able to persevere in a steady practice of virtue and will enjoy the unspeakable pleasures of a quiet conscience.

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Romans 7:15  —   I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

Deuteronomy 4:9  —  (Moses said), “Be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.

Exodus 20:8  —  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

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Almighty God, give us a measure of true religion and thereby set us free from vain and disappointing hopes, from lawless and excessive appetites, from frothy and empty joys, from anxious, self-devouring cares, from a dull and black melancholy, from an eating envy and swelling pride, and from rigid sourness and severity of spirit; so that we may possess that peace which passeth all understanding, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 –Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683), English philosopher

 

479) Trust in God’s Word, Not in Your Feelings

From a sermon by Dwight L. Moody:

     I thank God my salvation don’t rest upon my feelings.  I thank God my hope is not centered on my feelings.  If it was, it would be a very treacherous thing.  I would be very hopeful one day and cast down the next day.  I would not give much for a hope that is anchored in my feelings.  I would not give much for a hope that is based upon my treacherous heart.  But I tell you that a hope based upon Jesus Christ’s Word is a hope worth having.  He said it; let us believe it; let us lay hold of it by faith.  “Truly, truly,” he said, “he that heareth my word and believeth on Him that sent Me hath everlasting life.”  I have heard it.  Satan can’t make me believe that I have not.  I have read it.  I have handled it.  It don’t say that you shall have it when you come to die, but have it right here this afternoon, before you go out of this church.  That is a hope worth having, isn’t it?  “Hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but passed from death unto life.”  There is my hope.  I have stood there for twenty-odd years.  I have been assailed by doubts.  I have been assailed by unbelief.  I have been attacked by the enemy of all righteousness; but I tell you for twenty-odd years I have been able to stand fair and square right on that rock.  God said it.  I believe it.  God said it.  I lay hold of it, and I rest right there.  What we want is to let our hope go down like an anchor into the word of God, and that gives us something to rest upon.  

     A great many people are waiting for some feeling.  I will venture to say that more than half of this audience have come here today and taken their seats in the hope that something will be said that shall impress them…  You will find that the church is full of people who are waiting for something to strike them.  What we should want is to take God’s Word and let the feelings take care of themselves.  God said it, I believe it, and I will rest my soul upon the Word of God, not upon my feelings.

Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) was a shoe salesman and businessman whose conversion set in motion one of the most powerful and fruitful evangelistic ministries of the 19th century.  A plain-spoken, unpolished layman, Moody was one of the most inspiring and influential Christians of  his era, in both the United States and Great Britain.  He began as a Sunday School teacher and then served as a lay minister on Civil War battlefields.  His unquenchable conviction of Christ’s love for sinners like himself, and his sympathetic love for all people, gained him an extraordinarily wide hearing.  Thousands were converted and inspired by his preaching, and under his influence many schools and Christian philanthropies were begun.  A number, most prominently Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, remain to this day, still fruitful and faithful to the vision of their founder.  The above excerpt, grammatical errors and all, was taken from The Best of Dwight L. Moody, edited by Ralph Turnbull, 1971, Baker Book House, p. 164-5.  (from Touchstone magazine)

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John 5:24  —  (Jesus said), “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

Romans 10:17  —  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

John 10:27-28  —  (Jesus said), “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”

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A PRAYER BY DWIGHT L. MOODY:

Use me, my Savior, for whatever purpose and in whatever way you require.  Here is my poor heart, an empty vessel:  fill it with your grace.  Here is my sinful and troubled soul:  bring it to life and refresh it with your love.  Take my heart for you to live in, my mouth to spread abroad the glory of your name; my love and all my powers for the advancement of your believing people; and never allow the steadfastness and confidence of my faith to abate.  Amen. 

478) Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord

A Bible story from II Kings 6:8-23

     “The king of Aram was at war with Israel,” says verse eight.  Israel was on the defensive, always having to be on guard against the Arameans (v. 10).   The story tells us that the king of Aram would get ready for a surprise attack, but the king of Israel would always be forewarned, and always ready.  The prophet Elisha would get the word from God and pass it on to the king of Israel, and Israel would be prepared.  Time and again this happened, says the text, until the king of Aram was sure he had a spy on his staff.  Finally, in verse 11 the king asked his officers, “Which one of you is on the side of Israel?”

     “It’s that prophet Elisha,” replied one of the officers.  “He hears everything.  He probably knows what he say in your bedroom.”  God is giving Elisha the information, but to the enemy it seems like he has superhuman hearing.
     The king of Aram ordered that Elisha be found and captured.  The report comes back that Elisha is not hiding out at all.  “He is in Dothan,” the king is told, and verse fourteen says that the king then sent out a strong force, men and horses and chariots, enough to surround the entire city.
     When Elisha’s servant woke up the next morning, he saw that the whole city was surrounded.  “What are we going to do?” he nervously asked Elisha.  The situation looked hopeless.
     “Don’t be afraid,” said Elisha calmly, “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  But it certainly did not look that way.  It looked like it was a huge army against two little preachers.  Then Elisha prayed that his assistant could really see the entire situation.  And then, says verse 17, the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he could see that the entire army of Aram was surrounded by the army of the Lord, as the hills were full of God’s horses and chariots of fire.
     The servant was afraid because he could see only the threat and the danger and the enemy.  But Elisha was not afraid, because he could see more.  With the eyes of faith, he could see that the Lord had already sent help, and that they would be safe.  In fact, the chariots of fire turned out to be only back up support, and they would not even be needed.  Elisha would handle the army without them.  But the servant needed to see them so he too could have confidence and hope.
     In verse seventeen Elisha prayed:  “O Lord, open his eyes that he may see.”   This can be our prayer in any time of need, and even if we don’t get to see a whole army of angels in chariots of fire, we can be assured that help is there.  Help may not come in a way we expect or look for, and it may not come right away, and it may not even come in this lifetime.  But God has promised to help us, and he has a far longer time span to work with than what we can see right now.  “O Lord,” we can pray like Elisha, “help us to see; help us even to just remember what you have promised, which is that all things will work out for the good of them that love God, and that whether we live or die, we are in your hands.”
     In II Corinthians chapters four and five Paul expresses this truth when he writes:  “Therefore, we do not lose heart…  For our light and momentary troubles right now, are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  For we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal…  Therefore, we are always confident…, and we live by faith, not by sight.”
     Elisha’s servant saw big trouble and lost heart.  Elijah prayed that he could see with the eyes of faith, and then he saw that the trouble was light and temporary, and that a far greater glory would be revealed.  Then, they were both confident and fearless, living by faith, and not by what they first saw.  That is a lesson we could apply to ourselves every day of our lives.
     Back to the story.  At the first light of day, the army of Aram moved in on the city of Dothan; an entire army moving in to capture one man.  And the one man does not run and does not hide, but he goes out to meet them and  take them on.  Elisha has no weapons.  He is armed only with prayer, and in his prayer he asks the Lord to strike them all with blindness.  And the Lord did so.  Now, it can be a fair fight.
     But Elisha doesn’t want to fight.  Instead, he wants to have a little fun with these guys.  So he goes out, meets the enemy army with a friendly voice, and says, “You all look lost.  You are in the wrong city and on the wrong road.  I know who you are looking for, so follow me and I will lead you right to him.”  So the man these blind men are looking for, offers to show them how to find the man they are looking for.  What can they do?  They are in a strange territory and none of them can see where they are going.  So they trust this man they cannot see, and Elisha leads them into a trap.  He takes them right into the center of Samaria, a northern province of Israel; right into the hands of the king of Israel.  Now, it is the army of Aram that is surrounded.  So Elisha prays again, this time so that their sight may be restored, and so they can see what a predicament they are in.  The king of Israel, overjoyed at this turn of events and now with the opportunity to destroy his enemy, asks Elisha gleefully, “Shall we kill them all?”
     But Elisha, having a pretty good time of it, says “No, we don’t kill prisoners.  You don’t even kill the ones you capture in battle, why kill these that I have brought to you?”  Then Elisha says, “Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then let them go back to their master.”
     Now, the king of Israel himself gets into the spirit of things, and doesn’t just give them food and water.  Rather, says verse 23, he prepared a great feast, and they all eat and drink together.  When all were done feasting together and having a good old time of it, he let them go.  And the last sentence says, “So the bands of Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.”
     If it was only so easy to achieve peace all the time!  Unfortunately, such acts of good will are often not reciprocated.  The great King David treated his rebellious son Absalom with nothing but patience and good will.  Still, Absalom led a revolt against his father.  However, there are in the Bible happy little stories like this one of Elisha and the army of Aram, put there to give us little hints of what is to come in that perfect home prepared for us.  Isaiah, another Old Testament prophet, put it like this: “The wolf will lie down with the lamb, and the leopard with the goat, and the lion with the calf…,” and all will live in peace and good will.
     In the meantime, we live by faith, not by sight, looking, as Paul advises, not at what is seen but at what is unseen.  For what we see is temporary, and we can see that.  But what is unseen is eternal, and in that, Elisha teaches us, in our hope, a hope that will not disappoint us.

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II Kings 6:17  —   And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.”  Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

II Corinthians 4:16-18  —  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

II Corinthians 5:7  —   We live by faith, not by sight.

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Today’s prayer is from a song by Michael W. Smith.  The links below are videos of the Open the Eyes of My Heart sung first by Smith, and then by a blind, autistic boy (along with a bit of that boy’s amazing story).

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see You, I want to see You

To see You high and lifted up
Shinin’ in the light of Your glory
Pour out Your power and love
As we sing, “Holy, holy, holy.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vnqb7Vn4AEE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjYeUN2zWqI