1520) Just Let God

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   An often quoted definition of faith is to “Let Go and Let God.”  That is to say, let go of your fears and your worries and have the faith to let God take care of you.   It has a nice ring to it, but I was never completely sold on it myself.   Let go and let God do what?— pay my bills, get the transmission fixed on my car, and mow my lawn when I don’t have time.  I don’t think it will work to let go and let God do any of that.  So let go and let God do what?  That line certainly does not apply to everything.  I still have to pay my bills, make an appointment to get the car fixed, and find time to mow my lawn.  But those are the little things in life, and God has given me the strength and the ability to work through that sort of a to-do list all by myself.  But there are other things, bigger things, that do not fit on any to-do list that we are able handle.  Where do I go with my feelings of guilt?  What do I do about my frustration with how fast the years are flying by?  And what about the sadness of seeing loved ones dying all around me?  I’ll never get around to fixing those things because I do not have the strength or the ability or the resources to do so.  It is in these deeper, larger aspects of life that we must ‘Let go and Let God.’  Let go and let God carry you through, now and on into the life to come.  

      This was illustrated for me rather nicely in a story by Father John Powell, a Roman Catholic priest who took some time off from his parish to care for his dying mother.  Here’s his story about how that went.  He writes:     

     I remember in the last days of my mother’s life I used to carry her up and down the stairs of her home.   Her arthritis was so bad by then she could no long manage the stairs by herself.   As I would carry her up and down the stairs, she would grab onto the railing and hold on so that we could not move.  I would say, “Mom, let go, we can’t move.”  And then she would always say the same thing, “No, I am afraid you will drop me.”  Then I would say again, “No, let go.”  And she would always respond, “No, I am afraid you will drop me.”  Finally, she would let go for a while and we would start to move, and then she would grab the railing again, and it would start all over.  One day, as we were going through our little routine, I thought to myself, “Ah, what a perfect analogy for faith.  God has us in His arms and is saying “Come on, let go,” and we are saying to Him, “No, I am afraid you will drop me….”

       That is indeed a wonderful image of what it is to live by faith.  We need the faith to face all those big things in life, but we say, “What if none of this is true?  I can’t see God, what if it is just us here on this little earth?  I am so afraid of death.”  So we desperately cling to this life, trying to have it all and do it all right here, right now, and we hate to see the time getting away on us.  And God is saying, “just let go.  Take my hand and let me lead you.  Surrender your fears to faith in me, and really let go, you will be fine.”  Let go and let God forgive you, let go and let God give you an inner peace even amidst all of life’s outward troubles.  Yes indeed, live to the fullest every day that God gives you now, but be ready when the time comes to let go and trust God that he will make good on his promises for eternal life.

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Deuteronomy 31:8  —  The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Isaiah 40:11  —  He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 46:4  —  Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

I Peter 5:6-7  —  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

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God his own doth tend and nourish,

In his holy courts they flourish.

From all evil things he spares them,

In his mighty arms he bears them.

Children of the Heavenly Father (verse two), Caroline Berg (1832-1903)

1513) Don’t Bother God

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AN OLD STORY:

     A caravan settled for the night, and the servant tending the camels came to report to the chief.

     “Are all the camels tied for the night?” asked the chief.

     “I tied up all the camels, except for my own,” replied the servant.  “So great is my faith and trust in God that I have left my camel outside untied, knowing that God will protect the interests of those who love him.”

     The chief looked at the man with great anger and said, “Go tie your camel, you fool!  God cannot be bothered doing for you what you are perfectly capable of doing for yourself!”

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Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God.

–Attributed to Augustine, Ignatius, Martin Luther, and others

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Philippians 2:12-13  —  Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Colossians 3:23-24  —  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Job 1:10b  —  You (God) have blessed the work of his hands.

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Prosper our work, O Lord, so that our needs and the needs of all may be met, and there be no complaining in our streets; and even as your Son worked at a trade on earth, so give to all that labor pride in their work, a just reward, and joy both in supplying need and serving you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Service Book and Hymnal, 1958, Augsburg Publishing House (adapted).

1453) God’s Justice (part two of two)

A Jewish legend, translated from a small volume published in 1929, Judische Legenden, as told by Else Schubert-Christaller; printed in The Plough Reader, Summer 2001 (adapted).

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     (…continued)  At this, the rabbi could no longer keep his thoughts to himself any longer.  He turned and shouted at Elijah, “I tremble before you, but is this God’s justice, that the devout suffer pain, while the evil receive love?  If so, woe is me, for my heart has lost God.”  

     Elijah towered over him.  There was power in his voice as he rebuked the rabbi:  “You fool!  Who do you think you are to babble about God’s justice because of what you see in just a few hours with your little eyes?  Did I not tell you that you would not be able to bear what I do?”

     But Rabbi Joshua flung himself down on his knees and beat his head against the earth and cried out, “Tell me why you have done all this, or I shall die without faith!”

     Elijah replied, “You, who just three days ago believed yourself to be a godly man, full of understanding, and now you talk like this!  Do you have no trust in God?  Do you know more than God?  Do you think you are kinder and more just than God?  Must you see and understand everything in order to trust God?”

     Despairing, Rabbi Joshua kissed the dust at Elijah’s feet.  Then Elijah said, “I will explain everything to you.  The poor man whose cow I killed was guilty of a great sin and deserved worse.  But because of his godliness, God did not want to afflict him or his wife for it.  Instead, God took the cow as atonement.  As for the man whose wall I straightened; beneath its stones a treasure lay hidden.  Had he made the repairs himself, he would have discovered it.  This treasure would only have served to harden his heart more and increase his evil.  Then, I wished the arrogant men at the synagogue to become city officials, because a city with many officials will be a place of great quarreling, and they will go to ruin in conflict.  Their own arrogance will punish them.  And as for the good man who died here last night– God rewarded him by giving him just what he wanted.  He had lived a long and abundant and godly life.  And now, he desired no more than to have a quiet and peaceful death.  That is what God, in his mercy, granted him last night.”  

     Then Elijah spoke to the rabbi for the last time.  He said, “Stand up, oh man!  Our journey together is ended.  What you have seen with me you will see wherever you may wander on the earth.  But now, when you see wicked people living in lust and happiness while godly ones live in poverty and pain, let your trust in God be great and humble.  The poor farmer had no idea why his cow died, but it was God’s mercy.  The rude farmer had no idea why his wall was repaired, but it was God’s punishment.  The synagogue leaders thought they were getting rewarded by getting the high position they wanted, but they were being punished.  And you thought the old man who died was getting punished, but he was getting his reward.  Things are seldom how they seem.  Who are you, who sees so little, to judge God, who sees all.  Who are you, that you should have the impudence to know the ways of the All-wise One, or search the paths of the Incomprehensible?  It is enough that you believe in God and trust and obey Him.  Leave God’s business to God.  Be silent now before God’s righteousness, which is far beyond your grasp.”

     Elijah turned away from him and disappeared.  But Rabbi Joshua sat still, praying to God.  This time, he prayed not in despair and confusion and anger, but in faith and trust.

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Job 10:1-3; 13:1…3 —  (Job said),  “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.  I say to God: Do not declare me guilty, but tell me what charges you have against me.  Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the plans of the wicked?…  My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it...  I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.”

Job 38:1-4  —  Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.  “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand.”

Job 40:1-5; 42:6   —  The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?  Let him who accuses God answer him!”  Then Job answered the Lord:  “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?  I put my hand over my mouth.  I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more…  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

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Psalm 46:10a  —  He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Psalm 37:1-2…5-9  —  Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away…  Commit your way to the Lordtrust in him and he will do this:  He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.  Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.  For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

II Corinthians 4:18  —  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.

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O God in heaven, I thank you that you do not require me to comprehend you and your ways; for if that were required, I would be most miserable.  The more I seek to comprehend you, the more incomprehensible you are.  Therefore, I thank you that you require only faith, and I pray that you increase my faith in you.  Amen.

— adapted from a prayer by Soren Kierkegaard  (1813-1855)

1452) God’s Justice (part one of two)

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A Jewish legend, translated from a small volume published in 1929, Judische Legenden, as told by Else Schubert-Christaller; printed in The Plough Reader, Summer 2001 (adapted).

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     Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi was a good and just man, always diligent in his prayers and obedient to God.  So when he prayed that he might see the prophet Elijah, God granted his request.  Seeing the prophet appear before him, the rabbi spoke thus:  “Allow me to accompany you on your wanderings, to see what it is you do for God’s cause.  For my heart longs to see God’s justice and to rejoice in it.”

     “Rid yourself of your longing, for you will neither understand what I do nor will you be able to bear it,” Elijah answered him.

     But Rabbi Joshua replied, “I read and meditate on God’s Word every day.  Do I not know God and understand his justice?  I will certainly be able to rejoice in his work.”

     And he begged until the prophet permitted him to follow, but Elijah warned, “Take care not to question why I do as I do, for the moment you ask, your wandering with me will end.”

     So they went and wandered the bright, green earth, back and forth the whole day.  At evening, they approached a small hut, from which a poor farmer emerged.  He hurried to meet the two wanderers and invited them into his dwelling.  Once inside, he bid them sit down while he fetched water so they could wash.  His wife wasted no time in setting before the wanderers fresh milk, bread, and fruit; and with her husband, honored their guests.

     When the prophet and the rabbi wished to sleep, the poor man spread out his own blankets for them; and then he lay down beside his wife on the cold, bare dirt floor of the hut.  Rabbi Joshua’s heart was glad at the hospitality of the poor man, and he thought, “Elijah will surely reward him through God’s justice, so that he will no longer have to spend his life in poverty.”

     But when morning came, Elijah got up and killed the cow, the poor man’s sole possession.  Rabbi Joshua stared in shock at the prophet, who only looked past him with stern eyes, so that the rabbi dared not say a word in question.  The two went on, leaving the poor couple to lament their great loss.

     The prophet and the rabbi passed another day wandering the length and breadth of the bright, green earth.  As the sun dipped low, they entered the gates of a large, beautiful house.  They approached the well-dressed owner to ask if they might rest under his roof.  “Why should I bother with you beggars?” he scoffed.  “You can sleep in the stable.”

     They settled down beside the animals, their hunger unsatisfied, their dusty feet unwashed.  Anger stirred in Rabbi Joshua’s heart and he thought, “Elijah will not let this hardhearted man go unpunished by God’s justice.”

     But Elijah awoke at dawn and went into the stable yard, where an old, dilapidated wall looked ready to collapse.  The prophet straightened the stones so that the wall stood firm again.  Watching, Rabbi Joshua thought, “God sends Elijah to bring trouble to the good people and show favor to those whose deeds are evil.  How am I to understand this?  Is this justice?”  But seeing the prophet’s dark look, he suppressed his bitter questions, and the two went away from the grand house and passed another day wandering here and there over the bright, green earth.

     At day’s end, they entered a bustling city and made their way to its synagogue.  There, the wealthy men of the city sat, dressed in their finest clothes and seated for prayer in order of rank.  When the time of prayer had ended, the men turned to one another and asked, “Who should take in the two wanderers?”  None wanted to invite them into his house of give them a meal.  “Let them stay the night in the synagogue,” they all agreed, and the matter was settled.

     So the prophet and the rabbi, unfed and unwashed, spent the night in the synagogue.  When the men returned to pray the next morning, Elijah took leave of them, saying, “I know that in your hearts you all want to become city officials.  May your wishes come true.”  At this Rabbi Joshua could feel his heart fail within him, and he covered his face with his cloak, despairing over God’s justice.  Yet he still did not question the prophet.

     Again they wandered the whole day over the bright, green earth.  When it was evening, they came to a home where a kindly old man welcomed them in.  He brought water for them to wash themselves, and served them food until both the prophet and the rabbi had eaten their fill.  Then the kind host prepared beds for the two travelers, and wished them a good night.

     But Rabbi Joshua did not sleep.  Fear and sadness kept him awake the whole night, and he did not know how to still the clamor of his conscience.  What kind of God had he worshiped and obeyed all his life?  And the good rabbi feared what would happen in the morning.  Who knew what to expect on such a journey?

     At daybreak, Elijah rose and told Rabbi Joshua they must be on their way.  The rabbi said, “But shall we not thank our wonderful host?”      

     “That will not be necessary,” said Elijah.  “Our host is dead.”

     At this, the rabbi could no longer keep his thoughts to himself any longer.  He turned and shouted at Elijah, “I tremble before you, but is this God’s justice, that the devout suffer pain, while the evil receive love?  If so, woe is me, for my heart has lost God.”  (continued…)

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Jeremiah 12:1  —  You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case before you.  Yet I would speak with you about your justice:  Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all the faithless live at ease?

Psalm 73:3  —  I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Habakkuk 1:3  —  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.

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How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?

–Habakkuk 1:2

1434) Like Who?

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By Joshua Rogers, posted March 14, 2017 at:  http://www.joshuarogers.com

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     My wife and I did not intend to have another year of sweeping changes in 2016.  We never do.

     We told ourselves this year was going to be different.  The roller coaster was finally going to stop.  No more big transitions like the previous eight years of marriage.

     We had already been through the stress of getting married, buying a home in D.C., me getting diagnosed with a disruptive chronic illness, having a baby, having another baby 19 months later, a significant divorce in the family, selling our home in D.C., moving to North Carolina for a new job, moving back to D.C. for another job, and buying another home in D.C.

     Raquel and I wanted a nice, calm 2016 — one that was exciting, but in a good, non-stressful way.  It was not meant to be.

     Before 2016 was over, we began attending a new church after being at the previous one for a decade; we had a new baby who was in pain for his first six weeks; I got a new job; we dealt with a significant conflict; and I had some bizarre developments with my illness.  All this and more sucked up a ton of our emotional energy, and now three months into 2017, we’re still worn out from last year.

     Last night, Raquel and I were talking about the constant bumps during our first nine years of marriage, and we wondered out loud why this seems to happen to us every year.

     “It would be nice to have an easy year like some of our friends did last year,” Raquel said.

     “Like who?” I said.

     We couldn’t think of anyone.

     Some of the many stressful examples in our friends’ lives included cancer, having new babies, starting a church, dealing with persistent and chronic illnesses, poverty, serious marital problems, emotional breakdowns, publishing and promoting a book, buying and selling a home, caring for an elderly mom with dementia, having a falling out with siblings, getting fired, and having a toddler who went for weeks barely sleeping.

     Our friends, like us, have often felt spiritually dry and emotionally low during these times.  And a lot of it has to do with the sense that we’re doing something wrong, that the dullness in our souls is a result of our distance from God.  Fears like this take hard circumstances and convert them into hopelessness, and I think that’s exactly what the Enemy of our souls wants.

     In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis tells the story of two demons playing with a man’s mind and diverting him away from experiencing God’s love.  One tactic the demons employ is keeping the man from realizing that emotional peaks and valleys are a natural part of life.

     The senior demon explains that it is in the valleys, “much more than during the peak periods, that a human is growing into the sort of creature God wants it to be.  Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. … He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles.”

     “Do not be deceived,” he cautions the junior demon, “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do God’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

     In these times, I have to remind myself that God is not absent, and He can still work in me and through me.  The path through the valley is not an infinite one.  It eventually leads to another mountaintop or at least a plateau.  Relief often comes when I least expect it, but in the meantime, I often feel drained and have little to give.  That’s where I’ve been for the last few days and especially last night.

     I drove home tired and disappointed in myself.  I was overwhelmed at work, I felt disconnected from my church and friends, and I couldn’t find my phone.

     As soon as I opened the door, my five- and seven-year-old daughters came running up wearing their pajamas inside out and asked me to play with them.

     “Daddy, go upstairs and put on your pajamas inside out.  We’re playing the weird game tonight.”

     “Girls,” I said without smiling, “I am really not in a good place right now, and I just need to try to find my phone.”

     They wouldn’t drop it, and for the next hour they kept asking me to change my clothes.  Their persistence finally won out, and to their delight, I took off my suit and put on inside out pajamas.  I ate dinner with them, put my giggling baby boy in his crib, and watched them laughing as they passed gas for fun — and I slowly started feeling a little lighter.

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Job 5:7  —  Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.

Mark 15:34  —  At three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Psalm 34:18  —  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

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 Ah Lord, my prayers are dead, my affections dead, and my heart is dead:  but you are a living, loving God and I commit myself to you.  Amen.  

–William Bridge

1365) Harmless Superstitions?

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From The Continuing Story of Manuel, by Hugh Steven, 1987, Credo Publishing Corporation, (pages 40-44).

Manuel Arenas (1932-1992) was born into the Totonac tribe of Indians in eastern Mexico.  He worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators translating the Bible into his language.  He spent his life working to provide educational opportunities for the Totonacs and other tribal peoples in Mexico.   He traveled throughout the world speaking in colleges, universities, Bible schools and churches about the work of Wycliffe.  This story took place after a speech in Switzerland.

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     In attendance on the evening Manuel spoke to the youth club was a young man who had come to the rally at his fiancé’s invitation.  When the meeting ended, he and his fiancé introduced themselves: The young woman expressed her happiness that the Totonacs had the New Testament in their own language.  “How wonderful there are so many believers in Jesus Christ,” she said.

     But when her fiancé spoke to Manuel, he expressed no such appreciation.  Instead, he asked, “In your talk you said you were glad this Bible translator had come to your village, and that if he hadn’t come, you probably would never have heard about Jesus Christ.”

     “Yes, that’s true,” said Manuel. “The man’s name is Mr. Aschmann and—”

     “That’s very nice,” interrupted the young man, “but what I would like to know is why you gave up your religion in favor of this Western religion.  Why is it so important for the Totonac people to know about Jesus Christ and Christianity?  It’s my opinion that if Western man wants to believe this sort of thing, it’s okay.  But the Totonac people have their own religion. It’s just as good as Christianity; maybe even better.  Why do you want your Totonac friends to believe like you?  I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe Christianity is better than your Totonac religion.”

     “Tell me,” said Manuel, “do you know what Totonacs believe?  Have you lived in a Totonac house to see how our household gods are worshiped?”

     “Well, no, not exactly. But I have read some books—”

     “And I have also read books,” said Manuel. “Books that describe what our people look like and what they wear, how we build our houses, and how weddings and funerals are conducted.  These books also tell others what we believe.  But what these books can never tell is how we feel down deep inside.  We may look happy on the outside and we may laugh, but inside we are a people who have deep churnings, and nervousness, and mistrust of others.  And we have a great fear of the gods and spirits that live in special trees and rocks and streams.”

     “But that’s just harmless superstition,” said the young man.

     “Let me give you an example of what it is like to live with what you call ‘harmless superstition,”‘ said Manuel.  “When you are thirsty, you take a drink of water whenever you want.  But in my village, if you are thirsty at high noon, you must wait.  You must wait because the people believe the lords of the water and the nearby stream take away the spirit of the person who drinks water at high noon.  If they do happen to take a drink of water at that time, the person becomes sick.  The witch doctors are called, candles are lit, and special flowers and spices are spread around the sick person.  A chicken is sacrificed and the blood poured out on the ground.  Maybe the witch doctor will come four or five times, and after about a week, he will tell the sick person that his spirit has returned and he is better.  All this is paid for by the sick person’s family.

     “I grew up fearing the many evil spirits of the forest, the stream, the earth, and the trees.  We believed evil spirits were everywhere.  I saw how strong they were and how they bullied those who sacrificed to them.  But when the New Testament Scriptures were translated into our language and Totonacs began to believe and accept Jesus Christ into their lives, I saw those fears gradually disappear.  This is why I want all Totonacs and everyone to become true believers in Jesus Christ.  Only He can take away fear and give hope and peace, for this life and for the true life to come.”

     And so Manuel and the young man talked.  Manuel carefully and enthusiastically explained the personal benefits he had received since accepting Jesus Christ into his life.  Manuel emphasized that authentic Christianity had little to do with religion, traditions, or moralizing.  Rather, he stressed that Christianity had to do with truth, compassion and love; the love of God and his Son, Jesus Christ; a love so strong and full of integrity that it allows the true Christian to treat his neighbor as he himself would like to be treated.  

     That very night, after several hours of hearing Manuel describe what it means to be a Christian, the young man came to faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

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Revelation 5:9  —  They sang a new song, saying:  “You (the Lamb of God, Jesus) are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

Psalm 34:4  —  I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Luke 2:10  —  And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

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 Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

1284) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb8)

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From A Diary of Private Prayer, 1949, by John Baillie, Church of Scotland pastor and theologian, (1886-1960); containing a morning and evening prayer for thirty-one days (adapted).

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MORNING PRAYER  (Twenty-ninth day)

Almighty and most merciful Father, whose power and love eternally work together for the protection of your children, give me grace this day to put my trust in you.

O Father, I pray—
for faith to believe that you rule the world in truth and righteousness;
for faith to believe that if I seek first your Kingdom and righteousness, you will provide for all my lesser needs;
for faith to take no anxious thought for the morrow, but to believe in the continuance of your past mercies;
for faith to see your loving purposes unfolding in the happenings of this time;
for faith to be calm and brave in the face of such dangers as may meet me in the doing of my duty;
for faith to believe in the power of your love to melt my hard heart and forgive my sins;
for faith to put my trust in love rather than in force, even when others harden their hearts against me;
for faith to believe in your ultimate victory over disease and death and all the powers of darkness;
for faith to profit by such sufferings as you call upon me to endure;
for faith to leave in your hands the welfare of all my dear ones, especially ____, ____, and ____.
O Lord, in whom all my fathers trusted, rid my heart now of all confusion and vain anxieties and paralyzing fears.  Give me a cheerful and buoyant spirit, and peace in doing your will for Christ’s sake.  Amen.

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Psalm 25:1  —  In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.

Psalm 13:5  —   I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

Psalm 84:12  —  Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.

Isaiah 26:3  —  You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

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EVENING PRAYER  (Twenty-third day)

O Everlasting God, let the light of eternity now fall upon my passing days; let
the light of your righteousness fall upon my sinful ways; and let the light of your love pierce to the most secret corners of my heart and overcome the darkness of sin within me.

Am I living as my conscience approves?
Am I demanding of others a higher standard of conduct than I demand of myself?
Am I taking a less charitable view of the failings of my neighbors than I am of my own?
Am I standing in public for principles which I do not practice in private?
Let my answer before Thee be truthful, O God.

Do I ever allow bodily appetites to take precedence over spiritual interests?
To which do I give the benefit of the doubt, when my course is not clear?
Do I ever allow the thought of my own gain to take precedence over the interests of the community?
To which do I give the benefit of the doubt, when my course is not clear?
Let my answer before Thee be truthful, O God.

Am I, in my daily life, facing the stress of circumstance with faith and courage?
Am I grateful for my many blessings?
Am I allowing my happiness to be too much dependent on money?  On business success?  Or on the good opinion of others?
Is the help I give to others who are in trouble equal to the help I would hope for, if the same things happened to me?

Let my answer be truthful, O God.  Through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Psalm 51:10  —  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Amen.

1229) Afraid of the Dark

By Jonathan Parnell, posted February 9, 2013 at:  www.desringgod.org

     My oldest daughter isn’t sleeping well.  It’s the dark.  From fear of what might be under her bed, to who might be looking through her window, she has her reasons for preferring the lights on.

     In fact, she has started a new nightly routine.  After the house is settled and her parents are quiet, presumably asleep, she secretly slips out of her room to flip on the nearby hallway light and then returns to bed.  Somehow she finds a measure of comfort from the crease of light between the floor and the bottom of her door.

     But she shouldn’t be doing this.  The rule is to stay in bed.  And a few nights ago I caught her red-handed.

     I was standing quietly in the dark hall and heard her scurrying around behind her door.  She didn’t know I was there, and I suspected she was going to pull the hall light stunt.  Sure enough, the door slowly cracked open.  I have her, I thought.  But she didn’t move.  She didn’t come turn on the light.  She was frozen.  There, inside the frame of her door, she peered in silence at me, a black silhouette of a stranger for all she knew.  Then she started to cry.  I quickly flipped the light switch.  “Sweetie, it’s me,” I said, picking her up in my arms.  And just like that, she was fine.  The light was on.  She saw who I was.  I hugged her with love.

     The whole scene transformed when the light came on.  That light uncovered my identity.  Once blinded by darkness, she soon discovered that the figure in the hallway, appearing bigger and stronger than her, was actually her dad who loves her and would spend his every conceivable resource to protect her.

     Revelation was the key.  She had to see who I was.

     Do you remember what it is like to be in the dark with God?

     So much of our lives — and the entire lives of some — are spent hauntingly aware of some strange presence down a pitch-black hallway.  We know he is there.  We recognize some silhouette of deity.  We see some figure of a being our conscience says is bigger and stronger.  But we don’t truly know him.  And we won’t truly know him unless he turns on the light.  Unless he reveals himself.

     The prophets of Baal know what it’s like to be in the dark.  In one of the saddest scenes in all of Scripture, 1 Kings 18:28–29, hundreds of these prophets gathered to see their god.  It was a historic showdown between Elijah, the Lord’s prophet, and 450 “spokesmen” for the false god Baal.  The petition was simple: send fire from heaven.  Whoever answers is the true God (1 Kings 18:24).  And so the prophets of Baal stepped up to the plate.

And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. (1 Kings 18:26)

     That’s not a good start.  So they tried harder.  The Bible tells us that they cried aloud and cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out (1 Kings 18:28).  Until the middle of the day, they limped around bleeding and crying out for their god to hear them, to say something.  Imagine that scene: 450 wounded, weeping prophets sliced up their flesh in hopes of receiving the slightest gesture from their god.

“But there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:29).

     They were stuck in the dark.  There was nothing to see.  There is no light to reveal a no-god.  The abiding darkness answers itself.

     But there’s no such darkness between the Christian and his Lord.  That’s not our story.  In fact, it’s the reverse.  Rather than 450 prophets with wounds all over their bodies and their blood gushing out, we see our God hanging on a cross with wounds all over his body, his blood gushing out.  Rather than the horrific scene of fools seeking to hear from a false god, we see the most preeminent display of love when the real God spoke to a world of fools.

     We were in the dark.  We deserved nothing more.  And then, in unspeakable grace, the sovereign God of the universe reached up to turn on the light.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8).

     His voice intruded the defeated darkness.  He reached down and picked us up in his arms.  “It’s me,” he said.  And then we learn that this God, bigger and stronger than we could ever imagine, hasn’t spared his greatest resource to not only protect us but ensure our everlasting joy (Romans 8:32).

     The light is on.  We see who he is.  We don’t have to be afraid.

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Have courage for the great sorrows, and patience for the small ones.  And when you have laboriously done your tasks, go to sleep in peace.  God is awake.

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John 8:12  —  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

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A THREE-HUNDRED YEAR-OLD BEDTIME PRAYER:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

And if I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.  Amen.

1107) Trusting in Another

     The Lutheran preacher and poet Gerhard Frost once illustrated what it means to trust God by telling a story about a friend’s family.  The friend was married and the father of four children.  He was planning a three week family vacation to Europe.  He spent many hours with maps, itineraries, and other travel information, all of which he had spread out on a large table ahead of him.  A few days before they were to leave, the youngest child, a preschooler, came into the room where her father was working on the trip plans.  She peered over his shoulders at the many maps and brochures.  She watched for a while as he went from one stack of papers to another, taking notes, and adding to the growing lists he was making.  Finally, she climbed up on his lap and said contentedly, “Daddy, I’m so glad that all I have to do is go along.”

     That is what it is like to be a trusting child. There is the willingness and the ability to trust mommy and daddy and feel secure in their hands.  This child was about to leave her secure home and go to faraway places she had never been before.  She had no idea where she was going or what she was going to do or where they would stay or what they would eat.  Her future was very uncertain.  But she had someone she could trust, someone who was getting everything ready for her.  She was going with her parents, and so she was confident that she would be all right.  

     A child of God can also have this kind of trust.  With faith in God, we also can have a willingness to go into an uncertain future, committing ourselves to the certainty of God’s care.

     If you saw four small children seated in the family car, dressed and ready to go on vacation, you would not ask them, “Where will you be going?  Which highways will you be taking?  How long will you drive today?  Have you thought yet about where you will be sleeping tonight and all the other nights?  How are you going to pay for all of this?”  The children would probably not know any of those things, and the questions would only trouble them.  It would be better to ask, “Who are you going with?” and then they would all answer cheerfully and with great confidence, “With Mommy and Daddy.”  That is good enough for them.  The children will trust their parents for a good vacation, leaving everything in their hands.

     Adults have much more to do and be concerned about in their lives than children on a family vacation.  They are not just along for the ride any more.  Every day they have responsibilities to tend to, choices to make, and decisions to ponder.  God has given them strengths, talents, abilities, and the freedom to use what they have been given to do the work they must do.

     But beyond those few things we are able to control in our lives are those many things we can do nothing about.  There is much in day to day life that is out of our hands, and there is a future that we cannot predict or determine.  In so many ways we must be willing to admit our total dependence on our Heavenly Father.  

     We are in many ways similar to the children in the family car, ready for vacation.  We also are not real sure where we are going, or how long we’ll be traveling, or what is in store for us along the way.  But the Bible says we can be confident, we can be content, we can trust God, and we can depend on him to get us through.  And this can be a cheerful dependence, like it was for the children in the story.  We can be secure and confident in the fact that we are in God’s hands and that we can just ‘go along,’ knowing that He will get us to the right destination.  The way may be rough and full of danger, but God has assured us that we will reach his home, that heavenly destination he has promised us.  Like children on a long journey, we will be quite ignorant of the details, but we can know who we are going with, and that makes all the difference.

     And since we are ignorant of so many of the details, we may have many questions along the way, also like children on a vacation.  Children on a long car ride will ask things like, “Are we there yet?  Can we stop now?  When do we eat?” and so on.  And on our journey through life we will have many questions such as, “Why is this happening to me?  What did I do to deserve this?  Why is faith so difficult?  Why are you and your ways so hard to understand Lord?  Are you even there?”  Trusting God does not mean we will never ask questions.  We can ask all the questions we want, but faith understands that we might have to wait a long time for the answers.  Until then, we can ask and trust at the same time.  Children in the back seat of the car keep asking, “Are we there yet; why can’t we stop now?”  They aren’t getting their way and they aren’t liking it, but they aren’t afraid.  They are not doubting that their parents will get them to their destination safely.  They are just tired and do not understand.  And we also will get tired and we also will not always understand, but we can continue to trust in God’s loving care.

     In the novel Diary of a Country Priest George Bernanos wrote: “Why does our earliest childhood seem so soft and full of light?  A kid’s got plenty of troubles, like everybody else, and he’s really so very helpless, quite unarmed against pain and illness.  But that very sense of powerlessness is the mainspring of a child’s joy.   He just leaves it all to his mother, you see.”

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Matthew 18:3 — Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Isaiah 12:2 — Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.  The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.

Psalm 9:9-10 — The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

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Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.    

Book of Common Prayer

1094) Letting Go

Matthew 6:25-34  —  (Jesus said), “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the flowers of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you– you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

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     Jesus is the head of His church.  Being the head, He is the one who should have the headaches.  For you to have a headache because of worry is a sin.  You are trying to usurp the role of the head, which belongs to Jesus alone.

     Luther had a habit of going to the window in the evening and saying:  “God, is it my world or Yours?  Is it my church or Yours?  These people I worry about are in Your world and in Your church– please take care of them.  I am tired.  I am going to bed.  Good night, my God.”

     The Talmud says, “When the sun is set, the day is clean.”  When the evening comes, leave all the past day’s problems and failures with Jesus.  Take no thought of tomorrow.  Sleep well.  Tomorrow’s worries might never reach you.  They may even vanish overnight.  Have a good day and a good night without worrying.

–Richard Wurmbrand,  in Reaching Toward the Heights.

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Numbers 11:10-14  —  Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents.  The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.  He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant?  What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?  Did I conceive all these people?  Did I give them birth?  Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors?  Where can I get meat for all these people?  They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’  I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.”

I Peter 5:6-7  —  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

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In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lordmake me dwell in safety.

–Psalm 4:8