Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pondering the How of Hope

I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.
O Israel, hope in the LORD;
For with the LORD there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.
Psalm 130:5,7-8, NASB

Your comments  on "Hope Waits" have resonated in my mind all week. I hear you, friends. I hear your wondering how not to let hope slip when things start to go sideways; I hear the tug of the "groaning in the longing"; I hear the confession of deep disappointment scabbing over into distrust of the One who allowed it, and His "tenderly tend[ing] my heart" all the while.

I hear, and I think I understand, having felt and done the same myself.

And then there is the commenter mulling over whether Calvin's faith-then-hope sequence is all there is to the case, whether "a really crucial feature of hope is that it can come *before* faith, and be as it were the seed from which faith grows."

Judging by the dubious standard of subjective personal experience, certainly there seem to have been times for me when hopeful feelings seemed to buoy faith and make it easier to believe what God has revealed to be true as well as times when I needed to turn my back on feelings and hold fast in trust to the truths I knew, waiting for the feelings to follow suit.

Judging by the standard of Calvin's words from last Wednesday's post, there also seems to be room for regarding hope as a "seed from which faith grows," or at least grows stronger: is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith….
hope strengthens faith, that it may not waver in God’s promises or begin to doubt concerning their truth.
From Calvin's words (for which I unfortunately do not have the larger context), it seems to be a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, or in this case the seed or the plant? Each one (or the potential), seed and plant, is present in the other at any given moment, and depending on where one is in the life cycle of the organism the seed may seem to come first or to follow.

Always, though, I want to hold subjective experience and even the best human words up to the straight edge of Scripture. After more meditation than systematic study so far, it seems to me that hope and faith or hope and believ* occur together a fair number of times in the English Bible. Both expect God to be true to His character and His promises, though hope connotes more of a waiting and looking to and faith a relying on. Both occur in noun and verb forms and as commands.

They seem wrapped up so tightly together that I wonder if they are as fraternal twins, Jacob and Esau striving together in the womb, a hand of one emerging, a heel of another, then a head crowns and a body follows, another head, another body, and only the mother and the midwife know for certain who entered the world first.

But how does that work? If I'm the one who has lost hope, as I have been plenty of times, what do I do?

If I have someone to pray for me, I ask them.
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NASB).
If not, I take it on faith that Jesus and the Spirit are interceding for me in the best way. And they are, even if the child of God has no faith to believe it.

Recognizing that we are whole persons and our bodily health and spiritual-emotional health are interwoven, I ask whether there is some remediable physical cause for hopeless feelings: illness, sleep deprivation, inactivity or overactivity, feeding my body the wrong fuel,...

Then I look to Scripture to find my way.

If there is something to lament, if I am Job on the ash heap, then by all means I am free under grace to lament, to pour out my heart to God. It's all right to grieve. There's nothing wrong with being sad about a loss, whether loss of life or dreams, love or livelihood or health...

But what if I have grieved, if I have lamented, if I want to find my way back to hope but don't know where to look for it? If I am in hopelessness and despair, I know no better example than Jeremiah:
He [Yahweh] has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drunk with wormwood.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
He has made me cower in the dust.
My soul has been rejected from peace;
I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, “My strength has perished,
And so has my hope from the LORD.”
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me. (Lamentations 3:15-20, NASB).
What does he do when in such a hopeless, broken state? He digs channels of trust for hope to flow. He searches the archives of his recollection for some truth about God to undergird him and raise him up:
This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hopeThe LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,"Therefore I have hope in Him.”  (Lamentations 3:21-24, NASB).
Regardless of how hopeless I feel or how disastrous things look, God is still love, His compassions never fail, His faithfulness is great, and His is my portion. Hope is a gift to the believer because of the resurrection of Christ, but like love it is also a choice, an action we can take. To hope means, in Scripture, to look, to wait, to expect. Not necessarily to feel optimistic, though that also is a grace when it comes.

By no means do I intend to make light of the deep suffering of lost hope. By no means. I am neither a counselor nor a theologian trained to search these things out in "the right way." Maybe I am a Job's counselor adding platitudes to the suffering. If so, I ask your forgiveness and invite you to help me do better. My intention and prayer here is not to overload bowed backs but to seek after truth alongside you and record for myself as much as for you what has helped me persevere in the dry times.

When there's nothing else to be done, when the problem is not fixable, hope by its very nature waits. Hope waits for the fulfillment of God's promises to appear on the horizon. Hope waits for Him to prove true to His character. Hope waits, "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13, NASB). When I lack the feeling of hope, I can look to the Person who is my hope.

Q: What about you? Where have you found help when hope seemed gone?

Walking with the Savior and Ann and the community at

Monday, September 26, 2011

Open Doors

Open doors surprised me last week.

Saturday morning, a phone call redirected our day with the happy news that Allen's parents would be spending the night at his sister's house an hour and a half away. After finishing Ebony's walk and mine (his being longer, with Al), Allen swept through his list and I settled down to work on my PT exercises. When departure time drew near, we decided I could go along to visit and eat with his folks, sister, and brother-in-law. Though brief, it was a lovely, unexpected opportunity for us to see them and catch up a bit. A door opened, and we walked through.

Wednesday after my dental appointment, I proceeded to Chocolate Angel, a cafe and tea room a few doors down. Yes, I note the irony. In my wait to hear from my mom what I should order for her lunch and where we would eat (cafe, her house, or mine), small talk with an employee resulted in a way to get back in touch with a friend and co-worker from 15 years ago. Another door opened, even more surprising than the first. I'm poised on the threshold but haven't yet gotten the number dialed.

Earlier Wednesday morning, I had arrived at the dentist to see an acquaintance from our old church sitting in the waiting room. We greeted each other and chatted along with the office manager, who also attends that church. At a lull in the conversation, Mr. B remarked that a former minister from our former church was talking with a few people about possibly planting a new church in our town. The seed families would be worshiping together monthly to test the waters, and the first gathering would be at a hospital chapel 4 days hence, as in Sunday evening, as in last night.

Allen contacted the minister directly to confirm details, and we went together to the gathering to taste and see the complexion of this community.

To our astonishment, we walked through the door to a family reunion of sorts.  Almost all the families of our youth Bible study, a number of men and women we knew separately from adult Bible studies, our closest couple friends there, all these people with whom we had shared 7 years of history... and we all had stories of how we'd heard about this in the most peculiar ways.

We had shut this door behind us 2 years ago for good reasons. The denomination in question is riddled with controversy we were not sorry to leave.

In our new church in a neighboring suburb, we've had trouble finding the community we had spent years building at the previous place. The health required for consistent participation in a Sunday school class or small group just hasn't been there yet. The Bible teaching in the new place maintains an excellent standard, and the core beliefs align well with ours, but it has been frustrating to hear exhortations to community from so many different directions, to feel the need of "real life" community, and not to know how to respond.

A door we never expected has opened, a door to a new-old community with a new-old pastor. The door may or may not become a church plant, and God may or may not confirm whether we belong there, but it was a joy to walk through the door and find familiar faces sardined together for worship, even if it was just for a night.

Allen is working on scheduling a meeting with the pastor to see if the reason we shut the door in the first place will pose a similar problem for us with this new potential church. That's the only next step we know for now. Otherwise, we are praying like the rest of the group, to the God who opens and shuts doors, seeking "by testing [to] discern what the will of God is, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2), whether that is to persevere where we are in the slow work of building friendships or to turn down this new-old path.

Q: How about you? Has God surprised you lately with any unexpected open doors of opportunity?

As is our usual Monday practice here, I'm giving thanks to the Lord for His goodness, for His steadfast love that endures forever:
~for good surprises
~for worshiping with people whose stories we know and who know ours
~for seeing two of our Bible study kids young adults
~for the editor's desk my father-in-law made me, which turns out to work well as a laptop stand
~for walking a little farther this week than last
~for Mom's safe return from a ministry trip to the Pacific Northwest
~for the mail carrier bringing our mail to the door along with a package
~for a loved one's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day and sleep-deprived but productive night
~for no cavities at my check-up
~for a referral to a specialist able to deal with my bite problems if/when we can take that on
~for a yummy quiche-and-salad lunch from Chocolate Angel
~and maybe a slice of cake, too
~for a way to contact my friend with whom I'd lost touch over years and peregrinations
~for 59F at dawn on the first day of autumn
~for pulling on my hoodie for a walk
~for the right name for the grey heron at the park
Introducing Gandalf the Grey Heron. So obvious! Why didn't I see it sooner?
~for the unexpected visit with Allen's family
~for talking and sharing books with kindred spirits
~for no back problems on the drive this time
~for a new photo, drawing, and progress report from the Indian girl we sponsor
Apparently India has pumpkins, too.
~for the news that Sara is beyond pain's reach
~for grieving with hope
~for waking on a Sunday with "Worthy Is the Lamb" stuck in my head
~for 2 consecutive nights with 8 hours of sleep
~for many cool mornings to walk early in the park instead of at home

~for minions! The nefarious Dr. Miao has minions! Minions with lethal powers of cuteness and glowing eyes that have already turned one neighborhood family to the dark side!
No, the minions don't have names yet.
~for moving into the Gospels for my daily Bible reading (sorry, did that topic change give you whiplash?)
~for more water rationing, praying for rain
~for chest pain increased again last few days, reminding me to trust the slow work of God
~for a whole day at home today to try not to miss God's glory here and now
(counting the multitude of blessings, #1721-1750)

Linking up today to Ann and Laura:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hope Waits

Hope, like perseverance, is a virtue for the "not yet" waiting time of life in this groaning creation. Hope waits, the father watching at the window for the prodigal to appear, the prophet Daniel in exile counting the years until 70 and the return to the land, the sisters in Bethany waiting for Jesus to come and help their brother. Hope waits for the promises of God to catch up with our desires, or so it seems.

John Calvin articulates the forward-leaning character of hope:
"Hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God. 
Thus, faith believes God to be true, hope awaits the time when His truth shall be manifested; 
faith believes that He is our Father, hope anticipates that He will ever show Himself to be a Father toward us;
faith believes that eternal life has been given to us, hope anticipates that it will some time be revealed;
faith is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith….
hope strengthens faith, that it may not waver in God’s promises or begin to doubt concerning their truth."
     ~John Calvin, courtesy of Graced Again
As beautiful as that is, who can weave the groaning, waiting perseverance of the now and the hope of the not yet better than the apostle Paul?
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:18-25, NASB).
Waiting eagerly today with you and the community at Ann's:

and at Emily's:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Prayer to Know Him Better

Growing pains are stretching my soul lately. The Spirit has been convicting me of laziness in prayer and a need to go deeper in that. So many yearnings tug for the upper hand, but I keep returning to the prayers of Ephesians 1 and 3.

Yesterday our church continued walking through that letter (timing is the Lord's, isn't it?) and arrived at that Ephesians 1 prayer. Here it is in its entire beautiful complexity:
This is why, since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 [I pray] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 [I pray] that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His callingwhat are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength.
 20 He demonstrated [this power] in the Messiah by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens — 21 far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put everything under His feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church, 23which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way (Eph. 1:15-23, HCSB, emphasis mine).
The associate pastor preaching this week said the gist of the whole prayer is that Paul's readers would grow to know God better. Paul further prayed that they would understand three things:
  • the hope of God's calling,
  • the glorious riches of God's inheritance in us, His saints (astonishing, that!),
  • and what is the immeasurable (the Greek word here is the source of our English word "hyperbole") greatness of His resurrection power to us who believe.
These are too much for me to get my brain around; I suppose that's why we need to pray for the lightbulb to switch on in our hearts, for the gift of a spirit of wisdom and revelation to know Him better.

After delving further into the details of the text, our speaker challenged us with a simple application: to pray this prayer every day this week for myself and for others and also to ask someone to pray it for us.

This morning I have prayed it for myself, for my family, for close friends and missionaries, for political and church leadership, for the young adults who used to be the TNTS Bible study in our care, for our sponsored children,...

Now I'd like to pray it for you, my crumbly friends:
I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.

I pray that the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened so you may know:
what is the hope of His calling,
what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints,
and what is the immeasurable greatness of His resurrection power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength.

In the name of Jesus our risen and ascended Savior, Amen.

(Those of you who graciously pray for me anyway, might you consider praying this way this week? I'm so grateful to know Christ better through you!)

And since it's Monday, let me also thank God for His excellent gifts this past week:
~His Word to help me know Him more and teach me how to pray
~a church which believes in God's breathed-out Word and proclaims it week by week
~sister's successful surgery
~mothers to move in and help her during recovery
~a friend's cancer-free post-chemo CT scan
~two weeks off from PT appointments to see if I can maintain the standard of sound teaching without monitoring
~everything stable with my vision, no toxicity from lupus meds
~flu shot checked off for the season
~only one appointment this week for the first time since July. Yea!
~a good dentist and hygienist (my appointment for the week, for cleaning, x-rays, and the next step in the implant)
~a few days cool enough to do my walking in the park

baby nutria

all my ducks in a row?

~there's rain in them there clouds!

~phones with cameras
~almost an inch and a half of "showers of blessing" this weekend
~the young birds learning how the feeder works

~even hummingbirds take a breather sometimes

~Big Al grilling supper last night and enough salmon and chicken for 3 more meals
~and also taking care of the car maintenance needs
~a new online acquaintance a few years ahead of me on the lupus journey
~growing pains
(from the gratitude journal, #1645-65)

Quietly, gratefully joining the communities at Ann's, Michelle's, Laura's, and Jen's:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Joy Breaks Through {Five-Minute Friday}

This has been a long week, and I haven't yet finished my exercises for today or read, let alone answered, the messages in my inbox. Five-Minute Friday writing wasn't on my list today...

But the topic is for Sara
 this time. Sara who has been choosing joy in her life and on her blog in years of severe chronic pain and restrictions imposed by her Ankylosing Spondylitis. Sara who chose joy in the sudden loss of her dad, when she was too ill to attend the funeral. Sara who learned this week that the disease is winning the battle for her earthly body and is choosing joy in hospice.

The topic this week is joy. I realize now when I think of joy, the people who come to mind are those who have known Christ's fellowship in deep suffering: Margaret, Jeanette, Joni, Sara, Elisabeth.

The faces for "happy" are completely different and inconstant.

That makes me wonder if joy is what the Spirit births in God's children when the happy has been knocked out of them by trials. If that's the kind of joy Jesus promised His followers in the upper room the night before His death.

And yet, is it possible, too, that that kind of joy eventually, even if it's on the other side of death, blooms into happiness, too?. First we consider it all joy, then we discover it all joy, then we see Him who is our joy and find we are happy. Really happy for the first time.

If you would like to join in praying for Sara as she prepares to go Home to the Lord and for the many who love and will miss her, her story is here at her blog, "Choose Joy." She and her blog are the reason blogging seemed like a good and reasonable response a year ago when my doctor put me on bed rest at home temporarily. Though I only know her through reading and commenting on her blog, she has helped me grow in grace, and I'm grateful.

Linking up today to Gypsy Mama and her community, which each week writes for an unedited five minutes on a shared prompt:

...and to Jessica's tribute page at The Mom Creative

The Mom Creative
Another most beautiful tribute by someone who has known Sara in person can be read at A Holy Experience.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Oasis {A Poem}

O God, You are my God; earnestly I seek You;
my soul thirsts for You;
my flesh faints for You,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1, ESV

The husband God gave me has a fondness for nature documentaries. A few years ago I gave him the Planet Earth DVD series as a gift, and we watched the discs straight through in what seemed days but was probably weeks.

The episode "Seasonal Forests" depicted the blossoming of Madagascar baobabs. In the wet season in that largely dry climate, the lily-like flowers on the massive trees open in a minute or less, in the dead of night, like gold and fuschia fireworks few human eyes see. At the same season in the same locale, the world's tiniest primate, the mouse lemur, wakes from hibernation. The cinematographer captures the little lemurs drinking nectar from the blooms for energy. As they eat* and drink, pollen coats their fur, and they carry it off to other flowers as the cycle repeats.

As I thought over those images, an analogy emerged and found voice in the following poem, which has been coming to mind persistently in this long Texas drought.

Make Your face shine upon Your servant—
Lighten desert darkness—
Unfurl, unfold the golden splendor of Your mercy
Like blossoms of baobab
Opening in the night,
Dripping cool nectar.
I’m thirsty, Lord,
Parched for You,
For the water only You can give;
You give in abundance,
Even in this arid emptiness.
You pour life-juice from Your very heart
As I wait on you in the night watches.
Let me bury my face in Your beauty,
Drink in Your elixir.
Slake my sandy longing,
That I may scamper off revived,
Clothed in fecund grains of glory dust.

*On a recent reviewing of the film, I discovered my memory had conveniently edited out the bit about the lemurs eating another pollinator, the giant hawk moth, which meal is the source of most of the pollen they transport. Oh well. Every metaphor breaks down at some point; now I know the breaking point for this one!

Quietly joining in the Imperfect Prose community today:

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Spiritual Blessings" from an African Perspective

Last weekend was full of listening and learning opportunities, from Beth Moore's inspiring simulcast to a recording of John Stott's book The Cross of Christ to the prayers, sermons, and testimonies at church.

After a demanding week, I was not optimistic that I could use my ticket to attend the Living Proof Live event at a neighborhood church, but I went for the first session and stayed for lunch. A rest on our pew in the empty church after I ate (too fast) gave enough pain relief and restoration for me to stay for the afternoon session. The Lord provided strength above and beyond expectations or hopes and allowed me to spend time with my mom in my favorite way, at a Christian women's conference.

Then I expected to be too tired or sore for church on Sunday, but again the Lord gave grace to go.

This week Dr. Celestin Musekara, a pastor from Rwanda, offered our church a challenging message from Ephesians 1:1-14. He presented Ephesians 1:3 (ESV here) as a summary verse:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
Beginning from there, he proceeded through the rest of the segment listing and commenting on the spiritual blessings Paul names.  Three of his remarks are still simmering in my thoughts today:
  • He observed that Americans have a poor appreciation of our spiritual blessings because we have so many other blessings. In our remembrance of the September 11, 2001, attacks, we should also recognize that such terror and violence occurs daily in many (or did he even say most?) parts of the world. This reminded me of the very stringent security checks we encountered on our one trip to India, in December 2011. We asked our guide if this was due to the terrorist attacks in America, and he bobbled his head and said, "Oh, no. The Hindus and the Muslims, they bomb each other all the time, so the airlines must be careful." Suddenly the full-body pat-down, confiscation of extra batteries, and testing of all portable electronic devices didn't seem like much of a privacy invasion at all.
  • As forgiven people, Christians ought to be the most forgiving people in the world, but that is not our reputation. Dr. Musekara assessed the high divorce rate among American Christians as fundamentally a failure of forgiveness. That statement stunned me, and no doubt there are exceptions, but I received it as a warning to guard my heart from those "micro-resentments," to use commenter chris's term, that can so easily escalate and destroy a relationship. Holding grudges against my husband is not a bad habit; it is sin and could take us away from where we've promised to live, away from the promises "to love, honor, and cherish till death do us part." Our speaker has some authority to speak on forgiveness. Seven of his family members were murdered in the Rwandan genocide, and his Christian community had to admonish him to forgive the murderers. Even so, he urged us to practice forgiveness first in the home.
  • The last two blessings in the section, namely believers' inheritance in Christ and the sealing by the Holy Spirit as a guarantee, are the most important ones to help the persecuted church persevere to the glory of God. Their suffering now turns their gaze ahead to those blessings awaiting after death.
There is much more content I need to process, but that will have to come little by little. For now I am recording this much, lest I forget it.

Also, it is Monday, so it's time again to thank God for all His good gifts, the spiritual blessings and the temporal ones:
~those two blessed words, "In Christ"
~every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places
~chosen to be holy and blameless
~adopted as God's children
~gloriously, lavishly graced
~redemption through Christ's blood
~forgiveness of trespasses
~recipients of His revelation
~God's plan to unite all things in Christ
~a waiting inheritance
~"Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will"
~the Holy Spirit sealing us, guaranteeing our inheritance
~wise, courageous teachers
~living examples of forgiveness and reconciliation
~learning opportunities
~grace for the undone
~prayers holding us together
~only an echocardiogram and no stress test at the cardiologist
~heart valve stable, unchanged from a year ago
~Dr. Miao made an appearance and Ebony chased her out of the yard
~lots of squirrels to chase, too, for our happy and energetic pooch-hound
~continued strength for PT appointments and homework
~stable lupus symptoms, too; just waiting for costochondritis pain to subside
~surprising strength and endurance to attend conference with my mom and her friends
~Big Al a phone call and 5 minutes away at whatever point I might have needed to come home
~husband-grilled chicken, enough for 3 nights
~same hard-working husband giving his Sunday afternoon to help sister with computer
~a day at home today
~three more medical appointments this week (2 of them PT...break postponed one more week)
~learning new things about my grandmother
~persistent drought
~return of high temperatures
~such a mixed bag of big and small, easy and hard eucharisteo, yet all is material for sacrifice and opportunity for worship.
(so much more to share, but I'm out of steam for now, so we'll leave things at gratitude items 1549-81)

Linking today to Ann and Michelle and their communities:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Be Still and Know"

We were in Bangkok on September 11, preparing for bed after an utterly ordinary day of language school with no inkling the eyes of our nation were riveted to the television news. My dad called at 7 a.m. on September 12 and told me what had happened. He had to tell the tale at least twice because the first time I was convinced I had missed a sentence and he was describing an action movie he'd recently seen. Things like terrorists flying planes into buildings on purpose just don't happen in real life, after all.

Allen entered the room in the middle of my listening. I pointed vehemently to the television until he turned it on, and it remained so for days afterward whenever we were in our flat. The only Americans we knew in the city had already moved back to the U.S., so our community, though very sympathetic and kind, was Thai and Australian. It was possibly most alienated day of a difficult year, but our shock, grief, and displacement were nothing compared to the anguish of the families who lost loved ones that day and to the first responders immersed in the wreckage and rescue efforts.

Below is an excerpt from the letter we sent our prayer team on September 9, 2001, with as little idea as anyone else of the events about to unfold. Our primary concerns at the time of the writing seemed paltry days later, but the verse God brought to mind in the smaller needs held me up through the news of the graver tragedy, and it's still a reassurance I need today.

         This morning the voice of the Lord penetrated the fog to address my anxiety about all this uncertainty:  Be still, and know that I am God.  “Be still”–let go, settle down into My faithful sovereignty, let your muscles relax.  No ifs, ands, or buts; an unequivocal command....
         Be still.  I am God.  I will be exalted.... Be still and know...  Be still because you know... He is God.  He is in control.  He is exalting His name, though all evidence may appear to the contrary.  Believe it and be at rest.
         He offers no easy promises, no assurances of a quick resolution, or even assurances that I will be unharmed...  He promises, rather, a cross.  He guarantees suffering, but He also guarantees “a permanent, glorious, and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain” (2 Cor. 4:17, Phillips).
         Knowing and trusting that, it becomes us to let endurance have its perfect work in us, to learn the genuine and visible hope in the invisible workings of God, to glorify Him and astonish the watching world by rejoicing in any little trial He vouchsafes us.
         Oswald Chambers writes, “Tenacity is more than endurance, it is endurance combined with the certainty that what we are looking for is going to transpire.  Tenacity is more than hanging on, which may be but the weakness of being too afraid to fall off.  Tenacity is the supreme effort of a man refusing to believe that his hero is going to be conquered.”  It is only in the fogs of life that we can learn such tenacious faith.  May the Lord make us pliable in His hands to learn this lesson as He appoints.
Trusting Him—christina and Allen

A decade after the September 11 attacks, our country faces more uncertainty and insecurity, more opportunities to learn tenacious faith. God still speaks to us in the midst of national and global financial threats, high unemployment, troops in harm's way, wildfires, floods, and tornadoes, and so many other individual needs. Let us listen and receive the security only He can give even in the midst of the troubles.

God is our refuge and strength,
   a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
   though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3though its waters roar and foam,
   though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

 4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
   the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
   God will help her when morning dawns.

6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
   he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD of hosts is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our fortress. 


 8 Come, behold the works of the LORD,
   how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
   he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the chariots with fire.
10 "Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
   I will be exalted in the earth!"
11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our fortr
-Psalm 46, ESV

May you find grace in Christ to be still in God's fortress today.

Related posts:
Last week's thoughts on lament
A prayer for the nation

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Just Come

Come, everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without price.
Isaiah 55:1, ESV

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Matt. 11:28, ESV

The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come."
And let the one who hears say, "Come."
And let the one who is thirsty come;
let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
Rev. 22:17, ESV

In my wanderings about the house last week to fulfill my allotted walking minutes for physical therapy, I grabbed a book which caught my eye, one I hadn't read in a while, apparently not since 2008, as a museum ticket stub from that year marked one passage.

The book is Prayer, by Ole Hallesby, and it has taught me much. As I walked, I flipped through the sticky tabs, surveying the sections I had considered important on the last perusal. This one concerned faith, the current topic for Walk with Him Wednesdays, and truly I can't improve on it:
   The essence of faith is to come to Christ.
   This is the first and the last and the surest indicator that faith is still alive. A sinner has nothing but sin and distress. The Spirit of God as made that clear to the sinner. And faith manifests itself clearly and plainly when sinners, instead of fleeing from God and their own responsibilities as they did before, come into the presence of Christ with all their sin and all their distress. The sinner who does this believes.
   It is written, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
   That was just what those people did who came to Christ and heard from Him these words before they departed, "Thy faith hath saved thee." All they did was to come to Jesus and plead their distress before Him, whether it was physical or spiritual or both.
   Notice the simple, but unmistakable, mark of a living faith.
   Such a faith as this sees its own need, acknowledges its own helplessness, goes to Jesus, tells Him just how bad things are and leaves everything with Him.
   You and I can now tell how much faith we need in order to pray. We have faith enough when we in our helplessness turn to Jesus.
   This shows us clearly that true prayer is a fruit of helplessness and faith. Helplessness becomes prayer the moment that you go to Jesus and speak candidly and confidently with him about your needs. This is to believe (p. 30).
There is even more than one example in Scripture where the needy one was too helpless even to come; the paralytic let down through the roof by his friends comes to mind, and dead Lazarus, and the widow's son placed in the prophet's room until he came.

Let those of us who can come, do so. If this finds some reader today too weak and weary even to come, may God bring someone to carry you to your waiting Lord.

(This is not to deny a cognitive element in faith as well but to remind believers that Biblical faith is not exclusively cognitive belief in revealed truth, though it is that, but also relational trust in the living God.)

Linking up with Ann and the Wednesday community...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lament or Complaint?

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion (Ps. 137:1, ESV).
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1, ESV)
This year we've spent a good many posts discussing the spiritual practice of celebration and delight, but that is not the only appropriate emotional response to the life circumstances God assigns us.

My Bible reading lately has been in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Lamentations, and a bleak stretch it is. Israel has persisted in disobedience and idolatry for so long and to such an extent that God sends Assyrian and Babylonian forces to conquer them and carry most of the people away into 70 years of captivity. Jerusalem is besieged and sacked, the temple is destroyed, and the Glory has departed.

In the face of such catastrophe, faith does not demand that we put on a plastic smile when our hearts are breaking. God does not desire us to be false with Him. Grief is a spiritual discipline, too, and at times the only right and appropriate response.

Godly grief expresses itself in the laments of Scripture. Job's speeches and Lamentations fall in this category, and individual or corporate lament is the largest subgenre of the Psalms (which more generally constitute lyric poetry). Scholars estimate that at least a third of the Psalms express lament; a few examples include Psalms 13, 22, 40, 59, 74, 88, and 109.

The Thomas Nelson Study Bible describes Biblical lament this way:
In the lament psalms, we hear the strong, emotional words of sufferers. These are words written by real people in very difficult situations. Sometimes the forcefulness of the psalmists' complaints against God is shocking. But these godly sufferers know that God will not be angry with their honesty, for even when they scream at God, it is a scream of faith (887).
These are the prayers for the sleepless nights and weary days, for the seasons when we feel like Bilbo Baggins, "too little butter spread over too much bread," for the days which seem more Romans 7 than Romans 8, for hospital rooms and funeral homes. The sheer multitude of laments in Scripture bears witness that hardship is a commonplace in life in a fallen world, yet God desires to fellowship with us in the midst of suffering as we cry out to Him. What is more, they offer us a guide for how to do so and give us words when we have no words.

Although no strict pattern applies to every lament, common elements include
  • an initial cry to God,
  • the list of complaints,
  • a profession of reliance on God,
  • a presentation of reasons God should intervene (such as past covenants, promises, and actions that shape the psalmist's expectations of the future),
  • specific requests for deliverance and action, and
  • a resolution to praise (TNSB, 887, and Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature, 114-115).
These elements may occur in any order or repeat, and some may not appear at all. Psalm 88 never turns the corner from lament to praise, which gives me comfort and confidence that I don't even need to pretend that before God.

However, Israel incurs God's displeasure and discipline when they whine and complain. What's the difference between grumbling and lament?

As I've been mulling this over ever since that earlier post and the comment dialogue on "Worn Out," I believe there are at least four areas of difference:
  • Audience: Grumbling speaks about God to other people; lament addresses God directly in prayer. This resembles the difference between gossip and conflict resolution.
  • Content: Complaint disputes God's previously revealed character; lament seeks to reconcile God's character with circumstances that seem to contradict it.
  • Attitude: Grumbling stems from a heart of unbelief; lament worships in wounded faith.
  • Result: Whining produces rebellion; lament limps forward in obedience as best it can.
Amid all the disasters and crises in the daily news, the personal trials, and the national preparation for the September 11 decade memorial, it comforts me to know that I can pour out my heart like water before the Lord (Lamentations 2:19) and mourn with Him as well as dance for joy. Learning about lament set me free to do that, even writing my own laments from the patterns above, and I have found the Psalms helpful guides to prayer in times of trouble. May you also find blessing in these thoughts as you grow in relationship with God in the hard times as well as the glad.

This week I'm giving thanks to God for
~freedom to be honest with God even if I'm wounded or angry with Him
~His involvement in every sphere and circumstance of life
~guides to prayer, grief, and worship in the Scriptures themselves
~the indwelling Holy Spirit interceding for us when we have no words
~the whole counsel of the Bible
~a good report from a loved one's medical test
~a surprise package from a dear friend
~a note from another I hadn't heard from in years
~opportunity to give of our plenty to international students recently arrived here
~an update and new photo from one of our sponsored children
~ability to drive myself to all 3 medical appointments last week
~long weekend
~2 days with the alarm clock off
~0.25" rain to cool things off one morning
~an improvised salad that tasted good to both of us (if you're wondering what, a bed of lettuce topped with thinly sliced turkey lunch meat, bacon crumbles, goat cheese, dried figs, diced pear, grapes, and walnuts)
~sourdough with hummus
~roses in the kitchen
~Allen's company at the cardiologist and PT Tuesday (prayers welcome for extra strength and a good heart report)
~possibility of a break from PT appointments after this week (continuing to train without supervision at home)
(from the gratitude list, #1428-1446)