Vulnerable Furniture

We had Spring Cleaning yesterday. I know, we’re heading into winter, but we need to weed stuff out of the house in the last vestiges of good weather. One of the things carted off was an old cabinet thing of my Grandpa’s. It was ugly, beat up, and only marginally functional; but it was Grandpa’s.

All day Janey and I toiled over boxes of stuff (actually, junk), old pictures in broken frames and a bazillion Lego pieces. But looming off in the fringes of darkness was…the cabinet!

“Soooooo is this going to go to the Goodwill,” asked Janey.

“Uh…I gotta go finish off this other box.”

Beyond just the cabinet is that for some reason I’ve been feeling a bit odd, a bit, well, vulnerable. I don’t really know why. I’m happy with work. Janey and I are doing great. But I think it’s that we’re on the verge of making a big decision, one that will ripple significantly through our lives for the foreseeable future. It brings with it long-term commitment and dreams; dreams of a second career and more advancement of God’s Kingdom on earth.

The decision entails risk but so many good things never happen because the risk is feared and therefore avoided. Right now, depending on how things go, we’re planning on going for it, risk and all. We both firmly believe God is leading us into this direction. Still, butterflies are flittering around in the old stomach region and they always bring with them a fluttering sense of vulnerability.

 

And The Point…

But what’s this have to do with the beat up, old cabinet? Well, perhaps because the cabinet symbolizes in some weird psychological way a safer time in my life. A time when others made the big decisions and I just came along for the ride. If things worked out, great; if they didn’t, it wasn’t my fault and I didn’t have to fix it.

Oddly, though, the Apostle Paul never instructs us to hold onto the past. Instead, he said reach for the future and forget the past.

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

—Philippians 3:13-14

Janey even said something like that, but it was after I decided she could take it to Goodwill.

Horizon.jpg

Ever looming horizon. 

When she got home she said she was proud of me for letting go of the past to make more room for our future. And it’s interesting, while Paul says that there’s one thing that he does; that one thing actually has two components to it: he forgets the past while reaching forward. So I guess in a way, the old cabinet also symbolizes letting go of a material thing to instead reach forward to the goal God has set in front of us. Hopefully someone who loves to refinish old beat up stuff will pick it up. But meanwhile, Janey and I will continue pressing forward toward a new goal, a new horizon, a new journey.

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Hunkerin’ Down and the Holy Spirit

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes or where it goes…”

—Jesus, John 3:8

A big storm rolled through the Willamette Valley yesterday. It brought heavy rainfall and some significant wind gusts. Knowing the storm was coming I wanted to get my long walk in prior to its hitting us. Nearing the end of my walk, the leading edge of wind gusts swept in. The gusts behind me sounded like cars, almost like city traffic was coming my way. And before the gust actually hit my back a large swirl of fallen leaves came swooping by, clicking their dried edges along the asphalt; it was like they were fleeing to escape the gusty onslaught.

 

Off Balance

I was in mid-stride when the wind hit my back. It was so strong I actually lost my balance.

wind_2016.jpg

Yeah, it’s hard to take a picture of wind! 

It was awesome! I was being physically pushed by a force I could not see. As the gust passed by with its swirl of leaves continuing to flee in advance of the windy wave, debris from the tree-tops started literally raining down on the ground. There were pine needles and pine cones, sticks and twigs of various sizes, and just random bits of other stuff like moss, lichen, and discarded gum wrappers.

I recognize that wind has scientific origins related to atmospheric pressure, gradient temperatures, and other stuff; but I still marvel because the origin of all this scientific stuff is God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. And wind never ceases to remind me of the discussion between Nicodemus and Jesus in John chapter 3. The quote from above ends with Jesus saying

“…so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

 

Wind and the Holy Spirit

That’s a fantastic statement when I stop to consider all the many manifestations of wind. Granted, earthly wind brings destruction, but metaphorically, could it be that Jesus is wanting to impress upon Nicodemus (and us) that a person filled with and being led by the Holy Spirit brings impact?  Wind cleans the air by blowing away pollutants from pollens to smog. A person filled with the Holy Spirit can also bring cleansing by being that “breath of fresh air” in a person’s life. Wind also powers many types of equipment from sail boats to wind turbines. God works his power in us by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And perhaps the wind’s destructive forces are a picture of the eventual triumph over evil found in Christ in the not-so-distant future.

I don’t want to go too far with this metaphor, because most metaphors taken too far become unbiblical and untheological. But suffice it to say that as the wind was blowing me around, I quickly became mindful of my desire for not quenching the Holy Spirit in my life (see Ephesians 5:18b and 1 Thessalonians 5:19). What sort of impact does God want to work in my life? What barriers are in my soul inhibiting the Spirit’s work in my life? What about your life and your barriers?

Next time the wind blows your hair back or rains leaves on your yard, may it be a reminder of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in the world around us, and even in our own lives.

Part 2: Daniel and Prayer

daniel_2Last week we explored several biblical characteristics just by exploring Daniel’s prayer life. These characteristics include deep knowledge of Scripture, avoidance of compromise, faithfulness that is expressed in the “sub-characteristics” of courage (heroism), commitment through perseverance in spite of cultural threats, thankfulness and obedience to live a life honorable to God.

We also see that, “[B]urdened for his countrymen, Daniel began to pray.”[1] His prayers were not self-centric but instead he prayed for his countrymen. I imagine that at times he prayed for himself, such as when he was placed in the lions’ den, but the focus of Daniel Chapter 9 is his prayer for the people of Israel and the city of Jerusalem. Only in Chapter 9 does Daniel refer to the Lord as Yahweh, which occurs seven times.[2] Wood states that this is significant because Yahweh “depicts God as the gracious, covenant-keeping God of Israel, who is willing to reveal to man and hear man when he prays.”[3] Daniel is therefore indicating that he is expecting that God hears him and will indeed answer him. In other words, he is not praying a half-hearted prayer to a god that he sees as aloof or impotent but instead, he’s praying to the God of universe. He understands that “God bound Himself to us, and we are to obey Him. Our obedience brings a blessing, and our disobedience brings a curse.”[4] However, Daniel also clearly understands that his people have definitely sinned against God and have strayed far from the blessing of God and are in the midst of a curse by way of the exile.

Therefore, his burden for his people is so great that before he prays he fasts with sackcloth and ashes (verse 3). “In the Old Testament, fasting, sackcloth, and ashes are indications of grief and self-abasement in the context of calamity or loss experienced or threatened, or of wrongdoing committed.”[5] What we see is a very serious Daniel suffering a genuine burden for the sins of his people. He engages in the activities of verse three to not just acknowledge the greatness of the burden, but to also prepare his heart to come before Yahweh on behalf of his people.

When he finally approaches Yahweh, he doesn’t begin by just diving into his requests or supplications. Instead, he approaches Yahweh by first clearly acknowledging the Lord is a “great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments” (verse 4). Then he moves into confession that his people have “sinned and committed iniquity” and that they “have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants and prophets” (verses 5-6a). Daniel is not mincing words; he is intercessing for his people by honestly confessing the truth of their sin of abandoning God through abject disobedience and rejection of God’s precepts and the messages of his prophets. He eventually humbly asks God to forgive his people and spare the city of Jerusalem in verses 16-19.

While Nelson suggests he is inclined “to view that the prayer is a later interpolation”[6] I am inclined to agree with many other commentaries that it was part of the original rendering. This prayer is from the very heart of Daniel and it so moved God’s heart that Daniel is met presumably face to face with the Archangel Gabriel; in fact, “Daniel had not even finished his time of prayer (verse 20) before the angel made his appearance.”[7]

There is much more to be said about the prayer itself, but I want to summarize the additional characteristics that were not discussed above.

We have seen that Daniel had a genuine burden for others; he was others-centric and prayed with a fervent heart for their deliverance. We also see serious acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and that he desires to bless his people. A sub-characteristic of this is the expectation that God is good and merciful and does want to bless his people. In other words, it is not just acknowledging that God can bless his people, but that he will bless his people in their obedience and faithfulness.

Additionally we see Daniel preparing himself via fasting, sackcloth and ashes. He did not enter into this prayer “just off the cuff” but genuinely prepared his heart and mind to approach the true God. And, finally, we see Daniel boldly expressing the sins of his people; he is not watering down the seriousness but is instead starkly stating the sins of his people and asking God to pour mercy and forgiveness onto the people and to spare Jerusalem.

A final word is that Daniel exhibited all of these characteristics while in exile. He was not in the comfort of his birthplace or frequenting his beloved temple, but he was in exile far away from his homeland. This speaks very clearly that godly character is not dependent on the environment but blooms from the fertile soil of faith held deep in Daniel’s soul.  May we be inspired by the depth of Daniel’s faith, the breadth of his godly character and the richness of his prayer life so that we, to, can become people that move the heart of God toward mercy and forgiveness for the lost and seeking souls.

[1] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 234.

[2] Wood, pp. 234-5.

[3] Wood, p. 235.

[4] Donovan L. Graham, Teaching Redemptively: Bringing Grace and Truth into Your Classroom (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design Publications, 2009), Kindle loc. 1623.

[5] John E. Goldingay, Daniel: Word Biblical Commentary, Gen. Eds. David A. Hubbard & Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word Books Publisher, 1989), p. 253.

[6] William B. Nelson, Daniel: Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, Gen. Eds. W. Ward Gasque, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. & Robert K. Johnson (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), p. 222.

[7] Gaebelein, p. 111.

Daniel: An Example of Prayer

We discussed prayer in our small group the other night. That got me thinking about danielbiblical examples of those that prayed mightily. There are many examples, of course; Jesus being the preeminent example. But a somewhat obscure example is what I was drawn to. That example is Daniel.

One of my professors stated that “his [Daniel’s] prayer should inform how we pray.”[1] This phrase caught my attention because I spend much time in prayer myself. I do not profess to be any sort of mighty intercessor, but I am called and drawn to pray not just for myself or my family, but also for my specific church and our members and “attenders.” I also pray for the advancing of the gospel of Christ and for the forgiveness of our nation. I often feel a burden to pray, but at times I fight against a sense of futility in prayer because I am not seeing the answers I am expecting to see. Thus, the above quote inspired me to delve into this prayer in more detail, and in so doing I discovered key characteristics that built Daniel into a mighty man of prayer that moved the heart of God.

Daniel was “prompted to pray because he was reading Scripture.”[2] Archer states that Daniel was “a diligent student of Scripture who built his prayer life on the Word of God.”[3] Berrigan states that “Amid great darkness, Daniel opens the scroll. Thus once more an important principle is illustrated. This: while time lasts, scripture is never to be thought, or dealt with, as lying inert on a page. No, it is … a prodigious energy. It flares up in our face; it brings to bear upon our sorry human scene the very truth of God.”[4] Daniel held God’s Word in the highest regard, clearly displaying that he understood that, “You [God] have magnified Your word above all Your name” (Psa. 138:2b, NKJV).

Because he knew Scripture so well he was able to pray along the lines of the truth he had learned from the Word of God. In other words, Daniel’s prayers aligned with the truth he knew from Scripture which meant that his prayers were in alignment with the very heart of God from which Scripture originally flowed out of.

What is also interesting is Daniel’s praying is visible throughout the Book of Daniel. A significant precursor to the great prayer of Chapter 9 is the events of Chapter 6.

In Chapter 6 we see Daniel excelling above all the other satraps and governors (cf. vv. 2-3). This angered these men so they sought a way to tarnish his reputation in the eyes of King Darius. However, “these men said, ‘We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God’” (v. 5).  The charge they built to trap Daniel was his evidently well-known habit toward prayer. So King Darius was cajoled into signing a decree that his subjects should only pray to him and any violators would be thrown into the den of lions (vv. 6-9). Daniel was aware of this decree, so now not only was he in exile he was now facing a capital crime by continuing to engage in prayer. “Under such catastrophe, existence itself is shaken”[5] but still Daniel responds by continuing his practice of praying three times a day “as was his custom since early days” (v. 10b) knowing very well that if he is caught he will suffer dire, if not fatal, consequences.

This is stunning because it is likely he could have continued to pray minus the outward expression of prayer, but apparently Daniel found that compromising because instead he continues his outward expression of prayer by opening his windows, facing Jerusalem and kneeling three times a day. Scripture also informs us that Daniel, even under the threat of committing a capital offense, still gives thanks to God (v. 10).  “Such heroism does not develop overnight, nor is it created in a vacuum. It is the mature fruit of lives and characters that have been forged by experience, … and by faithfulness and obedience.”[6]

We know that by the grace of God Daniel survived the lions’ den while those that plotted against Daniel met their demise by the very means they intended for Daniel (not unlike Haman in the Book of Esther, about another heroic character and another somewhat humorous expression of God’s poetic justice). Daniel’s survival entices King Darius to honor the God of Daniel and then we see Daniel move into more visions and more prominence in the Persian culture, which, of course, leads us to the prayer of Chapter 9. But we’ll look at that next week.

 

[1] Quote from Professor Mark Jacobson, Corban University.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Gleason Archer, “Daniel,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank Gaebelein, Gen. Ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), p. 107.

[4] Daniel Berrigan, Daniel: Under Siege of the Divine (Farmington: The Plough Publishing House, 1998), pp. 155-6.

[5] Berrigan, p. 4.

[6] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Daniel: The Communicator’s Commentary, Gen. Ed. Lloyd Ogilvie (Wasco: Word Books Publisher, 1988), p. 27.