The Maze of Numbers and Milestones

 

Maze

Pumpkin Patch maze near Jefferson, Oregon.

“Age is just a number,” she said. This was from a school official in a meeting a few months ago about our youngest son. It was a tough meeting, one of the toughest I’ve been through as a parent.

 

When I was a kid, parent-teacher conferences weren’t that big of a deal. Sure, I got in trouble here and there for being a class clown, but I always managed to earn good grades. But somehow, somewhere, things changed on my way to being a father. Now the conferences are more serious and intense. There’s a lot more tests and man-made standards kids must achieve.

At this meeting we had to consider making a very difficult decision. The decision would cause delays in typical age-related milestones, to which the quote above was about.

Since then I’ve been thinking. Who came up with age-related milestones in the first place? What’s so special about 18, 21, 30, 50 and so on? I don’t even see that it’s biblical.

For instance, Abraham and Moses were in what today’s society considers retirement ages. Daniel, Timothy and especially Mary were in what today’s society considers the younger, or more immature years. And we don’t know how old Paul or the first disciples were. And check this out:

Beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.
—2 Peter 3:8

God is above time, He is not bound by time; he created time (see Genesis 1:3-25). And God will accomplish His work regardless of time. He will accomplish His work in spite of us and He will accomplish His work through us, regardless of our age.

My point is that perhaps age is nothing but a number. Maybe I’m too hung up on age. Maybe expecting my kids to accomplish “x” by age “x” is unrealistic and maybe even ungodly. Maybe I shouldn’t put the same pressure on myself either.

Case in point, in my late twenties I went back to graduate school to work on a Master’s Degree. My goal was to have it finished by the time I was 32. This was before the internet caught on, so classes were brick and mortar classes. I’d drive up to Portland once or twice a week for three-hour evening classes. At this rate, it’d take three years to complete. But I was single, and I had the time (and money) to pull it off. Except I didn’t consider actions the school would take.

What happened is other state schools closed their communications departments and sent these students to Portland State University where the Master’s program was. To accommodate the large influx of new students, the school changed much of the curricula to more traditional offerings. That is, once-a-week evening classes were now going to be offered three times a week in the mornings. This meant that for me to continue I had to either quit my career, which was beginning to really take off, or quit school because I couldn’t attend classes during working hours.

I chose to stay with my career; and that was a great choice, my career has been rewarding, fun and I’ve met and worked with so many great people over these many years.

Another interesting thing, though, is as technology changed, so did God’s leading in my life. This led me to eventually return to graduate school utilizing new, online technologies. And I did finally complete a Mater’s at 54; only it was 22 years past my original age-related goal.

However, the significant shift came in the subject matter: I was originally pursuing a degree in Organizational Communication, but my actual degree is in Christian Leadership and Teaching. My previous studies have come in handy from time to time, but that’s not the subject area of my passion; Jesus is. Had I stayed the course all those years back, I may have missed God’s real call on my life and now be a miserable wreck.

So maybe she was right, maybe age is nothing but a number. Maybe most of my age-related goals are nothing but numbers; and numbers are subject to change and so is our sense of God’s work in our lives.

 

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Chair Thinking

 

blue deck chair

The Blue Chair.

Prayer times outside are my favorite areas for prayer. For instance, from this blue chair I can see the woods behind our house in all of their God-ordained splendor. This particular chair has nice arms for my coffee, my journal and my Bible (which is actually on the iPad that took the picture). And I’m spending time in nature; well, sort of, because the comforts of suburbia are only a few steps away (not to mention coffee refills). But the air is fresh and slightly crisp, the birds are all aflutter and the tiny and shimmering humming birds are especially vocal with their signature squeaky-chirp sounds. back fall tree

 

Jesus spent time in nature. There are many passages indicating Jesus stealing Himself away to be alone in nature with His father. One great example is in Matthew 14:23:

“And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when the evening came, He was alone there.”

This is interesting for a couple of different reasons. First, Jesus is alone in the mountains; He’s alone in nature. There’s something about nature that draws many of us closer to God. In nature we see much beauty alongside the wild. Much of nature is predictable but much of it is not and cannot be tamed. God reveals much of Himself in Scripture and, of course, Jesus was (and is) God in the flesh. Still, this same God, the creator of all that is, cannot be tamed, put in a box or outguessed. I get a sense of all this in nature.

Second, Jesus is alone; He’s alone by choice. Oh, I know, God is always with Him; but my point is He is purposely away for other human contact. Not to read too much into this, but alone-time seems to be an important ingredient in our relationship with our Father.
Alone-time means no distractions, no email chimes, news alerts, TV chatter, or side conversations. And, frankly, in this day and time, it is hard to find quiet. In fact, I would not be surprised to discover that many of us are afraid to be alone, to be quiet, to truly be ourselves with our Father. Jesus being alone with His Father is He being fully open and honest with His Father. This means He must be open and honest with Himself; so, do you and me.

What’s really going on deep in the soul? Am I as carefree as some think I am? Am I shrinking in my faith somewhere? On the other hand, where am I truly strong? Is my faith truly enlarging?

Many of these deeper issues crack into the darker recesses of our soul and are best accessed while being alone with our Father in prayer. These are quiet but courageous moments, because it takes courage to be real and be vulnerable with anyone, even in prayer with our heavenly Father.

But another thing you’ll notice about Jesus is He’s not always by Himself. In fact, He is just as often seeking the company of His friends. In other words, Jesus lives a balanced life. He balances time alone with His Father and time with His friends and family. Hmm, pretty practical if you ask me.

And all of this started in the blue chair on the back deck.

Oops and Grace

I was late to an early morning meeting yesterday. It was our Elder meeting; and I’m the chair. Talk about a recipe for how not to be a good leader! And it was all just so silly.

The meeting started at 7 am and my alarm went off at 5:30, the same time as my work week mornings. I had plenty time to pray, to read, to “coffee,” and hop in the jalopy and head across town. All was going as planned and I was on pace to be early. But as I was nearing the main artery leading over to the east side of the river, I realized I forgot mySatchel wallet. Not only that, I forgot my bag which included my wallet, cell phone and iPad that had my Bible app and the agenda for the meeting! I did, however, remember my coffee.

Crap! I had no choice but to turn around and fetch my satchel. Now, not only was I not going to be early, but I was definitely going to be late; like ten minutes late.

Grumbling before leaving my driveway for the second time, I texted our pastor letting him know of my oops. I was so angry with myself and frustrated. I don’t want to be the reason for the delay, especially since everyone else is sacrificing time on an early Saturday morning.

Finally arriving at the meeting, I felt pretty low and a bit defeated. But the reception I got dispelled my brooding gloom. The others treated me cheerfully, welcoming me with warmth and only polite ribbing. There were no scowls or rebukes or terse greetings. I was welcomed and immediately included in the meeting.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is grace in action. Here I had an oops that was countered by grace. Bullinger defines grace as “an inclining toward, courteous or gracious disposition, friendly willingness; on the part of the giver of a favor, kindness, favor; on the part of the receiver, thanks”*. I was being extended kindness rather than rebuke, and I was, of course, thankful for that. I didn’t deserve the grace I received; but even so, grace is what I received.

God also gives grace. His grace has eternal gifts with it. It is purely by the grace of God that we have salvation in Jesus Christ. Scripture says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
—Ephesians 2:8-9

A couple of verses before this the Apostle Paul speaks eloquently of mercy and grace working in tandem:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
—vv. 4-5

We have access to salvation in Christ through faith through no work of our own. We can’t buy it, we can’t earn it, we just express faith in Christ to receive this free gift from God:

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
—Romans 10:9

That’s it! There are no rituals, no works to accomplish or hoops to jump through, just a simple expression of faith from a sincere heart.

As the Elders showed me grace, so God shows us all grace; but His kindness opens up an eternal destiny to be forevermore with Jesus. So, have you experienced God’s grace yet?

*Ethelbert W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, p. 341.

“Obnoxious!” Really?

“Obnoxious,” he said riding by me from the other direction.

High vis“Well, at least you can see me,” I mumbled under my breath. And that’s the point; every wise cyclist knows that the first most important thing about riding is being seen. Drivers in fast cars and big trucks run into that which they cannot see. Thusly, I dress in the high-vis gear pictured here. Okay, so it’s not the most attractive outfit, but ya gotta admit—it catches your eye. On top of the high-vis attire, I also have a bright, flashing headlamp and two bright, flashing tail lights (called torches in the bike biz).

So, how dare he call me obnoxious, especially as we’re both riding on paths shared by pedestrians. Why, I’ll have you know I’m riding wisely and safely; not like him, he had no lights and was wearing dark clothing that was even adorned with my undergrad alma mater—sheesh! But I’m visible.

Mom’s with baby strollers see me, couples with gigantic mastiffs or teensy poodles on leashes see me, and, obviously, other cyclists see me as well. This means no accidents, everyone leaves the park as whole as they arrived. But rather than trading insults, we usually exchange pleasantries like “hello” or “what a beautiful dog” and so on.

Obnoxious indeed!

But then again, maybe he’s right. No, I don’t mean about my on-bike wardrobe, but more along the lines of my thinking. I definitely had obnoxious thoughts about him after that ride-by insult. I compared his poor example to my good example. Then I got to thinking how I often I view certain bumper stickers as obnoxious; or certain body-adornments; or even some t-shirt slogans. Yes, I instantly judge others just as easily as Mister Dark Rider judged me. And that’s obnoxious. I don’t even know these people, I don’t even know Mister Dark Rider. I don’t know their backgrounds, their hurts, their fears, their successes or their failures. I just snap judge them based on some sticky paper attached to their rear chrome. Yes, I’m well aware that people intentionally put bumper stickers on their cars as a statement, often to rile people up; but what led them to feeling justified emblazing that message for all to see? I have no idea.

Another thought occurred to me later in the week. It was easy for Mister Dark Rider to see my “light” due to the high-vis gear. But does the Light residing in my soul by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit shine out as easily? When others see me to do they see Jesus? Do people sense the presence of the Lord in my life?
Jesus said in the Beatitudes that,

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill that cannot be hidden. … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
—Matthew 5:14 & 16

Maybe God meant for Mister Dark Rider to stir up some deeper thoughts in my soul. Maybe this was a way to allow the Holy Spirit to shine His light into the deeper, darker corners of the closets of my soul. Maybe the Lord was showing me what he wants to work on next.

Could it be that God wants me to be more sensitive to how quickly I judge others on little things like bumper sticker and t-shirt slogans? For behind these little cultural artifacts are hearts and souls that are dear to the heart of our Father. Perhaps the Lord used Mister Dark Rider as a way to move my thinking into a more eternal realm. Each soul, whether draped in high-vis gear or festooned with slogans, are souls that have eternal destinies. Am I helping these souls to consider salvation in Jesus, or do I drive them away?

Less Honorable Vessels?

It was about 7:30 in the morning that I started fading away. The anesthesiologist said he wanted me to breath pure oxygen through the mask then after about a minute he’d put some “stuff” into my IV and I’d be fast asleep. The nurse placed the mask on my face with such force I could hardly exhale. This freaked me out a bit because I’d just slid over onto the skinny operating table while hospital staff grabbed both of my arms, stretching them out perpendicular to my body, not unlike being in a crucifix position. Even as consciousness was fading, panic started welling up in my soul.

“Help me, Jesus” was all I could say to myself as my hearing slowly closed off and blackness consumed me.

Next memory was groggily looking at the clock in the recovery room. It was about 9:40 AM. “Praise God;” I thought. “It’s over. When can I go home?”

After a short time in the recovery room I was wheeled back into the secondary recovery room where family could come and be with me. Except, of course, I was alone, because as explained last week, Janey was in the ER with a broken foot. In any case, the nurse there, a very kind younger woman, said I should be able to go home by noon; provided, of course, that I could drink water without hurling and that I could…wait for it…pee.

Well, there you go, the gauntlet was thrown down and I was bound and determined to prove that I was fully capable of conquering these requirements post haste. Where’s the water? Where’s the toilet?

The drinking went fine; I was thirsty and the water not only stayed down, but it was hugely refreshing. Now it was time to shuffle off to the bathroom across the hall. The nurse helped me crimp the back of my hospital gown so I didn’t moon anyone and, with a little dizziness and some embarrassment, I made it to the next testing ground—the toilet.

 

Munson falls

Munson Falls, south of Tillamook off of Hwy. 101

“All right,” I thought; “it’s just you and me now.” And guess what? Nothing! Not a drop, nota! The little canister I was to “void” into was as bone dry when the nurse handed it to me. This little exercise went on for hours. I would have water running, I’d be thinking about waterfalls, and about the last time I really had to go. But nothing worked.

 

The surgeon insisted I could not go home until I sufficiently proved that my bladder was working. Evidently, bladders go into deep sleep when under anesthesia and they take longer than a teen-ager in a growth spurt to wake up. Yep, I was being held hostage by, of all things, my bladder. Not my cardiovascular system or my nervous system; but my bladder.  

I don’t think about my bladder much. In fact, I typically take it for granted that it’ll always work fine. But now all the sudden my whole world was zeroed in on my bladder waking up so I could finally go home.   

As mentioned last week, this got me thinking about 1 Corinthians 12:23-24:

And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty; but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having greater honor to the part which lacks it. (NKJV)

Yes, I realize the Apostle Paul is speaking metaphorically about us, the church, being the Body of Christ. He’s teaching that we ought not to laud too highly those gifts that are seen while minimizing or even criticizing those gifts that work unseen or behind the scenes. The teacher in the pulpit is no more important to the Body of Christ than the janitor or parking attendant. All parts of a healthy body work in harmony together to properly worship God and to serve humanity. When something in the Body is out of whack, things don’t run as smoothly.

Same with the physical body. I could not leave to the comfort of my own home while my bladder was out of whack, so I had plenty of time to think. Where do I take others for granted? Or where do I minimize certain functions or roles that are different than my functions or roles? Sadly, I discovered that, yes, I did do my fair share of minimizing. I won’t reveal where but I will state that God used my bladder battle to wake me up to a larger weakness in my own character. I am confident that with this greater awareness steeped in the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit this weakness will be corrected in time.

Oh, and, thankfully, my bladder did eventually start working and my father-in-law was able to take me home at about 3:30 PM. But did I mention that the bowels also go to sleep?  

Still Dreaming

 

Inn sunset 2017

Inn at Spanish Head sunset (Oregon Coast).

Spending a week on the Oregon Coast is a great time to unpack my dreams and aspirations. I take them out, letting them soak in the sun’s rays while they reflect back to me periodic glints, like the winking of God’s eye. Holding each one gently, I brush away the dust of passing years and daily survival.

 

I then examine each one closely, looking for cracks and fading. Some are so old and faded that they are fragile and brittle; ready to break apart in my hands. These are the ones that have been with me since childhood or early adulthood; still unrealized, but also still beating with a little life, as fleeting as it may be.

Some dreams are newer and some are more practical. For instance, I still dream of writing the great American novel, but realistically I write more about theology, daily living and urban adventure riding; not great fodder for penning The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden. Other dreams are almost defeatist being more fraught with worry than dreaming.

This last category I desire to leave behind me, but they always somehow find their way back into my suitcase of dreams. The others, however, I still hold onto. If they’re God-inspired than actual realization may come in my lifetime. Ones that aren’t God-inspired are probably more ego-driven; these I hope turn brittle and become dust in the wind.

Still a Dreamer…

But the point is I’m still a dreamer. Dreams keep me looking toward and striving after the horizon. They help to inspire me to try new things, like seeking a Doctorate degree even in my fifties. They help me step into the unknown, to truly take those steps of faith, not knowing where they’ll lead.

Sure I’d “like to dance across the mountains on the moon,” but more realistically and closer to my heart I want to teach sound theology to willing students and congregants. I want to commute more places on my bike. I want to juice more. And I want my spine to stop hurting.

So as the clock of time ticks on, I’m slowly being faced with deciding which dreams are worth hanging onto and which are not. Yes, I stopped dreaming of being a rock star in my twenties when I realized my talent didn’t even rise to sitting-around-the-campfire level much less selling out stadiums; but I still dream of being able to play guitar well enough to sing worship songs without embarrassing myself or my family. I have other dreams to, of course, some much loftier and some much simpler.

But what kills dreaming is fear. So, as I slog through life I pray for help vanquishing the fear. The fear of failure which paralyzes me from even trying; fear of looking foolish when I do try; and fear of pursuing the wrong thing. Wisdom is good, but fear is not.

Dream on

I guess for me dreaming is okay provided I don’t get lost in them and stop living in the present. But how many dreamers are there in this life? I know few; at least few have ever shared their dreams with me.

But to all of us dreamers out there I say: pray on; and, of course, dream on!

 

Revelation Meets the Great Commission, Part 1

I had the opportunity to preach yesterday (the link is here if you’re curious). Such opportunities are always exciting for me but come with a dose of nerves as well! But no such opportunity would exist except by the grace of God and the freedoms we enjoy in this country which inspires a hearty ‘thank you’ to Veteran’s that have served, are serving and will serve our country.

Revelation 21:1-7 speaks to a wonderful future for those saved in Christ.

‘And God will wipe away every tear; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, no crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. … Behold I make all things new!”

—Verses 3-5

This section of Revelation contains strong aspects of celebration and of destiny. And even though the Book of Revelation belongs to the genres of the prophetic and the apocalyptic, I believe there’s also a sub-text, or an undercurrent, to this section of Scripture. That sub-text is the sense of invitation. This a great party, who are we going to invite to come to it? And how do we invite them?

Recall that Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b). What we have freely received is the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:9-10). We can’t earn it, or buy it, or barter for it; it is freely given to us through faith because of the accomplished works of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Your'r invitedThis invitational aspect brings two questions to mind. Today, Part 1 will look at the first question, and Part 2 in my next post will look at the second question.

Question 1: “what is the first area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in?” The answer is in the question: the first area is in our lives, in the interior of our souls, the very depths of our being. Another way to phrase this question is asking if the Holy Spirit can move freely in our lives. If not, where are the barriers blocking the Holy Spirit’s movement, how and where are we quenching the Holy Spirit? And why are we quenching His movement?

Question 1, then, is asking us to honestly examine ourselves. But to what standard are we examining ourselves against? The answer is in Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

—Galatians 5:22-23

Granted, we are all works in progress, so it is highly unlikely that we will see all the fruit of the Spirit working in our lives all the time. But we can explore to discover if certain fruit is missing altogether or “ripens” only rarely in our lives. The Holy Spirit will even guide us in this exploration.

Cultivation

A helpful key in this exploration of building the Kingdom in our lives is intentionally cultivating our relationship with God. Any meaningful relationship, whether with a spouse, or a child, or a friend, takes investment, it takes cultivation. Our relationship with God is no different.

One idea to assist in this cultivation is prayer. But maybe more prayer isn’t the answer as opposed to a new approach to prayer. For instance, if we are “laundry-list” pray-ers, that is we foist a list of requests up to God then move on with our day, we can instead shift our approach to a posture of more being with God in silence. Lists are fine, but there’s more to prayer than just that. We need to learn to listen and to be still before God.

Another idea is Scripture reading. Most of us think we need to read more Scripture daily; and maybe some folks do need this. But I think that sometimes a reading regimen places undo stress into our lives or orients us more toward checking off a to-do box on our daily tasks rather than actually absorbing what we are reading. Another approach for consideration is reading less Scripture daily and thinking about It more. Take small sections but think more deeply about them; meditate over them; perhaps even journal about them.

There are several other ideas as well; these two are merely to get our thinking started.

The Point…

The bottom line, though, is the Holy Spirit is attractive and enables us to be invitational people. But without the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are working in our own power and are not in sync with what God is wanting in our lives or the lives of the people around us.

Question 2: what is the second area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in? We’ll explore this question in the next post.   

Lessons from a Fourth Grader

Just last week I was one of several parent chaperones on an over-night field trip to the Oregon 4th_grd_3Coast for third and fourth graders. I was also invited to share the devotional after dinner and before s’mores. I chose to teach Psalm 139:13-16. Verse 16 reads:

Your eyes saw my substance; being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

According to my research, the phrase “my substance” refers to an embryo; and “in Your book” connotes the idea that the life in the embryo is established, or purposed, by God. Therefore, I shared with the children that each life is intentionally purposed by God. And since each one of them was purposed by God while still unborn, they, each one of them, is significantly important to God.

How important? Important enough that when God came in the flesh in Jesus Christ, He sacrificed for them. But not only that, He then rose from the grave and ascended on high. And it doesn’t even stop there; ten days later He sent the Holy Spirit that all who place their faith in Jesus will receive salvation, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thereby guaranteeing them to be with Jesus for evermore, amen!

So, the main theme I wanted them to understand is that they are purposed by God and therefore vastly important to Him. No matter what anyone ever says about them or to them, they are a daughter or son of the Most High God and loved dearly by Him.

After teaching this I asked them how they felt about being so important to God. Many hands went up with many different and wonderful answers. But one little girl’s answer arrested my attention so much that I just stood looking at her.

“How do you feel about being so important to God,” I asked.

“Speechless.”  

I was left speechless; so was everyone else. What an apt description from someone so young.

I get so busy trying to understand what I can of God and then preparing to explain it so others can share in that understanding, that I often forget just how awesome God really is. What wonder God presents to us. What wonder His creation presents to us. And what wonder our very bodies present to us.

Speechless.

Perhaps speechlessness is the essence of worship. We are in such awe of God we can’t even find words.  Speechless, or silence, may be one of the main postures to assume as we desperately desire to hear from God. Could it be that our hearts are more open to God and His work in our lives if we are in a speechless state; when we are quiet and in a posture of reverent awe? Such a posture quiets our minds, preparing our souls for God to do His deepest work in the darkest parts of our souls.

Yes, fourth graders have a lot to teach us if we just listen to what they have to say. I’m speechless!

“Anxious for nothing…,” Seriously?!

Over the years, I’ve heard many people say either from the pulpit or in conversation that worrying is a sin. The word ‘sin’ in and of itself, simply means missing the mark; as in an archer missing the bullseye with the arrow shot from his bow. Theologically, it can be rendered as intentional behavior that is outside the will of God (that’s my definition, anyway). Worrying, or anxiety, the word used in Philippians 4:6, is defined as “anxious care” (Wuest), or “disquieting perplexing care … and distracting thought in the wants and difficulties of life” (Henry), or to have “anxious or distracting care” (Bullinger).

Any of these definitions work for me, especially the distracting part. In fact, for professional worriers, distracting could also be obsessing.  Descartes is credited with saying, “I think, therefore I am.” Somewhere in the long line of my lineage, some wannabe philosopher changed this a bit to say, “I think, therefore I worry.” Worrying is one of the primary threads sewn throughout the tapestry of my heritage. I’ve successfully taken distracting care into obsessing care; so much so that I’ve nearly suffered from panic attacks involving hyperventilating with a strong sense of paralysis. Maybe you can relate.

Worrying has taken a toll on my health and on my relationships. And now I’m being told that it’s a sin to boot. Now I’m worried about that.

But how do I stop? Well, let’s read Philippians 4:6-7 and then I’ll explain what I’m discovering works for me.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

As McGee points out, this passage starts with anxiety and ends with peace. But notice what’s in the middle—prayer. It’s interesting to note that the mood of the passage is present, active, imperative; this means that it is akin to a command and that it is an ever-present command. It’s not just a command to stop worrying, but it is also an ever-present antidote to the worrying. In other words, anxiety is always crouching and waiting to pounce on us; whether at work, or home or school or with the doctor, anxiety is an ever-present reality in this life of ours. But so is the antidote, prayer.

 

Hands

Yeah, they’re my hands, but you get the point!

When we feel anxious, Scripture encourages us to specifically pray about our anxiety and ask for God’s help with it (this is basically the essence of the word ‘supplication’). And we do so with thanksgiving; we’re thankful that God not only willingly listens to our prayer, He actually invites us to pray about it; He welcomes it into His presence. Think of it as an always open invitation from God to lift our cares, concerns, and worries up to Him.  I often think of placing the anxiety, whatever form it’s in, into His hands; then I pray that God will empower me to leave it there; to leave this anxiety in His hands and thereby lift it off of my shoulders and out of my guts and into His always open hands.

 

But just how is this operationalized; how is this put into action in everyday situations? It’s taken me years to figure this out, and I am not 100% anxiety-free by any stretch of the imagination; but here’s what I’ve been learning lately.

As we just explored, this passage of Scripture is active, present, imperative. Yeah, yeah, techy-speak, but what it means is that I can recite this section of Scripture as a prayer as often as I need to. And that’s what I’ve been doing lately. When the anxiousness begins threatening me again, I lift the anxious thinking and the specific situation with a specific request to God. Rarely does the situation change, but my internal well-being changes. Slowly, and somewhat strangely, I start sensing God’s peace. I can’t really explain it, and perhaps that’s part of why God’s peace “surpasses understanding;” but the sense of peace is very real and has staying power. My thoughts become freer, I’m able to focus on the present more clearly and my heart slows its palpitations. This calmer state then enables the guarding of my heart and mind through Christ Jesus. This means that when I’m not distracted or filled with anxious thoughts, I am more capable through the indwelling Holy Spirit to keep more anxiety out of my thinking. The stronghold of worry in my life is slowly being uprooted as I spend more time in God’s peace through the ongoing prayer of supplication with thanksgiving.

But now back to the sin part. I don’t think my propensity toward worry or anxiety is sinful; what I think is sinful is refusing to acknowledge it as contrary to God’s will for my life and the subsequent refusal to partake of God’s antidote for it, prayer. But as I become more adept at recognizing the anxiety and quicker to lift it up to God in prayer, the less likely my propensity will turn to sin, and the happier and healthier my life will become.

Can We Bless God?

Septuagint

The first word in Psalm 103 is “bless.” The Hebrew word is barak and in the Septuagint, the Old Testament in the Greek language, it is eulogeo.  Some Bible versions render these words as “praise,” but there are other Hebrew and Greek words for praise (hallelu, hallei, and yadah in the Hebrew; and epainos in the Greek). While the definitions are similar in nature, I think they are distinct enough to call out the differences; especially when the first line in Psalm 103 is:

Bless the Lord, O my soul.

The question this raises is how do we bless the Lord?

The essence of the word ‘bless’ is a bit complex. The meaning, according to various references, is centralized in the interior of our soul. Praise, however, is more centralized in the external expression in a worship service or some other outward demonstration of faith.

So what’s the big deal?

I think the big deal is, as Bullock states, “The person who praises must endow the vocabulary of praise with content. We can praise God without using the special language of praise, but we cannot long maintain the genuineness of that language without relating His being and works”[1].  To bless God, then, is a recognition of specific works of God with an intentional expression of thankfulness for those specific works.

For instance, Psalm 103 gives some very specific works that we can intentionally express gratitude for. He forgives our iniquities and heals our diseases (v. 3). He redeems our lives from destruction (v. 4, and my personal favorite). He crowns us with loving kindness and tender mercies and satisfies us with good things (vv. 4-5). He’s merciful and slow to anger (v. 8); and on and on it goes in just this psalm alone.

I think the lesson in Psalm 103, and others like it, is that blessing God’s heart is our expressing thankful acknowledgement for specific things God has done for us. Such specific things can be reciting what we read in Scripture, or, more personally, deliverances God has done specific to our own lives. For example, I was facing a significant challenge at work but with the click of an email from someone else, the challenge dissipated away, leaving me stunned and inexpressibly grateful for His deliverance. He brought deliverance in a way that was completely unexpected. Another example is if one of my sons says he loves me, that warms my heart; but if he states something specific, like the way I help him with his homework or the times we spend together in the wilderness or on our bikes, I’m deeply blessed. Why? Because he shared a specific thing that brings blessing to his soul which then in turn brings blessing to mine. Why would our heavenly Father be any different?

Praise on the other hand, while a good thing, is often motivated by some external stimuli such as music or maybe a touching play or movie. Such stimuli may spark momentary thankfulness in a more general sense, but it often fades away as the stimuli fades away. Blessing God, though, is internally motivated and, because it’s in the depth of our souls, is not reliant on external stimuli and can be recalled at any moment throughout our day.

So while the differences may seem minor, I still think they are distinctive enough to understand. Besides, if the distinctions were unimportant to God, why would He go to such great care to use such distinctive words in Scripture?

[1] C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books: Revised and Expanded, Moody Publishers, 1988; Kindle location 2850.