The Challenge of Here & Now

One of the main ways to gain more readers is to blog frequently and consistently. I’m where_noweak in both areas. I desire to improve in these areas, but January added a new dimension in daily life; that is, I’m back in grad school, this time in a doctorate program. Yes, it’s my own decision to pursue this next level of study, and I do enjoy it; but WOW, does it take a lot of time. My normal blog writing time is now commandeered by paper-writing. Alas, somehow, I’ll figure out how to return to consistency!

In the meantime, however, I’ve been pondering the future; more specifically, my future. I’m not pursuing a doctorate degree for laughs and giggles, but because I have a dream of a second career. And even though I’ve blogged before about being a dreamer; I’m also realizing some significant drawbacks in always looking toward the future.

A first drawback is future-looking makes living in the present difficult. A portion of my mind is focusing on something else. This means that I’m not giving 100% attention to the here-and-now, I’m not fully living in the moment. Instead, what ever is going on or whom ever I’m talking with, is only getting partial attention. This means I am not fully present in the discussion and I miss details or fail to grasp the significance or gravity the situation poses for the other person.

In recognizing this propensity, I’ve been able to adapt new thought-behaviors. I’m intentionally reigning in my thinking so that I can better zero in on the moment. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Part of the discipline of living in the moment is stilling my inner voice. Much of my internal thinking is verbal, so I need to quiet that inner verbosity so that I can focus on the external stimuli coming in from the outside. If the external stimuli run into the wall of inner verbosity, then that stimuli becomes diffused, losing much of its impact. But stilling the inner voice opens this wall like a curtain of a stage and the stimuli can stand on the stage of my mind unhindered.

A second noticeable drawback about future-looking is that, since the desired future is not here yet, discontentment can move in, clouding the skies of joy that God is intending for us. Such discontentment filters the present into nothing but tasks to accomplish, hurdles to leap, or moments to hurry through. Such filtering leads to the development of unrealistic expectations which eventually lead to disappointment. If left unmitigated, such thinking will lead to attempts at overcoming the disappointment by setting even loftier goals, eventually leading to more profound disappointment. It is a doom cycle of thinking that the more I do the better life will be. It is dehumanizing and perpetually self-defeating; devoid of any sense of God’s peace or contentment (see Philippians 4:4-7 and 11-13).

The antidote? Prayer and balanced thinking. God encourages us to bring our concerns to Him so that He then can bring peace into our souls. Alongside this is also realizing that balanced thinking is important. It is important to have dreams and goals; these give us reasons to keep on keeping on. They breed a desire to not settle but to continue to explore improvement.

But they must be balanced. Or to put it another way, we need to be more grounded in the reality of our present situation. I only have so much time in a day; so I need to carefully make room to be present in whatever situations come my way. I still have task lists, but they need to be somewhat flexible. If everything doesn’t get done today, there’s always tomorrow’s list. If someone needs my help now, then I need to recognize that they deserve me to be fully present; this is right thing to do, and I can always return to the other thing I was doing at a later time.

So, here’s to being content in the present moment!

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A Forced Rest and Contentment

“Forced rest” was a phrase a friend of mine used a few weeks ago during a prayer time. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot since then. The phrase wasn’t directed at me but even so, it got my attention. The pain in my lower back is so intense that I am forced to seriously edit what activities I engage in. Typically, I’d be ultra-busy during my vacation; there are workouts to do, hikes to take, blogs to write, books to read, home improvement or other fixer upper stuff to do, and so on. Instead, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on my rump simply reading or journaling.

Then yesterday my devotional was about contentment; another area that has recentlycontentment garnered my attention. Pain sometimes causes contentment to be elusive if not wholly absent. Still, Scripture states we are to learn contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

—Philippians 4:11

Paul is stating that he had to acquire the knowledge to be content in all circumstances. Such learning is an active pursuit of knowledge with the goal of applying that knowledge in everyday life. In other words, Paul is continuing to expand his understanding of contentment. Interestingly, contentment actually means “self-sufficient;” however, Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes onto say in verses 12 and 13 that he has learned to be content when life is going well and when life is not going well. But he is careful to note that this ability, this learning, is enabled “through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13). No, this isn’t some sort of mystical strength allowing Paul to somehow change his circumstances through enhanced faith; it’s much more practical than that. It is the Holy Spirit enabling Paul to contentedly endure whatever circumstances he’s facing.

This is easier said than done, of course. One exercise that helps me in contentment is from a song in the movie White Christmas, “Count Your Blessings.” It is so simple to do and yet, for some reason, seems archaic; but it works. For instance, despite the pain, I have a family that loves me that includes a wonderful Bride that is cheerfully picking up chores I’m currently unable to do, two healthy sons that are loving and helpful, a beautiful home, great friends, a career I enjoy…you get the point. To my knowledge, Paul had none of these. In fact, many Bible scholars and historians suggest that Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Hello!? In prison and he’s still writing about contentment? That’s a sobering thought; so who am I to wallow in self-pity? Contentment is a much happier space to be in.

Another tool I’ve discovered on my journey toward contentment is to stop the “what-if-ing.” Though no specific event caused my current pain, I still am tempted to second-guess things I’ve done in my past that may have contributed to increased wear and tear. This is fruitless and only leads to self-shame.

I also strive to stop daydreaming about what I wish I was doing. We recently bought some snowshoes, but they’re still in their packaging in the garage. My bike is primed and ready to ride, plus the weather has been decent; but it, to, sits in the garage. And I’ve recently learned about some hiking trails close to home we’ve never ventured on. None of these activities are doable right now; so why focus on them in wishful bitterness?

I can still walk and do a few other little “exercise-y” things, so I’m choosing to embrace those with thankfulness. And, of course, I pray—often! I pray that my joy may be full (1 John 1:4, John 15:11 & 16:24), that my peace may be deep (Philippians 4:7), that my love is real (Matthew 5:44, John 13:35 & 15:12-13, Romans 12:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and, of course, for healing (Matthew 4:23, Acts 9:34 and 1 Peter 2:24).

Leaning into Christ will enable us to endure through any circumstance with contentment. And one day, all pain will cease (Revelation 21:4); but until that day, we can be thankful that the Lord is with us no matter what we are going through.

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.

Hard Lessons

We’ve had a good week. It’s definitely been busy; but at least it’s been a good-busy. It’s weird, though, because sometimes I feel guilty for having a good week when I realize there’s much suffering in other areas of our country. Granted, we’ve encountered our tough challenges as well the past few months with health issues and a pretty significant set-back in the parenting arena. But this last week was a good one.

What I’m learning, and you’d think I’d have this figured out by now, is that attitude and Perceptionperception play a lot of importance in having a good week. I have typically paid more attention to what I think someone else’s perceptions are rather than more carefully examining my own.

For instance, I recognized that challenges I encountered earlier in the year seemed more serious than they really were. So, I asked myself, why? Sadly, I discovered it was because I was perceiving these challenges as a personal attack or some intentional disparagement foisted in my direction.

In discussing this with my Bride she gently recalled the attitude of the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable. He was all bent out of shape because his world revolved around himself. His sphere of perception was barely beyond his own ego. Now I don’t think I was this far gone, but I was not properly examining the motives of others around me; I was, instead, being more protective and self-concerned and therefore misunderstanding other people’s words and actions. Neither my life nor employment were being challenged, no crimes were being committed, I was just uncomfortable with some of the challenges and expectations confronting me and a little jealous of someone else’s situation.

Shameful, I know. God has really blessed me. Yes, I struggle with health issues, but each one can be dealt with and even though my activity levels have been adjusted, I’m still as active as I want to be; I just need to do my activities differently than I used to.

So what am I learning? Well, to have a realistic view of my own perceptions. Oddly, I don’t think this leads to being self-centered, I think it actually leads away from it; that is, if I’m honest. Under the scrutiny of brutal honesty, I am better able to detect where my perception is skewed toward self-centeredness or self-protectionism.

ThankfulAnother key feature I’m learning more about is thankfulness. Scripture encourages us to be thankful. Philippians 4:6-7 encourage us to bring our concerns to God in prayer but to do so with a thankful heart. We’re thankful because the God of the universe cares enough for us to listen and respond to our cares. He may not change circumstances, but He can deepen or sense of peace and joy while also enlightening our wisdom (James 1:5).

Another lesson is being more intentional about keeping Jesus the focus of my life. We are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, not on ourselves (Hebrews 12:2).

So, the next time I’m feeling stressed or somehow minimized, I need to stop and examine first what’s going on between my ears. Is my mental state appropriate? Is my perception of what’s going on what’s really going on—or am I fabricating a false perception because I’ve moved back into being the center of my universe? I’ll be able to more successfully navigate through this life once my mental state is on the right course and my perception is based on reality and not on fabrication.

What’s With all the Swirl?

Lots of swirl going on in the world: the seemingly quickened pace of natural disasters, heightened tensions in the US both inside and outside of our borders, the Revelation 12 sign; and even more personal issues like injuries, surgeries and now a raging cold! What’s it all mean?

All this stuff going on can fuel confusion or even fear. Sometimes it’s hard to see the light

Shellburg sun peaking

Shellburg Falls Trail near Mehama, OR

through all the jumble. But one thing I do know is that I belong to the Lord. Whenever the Lord calls me home, whether individually or in the Rapture, my ultimate destiny is with Jesus forevermore, amen! So, the challenge before me is do I live my life like I belong to Jesus? Am I doing the right things in my life? Do I need to do more stuff or less stuff or different stuff? Honestly, at this moment I just don’t know.

 

But this swirl has gotten me thinking more deeply about how my life reflects the Lord. Am I fully answering the call God has on my life or am I only partially answering the call; like I let it go into voicemail first so I can listen to it on my timing? Do I understand the urgency of the times as I should? Obviously, current events have me asking a lot of questions. These events also raise my awareness of how quickly it can all end.

It reminds of the time when Caleb and I were running a quick errand to a large hardware store. I was planning to be gone only 15 to 20 minutes—only we didn’t come home at all. And it happened so fast.

One moment I’m holding a bag of fertilizer and the next moment I wake up in the back of an ambulance, bloodied and confused. I’ve blogged about this before and eventually everything worked out; but the time lapse between my conscious thoughts was 40 to 45 minutes. Completely “out of blue” I was struck down, most likely from noxious fume inhalation, leaving my then 5½ year-old son yelling for someone to come “help my Daddy!” Thankfully, someone did come and help me, only I don’t remember it so I have no idea who the off-duty nurse was that kept me from swallowing my tongue. May God bless she and her family!

My point for bringing this up? I obviously didn’t plan this sort of departure. I planned to arrive at the store in my car, purchase three items as quickly as possible, then depart the store in my car and head back home to finish my chores before going on a date-night. But circumstances beyond me changed the course of my day, and to a degree, my life. Instantaneously I was out, totally unconscious and completely helpless; you know the song, “boom-boom, out go the lights!”

Who knows, maybe someday a similar event could be how I come into the presence of Jesus. If so, I have no idea when it will happen, therefore, how do I make my life count now before it happens?

That’s the question I’m wrestling with; perhaps you are too. It’s not like I’m not living for the Lord, but can I improve? What changes do I need to make? I just don’t know at this point, but I continue to lay the question before the Lord in prayer; in His timing, I will know.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
—Proverbs 3:5-6

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
—Jesus, Matthew 7:7

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!

 

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.