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Posts Tagged ‘Prayer’

We don’t enjoy harsh teachers, but we can learn from them nonetheless. “But it isn’t fair”, “such a teacher shouldn’t be allowed”, and “we must do everything in our power to rid the system of such teachers”. Unless of course the teacher has tenure with no intention of retiring any time soon.

Pain is just such a teacher. Now I’ve lost some of you. We want the fun, picture filled blog entries. But life has not been so fun lately, and that is not the goal of life anyway. So I decided to share a little of the less pleasant side of life, not for pity or running readers off, but because it is part of life and part of my life at present. And there are lessons to be learned from this less than favorite teacher.

I started having mild back pains about three weeks ago. I have had back problems all of my life and I think there is evidence of it being genetic since my three brothers have and father had back problems. I do exercises to keep my core strong and avoid extreme motions.* However, this time I didn’t do anything that I could have avoided to prevent the problem. I guess if I had been able to see the future and its ramifications, I could have worked around it, but I don’t have that ability. Sometimes it is just small things that trip us up.

Anyway, I have these down periods with back maintenance, but this was a perfect storm. The two most painful things were getting in and out of bed and putting shoes and socks on. Function and activity came to a standstill.

In the midst of this particular storm**, my attention was riveted by the frequent bolts of lightning running along my lower back. The teacher had my attention. When in pain, you pray more. Certainly a prime topic is relief, but I found myself praying for others I know who experience constant pain and wondering how they cope. And what of people who have reduced functionality because of pain? Couldn’t I be more compassionate and helpful? And the thought occurred to me several times that at my age, when a significant regression in health occurs, is this the downturn from which there will not be recovery or serious reduction in functionality? And if it is, what is my new focus? What would be my purpose? What new goals do I set? In short, I found this bout with pain highlighting (throwing a shadow on?) my mortality. Life is short and the end is coming, sooner perhaps rather than later. Don’t think so darkly you may say, but in the midst of the pain, lighter thoughts are hard to come by, and they may be no more than whistling in the wind anyway.

So here are the deeper and brighter, not lighter, thoughts that resulted from what I am going through. Life is good, because God is good. I have purpose and meaning because He has assigned those to me. Even if my body wears out or continues in pain, I can pray for others, for my family, the infirm, this sick nation, my lost friends, and my church. I have peace with God even in the midst of turmoil within and without. I am more content when I am thankful, even in the midst of difficulty. Even though I knew all of this beforehand, I know it at a deeper level now. I suspect the lessons are not done since the holidays (the second advent) have not come, but I will have to focus on these and like thoughts as soon as the next lesson starts rather than days into it.

That should make the teacher and lesson seem less harsh, even though still uninvited and unwanted.

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I should report that my back has shown some improvement in the last few days, though I don’t know what that means for work and play just now. I am privileged to be able to start again, but wary of the fact that physically that is not sustainable in the long-term. Life is full of ups and downs, but I don’t have to pin my hopes on the ups nor dread the downs. I belong to God.

*I hear some of you snickering (LD and BF, for instance).

**See “Midst the Storm”.

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Here is a recent scene from early voting in my small town:

When I first came to this area 27 years ago, our voting place was a one room school house no longer used for anything but voting. It gave the feel of voting from times a century and more before. All who voted there were neighbors of long standing and we were the new ones, welcomed and smiled upon for voting in the long held tradition.

This year all tradition seems gone. Many would contradict, saying the voting has prevailed, but we wonder if it will be a free and fair election. Neighbors are distanced by disease and rhetoric and the persistent electronics. Somehow, I don’t feel like I am in the same nation I grew up in, the one that taught its young the regional songs and tales of the frontiersmen and miners and canal workers and farmers. We had connections to our past and stability in our present. Now we have neither. Rather than gain these things for those who lacked them as newcomers or oppressed people, we further divide ourselves from each other in order to scrap anything good about our nation for a future of slavery to the ruling class. (1)

The voting does not look and feel different because of polemical pandemic and politics. We have had division in the past. We have had disease and drought and war and depression and social unrest. It is different because we are giving up our freedoms for slavery of mind and one day body.

John Basil Barnhill, in a meeting in 1914, said, “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.” (2) At present, the people are in fear of the government while simultaneously not respecting its institutions or personnel. This is a formula for disaster.

On the subject of the cruelty of slavery, Thomas Jefferson said, “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just and that His justice cannot sleep forever…” (3) We have long since righted the wrong of the institution of slavery, though many have not changed there attitudes about it on either side. Now we threaten the liberty of us all by giving it up to control by government, to the continuance of slaughter or the unborn, and outright denial anything moral according to God’s law.

Why are we doing this evil to ourselves? We have turned away from God. Even many in the church do not know Him and the culture as a whole does not acknowledge Him. Many have argued that we have no need of acknowledging God as a nation since ‘we are not a Christian nation’, but God warns otherwise. “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling.” (Psalm 2:10-11) “Nations are obligated to worship the true God,” said John MacArthur in a recent sermon. (4)

You may be asking what this turning away from God has to do with voting. I can think of several ways, all of which involve God’s judgement on our forsaking Him and running to wickedness:

1. We will lose our incredible freedom to have substantive say our government.

2. God judges individuals and institutions.

3. The righteous in general are delivered over with the wicked in times of judgement.

4. Voting may no longer be neighborly and civil.

It is on this last point that I want to dwell upon for just a short moment. I have friends who have been missionaries with AIM/Air in Nairobi, Kenya, for many years. As a mechanic, the man is head of maintenance to the many planes that fly out to villages for the many ways they help people. The woman has taught in a local seminary. In their newsletters over the year by paper and then email, they would periodically ask for prayer about national elections. This is frequently a time of violence in the streets and at the polling places and upon the candidates. This nation is not the only one plagued with this problem, but one that has dealt with it more or less since their independence. With the level of division, selfishness, and God hating present in our nation, it will come here if we do not repent.

Intentionally pray for your repentance and mine and our neighbors and our nation. Pray that God will yet again be merciful and patient to give us a time of renewal and turning to Him. Vote for righteousness and the rule of law. Pray for civility throughout this election process.

  1. Read ‘anarchy, socialism, communism’.
  2. https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/when-government-fears-people-there-liberty-spurious-quotation
  3. https://www.bradford-delong.com/2020/07/jefferson-1781-indeed-i-tremble-for-my-country-an-exchange-of-situation-is-possiblenoted.html
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5vAA_QpNh8 This is well worth the listen since he lays out the scriptural requirement for nations in detail.

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If ever I could hope that one of my blog entries would go viral, this would be the one!

What is the way forward in this time of crisis for our country? Is is sociological, psychological, judicial, political, philosophical? There is a Facebook post shared among some that is a Venn Diagram having four circles representing perspectives on our present troubles (You can see it here). Simply put, it says that a person may reasonably hold that murder, looting, and corruption are wrong and that lawful protests are legitimate responses. When my friend posted the diagram, I had an immediate two-fold reaction. Firstly, I agreed with the diagram. Secondly, I felt like it was incomplete and needed a fifth circle. I assumed at the time that the fifth circle would be a part of a five-circle Venn struggling to overlap in the middle. Later it occurred to me that the fifth circle should surround the other four, being both foundational and all encompassing. 

Circle Five: Until and unless we repent and forgive none of these other ideas or steps we may take will matter.

We will continue to deteriorate as a society. Fomenting elements will continue to stir up the crowds. Unreasoning anger will continue to prevail. Corruption will proceed unchecked and at length increase in various levels of government and in the streets. Fear and hatred will increase.

America, repent! Lord, begin with me. Cause me to love my fellow created beings regardless of culture, color, creed, or craft. Cause us to see our eternal and daily need of a savior, the Savior, Jesus, because we are full of hatred, selfishness, apathy, and unbelief. 

America, forgive! Lord, begin with me. Enable me to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged me. Change us so that we do not suspect every neighbor of ill toward us, but desire and work for their good.

Church, pray! Lord, begin with me. Give me a persistent spirit of intercession for our nation and the Church. We are in dire and perilous times. If we don’t see it, it is because our enemy is not visible. The spiritual forces are stirring up trouble and trying to destroy our freedoms and blessings. God is calling on us to arise and call on Him for help. He will not continue to tolerate our evil and refusal to acknowledge Him. 

God be merciful to us. Pour out the knowledge of Yourself and Your ways upon Your Church who is slack in their piety at best. Extend mercy in salvation to a lost nation which is satisfied in their self-righteous refusal to acknowledge their sin and need of You. We need a revival of the Church and renewal of our nation. May You be merciful to give us repentance and forgiveness.

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The following blog entry was written several months ago, but the mental state of the time, the ambivalence about publishing it, the time constraints to finishing it, and the arrival of better emotions and thoughts prevented me from publishing it until now. Now it is time and it will add some balance and veracity to my blog by telling more about who I am. People enjoy a good story, but how about a melancholy tome? It may be instructive to those who don’t struggle with this problem and encouraging to those who do.

I have been struggling with a touch of depression lately. I purposefully state it that way because it is nothing compared to times past. It will be passing, which I can say with confidence because I know how to get help and from Whom. But is it depression or could it be, particularly since I say passing, discouragement? Or might it be desperation? Now I could refer to the dictionary and sort these out, but I am going to give a personal, experience based definition, which may not ring true for you, or better yet, may ring all too true and give you encouragement and tools for dealing with them or it, as the case may be.* These definitions will by no means be totally devoid of knowledge gained from study.

In my experience, depression is an emotional background noise or foreground roar that is hard to define in terms of its source, and harder still to get rid of. Many people excuse it as a chemical imbalance that is not of the person’s doing. I believe that chemical imbalance is a problem for some people, but even then there are ways out, most of which don’t involve drugs in the long-term.** It is not helpful to dwell on the depression itself, but it is profitable to study your own modus operandi during depression for the purpose of recognizing when there is an onset. You are experiencing one of my quirks of depression by reading this passage. When I am depressed, I get very wordy, verbose, articulate, long-winded, redundant. That is most likely the source at present of my long sentences. Another way I deal with depression is to become very silent, but because I have learned to attack it, I now do the opposite and become verbal. Oh, that is the reason for quirk #1. And here is a help for you, dear friend, if you suffer with depression. Talk yourself out of it, not by any random droning of your voice, but by declaring out loud truth. The form it takes in me most often is singing hymns. So, I knew that I was dealing with mild depression this morning because I felt compelled to sing. The odd thing about my singing is that I can be loud and enthusiastic and crying, either inside or literally, all at the same time. I don’t know if the crying is repentance, thankfulness, remorse, release, or sadness, but I do know that if I sing long enough the cloud dissipates. That occasionally is too much for my wife because she is a stroke victim and the continual sound and language overloads her aphasic processing. If it is a hymn that I know well, whistling works so that I can think about other things or tasks simultaneously, but whistling is particularly problematic for my wife.

Desperation is more easily recognized and pinpointed. I was desperate yesterday because I had so much paperwork to do and a sense that it would never end. Perhaps that was part of what brought on today. Planning ways to lessen the load, spread it out, or see light at the end of the tunnel are ways I usually deal with that short-term irritant. Finding the purpose in the mundane and repetitive and distasteful makes it more palatable. Procrastinating is something we have all done to avoid what we don’t like to do, but it is counterproductive because it just prolongs the mental desperation. Desperation, then, usually comes from a fear, be it fear of purposelessness or fear of harm by whatever traumatic or long-term means (e.g. old age for example).

Discouragement can be short-term or long-term and its source obvious or not. Unfulfilled goals and dreams are the source of most of my discouragement. Inability to do something at a higher level of my own making or meeting someone else’s expectations can weigh heavily on me at times but do not usually cause discouragement. I guess that I understand that despite my attempts to be exceptional in various areas of my life, I am just a “common Joe” with perhaps a little better than average ability. I am profoundly limited in some areas. Failure or rejection are high on the list of what brings discouragement to many people.

In all of these areas, particularly depression, I have several coping mechanisms that are my go to’s. I have already listed 1) identifying when I am depressed by things I do and think when depressed and 2) singing my way out of that mode. For me, and these must be specific for you individually, I 3) rock in a rocking chair and think, 4) write to organize my thoughts and identify how I am feeling, 5) talk it out to others***, 6) walk, 7) do anything active, particularly climb, run, bike, or hike, 8) experience nature, contemplating God’s goodness, and 9) organize and propound truth on any subject, though theological and scientific areas are my most common subjects. What is your coping mechanism? Don’t know? Try one of mine. Experiment with things that are true and good (Philippians 4:8). Make them edifying pursuits, not destructive ones like drugs, alcohol, binge eating, binge videos or computer time, or pornography or illicit sex. Look for a way out, not a way further in.

I have purposely separated my last help for depression, desperation, and discouragement: 10) Spend time in prayer specifically about the source of your feelings, or about the emotion itself in the absence of knowledge of the source. To not just be talking to yourself, several things must be true: 1) You must be a believer in Jesus as your Savior, 2) You should be seeking to be repentant of sin, and 3) You should seek to discover what expectation you have that has not been given you by God and give it up to Him. Frequently either #2 or #3 is the source of the depression. If #1 is true, then you have power given to you by God to repent of sin (I John 1:9) and overcome temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). 4) Persist in prayer until you get past distraction, temptation, doubt, and waiting. Your circumstances may not change, as God sees fit, but your peace and joy can return in the midst of the sorrow.

Life is a journey with a destination rather than a destination only. Therefore, be patient with yourself. Conversely, don’t let yourself off the hook in the sense of ‘oh, everybody does it’. Instead, seek to make progress. Growing requires effort, but in the same way as you can not pull yourself up by your boot straps, you need an outside force, the power of God, to make real and lasting progress. May God enable you with His power to grow and may you find those coping mechanisms that work for you to ease your pain by pointing you to truth.

*Long sentences are so fun to attempt, because they are so easy to get wrong, particularly concerning commas, and therefore challenging. I think mine are right.

**How could I be so unfeeling and arrogant as to suppose I can make declarations about others people’s difficulties? Well, not only because I have studied this issue, but because I have personal experience with serious, dare I say, clinical depression, I am speaking up. You may need drugs to steady the boat, but they are a poor way to propel it forward.

***Thank you for your patience, friends.

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There is so much stirring in my heart and mind.

Before prayer time the pastor read about the two houses, one built on the rock and the other on sand. Having a good foundation in God and in His Word is important. But pastor pointed out that the foundation in no way determined what was thrown at the house. Both houses experienced severe storms. Christians and devoted Christians do not get an easier life. In fact, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” ( II Timothy 3:12) The house cemented to God lasts.

My class’s Sunday School lesson was on David and Goliath. I liked the fact that the lesson emphasized that this was not a boy fighting a giant, but a young man described as a “valiant warrior” (I Samuel 16:18). Nonetheless, any thought of him defeating this giant on his own was beyond anyone’s imagination. All of the army of Israel fled from his presence and were terrified. When David told Saul that he had defeated the lion and the bear, he was insistent that “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (I Samuel 17:37) The rest of Israel was afraid while David trusted God. My concluding point was that “You overcome giants like [I had the students fill in the blank and then I added only a few more] fear, bullies, my worst subject in school, pain, disease, conflict with family or friends or enemies, death, the devil, my sinfulness, embarrassment, weakness by trusting in God.”

Then my pastor preached on prayer in the book of Acts. He surveyed the occurrences of prayer and their results. If my notes record correctly, he numbered 19 instances of prayer. There were many kinds of prayer: worship, praise, petition, devoted, focussed, decision, pleading, requests, commissioning, singing, committing, exhorting, meditating, seeking, fasting. These prayers had many results: divine guidance, many saved, miracles, healings, provision, rescue, preaching, Holy Spirit empowerment, conflict and its resolution, persecution, rebuke, dead raised, blind given sight, understanding, discernment, calling missionaries, elders chosen and confirmed, church planted, priests saved, testifying, praise, earthquake, jailer saved, commitment, strengthening of the church, supplied. Then the pastor asked, “Will you give yourself to prayer?” He concluded by saying, “A life of prayer doesn’t mean that we do nothing, but that we do nothing apart from prayer.”

The devotion and lesson and sermon reminded me of a thought I had many times before about the work of a Christian. “The only true work of a Christian should be prayer; all else is rest.” I don’t mean by this that muscles and sweat and planning and thought aren’t involved in many activities for the kingdom of God. Rather, we plead and travail and petition and worship and fast and cling to God in prayer and then go out confidently to the battle to meet the giants, expectantly and confidently looking for how God will work. The upshot of this day of thought on God and His ways is that I have much work to do. I would describe my prayer life as sporadic. I do fervently pray even when things are going well, but I get distracted by many pursuits and cares rather than resting in God from a position of having requested His power in prayer. Will you come along with me to renewed commitment to prayer? Ourselves, our families, our churches, our communities and businesses, our nation, and our world need prayer.

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Today’s Sunday School lesson was about Samuel’s call from God and God’s judgment on Israel and Eli in I Samuel 3 and 4. I started with an introduction to set the stage for why Samuel was where he was when he was. I had the children read various verses in chapters 1 and 2 (1:1-2, 10-11, 20, 26-28; 2:2:1), interspersing explanation about what was going on. The point of my introduction was to show how God set the stage for Samuel’s call in God’s working in Hannah’s walk of faith. In the middle of pointing out to my 4th through 6th graders about Hannah’s journey of faith, a five point alliteration came forcefully to me (Later I increased it to seven.). In fact, as I jumped up and began to review the points I had just made, I wrote it on my new, spacious whiteboard. The pastor’s daughter said, “It’s an alliteration! I thought those usually have only three words.” (You have to be laughing at this point.) Here it is in the form of seven:

     Problem- Hannah had no children.

     Prayer- At the tabernacle Hannah poured out her heart to God.

              Petition- Hannah asked for a son.

              Promise- Hannah promised to give the son back to God to serve Him.

     Pregnant- Hannah received the gift of a son in due time.

     Presentation- Hannah presented Samuel before God to serve Him continually.

     Praise- Hannah gave praise to God for His gift, power, and sovereignty.

God used Hannah’s problem to bring praise to Him, pleasure to Hannah, and a prophet to Israel.

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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains