pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Deep Need

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”.

Yes, Elkanah loved Hannah more than anything in the world. Yes, Elkanah treated Hannah much better than his other wife. But shame of shames – Hannah could bear him no children. The second wife, Peninnah, had lots of children. Peninnah frequently reminded Hannah of this fact. This only added to Hannah’s already deep sadness and bitterness. Each year when the family would go up to the temple to worship, Hannah would bring her situation before God.

This particular year the provoking by Peninnah and the deep sadness over her barren state seemed especially painful. Instead of simply praying once more, we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”. Hannah felt like she was at the end of her rope. It was not an ordinary prayer that she offered up to God. The Spirit was moving in her as she poured out her soul. This was a deep, gut-wrenching prayer. It was as ripe with emotion as it could get.

We too have uttered this type of prayer. We too have been at the end of our rope and have cried out to God. We too have been at the bottom of our pit and have begged for God to reach down and pull us out. We too have felt so desperate that the prayer just poured out from the core of our souls. Our circumstances or the cause of our situation may have been different, but we have all prayed like this before.

What does Hannah’s prayer reveal? What do our prayers of deep emotion reveal? First, they reveal our utter dependence on God. Sometimes we are weak, unable to alter the situation. But God can. Second, they reveal a trust in God not only to hear but to respond. He alone can rescue. He alone can save. God is faithful to Hannah. Samuel is born. God will be faithful to us as well. May we pour out our souls in those times of deep need, trusting in God to do what we cannot.

Prayer: God, thank you for the reminder today of your deep, deep love for us, your children. Like Hannah, may I always seek you in my deepest times of need, trusting in you and in your plan for my life. Amen.


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Daily, Daily, Ever, Ever

Reading: Hebrews 9: 24-28

Verse 28: “He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him”.

Living day to day can be hard. At times, life can throw challenges and trials at us. To walk faithfully with God is not always easy – especially in the days that test us and our faith. Jesus walked through some of those days when He lived as a human. He wept for Lazarus and empathized with his sisters, Mary and Martha. Jesus felt the pain of rejection and abandonment when Peter denied knowing Him. We have lots of stories of Jesus entering the pain and sin of people’s lives when He walked with them, understood their stories, and offered hope, healing, a new start. We have a Savior who knows what the challenges and trials feel like. And He wants to walk with us daily.

We are human and our tendency is toward the things of the flesh – to that which brings easy gratification and quick pleasure. In this sense we are like a microwave – quick, now, low effort, easy. Jesus invites us to more, to better, to slower, to harder. To accept Jesus and to follow Him affects us both in the present and in the eternal. Choices in the present affect the eternal. Our passage reminds us that we are “destined to die, and after that face judgment”. One day all – Christians and non-Christians alike – will give an account of our life.

Our account is not a scorecard. The Christian life is not one of simply doing more good than bad. It is a life lived for Christ. It is a life that meets Him daily in prayer and meditation. It is a life that loves neighbor as self, following Jesus’ example of being a humble servant. It is a life that rejoices with Jesus in life’s ups and clings to Him in the downs. It is a life that rests upon faith daily, trusting in and knowing this eternal truth: “He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him”. Daily, daily, all for Jesus. Ever, ever, dwell with Thee. May it be so.

O Jesus, my Savior and Lord – be these things today, every day. Each day be the Lord of my life. Daily, may I surrender. Each day and every day, be my Savior – cleansing, forgiving, making me new. All for Jesus, I surrender; daily for Him, I shall live. Amen.


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I am There

Reading: Psalm 22: 1-15

Verse 11: “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help”.

Psalm 22 is full of emotion. David is struggling and he is honest with God about it. This Psalm of Lament almost makes us feel uncomfortable as we read it. Our culture is one of self-reliance and putting on a good face, no matter what the challenge and no matter what is going on inside of us. To feel the honest emotions and to utter the deep cry within us is something we have all experienced. But it is another thing to hear it. Imagine the reaction if your pastor or someone in the congregation uttered such a prayer this weekend in church.

In our Psalm today David expresses things we all have felt. He asks the “where are you God?” questions. He recalls the times that God has been there for others who called out and were answered. To this he asks, “why not me too”? And he reminds God that he has been a faithful follower since birth – “isn’t that worth something God”? These are all questions we want to scream at God from time to time. We surely do in our inner being at times. The Psalm tells us we can do this out loud, in the assembly of believers, in the place where others can join in our prayers and in our suffering.

In verse 11 David writes, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help”. Yes, we too feel this way at times. And, yes, we can remain isolated in our hurt. Or we can be honest and open with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can trust in the power of community that God created us to live in. We can lay our burdens amongst the believers so that we do not journey alone. When the fires rage and the storms rise, may we come to one another for companionship in the valley. “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20).

Lord, help me to be open and honest with my fellow believers. Help me to be transparent, sharing my struggles and trials so that I do not want alone. Joining together, we experience your presence too. Grant me the courage and humility to be vulnerable. May it be so. Amen.


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Prayers of the Heart

Reading: Psalm 22: 1-2

Verse 1: “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning”?

Today’s passage opens with a line that is familiar to us. As Jesus hung on the cross, He uttered these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”? It was an honest and deeply rooted expression of the sorrow and pain that He was feeling in that moment. At times we too want to shout out these words. In the searing pain of that sudden, unexpected loss, we feel the urge to cry out to God. In the depth of the valley that we have been walking through for a long time, we get to the point where we have lost hope and want to give up. Here, we too want to shout out to God. A deep part of our soul knows that the promise says God will never leave us, but in that moment we cry out because we feel all alone. In expressing it, we are asking God to prove us wrong, to be present in our pain and suffering.

In our Psalm, David goes on to write, “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” and reminds God that he has been crying out day and night. In these words we hear the longing to once again feel that relationship with God, to once again feel God’s presence. The longing is for that close connection that we are not feeling then as it seems our prayers are going unheard and unanswered. In asking the question, in stating our actions, we are admitting our need for God to save us and to reconnect to us in our time of deep need.

These verses drip with honest pain and a searching for God’s presence. In remembering Jesus’ prayer on the cross and in being reminded that David cried out to God, we are empowered to do the same. In their examples we see it is good to express the deep need for God in heartfelt and raw words of prayer. If it is such a season now, may we cry out to God. If not, it is a good reminder that we can bring any prayer of our heart to God. May we pray the prayers of our hearts today.

Lord, hear the cry of my heart today. Bend your ear to my pleas. Be the sure presence that I need in my life. Amen.


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Present

Reading: Job 23: 1-9 & 16-17

Verses 16-17: “God has made my heart faint… yet I am not silenced by the darkness”.

Today’s passage is probably a familiar scene to all of us. Some have yet to experience this to the extent that Job has experienced it, but for all people life will have moments of pain and hardship.

Job lived in a time we have a hard time relating to. The common understanding or answer to the “Why?” question was because one had sinned. In ancient Judaism, hardship, disease, illness – all were the consequences of sin. Job knew in his heart of hearts that he was right before God. And he accepted what had happened to him without blaming God and without seeking a reversal of the circumstances. He just wants an audience with God. In verse 7 Job says, “There an upright man could present his case before Him”. He just wants the suffering to end. He just wants to return to a relationship with his God.

Job’s friends have tried to convince Job of why he is suffering. They have encouraged Job to search within to find that sin number in his life that is obviously causing all the suffering. In our time, we do not see pain and suffering as God punishing us for our sins. This does not square with our understanding of God being loving and compassionate and with the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Job’s friends also offer pithy sayings to try and help Job feel better. Unfortunately, at times we too can do this. “Everything happens for a reason” and other similar statements only demonstrate our lack of theological understanding. They do not bring comfort and peace. They only lead to negative emotions and more questions. In that awkward space we feel like we must talk, that we must say things. We don’t have to. A hug and a simple “I love you”, followed by just being present, sitting there in the hurt and pain, is sufficient.

In our passage Job says, “God has made my heart faint… yet I am not silenced by the darkness”. He is tired. He is feeling broken. Yet he will not be silenced. He wants to express his anger, his questions, his laments. He does not want answers or attempts at explanations. He just wants to give voice to what is inside of him. He needs his friends to listen and to be compassionate. He needs them to just be present with him in his pain and suffering. To do so is a great demonstration of love. When we find ourselves in this situation with a friend or loved one, may we simply be present in the pain and grief, listening, loving, being present.

Lord, it is hard to simply be a presence in the midst of pain and suffering. Strengthen me to simply be love and to show compassion. If words need said, may your Spirit speak your words through me. Amen.


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Community

Reading: James 5: 13-20

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.

Suffering, pain, illness, sin – all are a part of our world and our lives. To go through these things alone is a terrible tragedy. For James, and for us, being a part of a faith community and having a personal relationship with God offers the best methods of dealing with suffering…

James invites us to begin with prayer. It is through prayer that we bring our suffering to God and that we seek relief or repentance. In verse 16 James writes, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. Prayer is very powerful. The power is amplified when we pray in community, when we pray as a gathered community. Each day we also lift one another up in prayer just as others do the same, praying together spiritually. Communicating our needs to God also serves to remind us of our absolute need for God’s presence and activity in our lives.

In a similar manner, James encourages us to gather around those in need of healing, to anoint them with oil, and to pray over them. As we encircle them, anointing and praying in the name of Jesus Christ, we are naming our need for God to come and be at work in our lives. James tells us, “The Lord will lift them up”. May we hold to this promise.

James closes our section today with a good accountability reminder. He gives us the example of Elijah’s prayer that brought repentance to a wayward people. Yes, it took three and a half years. Sometimes our sin is stubborn too. Are you prepared to pray three and a half years for a brother or sister and their struggle with sin? I hope so! When the people repented and humbled themselves, Elijah prayed for God’s mercy and blessing to rain down, and they did both spiritually and literally.

These practices done in community – prayer, anointing, accountability – are all more effective and powerful when done together. As the body of Jesus Christ, may we seek to live and be in community, building up one another and the body of Christ each day.

Lord God, help me to build a sense of community with my family, friends, small groups, and with the congregation. May I lead by example with honesty, transparency, and love. Amen.


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Walking Daily

Reading: Psalm 4:8

Verse Eight: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety”.

The Psalms are full of emotion. They range from deep and sorrowful laments to joyous songs of praise. In short, they cover the whole range of human emotion and represent well the ups and downs that life inevitably brings. Because life is such, it is hard to always do as today’s verse suggests.

What does it take to lie down each day to sleep in peace? How could we do this each day, no matter what life brings our way? I think if the deep and painful moments that come with the sudden loss of a loved one or the unexpected news of unemployment and wonder how this is always possible. The answer to these questions lies in what we do day in and day out. If our spiritual disciplines are daily and consistent, then we build a great relationship with God that allows us to live out this verse even when our hearts are filled with great hurt and deep sorrow. When our relationship with God is rock solid, then He will always be our solid rock.

On a Tuesday morning just over two years ago I was informed that my job was being eliminated. After being a part of that organization for 23 years, it felt like the end of the world. I prayed a lot that day and spent a lot of time in conversation with God. He was not a stranger but a dear friend. By the end of the day I had found peace. Yes, there were still more questions than answers, but I was able to lie down and sleep in peace because I knew that God was in control, that He loved me, and that He would lead the way.

His presence gave me the strength I needed and allowed me to trust in His plans. This came through years of walking daily with God. I had established a deep personal relationship that made me into someone who knew God would see me through. Yes, it was a difficult process and there were hard days yet ahead, but in all of them God was with me. May this be your relationship with God as well. May you walk daily, through the good and the bad, fully connected to the Lord our God.