Colossians 1:9-14 – Developing the Skill of Wisdom

wisdom quote

Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works.

 We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.

 We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.

 God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating. (The Message)

 When I was younger, I played a lot of ping-pong.  I got good at it.  In fact, during a several months stretch back-in-the-day I had a record of 156-2.  Not bad, Tim.  That kind of record was only possible because of the two reasons that make any skill an accomplishment: knowledge and experience.  I learned the game of ping-pong and eventually knew it inside and out; and, I had hundreds (if not thousands) of hours playing and developing my technique.

When it comes to prayer, there isn’t a need to invent a new game; we just need to learn the one we’ve got.  Today’s New Testament reading is a prayer from the Apostle Paul to the Colossian Church.  His prayer for them was singular: To have wise minds and spirits, that is, to have knowledge of God – an understanding of his ways and how he operates.

Paul prayed this for a reason: so that we might live our lives in a way which pleases God and enables us to sustain a lifetime of spiritual growth.  As people created in God’s image and likeness, we are hard-wired with a spirit which needs strengthening and exercise.  That happens as we put in the constant repetitions of connecting with the divine and putting in the time on our knees – praying daily for ourselves and others to mature in faith so that we might all together act wisely and justly in this world, for the life of the world.

A good place to start is to use Paul’s prayer as our own.  Never has there been such a need than now for us to know how to apply wisdom in places and circumstances we’ve never been before.  For wisdom to happen, we must grow in our knowledge and put in the hours of prayer.  The skill of wisdom doesn’t magically happen; it is the culmination of acquired understanding and much practice putting knowledge into loving use.

Direct me, O Lord, in all my doings with your most gracious will and wisdom.  Further in me your continual help – that in all my work and in all I do and say, I may glorify your holy name; and, by your mercy, obtain the life that is truly life; through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Strong as an Oak

oak tree

I like oak trees.  In one of my many jobs I’ve had in my life, I was once a delivery driver with a mostly rural route to cover.  I enjoyed those times when I had to deliver to someone way out in the sticks on a faraway gravel road.  Early mornings were the best.  On a cool summer morning I would begin to smell the distinctive odor of a woodworker in his shop, as I drove along.  Entering the woods, untouched by the farmer’s plow, with small creeks winding through the trees, there was enormous oaks.  Yes, even in this day-and-age, there are remote untouched places of pristine beauty – you just need to know where to find them.  I delivered my package, wanting to linger for as long as I could in the celebration of senses.  Off I went, hoping that another day would bring another package to the faraway woods.

Oak trees are majestic.  Strong root systems, thick trunks, unique twisted branches, and beautiful leaves become home for all kinds of bugs, squirrels, birds, and the occasional possum and raccoon.  To have an oak piece of furniture is to have something of permanence.  The wood from an oak is heavy, attesting to its great strength.

Those who seek, discover, and respond to Jesus Christ are much like an oak tree.  Strong, lasting, giving life and shelter to all kinds of creatures.  Read carefully these words from the prophet Isaiah and take note of who the prophecy is directed toward, and what they shall be called:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. (Isaiah 61:1-3, New Revised Standard Version)

You might quickly observe that these are the words the Lord Jesus quoted in the temple at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:18).  Our Lord Christ is the one who fulfills these words and gives them their greatest meaning.  Remember those to whom Jesus directed his ministry toward, the very people mentioned in these verses: the oppressed; the brokenhearted; the captives; the prisoners; and, those who mourn.

Jesus clearly discerned that the kingdom of God is flip-flopped from how many people think about it.  God’s kingdom is not made up of the rich and powerful, that is, those who don’t think they need a Savior.  The kingdom is populated with the financially least, the socially lowest, the spiritually lost, the emotionally as well as the physically lame.  While others might believe these are the people who are weak, the prophet and the Lord have something different to say about it.

It is those for whom the bulk of society would consider incapable and/or unworthy of strength and position who are the truly strong in God’s upside-down kingdom.  The weak are incredibly strong, and the strong are woefully weak; the poor are wildly rich, and the rich are pathetically poor; the lost are joyfully found, and the found are slack-jawed in their lostness; the lame are more than able, and the able are laughingly lame.  In short, all these marginal people are described by God as “oaks of righteousness.”

oak tree 2

These people for whom are seemingly forgotten by so many are the ones God will use to display his glory to the world.  God does not choose the wise, the learned, and those with prestige and power.  God pursues those who are discarded by others; who seem useless to the rest of society; and, who appear worthless as emissaries of the King of Kings (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

Maybe oak trees have such an appeal to me because they are a reminder that the truly strong and majestic of this world are made up of people just like you and me – common ordinary sinners and saints who just want to know Jesus better.  To be rooted and established in Christ gives us a quiet strength the world can’t touch (Colossians 2:6-13).

Most of us will never win an Oscar.  None of us will ever be an Arnold Schwarzenegger (whose nickname back in the day was the “Austrian Oak”).  We’ll never play in a Super Bowl; command a Fortune 500 company; or, wow millions of fans with our superior talents.  Instead, we have something better.  We are growing and developing, straining and struggling to become a mighty oak of righteousness.  Perhaps no one will ever notice, but that’s okay.  We are giving life and happiness to all those woodland creatures who need us.

The world is not changed through the power which comes with position, prestige, and pedigree.  This old broken world is mended, repaired, and set right again by the God who uses oaks of righteousness – the quiet enduring strength of you and me – in a kingdom which will never end.  So, may you be encouraged today and every day with the God who is growing you into someone who is mighty and strong.

Isaiah 40:21-31 – Resourcing Our Lives

Why do you say, Jacob,
and declare, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord
my God ignores my predicament”?
Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the creator of the ends of the earth.
He doesn’t grow tired or weary.
His understanding is beyond human reach,
     giving power to the tired
and reviving the exhausted.
 Youths will become tired and weary,
young men will certainly stumble;
     but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength;
they will fly up on wings like eagles;
they will run and not be tired;
they will walk and not be weary. (Common English Bible)
 
            Strength, endurance, and perseverance are vital resources which come from a reservoir.  One doesn’t simply will it into reality, and, poof! It is there.  No, these resources must be drawn from a source that is reliable and continual.
            Whenever you and I are persuaded to use an unreliable and/or limited resource, like our own, or some slick marketed one, we are not revived or restored to keep going.  It is in such a time we naively think God is absent.  “God ignores my predicament,” is the cry.
            God isn’t sleeping.  He isn’t out to lunch.  Heis not the problem.  It’s just that we thought we could handle our own junk.  We’ve got this.  Maybe for a while.  But then the strength runs out and weariness overwhelms us.  With no steady reliable resource to draw from, our thinking becomes distorted.
            The sovereign and majestic God is the One who gives power and life.   Placing our hope in Him is to plunge into an inexhaustible and gracious pool of strength.  God enables us to fly and soar above our human predicaments and our daily problems.  With the power God provides we can carry-on and follow-through with the demands, duties, and desires of life on this earth which God created for us.
            To draw from the deep well of God, it is extremely necessary to meet with Him on a regular and consistent basis.  If food and drink for the body requires multiple daily attention and time, then filling the soul is just as, even more, important.
            This need for spiritual food and drink is why I choose to engage in the Divine Hours, also known as the Daily Office, or Fixed Hour Prayer.  At certain set times in the day I break away from what I’m doing to give attention to the soul by drawing from the merciful resources of God.  This may be for you a fresh way to address your parched and needy soul.
Here is a link to the Divine Hours, based on the book of prayers compiled by Phyllis Tickle:

 

Set me free, O God, from the bondage of my sins, and give me the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to me in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Joshua 1:1-11

            The ancient Israelites had been delivered from Egypt, wandered through the desert for forty years, and, after the death of their leader Moses, were standing poised and ready to enter the land promised to them.  But it was not going to be a cakewalk.  There were pagan peoples entrenched in the land and it would be no small accomplishment to conquer their territory.  Joshua, Moses’ young aide, now leader of the people, would be the one to go before them in battle.  He was likely nervous, even downright scared. 
 
            So, the LORD came to Joshua and told him to be strong and courageous, to not be afraid to claim the good promise of the land.  The path to success for him, and all of God’s people, would not be by the physical sword but by the sword of the Lord, the Word of God.  “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.”
 
            A faithful knowledge and careful adherence to Holy Scripture comes through meditation.  There needs to be among God’s people a continual rumination upon God’s Word.  We sometimes wonder how to address and deal with certain situations and problems that seem as large as taking the Promised Land.  The place to begin is by going to the Word of God – not just in an impatient question-and-answer manner, but in a slow, deliberate, contemplative way.  True spiritual success comes not only through acknowledging that the Bible is God’s Word, but by the means of meditating upon it continually.
 
            Scripture memorization is a discipline worth pursuing.  Having large chunks of the Bible within our minds and hearts helps us to draw upon particular verses and messages when we are facing certain situations.  Also, when we are doing tedious work, we can engage our minds in the practice of meditating on those verses we have committed to memory.  Meditation on God’s Word is not an optional practice if we want to have success in living the Christian life.
            O God, as I meditate on your Word, would you grant me success through confidently living your commands on a daily basis.  Sink the message of the Bible down deep in my heart, and press it firmly in my mind so that I will be strong and courageous to the glory of Jesus Christ.  Amen.