James 5:7-12 – Hang in There!

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned. (New International Version)

In 1952, a woman named Florence Chadwick attempted to become the first female to swim the twenty-one miles from Catalina Island to the California coast. Less than a half-mile from her destination she gave up. It wasn’t because of fatigue, but because of the thick fog. Florence simply could not see how close she was to her goal. Two months later she did it, also in the fog, but had learned her lesson and persevered even though she couldn’t see the coast in front of her.

Everyone who has faced adversity knows how hard it is to keep going without seeing the goal. It is important to be patient and to persevere knowing that the Lord’s coming is near. Like the farmer, we must expectantly wait till the harvest. There is nothing we can do to speed up the process and go straight from planting to harvest. It takes time and plenty of patience. Grumbling and complaining about how long it is taking will not make it go any faster.

Although the Christian’s salvation is free, the process of sanctification takes a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears. Perseverance in the face of hardship is a major pathway to realizing a holy life. To do that, the Apostle James encourages us to consider the ancient prophets and the Old Testament character Job:

  • The prophet Jeremiah was faithful to proclaim God’s message yet was thrown into a cistern and left for dead. (Jeremiah 38:1-28)
  • The prophet Micaiah was faithful to declare truth to King Zedekiah, who then promptly imprisoned him, even though the king asked for God’s message. (1 Kings 22:24-27)
  • The prophet Daniel was faithful to pray consistently to the one true God and was thrown into the lion’s den to be killed. (Daniel 6:1-28)

The prophets all suffered for doing the right thing and did not waver in their commitment to the Lord. Through their troubles they learned to trust and draw near to God. The adversity strengthened, not weakened, their faith.

As for Job, he had it all, along with constant faithfulness. And he lost it all… except his faith. Job tenaciously held onto righteousness, despite his grinding physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain. Although Job’s God was agonizingly silent for a long time, and Job’s friends were despairingly talkative for much too long, the flame of Job’s faith was never extinguished in his heart.

We are to keep going in our faith and not give up. There are forces and processes at work behind the scenes of our lives that we might never know, this side of heaven. Yet, God is moving a good and divine agenda to its climax.

The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears. We live in a time when we will either sink or swim – there is no in-between. God’s celestial shore is within sight; don’t miss it by getting discouraged by all the fog. Hang in there, my friend.

Patient God, you endure through all of my ignorance and impatience and just keep growing me by your grace. Thank you for working me as a farmer works the soil. May there be a great harvest of righteousness in my life as I allow your faithful work to be done in me. Amen.

2 Samuel 5:1-10 – Living into a Purpose

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.

On that day David had said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.”

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful because the Lord God Almighty was with him. (New International Version)

“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.”

Robert F. Kennedy

A sense of satisfaction and gratification comes with a job well done. Whenever we have an inner sense of accomplishing something important or fulfilling a purpose which was long in the planning, there is a settled feeling we have lived into God’s intentions for us.

David experienced success because the Lord was with him. He was careful to do all that God intended for him to do. King David lived into his anointing and demonstrated that he was of a different cut than the previous king, Saul. David was the person equipped by God to lead all Israel and Judah.

Using his newfound position and authority, David took the initiative to do the Lord’s will. This was a long time in coming. David had a sense, because of close walk with God, of when to be patient and wait, and when to take charge and act.

There was an extended patient wait for the Lord’s timing in David becoming king. Although anointed by the prophet Samuel as king while Saul was still in his reign, it took years for David to be enthroned as the actual king. David had several opportunities to make himself king by killing Saul (who was trying to kill David) but he allowed God to enthrone him in God’s own good time.

In fact, rarely does anything the Lord promise come to fruition immediately. We must wait patiently for deliverance from painful trials of faith and the return of Christ. God makes promises. Then we persevere until those promises are fulfilled.

All of David’s waiting finally dissipated into kingly action. Before there were kings, judges ruled in Israel. And before that, Joshua led the people into the Promised Land. They had a mandate to expel the Canaanites. Those instructions from God only partially happened. There were still remnants and pockets of resistance. The Jebusites, ensconced in the city of Jebus (Jerusalem) were the most stubborn.

Part of the reason there were Canaanites still living in the land was the former King Saul’s failure to take up the Lord’s plan. One of the first acts of King David was to finish and fulfill the complete takeover of the land.

David was willing to attempt something nobody else could do, and that no one believed could be done. If we were a fly on the wall during discussions about this, I can imagine a coterie of people saying to the king, “We tried that before. It won’t work. You cannot get rid of the Jebusites. This is a fool’s errand.”

Pessimism and passivity certainly do not dislodge anything, and the people had fallen into a cynicism that believed they needed to put up with the current situation. Whenever a group of people fall into this kind of thinking, criticism is rife because folks are not working together toward shared goals and solutions. Instead of addressing problems, there is merely complaining about the problems.

On the other side of it, the Jebusites were smug in their self-confidence, showing their bravado through being blowhards. However, they had not yet faced David. If they thought another king like Saul was coming along, they were in for a big wake up call.

The Lord almighty was with David. And that is what made all the difference. King David did not accept the status quo. He worked toward accomplishing the Lord’s will, as he understood it. And his faith always led to effective action.

God almighty, ruler of heaven and earth, may we your people never lose the way through our self-will, and so end up stuck in our souls with nowhere to go. Help us to never abandon the struggle so that we may endure to the end, and so be saved. May we never drop out of life with you but press forward to the goal of our high calling. May we not choose the cheap and easy way of getting things done but always remember that sweat is the price of all things, and that without the cross, there cannot be the crown. So, keep us and strengthen us by your grace. Let no disobedience nor weakness or failure stop us from being faithful in all the changes and chances of life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

*Above statue of King David, outside his tomb in Jerusalem

Psalm 130 – Believe, Hope, and Love

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord—

my Lord, listen to my voice!
    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!
If you kept track of sins, Lord—
    my Lord, who would stand a chance?
But forgiveness is with you—
    that’s why you are honored.

I hope, Lord.
My whole being hopes,
    and I wait for God’s promise.
My whole being waits for my Lord—
    more than the night watch waits for morning;
    yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!

Israel, wait for the Lord!
    Because faithful love is with the Lord;
    because great redemption is with our God!
He is the one who will redeem Israel
    from all its sin.
(Common English Bible)

Throughout church history, the book of Psalms has been used and understood as the Church’s prayer book.  Indeed, the psalms are much more than a collection of beautiful poems, words of assurance, and songs of praise – they are designed and meant to have regular and ongoing use as prayers. And I’m not just talking about the psalms being somebody else’s prayers; they are my prayers and your prayers. 

There are times when words fail us – where we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place and want to pray. Our stress and/or anxiety is so high, we can neither think straight, nor form anything coherent with our mouths. It’s in such times that the psalms present themselves to us as the path forward. 

What’s more, psalms are meant to be spoken out loud and more than once. And I’m not talking about saying them with a quiet mumble or a flat monotone.  No! These precious prayers of Holy Scripture are meant to be declared with full voice and a large amount of flavor!  They are to repeatedly roll off our lips with all the emotional and spiritual gusto which resides within us!  Tears and yelling are both appropriate and encouraged. 

For we do not possess a mere heady faith of thoughts and ideas; we also possess a faith that is robustly heartfelt, and dwells down deep in the gut where our bowels of compassion have their abode. 

Even with a cursory reading of today’s psalm, we can easily observe there’s more going on here than beliefs of faith, hope, and love. 

The psalmist is expressive, clinging to faith with a patient longing for God to make good on divine promises. It is chocked full of emotion, a prayer coming from the depths of the gut. The whole being is involved, and rightly so, because our faith affects the entirety of a person and everyone in the community of the redeemed.

If this psalm resonates with you in any way, let your proclamation of it be with the expanse of feeling inside you. After all, as people created in the image of God, we share God’s own deep sense of love – and love is genuinely love when it is outwardly expressed with a sacred combination of words, actions, and feelings.

Waiting, watching, hoping. We as humans do a lot of that. While we anticipate God’s response, we keep up the praying. We keep reminding God to be God. We encourage others to watch and wait and hope, all the while encouraging ourselves, as well.

Whenever we are stressed, more often than not, we thrash about, like a desperate swimmer in the middle of a lake, just trying to keep his head above water. Yet, the psalm tells us to do the counterintuitive: Don’t do something. Just stay there and relax. Why, in heaven’s name, should I do nothing?

Because the Lord will act.

And that action of God will redeem, renew, refresh, and revitalize. It will be new, like the morning dawn. A fresh day, that will not be like any other day before it.

God does his best saving work in the worst and most impossible of circumstances. We need not fear the overwhelming depths of difficulty and trouble. We can trust the Lord.

Perhaps the most awful of deep holes are emotional – deep depression and/or anxiety – a lostness inside oneself because of mental disorder. In such a dark oblivion, and terrible morass, one tries to survive into another hour, not just another day. Like a watchman waiting for the night to dissipate and dawn to break, there is a longing for God.

Deliverance and rescue seem slim. Hopelessness begins to calcify the spirit. Only love can release the hardening situation; the steadfast love of God is a gentle hammer, picking away at the grief.

This is a love which never gives up.

Today’s psalm begins as a desperate cry for help. It ends with an awareness of the need to trust, hope, and wait….

Blessed Jesus, in the comfort of your love, I lay before you the memories that haunt me, the anxieties that perplex me, the despair that frightens me, and my frustration at my inability to think clearly. Help me to discover your forgiveness in my memories and know your peace in my distress. Touch me, O Lord, and fill me with your light and your hope. Amen.

*Above painting of Psalm 130 by Virginia Wieringa

Pentecost: Where We Want to Be, and Where We Are

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope, we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:22-27, NIV)

Pentecostal Groanings

“Pentecost” is the Latin word for “fifty.” Each year, fifty days after Easter, Christians celebrate the Holy Spirit coming upon the early church with power. This Pentecostal energy is not just dynamite with an explosion of spiritual gifts and energizing ministry. Spiritual power certainly is and can be optimistic, positive, and full of faith. 

More than that, Holy Spirit power can also be found in the travails and tribulations we face. It can be discovered in the dark night of the soul, in times of loneliness and doubt, and in the constant need for prayerful intercession. The Spirit is both a mighty wind and a gentle breeze.

The good news of Pentecost is that when we are not powerful, the Spirit helps us in our weakness – that is our hope and our quiet strength. The Apostle Paul used the experience of childbirth to communicate and illustrate what the experience of the Christian life is like. Growth, wonder, expectation, hope, patience, pain, and joy are all words to describe pregnancy and childbirth. 

Pentecostal Prayer

When it comes to the Church and the Christian life, believers are in the gestation period. Our salvation has not yet come to full term. Meanwhile, we must remain encouraged and healthy, keeping our future hope always in front of us so that we will not lose heart. When we are limited in what we can do, we pray. When we are flat on our backs, overwhelmed with our circumstances, we may not be able to utter any words in prayer.

My dear wife and I know something about pregnancy and prayer. We did not know, twenty-six years ago, whether we would have our third child, or not. Our lives were turned upside-down for nearly four months, as we did everything possible to deal with an overwhelming situation, not knowing if our little peanut of a daughter was going to live or die in the womb.

Pentecostal Patience

We had to wait. We had to force patience on ourselves. It really was a life and death situation. As Christians, we are waiting for our complete redemption. If we are not patient and do not focus on our hope, we will not make it. 

To be sure, in difficult times it does no good to be like Eeyore and feel sorry for ourselves. Yet, on the other hand, it equally does no one any good to always be smiling, positive, and upbeat as if nothing is worth grieving over. To take such a posture toward the awful challenges of life is to, at best, ignore the power of lament, and, at worst, live in abject denial about what our true situation really is with all its weakness and inability to control most of what is going on.

In the teeth of adverse circumstances, enter God in the person of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit resides with us and strengthens us with Pentecostal power. So, on this Day of Pentecost, we not only celebrate the Spirit’s mighty power to blow a violent wind and upturn history; we also proclaim and praise the Spirit’s power to come alongside and provide the deep inner strength necessary to fortify us for all we must face.

Pentecostal Awkwardness

We cannot run away from what God has put in front of us. We live in an awkward time of spiritual pregnancy in which we possess salvation but do not yet possess it in all its fullness. There is so much groaning going on because we realize there is such a large gap between where we are and where we want to be.  If women could have babies without nine months of struggle, limitation, and pain, I think they would opt for that instead of the way it is now (I know I would!).

All of creation groans because where it is now and where it will be seems like such a long time in coming.  Every creature and all living things are presently experiencing decay and death. The earth is not yet redeemed from its cursed bondage. So, the planet convulses and contracts with natural disasters and diseases because we live in a fallen world that is not yet redeemed.

People groan because they fall victim to circumstances beyond their control. We also groan because of our own poor choices which grieve us. Although we have been delivered from sin, death, and hell, and experience spiritual power, we still must wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies. 

We are keenly aware of the terrible disconnect between where we are as people and where we want to be. It feels like Pinocchio, who is not yet a real boy, and must deal with strings and other puppeteers who don’t care about him, who feels the need to lie because of his situation and pays the consequences of his nose growing.

But we are not left to fend for ourselves. Because the Spirit groans on our behalf, uttering prayerful sounds that words cannot express. The Spirit helps us in our weakness, in our pregnant state of discomfort and wondering. 

The Holy Spirit is an expert on knowing our concerns, knowing God’s will, and bringing the two in harmony with each other.

Mit Tdrahrhe

Pentecostal Hope

So, we focus on hope – the confident expectation we will not always be in this position. In the meantime, we learn to enjoy the process of growing in the Lord and discovering the ways of Jesus. We learn to slow down to listen to the gentle voice and the refreshing breeze of the Spirit. During this interim time, this gestation period, we develop new rhythms of life, moving back-and-forth between rejoicing and groaning; praising and grieving; hoping and lamenting; believing and doubting – all with agonizing patience.

Living patiently and hopefully in the Christian life will be worth it all when we see Jesus. We must walk through the valley; yet we never do it alone – God’s presence is with us in the personal provision of the Holy Spirit.

Do not give up in prayer. Even if you do not know what to say or cannot even speak, you can groan because the Spirit will pick up those groans and groan them in the ear of our gracious heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit stands in the gap between where we are and where we need to be. The Spirit intercedes for us, bridging that wide chasm, and bringing us practical deliverance from our impatience.

One of the oldest definitions of prayer is this: Lifting mind and heart to God. Too often in our efforts to pray formally, we fail to truly lift our hearts and minds to God. That’s because what is really in our hearts and minds is not something we generally connect with prayer, at all. Our frustrations, bitterness, jealousies, lusts, curses, sloth, and quiet despair are sometimes understood to be the opposite of prayer, as if they are things overcome so that we can pray.

Pentecostal Power

However, something deeper is happening within: Our frustrations, longings, lusts, jealousies, and escapist daydreams, the things we are fearful and ashamed to name in prayer, are in fact already lifting our hearts and minds to God in more honest ways than we ever do consciously.

If you are carrying a heavy burden, take the light yoke of Jesus and offload your worries to the Holy Spirit who is waiting to intercede for you. And if there is no immediate relief, persevere in prayer without giving up. Pentecostal power is available, but it is not cheap; it will cost us time in prayer as well as patience for the Spirit to work on our behalf. For the Christian life is a lifelong process of becoming.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts. Kindle within us the fire of your love. Send the gentle breeze of your Spirit, and we shall be renewed into patient people, growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Spirit of the living God, we invite you to wring the death out of our hearts and saturate our souls with your breath and life.  Hoping against all hope we lay defeat aside. We grab for the corner of your cloak and wait for a miracle. Amen.

*Above artwork by Rebecca Brogan