Tag Archives: #prayer

This moment. This. Moment. The realness is astonishing

There are some things you know so well that you go onto auto-pilot. The crucifixion is one of those things. Yup. Heard it. Know it. Saw the musical. What’s for morning tea?

Except there is a moment when it hits you full in the face like a bucket of cold water. The reality is so chilling that you see the cross as though it was the first time. And we need this moment.

Jesus famously cries out from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Why did he say this? I mean, he had been tortured, imprisoned, beaten, and now he was nailed to a cross, the Roman instrument of brutal execution. But Jesus is fully God So it’s hard for us to understand the cross in human terms. We intellectually get that crucifixion was horrific, but he’s God so it was always gonna be alright…right?

So why did he say those particular words?

He is quoting the first line of Psalm 22……

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

………which suggests that there is something there we need to see.

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” (Psalm 22:8, written about 600 years before Jesus’ death).

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” (Mark 15:29-32 written about 30 years after Jesus’s death).

This was foretold. It had long been foretold. This humiliation. This death. It was no accident.

But also in this psalm, the psalmist gives voice to the loneliness of suffering that we can all relate to. Where are you God? I’m so alone. This suffering is unbearable. Jesus apparently speaks into these feelings by quoting just one line. The depth of his emotional suffering is palpable.

But Jesus’ physical pain is described in Psalm 22 too.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” (Psalm 22:14-15)

Poetry is so expressive. I read these lines and see Jesus on the cross, his limbs twisted and mangled, his flesh ripped, in all the physical anguish that is possible for a human to bear.

Sit with that for a moment. Because when we say “Jesus died on the cross” it can be a distant concept – an idea that’s too far, too alien for us to see clearly. But this is where we see it. The agony. The loneliness. The heart-breaking torturous physical pain.

You would think this would be the point that Jesus is trying to communicate in as few words as possible. And it is an important one – because it connects us to the realness of his suffering.

But Psalm 22 doesn’t end there.

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him – may your hearts live forever!” (Ps 22:5)

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” (Ps. 22: 30-31)

If these were Jesus’ last implied words, these are profound. The praise. The promise. The hope. The certainty. He has done it.

This Easter Friday, remember. Reconnect with the memory of the cross. Sit for a moment in the startling realness of what Jesus went through. It makes what has been done all the more astonishing and wonderful.

Praying for peace when you’re too tired to even finish this sentence

Life is really hard. I mean, it’s great, but it’s really hard. We all have those days when, half in jest, we pray “Hey Jesus, if you’re thinking of coming back soon, now would be a reeeeeeally good time.”

Sometimes it seems relentless, unending, even hopeless. The days flow on, one after another, like the incessant march of wartime. We didn’t really plan for this, but the days go on like war came to our doorstep whether we liked it or not. And now we’re in it, we just have to keep going until the war is over.

When will the war be over? We think. When will it get less difficult? I’m so tired.

At times like these, usually the Bible is one of the last places we go. We’re too busy trying to do life. But that’s why we need it. The more we strain to get through the day, the more we tend to rely on our own initiative. Head down, bum up, organising, planning, running things, keeping small people alive, happy and safe, just managing to keep putting one foot in front of the other…… It is easy to fall into self-reliance.

But that’s where we have gone off course, and we need to get back to God’s word.

God gets us. He so gets us. The place where he communicates with us is the place we find people who have gone before who have done and felt the exact same thing as us. And they rest in the pages of the bible so God can redirect our attention to the right place.

The book of Micah is one such place. Micah was a prophet in the 8th century BC – it was just before the Assyrians wiped out the northern kingdom of Israel and came right to the door of the southern kingdom of Judah. War is coming. The Assyrians are coming. When will there be peace?

Micah tells them in chapter 4 that God’s peace will come. The law will go out from him and he will judge and settle disputes. The people, Micah says, will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” (4:3b). There will be no need for these weapons. They will turn weapons of war into tools of the farm. Prosperity. Fertility. Peace.

Then he says:

Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.” (4:4).

Can you imagine that? Sitting somewhere in complete safety and tranquility. Master or mistress of your own little spot. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to fear. Nothing to lose.

What would it look like for you? For me it’s a late afternoon, sunny but cool. The light casting a faint orange glow over the countryside. The sound of the breeze in the trees – not even birds chirping. Breathing in the sweet air with the faint whiff of hay and honeysuckle. My kids playing and laughing.

Nothing to worry about. Nothing to fear. Nothing to lose.

Peace. God’s peace. That’s what he promises in Micah. One day, this will be real. It won’t look like that – who knows what it will look like? But it will feel like that. One day we will be there, in God’s full peace. In his presence. He promised it. He communicated it, and he is faithful. It will happen.

How does that change the tough days? Hope.

It lifts me because I know what sitting under my own vine would look like, what it would feel like. I pray for the day I will sit under my own vine, but I also know it is a certainty, and so my bad days become not so bad. I can imagine being in God’s peace and it calms me.

It even pushes me forward – if that is a certainty, what should I be doing before I can relax under my vine? What is the work that’s still to be done? That drives me back to God again. What shall I do, God? What can I do so that when I sit under my vine, I do so as a good and faithful servant? Complete, replete, God’s own. Forever.

Sleep well, friends. Be well. Be hopeful. God has promised and it will happen.

Experiencing this is good for your health and for society

 

I read this week the results of a scientific study that indicates that regularly feeling a sense of awe increases a person’s humility and connection to others. It may also be good for your physical health with related research showing that experiencing awe increased a person’s positive emotions the most, which is then linked to improving the immune system and the reduction of “pro-inflammatory cytokines” (the molecules that, when chronically elevated, are linked with diabetes, heart disease and depression).

Research also showed that experiencing awe reduced symptoms of chronic mental health conditions in some respondents and general happiness and life satisfaction improved. They also had increased social well-being and felling of connection to their community.

The article (which you can read here) suggested several ways to help you experience awe: going into nature; getting out of your comfort zone; “looking up” from our phones to see real mountains and the night sky; and having an open mind to see possibilities.

I loved that article. As soon as I read it, I had that moment of recognition. Because as Christians, we know all about experiencing awe.

In the Bible, this concept is described various ways – fear, reverence, trembling and awe – but the meaning is the same. It’s a sense of wonder and amazement mixed with fear and respect.

“Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.” (Psalm 33:8)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

To fear or stand in awe of God is to recognise what he has done. That includes the work of his creation, his faithfulness to his promises as well as his daily intricate involvement in our lives.

But to fear the Lord is also to understand who we are in relation to him. It is recognising his infinite big-ness and our relative smallness. That’s why it is the beginning of wisdom.

Do you feel that sense of awe and wonder if you are standing at the look-out at the Blue Mountains? Or Kakadu? Or a sunset over a silent beach?

Do you feel like that when you contemplate God? If the answer is no, then we may have forgotten his big-ness. That’s easy for us to do because we only have puny human brains that find big-ness hard to comprehend. But God understands that. He must because the Bible re-iterates often the act of remembering. Remembering God’s character, faithfulness and work helps us to re-connect to his big-ness.

And it should be no surprise to us that the very thing that keeps us connected to God is a double blessing on us – that our reverence of God is good for our head, heart, health and community. What surprises the scientific community should not at all be surprising to us.

So yes, connect to nature (contemplate the work of God’s hands!) and look up from your phone. The means of experiencing awe mentioned by the study are by no means bad. But here’s some other ways to re-connect to God’s big-ness and experience awe:

  • Read Psalm 33. Even better, read it with a friend and talk about what work of God’s hands particularly touch you.
  • Go back to the cross. Read the gospel accounts and re-awaken the reality of that moment.
  • Contemplate God’s work in your life, particularly how you were before and after you met Jesus
  • Contemplate God’s daily work in your life – the answered prayers, the un-asked for blessings, the intricate maneuvering of people and events to bring about his purposes.
  • Listen to your favorite worship songs at top volume and sing like no-one is listening
  • Pray. Thank God for as many things as you can think of and don’t ask for a single thing. Just pray in praise of God.

“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
    make melody to our God on the lyre!
He covers the heavens with clouds;
    he prepares rain for the earth;
    he makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the beasts their food,
    and to the young ravens that cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
    in those who hope in his steadfast love.”

(Psalm 147:7-11)

 

When God’s grander plan affected me too

You wouldn’t think that God working in the lives of one family in Indonesia could have consequences for you personally, right?

About a year ago I was financially running on fumes. I was down to my last $7 in the bank with 2 weeks to go before more money would be coming my way, and as far as I knew at the time, that was my new normal for the foreseeable future.

I’d budgeted everything within an inch of its life and cut everything I could think of (including meat), but still drastic cuts were needed. The thing I had not cut was my Compassion kids. If you’re not familiar with Compassion, they support kids and their families through sponsorship to lift them from the poverty cycle. Me and my boys had two Compassion sponsor kids – one was the same age as my eldest and the other, a teenage girl who wanted to be a doctor when she grows up.Compassion_Logo-1

It was one of my bigger monthly expenses. I couldn’t cut them though. My thinking was that as little as we had, I was still rich by comparison to what they had – they have quite literally nothing.

I prayed. What to do? What to do? God, I need your help – what should I do?? I can’t let them go, but what shall I do?

Within 7 days I got a letter from Compassion Australia saying that my teenage girl had left the program because her family had been lifted out of poverty.

Stunned. Just. Stunned.

God had answered their prayer. But his timing was extraordinary. By his love and faithfulness to them, he had relieved a financial burden on me.

If I ever needed a sign that my resources come from him, this was it. I knew that God had been providing for us. I knew that what we had came from him. But this showed me just how present he is in the detail of day to day life. It showed me the intricacy of a prayer answered in Indonesia, affecting my little life in western Sydney.

There are 7 billion people in this world. I wonder how many prayers intersect and overlap. I have no doubt in my mind that he sees it all and is in control of it all.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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Complaining to God is honest, healthy and biblical

I am English and so not complaining is part of my DNA. We complain by staring at someone moodily or sighing disdainfully or – if you really want to show your displeasure – tutting loudly.

I also live in Australia and here, complaining is seen as just whinging. (By the way, the stereotype of a “Whinging Pom” has some truth in it. And I mean that with the deepest fondness for my people.)

In either country, complaining is a negative thing. It’s impolite or its arrogant and boring, or all of the above. But where does complaining come from? It comes from an inadequately met need (I really needed you and you weren’t there for me). Or a hurt (It feels like you’re being really cold towards me). Or an un-fulfilled agreement (I order a steak and chips and you brought me low-fat yoghurt).

We stifle these thoughts. We swallow the things we would say. That’s all well and good. We don’t to be permanently at war with people, and frankly complaining can be habit forming. But if we don’t put voice to our hurts somehow, what we are swallowing becomes resentment. It tricks us into thinking our feelings don’t matter and shouldn’t be voiced.

The one person we can tell anything to is God. So why don’t we complain to him? Well, if complaining is whinging or impolite, surely he’s the last person we would speak to! Really? Even when the bible says that he’s the first person we should speak to? Check out 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18!

There are some barriers when we talk to God, I think. I certainly feel like I have to have a certain tone or demeanour. I feel like I need a formula because he’s, you know, God. So I pretend those negative feelings aren’t there, or I pray for things like help with my patience with people, or extending grace to people. Essentially I’m praying for those feelings to go away.

Trying to make feelings go away without dealing with them invariably comes back to bite us in the bum. You can squash the feelings down, you can suppress them and cover them up, but that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away.

The incubation period for various illnesses can vary before they start showing symptoms. The incubation period for negative feelings is the same, and one day, it will suddenly affect your relationships or your mental health or your ability to operate freely and without barriers.

So what to do? I read something about the Book of Job recently that I’d never noticed before. If you don’t know Job, he’s a faithful guy who is beset by the worst possible set of calamities to see if, while he’s faithful in the good times, would he reject God in the bad times. All the way through, a series of friends tell him these traumas must be happening because of something he did so he should repent and perform the right ceremonies and be right with God again. All the way through, Job refuses and says I know I’m right with God and God knows it too – and I’m not going to perform some empty rituals to prove it. God doesn’t want empty rituals. He wants an honest heart.

But the guy is suffering unimaginable anguish, and he does start complaining (have a look at Job 23:1-4 and in each speech he starts to go on a bit. I mean, understandable….but…you know…. But then when God answers, he rebukes the friends for their lack of wisdom and says they have not spoken the truth as Job has (Job 42:7). Job, who has complained and whinged. That is the true and honest heart. Job was faithful but he was honest in his words. He laid bare his heart as he was hurting.

Complaining doesn’t mean we are unfaithful or ungrateful. It means we are being honest. The Psalms are full of complaints – accusing God of leaving them, of not listening to their prayers, asking when he will come and save them. It’s honest.

We can learn so much from this. We don’t have to pray like we’re statues – “Oh exalted God, how great thou art to me, please Lord of all the heavens make me penitent and pure….” Pft. If that floats your boat, then great. Go for it. There are no rules for prayer. Me? I think its OK and honest and biblical to pray “God, this thing happened today and it really hurt me. Help me process it!” It’s OK to acknowledge those feelings and sit in them while you process them with God’s help.

This is still a faithful prayer. It is an honest prayer. It is also a healthy and useful prayer – it does something with those negative emotions. Instead of trying to make them go away, it sends them to God. It is not stifling, its active. That’s one of the things that Job teaches us and its one of the things that Psalms shows us.