Tag Archives: God

Prior Prayers

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Another shooting. A dozen more people killed by bullets. Another argument about gun control and gun rights. Undoubtedly, the words, “our prayers are with the victims and their families,” will be spoken by people of deep faith … as well as by others who never pray yet somehow believe that the promise of prayer is a comfort to those facing deep loss.

I’ve been troubled by the rise in gun violence in our nation, yet have felt at a loss as to any semblance of a solution. I believe in gun rights – and that they ought to be limited. I believe in gun control – and that it, too, ought to be limited. And I believe in confidentiality—between doctor and patient, lawyer and client, clergy and parishioner—and that limits there are necessary.

The challenge is that those three values—gun rights, gun control, and confidentiality—cause us to argue, even when most reasonable people would agree on one goal: we need to reduce gun violence.

There’s something else I believe in: prayer. And not simply as comfort, but as real and powerful … a mountain-moving force.

Or do I? Do I really believe that prayer can not only move mountains, but can move the God who created those mountains? Because if I did believe that, wouldn’t I pray for God to do something about gun violence … before it happens? Wouldn’t I pray for God to somehow help us figure out a way to balance those three conflicting values of gun rights, gun control, and confidentiality? We certainly haven’t figured it out (not that we’ve really tried; we’ve only argued that one outweighs the others).

I was convicted today that I don’t pray enough—or rightly—about these things.

Praying for victims and their families is still good and necessary, but that prayer comes too late. There is a better prayer, a prior prayer: that God would lead our nation to the hard work of solutions, until prayers for victims are no longer needed.

Going It Alone

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Ethiopia vista

Jordan is the type of separation where there is no fellowship with anyone else, and where no one can take the responsibility for you.1

How many years had Elisha walked with his mentor, Elijah? Seven? Eight? How many times had he witnessed the power of God come down through the words and deeds of the great prophet? Countless times. And now….

For days now, Elisha has known the time was at hand. Three times the prophet had told his young protege, stay here while I go into the city. Three times, Elisha has refused, insisting that he stay by his side. And in each city, the locals remind him that his master’s days are numbered. I know, he says. Shut up and don’t remind me! And now….

Now Elijah has disappeared, taken up miraculously from before his very eyes. Chariots. Horses. Fire. A whirlwind. And when the tumult dies down, Elisha is alone. Alone on the banks of the river they had crossed together only moments before.

The thunderous drama of the prophet’s exit only magnifies the deafening silence in which Elisha now stands; Elijah’s billowing cloak, now lying in a dusty clump on the parched ground, the only sign that he’d ever been there. And now….

Such spectacles do not come frequently in our lives, but the times of aloneness are all-too-common. We leave the spiritual height of a mission trip and, on returning home, find that no one really understands, and too few even seem to care. We meet God at a mountain camp, only to return to the doldrums of daily life back at sea level. We are fêted well as we say goodbye to a ministry we have loved and prospered, then find ourselves alone and waiting by the Jordan for some sign that we are not really alone.

And there on the banks of our own Jordan, as Chambers says, “you have to put to the test now what you learned when you were with your Elijah. … If you want to know whether God is the God you have faith to believe Him to be, then go through your Jordan alone.

Think about that for a moment: Do you want to know whether God is the God you think He is? You can only know it when you get alone. No one can know it for you. Friends, mentors, a spouse… they can all tell you it’s true… that God is true. But only you can know it.

In order to know he was not alone, Elisha had to pick up the prophet’s cloak and put it around his own shoulders. What is that cloak for you? Perhaps a Bible that has sat too long untouched. For me it was a Jacob-like wrestling match with God (see Genesis 32:22-32).

Pick up the cloak and know the truth of what you believe.

1 [Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Aug 11. See 2 Kings 2:1-25.]

God and Butterflies

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Giant SwallowtailIt was just laying there on the sidewalk—a big, beautiful butterfly. Papilio cresphontes; Giant Swallowtail, as we learned later.

My wife was walking our dog when she saw the butterfly on the ground. It didn’t move when she bent down for a closer look, and so, thinking it was dead, she wanted to bring it home and preserve its beauty. Until it hopped a few inches away.

She tried again. Again, it hopped away. Obviously not dead, but was it only a matter of time? A couple more tries, a couple more hops, and then… the wings stretched out in that groggy, not-quite-awake kind of stretching we do when we’re struggling to rise too late out of a too-deep sleep.

The beautiful black and yellow wings carried the Papilio a few feet more before one final burst of life lifted him into the air to do what butterflies do: grace the air with the lightness of a falling leaf, the tiptoed dance of a ballerina on the stage.

Mesmerized, my wife realized what she’d been hearing in the podcast coming through her earbuds: Look at the birds (or the butterflies). They don’t plant or harvest or store away any food for tomorrow, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you more valuable to him than they are?

On this day, God wanted that Giant Swallowtail to fly again—and to demonstrate his love to my wife. She needed that. So did I.

But something else also struck me as she shared this. That butterfly had seemed nearly dead, and it probably was. Sometimes that’s how we feel, too. Life has beaten on us for so long that we almost can’t take it anymore. Getting out of bed is exhausting. Getting the kids to school, buying groceries, making dinner… the most normal, uneventful parts of life threaten to unravel us.

We’ve faced death and loss and grief and hopelessness for so long, all we can do is lay down like that butterfly.

But like that butterfly, I think God wants us to fly again. It may take a few frightened hops, some groggy stretching of our wings… but I think we’ll get up in the air. And someone watching—like my wife with that butterfly—will see us and praise God. And maybe they’ll get up in the air again, too.

Are You Ready to be Changed?

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Axentowicz_The_AnchoriteWhen You speak, when You move
When You do what only You can do
It changes us
It changes what we see and what we seek*

Yesterday morning in church, I had to stop and reflect on the words of this unfamiliar song. It is an invitation to God to speak to us—the humble cry of a heart wanting to hear His Voice. I understand the deep well of longing for that Voice. God often seems so distant and silent—or I just need a Word of wisdom, encouragement, guidance in the moment—and I cry out for God to speak.

What caught my heart and mind in the lines above, though, was the subtle acknowledgment of the power unleashed when God does speak. I wonder, do we really know what we’re asking for?

Truthfully, I usually don’t want God to change me, but my circumstances. I want Him to make my life easier, to tell me what to do in a situation, to make my plans and dreams reality. I am so much like the crowds who pressed in on Jesus, wanting to be healed. I want to see—what I want to see. I want to walk—to go where I want to go.

Jesus is often willing to oblige. He heals lepers who walk away without a word of thanks. He gives sight to blind men who reveled in the beauty of the creation more than in the glory of the re-Creator.

But this song acknowledges that there is so much more power in Jesus’ Word. He not only makes me see, He changes what I see. I think of Elisha’s servant (see 2 Kings 6), who awoke in the morning and saw an enemy army surrounding the house; Elisha prayed, and God opened the servant’s eyes to the fiery chariots of God’s army that stood between them.

And He changes what I seek. Instead of fulfilling my plans and dreams, God changes them. Peter, a fisherman, was cleaning his nets after a fruitless night on the sea when Jesus told him to go back out. The nets began to break with every fisher’s dream catch…and Peter was changed, walking away from the fish to follow the One who created the fish.

The Creator re-Creates; the Spirit breathes fresh breath; dry bones walk; blind eyes see; old is made new; the dead live again. Are you ready?

*”Spirit of the Living God” by Vertical Church Band

The Steadfast Love of the Lord Endures Forever

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Photo copyright 2014-2015 by Randall J. Ehle. All rights reserved.

Photo copyright 2014-2015 by Randall J. Ehle. All rights reserved.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

So begins Psalm 136…and then continues for twenty-six verses with the same refrain: “for his steadfast love endures forever.” This was never one of my favorite psalms. I always thought it was too choppy and repetitive, not flowing well in my prose-centered, Western mind. The only words that stood out to me were those repeated lines. Okay, I get it already. “The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.” Next psalm. Or do I get it? I never took the time to analyze the psalm because it’s a song—emotional, not intellectual. Shouldn’t poems and songs simply float into our minds, their meanings gently wafting into our subconscious with hardly a notice from us? Or, as Archibald MacLeish penned, “A poem should not mean | But be” (Ars Poetica).

Only when I took the time to read between those obnoxious, repetitive lines in Psalm 136 did I notice what this psalm is doing. It is not merely a call to gratitude, though it is that. The first three verses and the last all begin with, “Give thanks to….” Give thanks to the Lord, the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the God of heaven. He is the object of our gratitude, the Source of all we have and are. He is above everything we worship or serve, like money and security and family and even health; yet He is at the same time a personal God with a personal name (Yahweh or YHWH, also written as LORD). Give thanks. A good and needed reminder. But there is more.

It is also not simply a mantra of God’s love, though it is most certainly that. His steadfast love endures forever. We Westerners—and certainly we Christians—are not accustomed to mantras. These repeated words used as aids in meditation stem from the Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism; since we have lost the art (and meaning) of meditation, we run from anything that resembles it. (Don’t get me started on Christmas trees and Hallowe’en.) Yet repetition runs throughout Scripture and church history, and we do well to employ it in our communion with God.

Between the exhortation to gratitude and the mantra of God’s steadfast love, Psalm 136 simply tells a story: God’s story. Israel’s story. Our story. Each line is a reminder of who God is or what He has done: He made the sun, moon, and stars (verses 7-9); He rescued Israel from Egypt (10-16); He led them to victory in battle (17-20) and gave them a homeland (21-22); He remembers and watches over His people (23-25). And at every step of creation, salvation, destination—at the very core of who God is and what He does—is His steadfast love.

It’s easy to breeze right through the Psalm and miss its depths and richness, to let the repeating words slip across the tongue without ever digesting them. But don’t. Instead, sit and soak in this Psalm as in a hot tub, basking in its truths and comforts, remembering God’s presence and activity…and His steadfast love. And someday—some quiet, rainy day with a cup of coffee by your side and a pen and journal in hand—write out your own story, then go back and insert this lines between each event:

“…for the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.”