As I am reading through the gospels with my children during this Lenten season, I am struck once more by how often we read about Jesus making time to get away and talk with God.
Mark records Jesus getting up in the morning, while it was still dark, to find a solitary place where he prayed. Matthew records Jesus dismissing his disciples and heading up to a mountainside where he could be alone with God. Luke writes how Jesus spent the entire night praying, calling out to God.
Luke records Jesus crying out to God in prayer on the eve of his crucifixion. And when Jesus did that, Luke writes that an angel from heaven “appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22: 43). While Jesus was crying out to God in the garden, his disciples were nearby. Although he’d asked them to pray, they were sleeping.
As I closed the book for the night, tucked in my boys and headed off to my own bed, I began to wonder… how often, at the end of the day, I choose sleep over prayer. I sleep as a way to escape the problems of the day rather than cry out to God, as a way to gain strength to face those same problems.
In the Garden, on the night Jesus was betrayed, we see God once again offering something Jesus desperately needs. As a response to Jesus’ prayer, as a loving response to Jesus’ cry for help, God, gives Jesus strength.
Oftentimes, when faced with what seems like an impossible task, I find myself doing one of two things—either running around frantic, trying to control the outcome, or shutting down—sleeping—in order to avoid it.
But Jesus’ approach is different. On that particular night, He must have been physically exhausted, emotionally spent, and spiritually stretched. He knew what was coming. The task must have seemed impossible. But instead of running around or sleeping off the stress, He goes directly to His Father. He cries out to God. And God, in his mercy, gives him strength.
Many years before that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, David, God’s anointed King, spent a lot of time crying out to God. When he found himself in an impossible situation, this man of God, this man after God’s own heart, held nothing back as he expressed his distress to God. Psalm 13 is particularly telling of his need to cry out to God. Read the contrast from David’s first few lines to his last few lines.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?…
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
David cries out to God. He lets fly his frustration. But by the end of the Psalm, David changes his tune. His attitude is reworked. Somehow, as the words pour out, God pours strength in. By the end of the Psalm, David writes, BUT I TRUST YOU.
The night Jesus prayed in the garden, I can only imagine how much he might have wanted to just close his eyes and sleep, hoping that when he woke, it would all be over. Sometimes the problems of this world bring us to that point too, where we wish we could just make it all go away.
But God has a different way. He shows us that when we cry out to him, he responds. He responds with exactly what we need to accomplish what he has set for us to do. In his mercy, God gives us what we need. All He asks, is that we cry out to him.
Then Christ, with the understanding of someone who’s gone through a time of weakness, turns around and offers the same strength to us.
Dear Lord, we thank you for this time before Easter—time to reflect on the story of your great sacrifice for us, of the pain you must have felt leading up to the crucifixion, and of the humanity of Christ, for it is through his humanity that we see how to come to you, how to cry out to you, and how to pray. Thank you for always responding to our prayers with exactly what you know we need. Help us to remember that your grace is sufficient for us and that through our weakness, your strength shines through. In gratefulness, we give you praise. Amen.
I always figured that anything that required study couldn’t possibly be delightful. But one of my Bible Study mentors has challenged me to see it differently with his book, Delights and Disciplines of Bible Study. Listen in on our conversation HERE on Faith Radio.
My son came home from school one day and grabbed the dust pan and broom. I had wondered if this boy who rarely jumps into chores without my prompting had suddenly become responsible and independent during the course of the school day. As I was getting ready to sit down and congratulate myself for training him right, I heard him say, “Got it!” With that declaration, he grabbed a Ziploc bag from his pocket and carefully poured in the dust bunnies he had collected from under our couch.
By the expression on my face, he could see that I was quite confused. “It’s for science,” he said. “We are studying what kind of stuff makes up dust. We’re dissecting it!”
I didn’t know if I should be proud or offended that he knew just where to find these suspicious little dust-globs. I thought that I’d been successful at keeping those little buggers hidden. When it was time to host a party or even just a friend or two, I would take great pains to go through the house collecting and eliminating these pesky little reminders that people actually live in my home. I much prefer creating the impression that my family so squeaky clean and happy that even the dust bunnies don’t gather here.
But my son knew better. He knew just where to find the shady characters. And now, he was going to dissect the very dirt that can expose me for what I am… a hider, a fake, a person who needed help. By literally sweeping the dust under the rug, my house appeared clean and free from people who might want to dissect it.
Dust is not something we want on display. It’s not something we proudly hold up as a prize to be earned. Rather, dust is unwanted, something to hide. Dust is, well… dirty.
Sometimes I clean up my life the same way I clean up my house. I polish, sweep, and scrub away anything that might give the impression that I am somehow less than. I sweep some things under the rug like failures, mistakes, and shame. My “dust” could be the argument I had with my brother, the anger that sometimes takes over, or the regret that still plagues me from my childhood. Polish up. Sweep away. Buff and shine. Yes, I clean up quite well.
But on Ash Wednesday, we enter into that sanctuary buffed and shined only to kneel before the altar and receive the sign of the cross with the dust of the earth. We allow ourselves, our whole selves, to be seen. We put it all out there. We walk back down that aisle exposed for who we really are. And we see the dust on others too.
In that dusty cross placed on our foreheads, we are reminded where we came from. We are reminded that we were once just dust, but in the hands of our creator, we became something beautiful. We became sons and daughters. And even in our dirty, broken state, we are still deeply loved. And because of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, we are clean.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in
Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
Dust is a public testimony to who we really are—broken people in need of a Savior. The dust removes the façade that Christians are somehow cleaner or brighter or better than others. Rather, the ash on our foreheads reminds us that from dust we first came and to dust we will return. There is a richness in that dirt… a transparency to our condition. The dust levels the playing field and points instead to Christ.
So this Lenten season, consider gathering those dust bunnies in a Ziploc bag, not to dissect but to acknowledge that even dust can be beautiful when touched by the hand of God who loves us.
*Lent begins this Wednesday, February 14th
That’s what Crystal Evans Hurst prayed for when life felt out of control. She just wanted a break from her life! Listen in as Crystal shares her journey of missteps and mistakes, all while learning to trust God with her future. Click HERE for the podcast on She’s Still There: Rescuing the Girl in You.
Keeping the story of your life to yourself? This week I had the pleasure of interviewing author Jamie Ivey on her new book, If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free. It will make you think twice about hiding your past from your friends. Click HERE for the podcast.
I was rummaging around in the chest where I keep my childhood belongings when I came across a well-worn toy from my youth—The Magic 8 Ball. Maybe you had one too? Perhaps, like me and my grade-school friends, you used to ask this magic ball if a certain boy in your math class might someday ask you out on a date, and then squealed with delight when the fortune-telling ball revealed, “It is decidedly so.”
Perhaps your questions were a bit more mature in nature like; “Will I go to college?” “Will I get married?” “Should I say ‘Yes’ to that job opportunity?” Chances are, that Magic 8 Ball didn’t always get it right, and your reliance on such toys faded out soon enough along with acid-washed jeans and Bonnie Bell lip gloss. I, too, found the same flaws in the ball’s ability to direct me down the right path. That’s how my Magic 8 Ball found its way to the bottom of my chest.
I hadn’t lost the desire to gain direction and advice; I just figure the Magic 8 Ball might not be the way for me to get it.
So how does a person gain the ability to make right choices? I’ve noticed that a series of right business decisions can land a person that job they’ve always wanted. A couple of right decisions can heal a strained relationship or bring restoration to a difficult situation. In the same way, the choice to spew hate can cause relationships to end, and a couple of bad career choices can land you in the unemployment line.
When the Lord asked Solomon what he wanted from God, Solomon could have chosen riches or fame or the power to kill his enemies. He could have chosen to have the most beautiful woman on earth or the largest kingdom ever known. But instead, Solomon asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3:12), and God granted him a wise and discerning heart.
“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
1 Kings 3:9-12
Thankfully, Solomon shared many of his wise sayings with us in the book of Proverbs.
This book of short truths tells us that people who have wisdom enjoy its benefits. The person who has wisdom, for example, is faithful and trusts in the Lord. The wise put God first and turn away from evil. The wise know right from wrong, they listen and learn. Wise people do what is right.
But Solomon isn’t the only person to receive wisdom. God is generous with his gifts of discernment. James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). This wisdom isn’t something we have to chase after or save money to purchase. Wisdom isn’t a resource a psychic can sell or a secret a horoscope can reveal. In fact, consulting these sources would likely be considered unwise. Rather, wisdom is something that we receive by drawing near to God and asking for it.
So I’ll put my Magic 8 Ball back in its spot at the bottom of my chest. I’ll remember fondly the wonder and excitement of childhood superstitions. But to receive true wisdom and guidance and advice for my life, I’ll turn my eyes back to the Word of God. And I’ll remember the words of wise King Solomon:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.
I was always a little nervous about praying out loud in a group. Even praying a dinner blessing would sometimes cause a bit of stress. I would worry that I was somehow doing it wrong. The words always sounded fine in my head but when they left my mouth they were somehow less than lovely. I wanted to take them back, to edit, and then put forth my prayer in perfect grammar and proper theology.
I have tried acronyms in order to craft the perfect prayer: P.R.A.I.S.E., ACTS, PRAY, P.R.A.Y.E.R. They are all wonderful tools and have brought great clarity to my prayer time. But for me, I find myself holding back. I find myself more concerned with the format than I do with the subject.
At least I know I’m not alone. Maybe you’ve struggled too? Jesus taught his disciples to pray. They wondered how to communicate with the God who loved them, so Jesus encouraged them to come to him whenever they felt a need. He wanted them to know that the door was always open.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)
There have been other times in my life when I can’t seem to stop the words from spilling out. These prayers may not have any continuity. There is no structure. But these prayers are real as well. Read More
My heart was beating wildly as I watched my son stand at the edge of a small cliff off the coast of southern Greece. The beautiful turquoise waters beckoned him to jump, but his feet said “no.” While I had watched seven older cousins make the leap, I wondered if giving permission to my youngest to jump off a cliff might have not been my best parenting decision.
Fear was gripping his little mind. There was the fear of physical harm if the jump didn’t go well, and the fear of humiliation if he decided to crawl back down the cliff. After all, his brother and cousins had already made the leap.
I tried to yell up words of encouragement when I remembered years ago, trying to get him to jump off the diving board at our local pool. If I remained on the side of the pool, he would jump off the board sideways, narrowly missing the edge of the pool. But when I swam out beyond the diving board, then he would jump out safely and swim right to me.
I immediately left the side of the cliff where I was safely watching from afar and swam out to where he would ideally land. I said, “Just jump out to me and swim my way, just like we used to do at the pool. Don’t look down, just look at me. I’ll be right here.”
What happened next was a combination of sheer terror and sheer delight (mine and his) as I watched my son leap from the edge of the cliff and into the water in front of me. Within seconds, he emerged from the brilliant blue, wide eyed and smiling. He swam right to me and screamed, “I did it!” He may have doubted the water, but he trusted me at my word, that I’d be there when he came up.
In his gospel, Matthew tells a story about the disciple Peter, who also towed the line between fear and trust.
I like the concept of setting some resolutions for the new year. I feel like January is a time of reset, a chance to take a deep breath and head into the next year with a plan to become someone, well… better. Numerous polls and articles list the top resolutions. Some people want to be thinner, some stronger, some wiser, some wealthier. Some want to be more generous, while others want to read the Bible more. Most of these goals have something in common—people want to be better versions of themselves. Let’s face it, we all want to improve. And the start of a new year gives us an opportunity to start fresh.
After all, the writers in the Bible are continually encouraging us to try and follow Christ’s example, reminding us to be… better.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Julius Caesar instituted New Year’s Day on January 1 to honor Janus, the two-faced god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new. The custom of New Year’s resolutions began in ancient times, as the Romans made resolutions with a moral bent—mostly to be good to others. To them, Janus was the god of beginnings.
Looking back, I realize that God is more than just the god of beginnings. He is God over our past as well. And sometimes, looking at what He has brought me through helps me to realize that He will also lead me forward in hope and confidence.
As I turn my head and look back at 2016, I am grateful for all that God has shown me this year. He has shown me great kindness through the love of my children. He has shown me great grace, in forgiving me when I have fallen far short of who I can and should be. He has shown me great compassion as I grieved the loss of two dear friends who left this earth far too soon. He has shown me great understanding, how that loss has changed me—sometimes not for the better. He has shown me great love when I have been somewhat unlovable at best and downright awful at worst. I am so grateful for the way in which he sees me as holy, thanks to the cover of Jesus’ sacrifice. And as I look back, I realize how that sacrifice and the love that continues is what has sustained me through this past year.
So, as the Romans chose to do, I will look forward to 2017, resolving to focus on what God has in store for me. I pray that it will be healing. For the sake of myself and for those I love, I do need to heal. But regardless of how quickly that happens, I resolve to look forward to wholeness—a completeness that can only come through looking first at Christ, and realizing that I am not alone. I am surrounded by other believers who will cheer me on in the year ahead.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
I hope you will join me in looking back and seeing the great gifts from the past year, and in looking forward to focus on the great gifts that lie ahead as we daily place our trust in Him. And know that you’re not alone. I, and many others, will be running that race with you.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power… (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
Let’s look forward to this new year together.