Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #18

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Prayer of Consecration (A Paraphrase of Psalm 132)

O God, I’m using the devotion of Your servant David as a pattern for my own life. His heart’s desire was for You, O Mighty One of Heaven, that You would have a dwelling-place on earth. It would be a place where You could be worshiped for all of Your splendor, where You would abide, where reminders of Your might would be housed. Your priests would be clothed in righteousness and Your saints would sing for joy.

Here I am discovering Your plan to fulfill David’s dream through people like me. You want my spirit to be Your dwelling place, my body to be Your holy temple. Your righteousness washes me and then clothes me so I may serve You in holiness. Your splendor and power is meant to flow through me in love and mercy toward others. How can this be?

Because of Your great sacrifice, Jesus, I am able to be part of this amazing and glorious plan. You are the King of Kings for whom David’s throne was prepared. You are the High Priest who makes my life a holy temple

So I consecrate myself to You again today, LORD, to be Your dwelling place. My body, heart and soul are in it. My life is a room cleansed by Your forgiving love, ransomed by Your death and dedicated for holy and eternal use by Your death-defying resurrection. My life belongs to You now. It is Your handiwork from start to finish. Be the Master of it, LORD. Reign here, rule forever here; be the rest I long for.

I’m looking to You, LORD, for every need to be met: my hunger with Your bread of life, my vulnerability with Your compassionate salvation, my deepest yearnings with rightful worship of You.

Jesus, help me stay true as I daily consecrate myself to participating with You in Your purposes for this life of mine and this world in which I live. Dwell in me and with me and through me. Help me to abide in You and with You and through You. You are the Anointed One—the Crowned One who rules my heart.

(Photo Credit: Eastern Wall of Jerusalem, By Yaakov Shoham – Own work (own picture), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1894985)

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What’s to be Thankful For? Part 10

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Steadfastness:

Most of us love stories of uncommon loyalty, and the tale of Bamse is no different. Enrolled as a crew member on the Thorodd, a Norwegian coastal patrol vessel in the Second World War, Bamse was a unique morale-booster among the ship’s crew. All who knew him would agree, he was anything but an ordinary sailor—because Bamse was a dog.

He once saved the life of a young lieutenant commander by knocking his knife-wielding assailant into the sea. On other occasions he was known to have dragged drowning sailors from deep waters to shore and safety. He learned to ride the bus route from the ship’s dock in Scotland to Dundee where he rounded up and escorted crew back to the ship by curfew. And he regularly broke up bar fights among his crewmates by rising on hind legs and putting his great paws on their chests as if to say, “Calm down, mate. Time to head back aboard ship.” Bamse loved his crewmates with a proactive and steadfast loyalty. In return, the Royal Norwegian Navy honoured Bamse upon his death, by giving him a burial with full military honours.

Bamse’s story is a heartwarming one; we resonate with his constant allegiance and doggy dependability. But he only scratched the surface of loyalty. There is one who acts with even greater steadfastness and commitment toward those on whom his favour rests.

“(Y)ou will not abandon me to the grave,” marvels the writer of Psalm 16, “nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”

Who is the “you” David mentions? He’s referring to God and he’s making an extremely bold statement, even for a psalmist. David is in wonder and awe as he pens words of which he himself hardly understands the meaning. He knows people die. He comprehends the reality of death in the life cycle of all living things. So what could he possibly be saying to connect God’s steadfast loyalty with David’s and our own sure and imminent death?

David is uttering the mystery of the ages; he’s revealing God’s intentions for solving the dilemma of death. Created beings designed for immortality, such as we, feel cheated by death. We feel uneasy thinking of life simply ceasing to exist when our fragile bodies stop living. And so we ought to feel, because it is not natural. We were made in the image of the eternal God, created to live forever with Him. But the fiasco of rebellion in the Garden so long ago ruined it for us all (we would have done the rebellious deed ourselves had not Adam and Eve done it first).

But now David is looking ahead a millennium to a second Adam, our species’ second chance to be represented by a son of God – a unique Son who would succeed in living a perfectly obedient life and follow it by dying a death worth more than the deaths of every rebellious person on this planet. David is seeing Jesus. He is seeing God’s allegiance to His image-bearing creatures.

And Jesus is the epitome of steadfast loyalty. His purpose and resolve is to ensure that every one of us who comes to Him will not be abandoned to the grave. He is the “Holy One” who did not “see decay” – His death was a beginning, not an ending, and He rose from His grave victorious over death’s decay.

What does that mean for us today? It means today is just bursting with hope. Regardless of the chaos and destruction going on about us, we can take refuge in the steadfast dependability of a God who will not abandon us. Our thankfulness to Him for His work on our behalf is the beginning of our worship of Him. It also puts life in perspective. Everything is different because we are not abandoned. He is steadfast.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons [[File:… Landseer – a collection of fifteen pictures and a portrait of the painter (1901) (14579686117).jpg|thumb|… Landseer – a collection of fifteen pictures and a portrait of the painter (1901) (14579686117)]])

What’s to be Thankful For?

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Part 9: Gladness

We cannot hear the word ‘glad’ without thinking ‘Pollyanna’—that is, if we’re into watching old films, reading novels from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, or studying psychology. Pollyanna is the main character in a story of an orphan girl who chooses to play the ‘glad game’ with situations in her often-difficult life. Prior to his death, the child’s father teaches Pollyanna to find “something glad” in every situation life brings. The story describes Pollyanna’s influence for good not only in her own optimistic attitude but also in encouraging the lives of the people around her.

Pollyanna makes her way into psychological research too. The ‘Pollyanna Principle’ studied by researchers Matlin and Stang, states that “people (other than those suffering from depression or anxiety) process pleasant information more accurately and efficiently than less pleasant information.” In other words, we are wired to observe and remember the positive aspects of experiences over the negative aspects. We are designed to be resilient even in difficulty, and we all have the potential to be influenced by simple gladness.

But life isn’t always simple. It isn’t always easy to be glad in some of the situations we find ourselves. We struggle with degrees of anxiety and depression. Is it relevant or even reasonable for the writer of Psalm 16 to even suggest that gladness is germane to our situation?

“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;” David observes.

He seems authentic; it’s not just a mask of cheeriness hiding sorrow or anger or frustration underneath. He says the gladness is heartfelt. It’s deep inside him and finding its way out in his speech and maybe even in song. that’s something we all could use. Our society is dying to know where that comes from, and how to access it. Look at the facts.

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada explains, “Mental health (or well being) is an ideal we all strive for.” It goes on to say that the chances of having a mental illness in our lifetime in Canada are one in five. By that they mean depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other more complex disturbances that affect day-to-day functioning. One in five sounds unnerving. It could mean you or me. They go on to say that mental health is about “learning the coping skills to deal with life’s ups and downs.” This is the relevant connection to the psalmist’s phrase in Psalm 16. The psalmist is actually showing us coping skills the Spirit of God has helped him discern.

Here is what David observes: he is finding that his gladness is an effect brought about by a series of earlier events in his life. We know this because he begins his observation by saying, “Therefore.” Have you heard that whenever we see the term therefore, we need to look to see what it is there for? The term therefore means, ‘for that reason’, ‘consequently’, or ‘as a result,’ so we need to go back a step and find out what it is that precedes and initiates the psalmist’s gladness. He’s human. He needs as much reason to be glad as the next person.

So we go back a verse to remind ourselves what we discovered in ‘Part 8: Dependable Presence.’ Psalm 16:8 reads, “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Remember? When we choose a mindset of focusing on God’s dependable presence with us, we are strengthened. Mentally. Emotionally. Morally. And more than that, we are gladdened.

It’s all about God’s presence. Accepting it, welcoming it, depending upon it for every breath we take, every decision we make and every challenge we face is the path to gladness. And gladness is not intended to be an addendum to life. It is designed to be at its core. It is the atmosphere in which God intended we live when he first placed us here on this planet, and it is the promise He will ultimately fulfill in our lives when we leave this life and move into eternity with Him.

We cannot access this gladness on our own. We’ve all tried. We’ve grasped moments of it, to be sure, but we’ve all felt it slip away like water between fingers. We can’t have sunlight without the sun itself. We can’t have true gladness without God, because God is Gladness itself.

So take a step toward God. We all need to. As we open our minds to think on His presence today, this minute and the next throughout our day, see if a deep gladness of heart doesn’t begin to bubble to the surface. It’s not dependent on our situation but entirely on His awesome, overwhelming, loving presence. Thank you, Father, for your gift of gladness.

What’s to be Thankful For? Part 7

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Counsel.

Supply must meet demand. The universities across Canada and the United States that have responded to the demand are simply humming. They are busily producing graduates of Counseling Psychology programmes because of a growing need out here among us Western ‘grab the world by the tail’ people. What is the need? What is the demand that is causing such feverish activity and producing so many jobs?

We need counsel. More than that, we need counseling. Whether it is our fast-paced culture, the loss of a supportive community, or unknown influences upon our mental health, the insecurity of life as we know it is getting to us. We’ve lost our identity and our sanity feels not far behind. We need someone to help us find our way, someone to give us hope that life can be joyful, occasionally happy, or at least bearable.

Living three millennia ago, the psalmist David manages to pen words contemporary to our situation. His concern is not that he grapple with the high-speed changes of technology and culture. He has other worries on his mind, primarily invading armies from without, and insurrection from within. Yet David knows the human condition. He experiences the mental upheaval of wrestling with life’s dilemmas, and he points us in the direction of their resolution.

“I will praise the LORD who counsels me,” he declares; “even at night my heart instructs me” (Psalm 16:7).

God counsels, day and night. That piques our interest. Your first question, if you are like me, is to ask, “How does He do that?” We don’t hear His voice; we don’t sit in an overstuffed chair in an office with “God, Registered Clinical Counselor (RCC)” on the door, describing to Him the stressors in our life and our feelings regarding them, while he takes notes.

Isaiah, God’s mouthpiece in the eighth century B.C. prophesied, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor…” (Isaiah 9:6). Those words speak of Jesus, the promised redeemer of everyone who looks to Him for recovered relationship with God. And Jesus has a wealth of information to tell His followers about the counseling role not only He, but also the Father and the Holy Spirit perform. Pour over the gospel of John, chapters fourteen through sixteen to hear many references to the counseling work of God.

“And I will ask the Father,” explains Jesus to the twelve disciples who would watch His crucifixion hours later, “and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16).

“He lives with you and will be in you,” Jesus continues, opening His disciples’ minds to this means of counsel they had never before experienced; the Holy Spirit would indwell the core of each of their beings–and not only theirs. He is ever-present today in those who allow themselves to be indwelt by Him. He is endlessly and unfailingly urging and encouraging right thoughts, right responses, and right actions in us.

Not to belittle the important job RCCs accomplish in providing a listening ear and sounding box for us to get some traction on problem solving techniques. But God goes deeper. He has access into our heart and soul and is able to lead us from despair to hope. “Search me, O God,” adds David in another psalm (139:23,24), “and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I need that good counsel and I’m thankful for it. How about you?

(Photo Credit: “Harpers ferry by moonlight” by Robert Hinshelwood – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a51235.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harpers_ferry_by_moonlight.jpg#/media/File:Harpers_ferry_by_moonlight.jpg)

What’s to be Thankful For? Part 5

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Part 5: Security

Family. Physical and Mental Health. Career. Finances. Happiness.

Make a mental checklist. How many of the above spheres of your life are performing at one hundred percent their optimum? Which of them could take a turn for the worse and begin a downward spiral at any moment, heedless of your most determined efforts to the contrary?

If we’re honest, we will admit that while we have some control over the circumstances of our lives, things can go south all too quickly. Marriages struggle. Health fails. Worries plague our psyche. Unforeseen events sidetrack careers; finances plummet. Regardless of our best attempts at making our one chance at life work well, security seems to elude many of us. Life is a precarious and shaky arrangement at best and nothing is really secure against the wind and tide of the unexpected.

David, the psalmist, speaks hope into our situation by penning some simple but profound words in the fifth verse of Psalm 16.

“LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.”

Did we catch the first and last words of this statement? ‘LORD’ and ‘secure’. They stand like solid bookends bracketing his life. David, king and mighty protector of the Hebrew people camped on Promised Land surrounded by mightier nations wanting the land, recognizes where his security comes from. It comes from God.

“LORD” he addresses God. That is an English word for the Hebrew name Yahweh. It was a name expressed by God half a millennium before the psalmist, designating God’s eternal existence and being. It means, “I AM WHO I AM”, or just “I AM” for short.

This somewhat incomprehensible name speaks of the vast self-determined nature of God who cannot be fully understood by His creatures; so He simplifies His name to the most basic of tags, “I AM” or LORD.

But how does God’s name affect or effect our security?

There are two parts to it. “You have assigned me my portion and my cup,” begins the psalmist. In other words, ‘The food on my plate has been grown, cooked and served up uniquely for me, as has the drink in my cup’. God, the all-powerful and compassionate One knows exactly what conditions and situations make us most prone to turn to Him and rely fully upon Him. For some it will come within a tender and loving home environment. Others will need to experience the tough knocks of life before they are ready to see God as their loving Father and accept Jesus as their Redeemer. The point is, becoming bitter with our portion in life is counterproductive. Using it for our ultimate and eternal advantage by letting it turn us toward God is what God intends for our good. It’s who He is. It’s embedded in the name “I AM”. Take note, God does not make anything bad happen—He is the giver of only good and perfect gifts—but He is uniquely capable of transforming bad situations into settings that bring eternal good. Just look at the cross.

The second part of the psalmist’s observation is, “you have made my lot secure.” We are prone to think our lot in life is up to us. ‘Be born with it or work hard to get it,’ says our culture, ‘but don’t be surprised if someone stronger tears it away.’ God’s gift of Himself for us is very different. We cannot earn it, nor can we be too far-gone to receive it. And once we have it—that is, the forgiveness and new relationship He offers through His Son and His Spirit—it is eternally secure. “No one can snatch them out of my hand,” promises Jesus.

This verse is amazing, really. It has the power to transform our thinking and our living. The confidence inspired by God’s direct participation in our lives gives us a peace and comfort nothing–absolutely nothing—else can provide. Who wouldn’t want that? That kind of security is surely something to be thankful for.

Thank you, Father, LORD, the Great I AM, for assigning each of us our portion and our cup. We trust that You know exactly the portion and cup we need to be drawn to you. Thank you for making our lot secure. We entrust our lives and our eternal well-being to Your care.

What’s to be Thankful For? Part 4

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Protection.

The best jobs come with the best employee benefit packages. The perks engage, reward, and energize us. “A disengaged employee,” observes one benefit broker, “costs an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary”, while, “engaged companies grow profits as much as 3X faster than their competitors.”

Granted, relationship with God is not exactly a company. We’re not employees, per se. But we may think of it as an organization, or more precisely, and organism; there is a Head and there are members; there are goals and there are benefits. In his letter to the believers in Corinth the Apostle Paul says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

In Psalm 16, the psalmist David has begun listing for us some of those benefits. The first three benefits we noticed were all positive. They described blessings gained by followers of God. The safety of God’s refuge, the goodness of God’s lordship, and the delight of being in a family of believers are definite benefits.

Verse four, though, takes a different tack; it describes a protection against a negative influence: “The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.” In those days, libations of blood were animal sacrifices, and “tak(ing) up their names on my lips” referred to appeals for help from the gods of nature, power and fertility.

The psalmist describes the harmful effects on people who turn away from relationship with God—who blatantly reject Him, stubbornly avoid Him, or passively ignore Him—in exchange for what they assume will get them what they want. There will be gods in everyone’s life–if not the true God, it will be “other gods”. If it is the latter, the psalmist mourns, there will be sorrow. In fact, the sorrows will increase by degrees the longer individuals persist in running after other gods.

We’ve all seen it. This world is full of the sorrows that result when God’s ways are discounted: families become dysfunctional, relationships destroy rather than refresh, accomplishment of goals leaves an emptiness, and minds and bodies suffer the marks of the harm that results when people make anything but God their gods. War ensues.

Jesus mourned over the sorrow His own people brought upon themselves by their stubborn refusal to believe that He was God in the flesh, and by their determination to run after the gods of legalism, political zeal, pride, and self-satisfaction. “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city,” records the gospel of Luke, “he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes…because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you’.” And sometime earlier, records Luke, Jesus lamented over Jerusalem saying, “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” God, who sees and knows all, is saddened to see the sorrows people bring upon themselves by turning away from Him toward anything else for their hope.

What is the solution? Wisdom. We need to be careful to choose wisely who and what we worship. Our lives have more significance than we realize, and our purpose to live joyful lives can only be accomplished by giving ourselves entirely to God. He is the only One capable of handling such a precious commodity with complete integrity. He alone can turn lives from encountering increasing sorrows to experiencing increasing joys. And that protection is something to be eternally thankful for.

(Photo Credit: “Stonehenge Summer Solstice eve 02”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stonehenge_Summer_Solstice_eve_02.jpg#/media/File:Stonehenge_Summer_Solstice_eve_02.jpg)

What’s To Be Thankful For? Part 1

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Safety: Psalm 16:1

           It is Thanksgiving in Canada. For most, that means a day off school, a day off work with pay, or a day with double-time-pay for those who must work. For many, it means family time. For some, it’s a time to appreciate all the good things in our lives. Those aren’t bad things. But isn’t it more than that? Are those without family, without holiday, or without many of this world’s material blessings exempt from giving thanks?

Here’s a little history lesson: Thanksgiving did not start with the pilgrims in America or with Frobisher or Champlain in Canada. It didn’t even begin with harvest festivals in old world Europe. It began several thousand years earlier among a tribal people, a minority group living in the Middle East, who had been the recipients of God’s loving intervention in their lives. And not only in theirs. Many other people groups with whom they interacted contained individuals who also experienced God’s intervention and found their lives transformed. We have the recorded and preserved ancient writings from that time. Thanksgiving was practiced even then. But it was not a general, miscellaneous thanksgiving. The act of gratitude did not stand alone, divested of its object. Thanksgiving was always focused upon God – it was gratitude for things only He can provide, and gratitude for His gracious character.

The Hebrew psalmist king David wrote a beautiful psalm of thankfulness in the 10th century B.C. that is worth considering. It can be used as a pattern for directing our thoughts today toward thankfulness for God’s provisions for us.

“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge,” (Psa. 16:1) begins the psalmist in what appears to be more request than thanksgiving. As David’s psalm unfolds, he has something foremost on his mind. He begins by invoking safety. He has come to God, his only source of refuge for the troubles he faces. From this perspective of placing God foremost in his thoughts, all of David’s expressions of gratitude are directed to God. It’s a great place to begin, and for us it is no different. We need a place of refuge from the storms and challenges of life, and there is no refuge like God. Yet in appealing to the refuge God provides, those who come to Him find a great surprise. Our fears are replaced by gratitude. Not general gratitude, but very specifically toward the One who has ceaselessly striven for our ultimate good. In Him we are finally safe.

We are safe from the chaos of an unknown identity. He calls us His children and Himself our Father. He explains we are made in His image and are of inestimable value. Though we have been prodigal sons and daughters, we see Him running toward us, arms outstretched, the moment we turn from our rebellion to Him. That’s safety in a Father’s arms.

We are safe from the just consequences of that rebellion because another paid the price with His own life on a cross. Life after death is the gift we receive instead of death after life. We yearn for immortality and Jesus was willing to move heaven, hell and earth to offer it to us. That’s safety in a Saviour’s name.

We are safe from powerlessness to temptations. God has provided His presence in our lives, strengthening us and providing “a way out, so that (we) can stand up under it” (I Cor. 10:13). And we are safe from stagnancy and from an ineffective life. God Himself works in and through us to accomplish works of eternal value (Phil 1:6; 2:13). That’s safety from defeat.

As we begin the exploration of thankfulness we are drawn to realize that the central object and figure in our gratitude is God. Without God, our gratitude is nothing more than wishful optimism. If there were no One to thank, to whom would we be grateful? But there is One, and so many do thank Him. So let’s “give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done” (Psa. 105:1).

(Photo Credit: DimiTalen [[File:Pompoenen.jpg|thumb|Pompoenen]])