Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #25

Prayer Exploring God’s Transforming Presence (Paraphrase of Psalm 139)

Nothing about me is hidden from You, God. You know my actions, my thoughts and my mind, my goals and intentions better than I know them myself.

You are a hedge around all sides of me; Your hand rests over me. Your presence pervades my being and my doing. Is there any situation, I ask myself, where Your Spirit will leave me?

On the bright days when I feel on top of the world, I’m convinced of and thankful for Your presence. I’m beginning to sense Your presence just as much on the dark days—the dull, or disappointing, or terribly painful moments when I’m at the end of myself. Your loving, guiding, comforting hand never leaves me. It is knowing Your presence that turns my darkest night into brightest daylight.

I get the sense You’ve been intimately involved in my life right from the start, LORD; from the time I was nothing more than a few tiny cells embedded in my mother’s womb, on into eternity, You’ve known all my days. As I’ve become more aware of Your true and noble presence, Lord, I’m more aware of my own proud and selfish tendencies. I am my own worst enemy! Like a mercenary army, this bent of mine to think and do evil will destroy me unless You do all in Your power to change me.

So I’m opening myself to Your human-transformation project, God: the costly-to-Yourself cleansing of forgiveness, the birthing of a new Spirit-led nature in me, and the vesting of my person with a blamelessness that comes straight from Jesus. Search me to the depths of my heart and soul. Replace my anxieties with the peace of Your presence, and my offensiveness with the goodness of Your presence. Change me back into the image of Yourself You designed me to embody, and lead me in the way everlasting

(Photo Credit: MeghanBustardphotography)

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What’s to be Thankful For? Conclusion

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The Path of Life:

Our canoes lay submerged, wedged beneath the swirling currents of the Jordan River. Several tonnes of fallen trees had made a sure trap at a bend in the river, and to attempt to rescue the boats from the surging spring floodwaters would be shear lunacy. Wet and bedraggled, the four of us clammoured ashore and thanked God none had been sucked beneath the merciless tangle of debris. Hiking back to our cars should be easy. We would return another day with equipment to rescue our canoes.

But hiking through an undisturbed west coast rainforest without a trail can be like trying to push a softball through a chain link fence. After eight hours of struggling to return to our campsite only to find ourselves traveling in circles, we finally admitted our lost condition. It was a long cold night spent huddled in the wet forest awaiting daylight and rescue.

Life is like that. It is often not until we have lost our way that we realize the crucial importance of the path.

David, the writer of Psalm 16, concludes his eleven-verse psalm by contemplating what he calls “the path of life.”

“You have made known to me the path of life,” contemplates the thoughtful psalmist; “you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Notice he doesn’t describe ‘one of many paths of life’. There is only one path. There is just one clearing made through the tangled thorny underbrush of life if we want to reach our soul’s home. Everything else is a tripping, entangling struggle, thinking we know where we’re going but finding ourselves cold, wet and bedraggled, going in great miserable circles.

The psalmist also implies that it is not we who make the path. The “You”, “your presence” and “your right hand” of his psalm refers to God. God is the creator, sustainer and rescuer of all, but specifically of His highest creation, humankind. It is God who has made the path. Only He could blaze a trail through the spiked and barbed tangle of life in which we find ourselves. And only He could keep that path cleared and trustworthy to take us on our life’s true journey. But the path is not merely a route and a direction. It is a Person.

Jesus once explained, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

Jesus calls Himself the way because it is only relationship with Him that puts us on the Path that is authentic and flourishing and satisfying in life. All other routes are dead ends and entangling scrublands.

It is Jesus living within us that enables us to fully experience and increasingly express love and joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That, says Jesus, is the only true path worth the life He’s given each of us. He is the inner compass that gives us purpose and direction—not wealth, not fame, and not success in careers, relationships or other self-motivated passions. He is “the rising sun (who has) come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78,79).

Those who accept this path and continue to stay on it in spite of many temptations to leave it will be filled, as the psalmist observes, “with joy in (Jesus’) presence, with eternal pleasures at (His) right hand.” There is nothing more valuable than the Path, and nothing greater to be thankful for.

“This is what the LORD says; ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’(Jer. 6:16).”

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 8

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Dependable Presence.

In ‘Part 7: Counsel’ we asked the question, “How does God counsel us day and night?” As if the lyricist of Psalm 16 anticipates our question, he pens in verse eight: “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” How is this an answer to our question?

Let’s begin with the great truth of God’s omnipresence. What omnipresence means is that God is everywhere present. It must be so, both because He claims to be, and also because the definition of God is One who is restrained by no limits other than to act consistently with His character. God inhabits a dimension that goes infinitely beyond the three-dimensional existence we experience, and nothing less than to be everywhere present and all-knowing is what we ought to expect from the unique and Sovereign Being we call God.

So if God is everywhere present, why do so many people on this planet fail to sense, appreciate, and benefit from His presence? This is the point from which the psalmist launches his testimony: “I have set the LORD always before me,” he explains. He places forefront in his consciousness the mindset of God’s presence with him. His resolve is to see, hear, smell, taste and feel nothing without it passing through the filter of the truth of God’s presence.

The use of mindset to accomplish a determined purpose is not unique. Elite athletes use mindset; they think about their sport day and night, viewing it from different angles, imagining and envisioning themselves meeting the various challenges that are common to their sport and gaining victory over them.

Storywriters and songwriters use mindset; their minds are constantly and even unconsciously mulling over their objective of communicating story through wordsmithy and tune mastery. It is not uncommon for great writers to awaken in the night with an idea, a word, a phrase or a tune that solves their creative dilemma.

So why not our grasp of God? When true seekers of God set their minds on things eternal, the Eternal One reveals Himself and His presence in the everyday ordinary things of life. The sixth sense that He is at our right hand guiding us, providing the support we need when our world shakes, is real. It is more vigorous and robust than the flimsy crutch God-followers have been accused of relying upon.

The awareness that God is here now, beside us, before us and within us is what the psalmist is describing when he explains that God “is at my right hand”; and because of this conviction that God is closer to us than our skin, the psalmist comes to the reasonable conclusion that “I will not be shaken.”

The clearer the understanding and acceptance we have of God’s presence, the more firm, secure and safe we will feel. This is why the young Hebrew prisoner Daniel, when thrown to the lions for his refusal to bow to his Medo-Persian captor, could face his situation with composure. He refused to allow the glaring, slavering appearance of peril to hinder his view of God’s presence.

This is also how many Christ-followers face their persecutors in countries where torture and death are the penalty for their faith. They set the LORD always before their eyes. They know He is at their right hand. And while terribly mistreated, their faith is not shaken.

God is no less present for you and me than He was for Daniel and is for the countless thousands who suffer for their faith. He is relevant here and now in your life and mine. The question is: Will we choose to have a mind set on Him? It is not easy. It will take everything we are and have to make good our resolve and not be swayed by the flagrant distractions of our eyes and ears. But the reward is rich. We will know irrefutably God’s dependable presence. We will benefit from His ever-present counsel. That’s something to be thankful for.

(Photo Credit: “Lion Yawning” by John Storr – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lion_Yawning.jpg#/media/File:Lion_Yawning.jpg)

GOD FOR THE BROKENHEARTED

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When spring rains loosened the hold of tons of earth on a hillside in Oso, Washington recently, chaos erupted. We’ve followed the news. We’ve seen the pictures of the mud-flooding devastation. The death toll continues to rise amid the sounds of rescue workers, excavators, and tracking dogs. The community has been ravaged.

Sadly, we all have times in our lives when despair overwhelms us. Life is not always easy. What do we do when our hearts have been broken, when chaos fills our lives with muddy debris? When the scaffolding that supports our day-to-day existence falls like matchsticks around us, where is God?

That’s a question God loves us to ask. The apostle Paul asked it, querying, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Rom.8:35) God has so anticipated us asking the question that He has answered it even before our chaos erupted. Listen:

“Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

“The LORD is near to all who call on him.” (Psalm 145:18)

“…behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:5)

“But the LORD stands beside me…” (Jer. 20:11)

“The LORD watches over you –” (Psalm 121:5)

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” (Psalm 91:4)

Did you catch that? God is nearer to us than our own skin. He is beside us, behind and before us, above us, below us, with us and for us. And He wants to be within us, but for that to happen He waits for an invitation. But how do we sense His presence? How do we go from ‘I feel so alone’ to ‘I feel His presence’?

I am sure God is not limited to only one way of making His presence known. For some people, God’s presence is most palpable in nature; the glory of creation speaks most strongly to them of His nearness. For some it is through music; songs of praise and worship or great orchestral symphonies evoke His presence most clearly. Some people have had dreams and visions of Him. Some have heard an audible voice. Some hear His heart of compassion most distinctly through reading His Word. As we think back over our lives, over the times we have felt most keenly the need to know His presence, we can answer that question best for ourselves.

For me it has been through prayer. When I have felt brokenhearted, when I have been desperate for help, prayer has been the means of sensing God’s nearness to me. Through prayer I have been most vulnerable to Him and through prayer found most relief from my inner turmoil. In prayer I have grieved, expressed anger and frustration, despaired, pleaded for help, confessed, praised and thanked God, and submitted myself to His plans for me. That is when I have best known His presence around, about and within me.

If you are in a place of heartbreak and trouble, don’t be afraid to cry out to God that most pressing question: ‘Where are you God?’ But, also, be willing to open your ears and eyes and heart to His presence, His answer. Search out that place where you are least distracted by the world around you. Find that setting where your heart can best be touched by knowing His presence. It is a place of deep peace that lets that broken heart of yours rest for those moments you linger there. Then you and I will be able to say with confidence, “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid…The LORD is with me; he is my helper.” (Psalm 118:6,7).

In this life, troubles mostly come and occasionally go; hearts and lives are wounded and rarely ever the same again. The only constant is the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Are we receptive to His presence? Then let’s ask the question: ‘Where is God?’ He’s here with the answer.

(Photo Credit: SPC Matthew Sissel; Wikimedia Commons)