Opening the Door to Psalm 119; Part 6

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‘Daleth.’

“I am laid low in the dust,” begins the psalmist in ‘Daleth’, the fourth segment of Psalm 119. What a start. There’s nothing proud or glorious here. There’s no false gaiety or bravado insulating how he feels. There is no glossy cover hiding the despair and disappointment. But remember, he’s not speaking to us here; he’s pouring out his heart to God.

I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.” The psalmist has bottomed out. It’s not just his feet that are dusty—he is flat out ‘laid low in the dust.’ He’s prostrate in it. The arid silt is gritty between his teeth, it’s stinging his eyes, it’s caked in his ears and it’s filling his nostrils. He’s not denying it. It’s threatening to swallow him into obscurity.

Perhaps he’s remembering the Genesis narrative in which the serpent was relegated to “eat dust” after tempting first-woman and first-man to rebel against God. Then first-man and his progeny were abandoned to return “to dust,” an incredible aftermath for creatures made in God’s image who had until then been feeding on the tree of life! For centuries the psalmist’s people had expressed their deepest sorrows with dust, covering their heads with its colourless, lifeless litter, remembering the curse.

But the psalmist doesn’t stop at the dust. He remembers something deeper and truer than his failings. He remembers God’s WORD. God, who “formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” with a word (Genesis 2:7), who created the heavens and the earth with a word, “…and it was so.” To this the psalmist appeals.

In other words, ‘God, Your word is the only thing that can save me now. Speak it over me.’ And like a springtime downpour, God’s life-giving word rains down upon the thirsty souls not only of the psalmist but also of all who call on Him, souls willing to hear the word, take it to heart, and let it transform them from the inside out.

I recounted my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees./ Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders./ My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word./ Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through your law./ I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws./ I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD; do not let me be put to shame./ I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.”

The psalmist’s prayer is an agreement with God that he cannot sustain his own life, only God can. And the life that God gives him is the source of understanding and wonder, of strength and truth, of determination and faithfulness—virtues by which the psalmist recognizes God’s life takes hold of human life.

And as the psalmist grasps at the last straw it turns into a living proclamation by which the blight against his life is reversed and through whom the bondage of rebellion is undone. The proclamation is Jesus, anointed “to preach good news to the poor…to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…to comfort all who mourn…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (portions of Isaiah 61:1-3). Beauty instead of ashes. Rich soil instead of dust. A heart set free.

God’s Word—Jesus—is unparalleled in effectiveness.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,” declares the LORD, “and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”(Isaiah 55:10,11).

As we hold fast to Jesus, God’s Word in the flesh and our hope for life, we begin a race where running is not wearisome, where dust is kicked off at every leaping stride, and where our hearts are finally free to climb up on high places to rejoice in our God.

(Photo Credit: MeghanBustardPhotography)

 

 

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ROMANS 12

This 1888 photo released by the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston shows Helen Keller when she was eight years old, left, holding hands with her teacher, Anne Sullivan, during a summer vacation to Brewster, Mass., on Cape Cod. A staff member at the society discovered the photograph in a large photography collection recently donated to the society. When Sullivan arrived at the Keller household to teach Helen, she gave her a doll as a present. Although Keller had many dolls throughout her childhood, this is believed to be the first known photograph of Helen Keller with one of her dolls.  (AP Photo/Courtesy of the Thaxter P. Spencer Collection, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, New England Historic Genealogical Society-Boston)

PERSPECTIVE

Until she learned sign language, Helen Keller behaved more like a wild animal than a little girl. Deaf and blind from infancy, Helen’s perspective on life had been limited to processing information she could glean from her remaining senses of smell, taste and touch. Little made sense to her and life was chaotic.

However, when Annie Sullivan became Helen’s teacher everything changed. Chaos turned to order; life began to make sense. Introducing language in the form of hand shapes made onto the palm of Helen’s hand began the breakthrough. Helen started to make the connection between the signs made on her palm and real life objects, eventually understanding more challenging abstract concepts like emotions and ideas. Understanding her world gave her a new perspective and enabled her eventually to become a prolific author, speaker and political activist.

The twelfth chapter of Romans gives us an even more amazing story of how chaos can be transformed into order. It all begins with understanding an important characteristic of God: His mercy.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, “entreats the apostle Paul,” in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

It comes down to how we think about God. This thinking must be based on fact, and Paul says the fact that God is merciful is the fact that can drive transformed thinking and effective living. It is not about us creating a god to fit our emotions and desires or our predetermined thoughts and ideas; if we are honest we have to admit the purpose of that kind of thinking is only to justify the way we want to live.

Christian pastor, author and editor A.W. Tozer observes “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” If our thoughts about God are true and substantiated by His Word, we become authentic.

Thinking about God’s mercy changes us fundamentally; we become moved by God to live our lives in gratitude to Him, willingly subordinating our desires to His. We even find ourselves becoming merciful as we focus on His modeling of that compassionate characteristic. Love, compassion and forgiveness are tied tightly to mercy, and these traits will follow as close companions so that our nature becomes very different from what it once was.

Having a perspective of God’s mercy is an important crossroads for living. Without it, we merely conform to the pattern of the world – we become selfish, proud, willful, and rebellious to God’s claim on our lives. With it we are transformed with a renewed mind, a submissive will, and clean living bodies. Try it, says Paul. Test it and see if you approve of God’s will. In view of God’s mercy, you will find God’s will to be good, pleasing and perfect.

That’s quite a promise. There’s only one way to find out if it’s true: think on God’s amazing mercy toward yourself and others. See whether that won’t transform the most important thing about you. Perspective is not something – it is everything.

(Photo Credit: “Hellen Keller holding doll with Ann Sullivan 1888” by Family member of Thaxter P. Spencer, now part of the R.Stanton Avery Special Collections, at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. See Press Release [1] for more information. – NWI.com Multimedia. “AP Photo/Courtesy of the Thaxter P. Spencer Collection, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, New England Historic Genealogical Society-Boston. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hellen_Keller_holding_doll_with_Ann_Sullivan_1888.jpg#/media/File:Hellen_Keller_holding_doll_with_Ann_Sullivan_1888.jpg)

THE MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS, PART 5

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 Jars of Clay (II Cor. 4:7-18)

Maryam and Marziyeh are glowing. The two young women are not fashion models or Hollywood actresses; they are not corporate leaders of successful businesses or wives of men who can afford to give them any of this world’s trinkets.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Maryam and Marziyeh are simply followers of Jesus who found themselves prisoners in Iran’s infamous Evin Prison for their faith. They were not treated well there.

“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

There is something that seems to radiate out from their faces that belies the ordeal of their experience as prisoners. Released from their prison only a few months ago, the young women tell the story of their ordeal in a book entitled Captive in Iran.

It’s not a new story, though – it’s the story of those who have immersed themselves in the ministry of God’s internal affairs. The movement of God’s Spirit in the lives of His people is remarkably relevant because He is not passive in the midst of our various sufferings. We all suffer in various ways; that’s part of being human. But when we participate as ministers of His kingdom plans, we find that our hardships, rather than crushing us, become the catalyst for our internal growth. That is what the Apostle Paul means when he says, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

It’s something worth pondering when we examine our own lives. Think of the trials, the upsets, the traumas we’ve experienced. Have they crushed us? Do they leave us in despair, feeling abandoned and destroyed? That is what this world will do to every one of us. That is its default setting. We’re all jars of clay wondering whether our next fall will be all it takes to shatter us.

But Paul reminds us that the treasure of Christ living deep within these feeble clay jars of our lives accomplishes something eternal. It testifies to the fact that there is something supernatural going on in our lives when we are facing troubles.

He says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” He is not saying the power is within us, as if we ourselves were capable of staving off destruction. We are not jars of steel. He is saying that we reveal God’s power to transform lives from the inside out, when we allow Him to work through our pain. Others will see Christ in us as we face difficulties aware of His presence with us. That is the glow we see on the faces of the Iranian women.

Rather than trials wreaking havoc on our lives, God’s ministry in and through us is a resource for our growth and development. It’s not just for today or tomorrow, but it makes us people fit for eternity’s vast realm.

“Therefore we do not lose heart…for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Father God, we choose to embrace Your presence in our lives today, not to escape our troubles but that You would transform us through them. May Your strength carry us, Your love comfort us, and Your truth embolden us to be ministers of Your kingdom.

We are but jars of clay in Your hands.

 

(Photo and story Credit: http://billygraham.org/story/former-prisoners-of-iran-now-voice-of-hope/)

PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON: Part 9 Conclusion

John 14:8-26  Part 9: Conclusion

 

The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from ...

The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from the Gospel of John. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

PROSPECTUS: A document that advertises an enterprise in order to attract or inform members.

 

This series on the PROSPECTUS FOR PRAYING PERSONS comes to a completion. Today’s wind-up is not so much an ending as a beginning, not so much a conclusion as a commissioning.  Jesus makes the seven promises not only to ‘attract or inform’ us; He wants to TRANSFORM us. He is calling us to place these promises as central to our hopes and dreams, to place them above every plan and intent of our day. Remember what He offers?

 

LIMITLESS POWER, INDWELLING COUNSEL, SPIRITUAL VISION, ETERNAL LIFE, HOLY COMMUNITY, APOCALYPTIC LOVE, and INTIMATE MENTORING.

 

Let’s rise up and take what He promises. Let’s enter into the adventure of daily drawing from the promissory notes God places within our reach. Jesus was vitally concerned to communicate these promises—His final instructions prior to His earthly death must be significant.

 

Jesus closes His discourse with a prayer of intercession for us (see John chapter 17).  He uses words like ‘unity’, ‘love’ and ‘glory’.  He wants very badly to see us actively participate in this great plan of His; He can see something we don’t yet fully see, and it’s good. Very good.

 

So let’s encourage one another to embrace a life that strives after these promises.  He wants to give, so let’s be receivers of the benefits. The prospects are excellent.

 

(Challenge: Find the gospel of John and read through chapters 14-17 every day for a week or more. What does God highlight for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.)