Friday, July 26, 2013

Where Did He Go?

After leaving them he went up on a mountainside to pray (Mark 6:45).

Jesus told us to seek and we shall find, but there are days when it doesn’t work that way.

Our failure to find God in the rhythms of the everyday isn’t for lack of trying. The seeking doesn’t lead to finding, or perhaps the seeking and finding are separated by long waiting.

Belief is not the problem. We readily affirm that God is at work every day in the everyday. We acknowledge that God is present with us. But in the contour of our everyday living there are barren stretches where God is not found. We conclude that God has left us.

We wouldn’t be the first to come to such a conclusion. Many centuries ago this same kind of experience led the Psalmist to ask “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). In his dying anguish Jesus picked up the line and prayed it from the cross.

Mark’s gospel provides us with story after story that show us the different ways that Jesus shows up, making appearances here and there, revealing God in the everyday. There are however at least two instances when Jesus absents himself from the scene of what is happening.

He isn’t showing up. He’s taking off.

In one instance, Jesus gets up early and leaves the house where he and the disciples are staying and goes away to a solitary place to pray. Mark uses the same verb twice in the sentence. He tells us that Jesus “went out” and “went away” (Mark 1:35).

The second instance followed the feeding of the five thousand when the disciples were getting in a boat to head to Bethsaida. Jesus didn’t join them. Mark tells us that “after leaving them he went up on a mountain to pray” (Mark 6:45).

Both instances result in anxiety and fear for Jesus’ followers. In the first instance they are searching for Jesus because so many people have needs and want his attention. In the second instance they are caught in a storm and fighting the elements of nature.

And in both instances, while the disciples are in angst, Jesus is at prayer.

To the followers of Jesus it seemed that Jesus had left them to themselves; he isn’t where he’s supposed to be; he isn’t there when they need him. But in both times Jesus is exactly where is supposed to be. He is praying. He was praying then – and he prays even now.

When it’s hard to find God in the everyday these stories are God’s gift to encourage us. Jesus has not abandoned us, even when it seems that he has. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that even now Jesus prays for us. “He always lives to intercede for them.” That includes us and all who come to God through him. (Hebrews 7:25).

Our efforts to find God in the everyday sometimes leave us perplexed. “Where did he go?” He goes to God for you, intercedes for you. Jesus is praying for you right now – and that knowledge can change the everyday of any day.

Lord Jesus, we give you thanks that when we don’t know how to pray for ourselves you pray for us. You have promised never to leave us or forsake us, and we claim that promise today. When we struggle to find you in the midst of our days, strengthen us with the knowledge of your eternal intercession on our behalf. Amen.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rest . . . A Learned Behavior

Take my yoke upon you . . . and you will find rest for your souls (Matt. 11:28-29)

Jesus told us that his yoke was easy and his burden light.

Perhaps at some point in your life you believed him. You looked to his grace. You took his yoke upon you just as he said to do. But having taken his yoke you find you’re still plowing your own row. You feel the tension when Jesus moves in a direction you’d rather not go, when he plods along at a pace that feels far too slow.

You’ve taken his yoke, but it hasn’t been easy.

When we were children summer was naturally a time for play. Then we grew up and the play became far less natural. Adults have a way of turning their play into work. Our summer pace is often as relentless as it is at any other time of year. To rest takes effort; we have to re-learn what we once knew instinctively.

In our spiritual life we are frequently dismayed when we discover that the rest to which Jesus calls us has to be learned. We are not naturally inclined to move with him as we walk in his power. Taking the yoke is followed by learning the way; rest is found in both the taking and the learning.

In Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus possibly borrowed language from rabbinic and wisdom sayings in Judaism. He knew about the “yoke of wisdom” and the “yoke of the law.” His words bear some similarity to these words of Jeremiah.

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 (Jeremiah 6:16).

Jeremiah seems to be telling us that the paths that lead to rest are not obvious. These ancient paths need to be sought out. We have to ask about where they are and how to find them. In other words, we have to learn to walk in this good and ancient way. The learning leads to the walking and the walking leads us to rest for the soul.

When it comes to the Jesus way, we are always learners. Jesus uses the raw material of your life to teach you the ancient paths and led you to rest. That includes every detail of this day that has yet to unfold.

Enter the day with an eagerness to learn. Be patient with yourself. Risk making a mistake, and lean hard on God’s mercy and grace. Don’t dismiss anything you have planned or anything that comes up today that didn’t fit into your plans. God is using it all to form the likeness of Jesus in you.

Do just what Jeremiah said: ask for the ancient and good paths that lead to rest. And do just what Jesus said: learn from him. In the asking and learning you will find rest for your soul.

Lord Jesus, my prayer today is a quest for the ancient paths. I’m asking you to show me the way that is right and good. By the presence of your Holy Spirit, be my teacher today. Help me to learn your ways as I take your yoke and walk with you. Lead me to the rest you so freely offer. Amen

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Not So Great Expectations

So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them (Acts 3:5).

I am married to an optimist. After seventeen years you might think that some of that optimism would have rubbed off on me. It hasn’t happened, much to the chagrin of my dear wife.

My problem doesn’t merit a diagnosis. As far as I know I’m not depressed. But there’s something in the wiring of my brain that predisposes me to see what won’t work, what might go wrong, what won’t happen according to plan.

On most days this sour inclination is simply annoying, to both me and my wife. But there are times when the knee-jerk woes are more than irritating. They are an affront to God. Pessimism is a nest that allows faithlessness to hatch into other things like anxiety and bitterness and lack of trust. None of these make for a life of robust faith.

In Acts 3 we’re told about a man who took a beggar’s post every day near the gate called Beautiful. The story says nothing abut his internal world – hopeful or desperate, optimistic or pessimistic. All we know is that he can’t walk. Never has walked. He lives by the pity and generosity of others. Carried by others, he is placed near the gate and waits for those moving about on two good legs to notice him and be moved to part with their spare change.

His expectations don’t appear to be high. As Peter and John make their way to the temple to pray, the beggar asks for money, but he doesn’t ask with real anticipation. He mouths his request but doesn’t really take notice of Peter and John. Peter has to get his attention. “Look at us,” Peter says.

The beggar looks, and here we get a glimpse into his expectations. He turns to Peter expecting to get alms. He hears Peter’s summons as a call to extend the hand and receive the only income he can manage to collect. The beggar expected a few more coins, but he received so much more than he expected. Peter has no coins to give, no silver, no gold. But what he does have is power, and he gladly gives it. With authority, in the name of Jesus, Peter tells the beggar to walk.

Our expectations, it seems, are often defined by our experience. Faith is not. Faith has veto power over repeated experiences that breed low expectations.

Jesus confronts our low expectations and invites us to live by faith. Perhaps we live far too many of our days like the beggar, content to get what we need to survive, but never dreaming that anything more than mere survival might be possible. Our expectations get conditioned by a handful of coins, but God in his power makes us stand up and leap about and worship. Is this day already defined for you by all your yesterdays? What would it mean to live this day by faith?

Lord Jesus, any and every day can bring the unexpected. Give me the kind of faith that is ready and attentive for whatever you might be doing around me. Raise my sights above the routine and familiar. Let the miracles that unfold in ordinary things move me to worship and praise you. Amen.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Cost of Hurry

The fruit of the Spirit is . . . patience (Gal. 5:22)

Mark Buchanan’s fine book The Rest of God relates a story handed down through several generations of his wife’s family. This piece of lore tells about his wife’s grandmother Alice, who lived in a part of the Yukon known for luring gold-hunters willing to take great risks for the sake of great riches.

Grandma Alice had a garden in which there sat a massive stone. In as much as the stone would never be moved, Alice worked hard to beautify it and make it the natural centerpiece of the garden. She regularly polished the stone, rubbing it down to a smooth shine.

On one such occasion, as she polished the stone, she noted a fine caking of gold colored flakes. Pressing her moist finger to the stone she discovered a powdery gold-dust. Whatever it was that seized men and threw them into the raw elements to strike gold seized grandma Alice that day. She began to rub the stone feverishly, “like it was a bloodstain,” seeing the powdery gold accumulate with every stroke.

As weariness caught up with her she paused to wipe her brow, and then noticed with horror her left hand. Her wedding band was nearly as thin as a wire on the underside of her finger, thick and normal up top. In her eagerness, she had been grinding away her wedding band, chasing a treasure which wasn’t there at the expense of a treasure that was.

Buchanan reflects on the episode this way:

I’ve squandered treasures in pursuit of dust. I’ve eroded precious, irreplaceable things in my efforts to extract something that’s not actually there . . . Here are a few: all the times I never swam in a cool lake with my children, made a snowman or baked sugar cookies with them, lingered in bed with my wife on a Saturday morning, or helped a friend in need all because I was in a hurry to – well, that’s just it. I don’t remember. I was just in a hurry . . . I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things lie in the wake of all that rushing. Through all that haste, I thought I was making up time. Turns out I was throwing it away. Sanding away my wedding ring. (The Rest of God, 43-45).

To live with patience means to live at a pace that allows us to truly experience life. A hurried life, a life lived anxiously, frenetic and impatient, has a price tag. We grind away our treasures as we chase what we think we must have, only to find we haven’t truly lived.

How does Buchanan’s story speak to your life? What treasures are you sacrificing because of hurry? What would it take to break that pattern?

Lord Jesus, I am too often in a hurry. I feel the push of expectations and demands, of schedules tightly packed. Grant me the kind of patience that resists hurry, and teach me to live the abundant life that you came to give, threough Christ our Lord. Amen.