Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tomorrow's Troubles

Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow . . . (Matthew 6:25-34).

Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” (Exodus 16:16-21)

So many of the worries we live with today aren’t about today; they are about days yet to come. Jesus said tomorrow would take care of itself – but it doesn’t hurt to get a jump on things, or so we think.

When God provided manna in the desert he gave his people some clear instruction on how it was to be gathered. They were to collect only what was needed for that day, no more, no less. The manna could not be stored overnight; they could not carefully ration out one day's allotment so as to be sure that there would be breakfast the next morning. The story is thousands of years old, but little has changed. God still does what he said he would do. And we still do what God told us not to do.

As for God, he has forever been and always will be our provider. God knows what you need. God gladly listens to what you want – but he knows perfectly what you need. And what you need will not be withheld. Quite often we express our wants with impatience. We speak of our lack with resentment. Nevertheless, God graciously provides. That’s the way it was in the wilderness. That’s the way it is right now.

And as for us, we cheat. With our worry we scoop up tomorrow’s bread. Gratitude for what we find on the ground today quickly withers in the heat of our anxiety over next week, or next month. We pray on Sunday as Jesus taught us: “Give us this day our daily bread.” But on Monday we break the rules. That’s the way it was in the wilderness. That’s the way it is right now.

God gave these instructions to his people in order to teach them. With every new morning they would learn something about God. Their boldness in his goodness would grow with each sunrise as the dew lifted and the day’s provision lay on the ground. They were learning to trust, to let go.

One can easily imagine that in the darkness of the night, after the day’s manna had been consumed at supper time, after the children were sleeping, some fathers were lying awake and wondering if it would be there again in the morning. Could they depend on what they were learning every day about their God? Could they let go of their anxieties about feeding the family and know that God would provide? Could they sleep?

Surrender is what your soul does in the dark of night that allows you to sleep, at rest in the care of God. We spend a lifetime learning to do this. Every new morning is a chance to learn again or perhaps to learn more.

Next Steps:
Read Exodus 16:16-21. Are any of your worries focused on tomorrow or beyond? What will you learn about the goodness of God today?

Gracious God, you have always been faithful to provide what we need. And yet, we brood over tomorrow as if, for some random and unknown reason, you will forget us. Forgive the fear that keeps us awake at night and the pride that drives us to gather as much as we can each day. Teach us trust you more with every new morning, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Pride of Worry

Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life . . . (Matt. 6:25-34)

Why do we worry like we do?

Jesus could not have been more direct in his instruction to us about this. His meaning was plain. Do not worry about your life – about what you’re wearing or where your next meal will come from. God clothes acres of wildflowers and lilies. God feeds birds and chipmunks and every wild creature. God will care for you.

But still . . . we worry. We may be fine with our wardrobe and the groceries that fill our pantry – but our hearts are endlessly creative in finding ways to do the very thing that Jesus told us not to do. We worry about our children and our health. Grown children worry about their aging parents and their health. We worry about the economy and whether we’ll survive another downsizing. Jesus told us not to do this. We really don’t want to do it. But we do it anyway.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls us to a life of confident trust in God. And yet, we seem determined not to live that way. Jesus tells that our worrying won’t add a single hour to our life, but we seem to think it will. Perhaps the reason we worry, strangely enough, is that we are proud.

Anxious people don’t look proud. To the extent that anxiety is visible at all, we don’t expect to see the visage of a proud person. What we expect is quite the opposite of that. Anxious people look fearful and fidgety; they seem shrouded in a kind of sadness that shows itself in a preoccupied look or presence. Whereas the proud seem to boast in their strength, the anxious seem burdened in their weakness. But push beneath appearances and what we find is surprising. Consider for a moment the words of 1 Peter 5:6-7.

Humble yourselves therefore under God’s mighty hand so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Notice first that the simple command of these two verses is that we humble ourselves under God’s hand. Of course, humbling ourselves is the exact opposite of pride. Pride wants to be above everyone and everything.

Notice further that this humbling is done in a very specific way. As we cast our anxieties on God we are humbling ourselves under his mighty hand. Knowing that we are loved by God, we cast our anxieties on him and in doing so we humble ourselves before him. When we insist on clinging to and feeding our anxieties, constantly gnawing on what-ifs and maybes, we are not being fearful as much as we are being proud.

Next Steps:
This week we’ll get honest about our worries as we listen to Jesus words in Matthew 6:25-34. For starters, read the text and identify the specific reasons Jesus gives us for not living anxiously. What specific worry do you need to throw off today, casting it on your loving and powerful God?

Forgive us, O God, for living our days as if the things that truly matter depend upon us. Grant to us the humility that works hard while worrying less, casting our cares on you because we know you care for us. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Father Issues

Our Father in heaven . . . (Matt. 6:9)

Craig Barnes opens his fine book, Searching for Home, by telling the story of his father’s funeral.

Barnes shares that he rarely, if ever, heard from his Dad. His father had left the family years ago and they never knew for sure where he was. One day someone called to tell them that the father they didn’t really know had died. He had been living in a small trailer in Florida.

After the funeral, Barnes recalls, he and his brother were asked if they cared to look through the trailer to see if there might have been anything that belonged to their father that they wanted to keep. Barnes recalls finding something that he remembered from childhood: a three-ring leather notebook that held his used-to-be-preacher Dad’s sermon notes and assorted reflections. At the back of the notebook Barnes made a stunning discovery.

Across the top of a fresh page was written “Daily Prayer List.” The first two names on the list belonged to my brother and me. A bit further down he even included the name of our mother, his long-divorced wife. I had assumed that Dad has forgotten us, or that when it came to the mental file marked ‘family’ he had somehow found a way to press ‘delete.’ But we were there in his prayers on his last day. (Barnes, Searching for Home, 9-12)

Barnes’ powerful story reminds us that we need to do some work and clear the ground before we can truly pray the words Jesus gave us – especially those opening words: “Our Father in heaven.” There are some ‘Father issues’ that we need to deal with.

First, we’re reminded that the word Father does not always evoke pleasant and endearing thoughts. Father can be a pain-laden word spoken by pain-laden people. The word gets caught in the throat and becomes a block to prayer rather than a help in drawing us to God. But we don’t define God by our life experience. God defines us and helps us make sense of our life experience, both the blessed and the not so blessed.

Second, there are some who hear “in heaven” and think that God is distant and aloof, unavailable and uninterested in us. This isn’t so. Granted, there will be times when we feel that way, but our feelings are not always reliable in matters of prayer.

When you have no idea where God is in your life, when you can’t remember the last time you heard from God, when your efforts to find him seem to come up empty, you can be sure of this: God knows exactly where you are. God will not abandon his children. Your name is in his book and your life is held firmly in his hand.

The word Father may give rise to gratitude. It may give rise to grief. But in the end we only know the Father by looking at the Son. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Gracious God, we thank you for fathers who blessed us. We ask you to fill us with grace toward fathers who didn’t. And we pray that you will teach us what fathers and mothers are meant to be as we look to you and your son. Teach us to pray with our eyes on Jesus, coming to you as our good and faithful Father, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Thinking Well

We must break ourselves of the habit of thinking of the Creator as we think of His creatures. It is probably impossible to think without words, but if we permit ourselves to think with the wrong words, we shall soon be entertaining erroneous thoughts; for words, which are given us for the expression of thought, have a habit of going beyond their proper bounds and determining the content of thought. "As nothing is more easy than to think," says Thomas Traherne, "so nothing is more difficult than to think well." If we ever think well it should be when we think of God.

(A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 22)