In a Besieged City

carcassonneHindsight is great. There is much wisdom to be gained by reflecting on life that has already happened. I find that pondering life’s tougher episodes is especially enlightening. So, in the evening, I sometimes ask God to review the day with me and show me where I missed the mark, where I missed Him, so that when a similar situation comes up in the future, I’ll be more prepared, more present to God, more ready to respond to whatever happens with grace.

Foresight is great, too. In the morning, I like to anticipate my day—whom will I encounter? What tasks will I undertake? What circumstances will threaten my peace or joy? What opportunities will God entrust to me? Where might the enemy seek to cause damage to or through me? By anticipating these and talking them over with God ahead of time, I obviously am more likely to be in step with the Holy Spirit.

However, even when practicing these good spiritual habits, I find that more often than I’d like, I still sometimes myself blindsided in the present. I may enter a situation prayed up and spiritually alert—and still be knocked to the floor by feelings, words, or happenings that I wasn’t ready for.

I don’t have the answer to that difficulty yet. But the Lord did give insight yesterday that I’ll be pondering it for a while. It came from Psalm 31, a psalm of David, who certainly knew better than most of us what it is to be taken out by surprise attacks both from without and within.

After describing enemies and persecutors who lie, plot, shame, and speak contemptuously, David breaks into praise:

Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of the children of mankind!
In the cover of your presence you hide them
from the plots of men;
you store them in your shelter
from the strife of tongues.

Cool stuff, right? But here is the part that I found most riveting:

Blessed be the LORD,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was in a besieged city. (Psalm 31:19-21, emphasis added)

David knew God’s steadfast love while he was under siege. Yes, he knew it before. Yes, he also knew it afterwards. But he knew it “wondrously” even in the middle of the attack.

I’m not there yet. When I’m under attack, I do not find it easy to connect with God’s steadfast love. I don’t find it easy to connect with God, period. But this psalm encourages me. It reminds me that it is possible to know and experience the tender mercy of God, even in the midst of an assault. So that is my prayer.

I’d love to hear from you folks. Have you learned David’s secret? Do you experience God’s steadfast love even when you are in “a besieged city”? I’d love to learn from you.

Intentions of the Heart

I don’t especially enjoy list praying. But I pray lists nonetheless. If I don’t, inevitably something or someone important falls through the cracks. And I don’t want to “sin against the LORD by failing to pray for [the people and concerns God has especially placed on my heart]” (1 Samuel 12:23).

So, especially on weekends when I have a little more time, I pray from a list. My list contains quite a few mainstays—the people and ministries I have committed to pray for. But the list also changes from week to week, depending on what special situations I am aware around the world and in my local church and community.

Anyway, I was praying from this list this past weekend. I got everything covered. But I felt as if I were merely going through the motions. Yes, I loved the people I prayed for. Yes, the matters I interceded about were important. But I felt nothing much except relief that I’d gotten it done.

I felt bad about not being more fervent. I felt as if I should apologize to God for my lack of passion. So I did. He responded by recalling to my mind Romans, 8:26-27:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Thank You, Sweet Spirit, I prayed. Thank You for taking the intentions of my heart and making them into prayers that are acceptable to the Father. Thank You that You don’t hold my weakness against me—instead, You condescend to help me. What a kind God You are.

And then, almost as a P.S., I thought of something I learned only recently. Some streams of the Christian faith have a term they use for specific intercession. They call it “special intention” or “prayers of intention.” How cool is that? God understands our intention—we want for Him to bring His good kingdom into the situations that concern us—but we can only intend. We can’t make any of it happen. In fact, we don’t even know how best to pray. But God sees our intentions. And He works even when our prayers are frail and feeble.

Praying Like Mother Teresa

I always thought that loving difficult people came easily to nuns. I mean, isn’t it something they just naturally do? Surely they don’t struggle with it like I do!

But in the pages of Jan Johnson’s new (and excellent) book Meeting God in Scripture, I came across a prayer of Mother Teresa’s that suggests otherwise. What if it was no easier for Mother Teresa to love prickly people than it is for me? What if she just asked God for help more frequently and desperately than I do?

Here’s the prayer:

Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and, whilst nursing them, minister unto you.

Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say: “Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.”

And O God, while you are Jesus my patient, deign also to be to me a patient Jesus, bearing with my faults, looking only to my intention, which is to love and serve you in the person of each one of your sick.

Lord, increase my faith, bless my efforts and work, now and for evermore, Amen.*

I need this prayer! I need to see Jesus in the “unattractive disguise” of the sandpaper people I encounter on any given day. I need Him to accept my feeble attempts at loving as ministry offered to Him. I need him “to be to me a patient Jesus.” I need Him to look past my faults so He can see my intentions. I need this increase of faith and blessing on my efforts and work.

So this is another prayer I expect I will be memorizing and praying often.** And though I am quite sure no one will mistake me for Mother Teresa, perhaps, by God’s grace, over time, He will enable me to have more of His own love for people, even the ones who are tough to love.

*I am quoting Jan Johnson (Meeting God in Scripture, p. 185) who was quoting Veronica Zundel, ed, Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers: A Treasury of Christian Prayers Through the Centuries.

**See also https://wordpress.com/stats/day/cynthiaprayblog.wordpress.com?startDate=2016-09-30

Do Not Be Alarmed

I shouldn’t look at email and social media first thing in the morning. I know this. I’ve even made a confession to that effect in an earlier post. But I still do it sometimes. Actually, I still do it a lot.

Like a couple of weeks ago. In less than 10 minutes, I had a disturbing briefing of conspiracy-theory politics, tainted food warnings, heresy allegations, and gloomy presidential election forecasts.

One email even promised “This will alarm you!”—and sure enough, it did! My thoughts, my emotions, even my body felt agitated.

I left my computer, got my coffee, and went to spent time with God. As I poured out my fears and anxieties—and embarrassment for letting these things trouble me like they did—He gently reminded me that He is still on the throne. He is still working all things, including those I’d been assaulted with that morning, together for His good purposes.

How panic-ridden our culture is—even (especially?) our Christian culture! How myriad are the ways the enemy tries to paralyze us with fear. Even Christian media too often succumbs to rumor-spreading, sensationalism, and fear mongering.

But fear does not strengthen my faith—it kills it. It makes me feel weak, powerless, even hopeless at times. The solution can’t be denial, though. So I asked the Lord to give me a strategy to combat the enemy’s attempts to undo me with fear.

A few days later, I did some personal Bible study. As I meandered through Old and New Testaments according to the map my online Bible tools provided, I was surprised by all the “do not” commands I found.

Do not …

  • fear the people of the land (Numbers 14:9).
  • fear or panic, or dread your enemies (Deuteronomy 20:3).
  • be discouraged (Joshua 1:9 etc.).
  • fear or dread the conspiracies everyone else is talking about (Isaiah 8:12).
  • be dismayed (Isaiah 41:10, etc.).
  • fear the reproach of mere mortals (Isaiah 51:7).
  • fear disgrace (Isaiah 54:4).
  • fear a wicked king (Jeremiah 42:11).
  • be afraid when rumors are heard in the land (Jeremiah 51:46).
  • be afraid of rebellious, obstinate, or stubborn people, or their words (Ezekiel 2:3-6).
  • lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:16, etc.).
  • fear unjust threats (1 Peter 3:14).

And why not? Because of who God is and what He does. Just look at a tiny sampling if it!

  • He strengthens those whose hearts are fully committed to Him (2 Chronicles 16:9).
  • He makes us bold and stouthearted (Psalm 138:3, NIV 1984 edition).
  • He is our strength, song, and salvation (Isaiah 12:2).
  • He strengthens and helps us (Isaiah 41:10).
  • He goes before, with, and after us (Isaiah 52:12).
  • He renews us day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
  • He gives us a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

Just reading God’s reassuring words encouraged me. But I knew that I would need that encouragement on a regular basis. So I wrote down some of the “do not” reminders on a note card. And then underneath them, I wrote God’s promises. This card sits on my desk, by my laptop where I get most of my news.

I can’t stick my head in the sand and not pay attention to what is happening around me. But I can defend myself from alarm, panic, discouragement and dismay. And what can do that better than the never-changing Word of God?