Tag Archives: Anxiety

An Autopsy of My Fears

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For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;

Psalm 91:11 (NIV)

In this riotous year of 2020, I have endeavored to keep my mouth shut and both my eyes and ears open. The division and discord have been palpable, but I have truly desired to be an agent of peace, love, and unity. I confess that I haven’t been perfect, but it was my endeavor. Never in my life have I felt James’ directive so necessary and difficult when he wrote:

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”
James 1:19 (NIV)

One of the observations I’ve made this year as I’ve watched and listened is how individuals respond and react to fear. It’s led me to meditate on my own fears. What is it that I’m afraid of? The truth of the matter is that I have had no fear of the coronavirus, but I have really struggled with fear of business failure and financial loss. I have become more dutiful in wearing my mask when I’m running errands out in public, but I confess that it’s not because I’m afraid of getting COVID, but rather I’m afraid of offending others. I also had no fear about who America’s president would be, but I did struggle with fear about my personal future.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 91, stood out as I read it for its unwavering confidence. If you haven’t noticed, many of the psalms are laments and expressions of all the human emotions that come along with personal struggles, spiritual struggles, and national struggles. There’s none of that in the lyrics of this song. Psalm 91 could be a prosperity preacher’s theme song. It’s a “name it and claim it” treasure trove.

The verse I spotlighted at the top of the post is interesting because it was quoted by Satan when he was tempting Jesus at the launch of His public ministry. The story goes like this:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

As I pondered this, it struck me that at the end of Jesus’ forty-day fast and facing the enemy’s temptations, angels did attend to Him. And, on the night before Jesus was to be crucified, angels once again attended to Him in His agony. The promises of Psalm 90 were true. Those promises, however, were not that Jesus could confidently get or have what He wants, but that He could confidently and faithfully accomplish what He ought.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself circling back to my fears. The forensic autopsy of my fear leaves me realizing that I have a relatively easy time trusting God with the big things, the cosmic things, and global things. My struggle is trusting God with the small things, the personal things, and the things that hit me where I am personally most vulnerable: my pride, my purpose, and my provision.

Is that where an enemy target’s their prey? Attack the weak spot. Hit the places where they are most vulnerable.

I read through the ancient Hebrew lyrics of Psalm 91 once again. Jesus’ example provides me with such crucial context. The psalm is not about me avoiding all pain, suffering, or hardship. The angels, after all, shored Jesus up in the Garden so that He could fulfill the way of suffering and sacrifice: quite literally His journey to death, hell, and back. Psalm 90 is about having the confidence that, as long as I am seeking to faithfully pursue God’s purposes for me, I can be assured that I will not be left alone or forsaken. I will be spiritually provided with everything I need to finish the journey. Maybe not in every moment I want it so my life can be easier, but every time I truly need it so my life can accomplish my own role in the Great Story.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

“Centering Down”

As they make music they will sing,
    “All my fountains are in you.”

Psalm 87:7 (NIV)

Just this last week there was news from the Gallup organization regarding an annual survey of mental health in America comparing respondents in 2020 to 2019. Given the tumultuous year we’ve experienced on almost every front, I’d expect the mental health of Americans to be strained. It was. The percent of individuals who rated their mental health as “excellent” dropped in every demographic presented in the data except one. Those who attended weekly religious services saw the only increase in the number of respondents who rated their mental health as “excellent.” Comparatively, there were double-digit declines of those who said they never or irregularly attended religious services.

A couple of weeks ago, Laine Korver was my guest on the Wayfarer Weekend Podcast and we talked about spiritual formation. I mentioned in that episode a brief period of time when I served among a local gathering of Jesus followers in the Quaker (a.k.a. the Society of Friends) tradition. It was fascinating for me because I had zero experience with the tradition and I quite honestly had a number of divergent theological views. Still, it turned out to be a great experience.

In the Friends tradition, regular “weekly meetings” (as they refer to what most churches would call a worship service) are held in silence. There is no order of service. In the silence, participants spiritually “center down.” In all of the traditions I’ve experienced as a follower of Jesus, it was the first time I’d experienced the practice of silence as a regular spiritual discipline. It was powerful, and I learned a lot during that stretch of my spiritual journey about my soul’s need for quiet.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 87 is a short song celebrating Jerusalem, or Mount Zion, which the ancient Hebrews believed was the center of God’s presence on earth and the cosmos. It is unique within the anthology we call the book of Psalms. It prophetically pictures the people from all of the nations coming to Jerusalem and acknowledging God, which parallels similar scenes in John’s Revelation.

What is also important about Psalm 87 is where it was placed by the editors who compiled the anthology. It is “centered” between four laments, two on each side. The bookends to Psalm 87 contain both a personal lament and a community lament expressing times of distress and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts the “center” is where the Hebrew songwriters tended to place what they believed was of key importance. By placing this call to God’s presence sandwiched between four laments the editors were metaphorically calling me as a reader to “center down” and come to God’s presence in the midst of my distress, both personal distress, and community/national distress. What I will find there, the song’s final line tells me is God’s “fountain” or “spring.” I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words:

“Everyone who drinks [water from this well] will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” John 4:13-14 (MSG)

I find myself once again centering down in the quiet again this morning. It’s where I experience the flow, the spring, the spiritual fountain even in the middle of life’s distresses.

My mental health is excellent, thanks.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Voices on the Whispering WInd

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The land yields its harvest;
    God, our God, blesses us.

Psalm 67:6 (NIV)

Growing up in the city, I had very little personal exposure to the agricultural industry that fuels our region. The news radio my dad had on every morning made a big deal about farming and markets, but it made no sense to me. I have this one memory of riding along with our dad in the family station wagon. I had to have been about five years old. I watched my dad jump a fence into a cow pasture to collect dried piles of cow manure into the back of the station wagon which he used to fertilize the garden in the backyard. That’s pretty much it other than driving through the fields to my grandparent’s house.

As an adult, I’ve spent about twenty years of my life in small rural towns where agriculture is all around me. Behind our back yard is an open field. There are cows on the other side of the golf course that winds through our neighborhood. The building where our local gathering of Jesus followers meets is next door to livestock farm, and when the wind is blowing just right the smell motivates you to high-tail it inside. I don’t have the buffer and insulation I had as a kid. Agriculture surrounds me at all times.

Because of this, and the fact that Wendy grew up on a farm and her dad taught Agriculture, I’ve gained an appreciation for the people, the lives, and the industry that helps feed the world. It’s also helped me understand and appreciate, with greater depth, an important spiritual principle: me, my life, and my circumstances, are of little regard to Creation. The Great Story constantly reminds me to keep my life in perspective:

“All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall”

1 Peter 1:24

“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14

Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.]
    There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.
One generation goes its way, the next one arrives,
    but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old
        planet earth.
The sun comes up and the sun goes down,
    then does it again, and again—the same old round.
The wind blows south, the wind blows north.
    Around and around and around it blows,
    blowing this way, then that—the whirling, erratic wind.
All the rivers flow into the sea,
    but the sea never fills up.
The rivers keep flowing to the same old place,
    and then start all over and do it again.
What was will be again,
    what happened will happen again.
There’s nothing new on this earth.
    Year after year it’s the same old thing.
Does someone call out, “Hey, this is new”?
    Don’t get excited—it’s the same old story.
Nobody remembers what happened yesterday.
    And the things that will happen tomorrow?
Nobody’ll remember them either.
    Don’t count on being remembered.

Ecclesiastes 1 (MSG)

Without faith, these are kind of depressing thoughts. With faith, it becomes essential spiritual perspective. The fields yielded their fruit again with the autumn harvest, things will die in winter and new life will emerge once again in the spring. Just like it did for the The earth continues to spin, the seasons continue to cycle, the planets continue their dance around the sun. The sun continues its dance around the galaxy. The galaxy continues its trek in the universe.

The coronavirus is nothing in the grand scheme of eternity, and neither is a presidential election. I grumble and complain, yet if I incline my ear to the whispers on the wind of history I hear voices, millions of voices, calling out.

200 million voices of those who died in the Black Death in Europe and Asia in the Middle Ages.

56 million voices who died of Smallpox in the 1500s.

40 million voices who died of the Spanish Flu between 1918-1920.

30 million voices who died in the plague of Justinian. In 541, it is estimated that there were 10,000 deaths per day and there were so many bodies they couldn’t keep up with burials so bodies were piled up and stuffed in buildings and left out in the open.

And still, the whole of creation continued its dance. The earth danced around the sun every 365 days or so. The seasons came and went like clockwork. The crops sprouted each spring, they grew each summer, they yielded their fruit each fall before the death of winter prepared for another annual resurrection.

In the quiet this morning, I’m listening to those voices on the whispering wind. My heart grumbles, but it never grumbles with essential spiritual perspective in mind. Grumbling only happens when my momentary circumstances deceive me into putting on my blinders of self-importance.

Thanksgiving is in 10 days. When I finish this post and podcast I’m headed into town for coffee with a friend. I’ll drive past the fields that have, once again, yielded their abundance. Those same fields fed families and provided for those who suffered through three years of the ravages of Spanish Flu. They will still be feeding generations who will have long forgotten my existence when the next pandemic makes its way through humanity.

Essential spiritual perspective that Jesus used the fields he and his followers were sitting in to make this same point.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Indeed. Today, I give thanks.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Fear Response

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When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3 (NIV)

This past weekend I enjoyed watching the full moon rising through our window on All Hallow’s Eve. It’s a rare occurrence. It was fun to have trick-or-treaters dressed up and ringing the doorbell on Saturday evening, though the numbers were certainly down in this year of COVID. On Saturday morning Wendy and I enjoyed FaceTime with our grandson, Milo, in his costume. We loved watching him do his rendition of a monster while mom and dad sang The Monster Mash.

For some, of course, Halloween is a time of celebrating fear. And, to be honest, I have never been into scary movies and stories when the intent is to create a false sense of fear in me. No, thank you. I’m happy to avoid fear when at all possible. I have enough experiences in life that create the real emotion of fear!

Today’s chapter, Psalm 56, is the second song David penned out of one very real and fearful moment in his life (the first song was Psalm 34). David found himself alone in the middle of his enemy’s walled city and gated city, surrounded by the enemy’s army. He went there to try to convince them to make an alliance with him as a mercenary, but then he suddenly realized that the enemy wanted to capture him and turn him over to King Saul and collect the bounty Saul had placed on his head. He was out-numbered, out-gunned, and seemingly out of options. He had every reason to be really, truly afraid.

Confession: Compared to David’s dire circumstances, any fearful moment in my life seems relatively silly. Sometimes comparison is good for a healthy dose of perspective, isn’t it?

Along life’s journey, I’ve found fear to be a debilitating emotion and acting out of fear to be spiritually counter-productive. I’ve observed that I can’t really walk in faith and fear at the same time. They cancel each other out. I’m either allowing one to control my thoughts, words, and actions, or the other.

What struck me in the lyrics of David’s song this morning is that he speaks of trusting God as a willful, conscious, intentional act:

When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

What does that look like? For me, it requires a conscious verbal commitment in which I acknowledge my fear and then tell God that I am choosing to trust Him. That might initially be a period of time in which I have a heart-to-heart conversation with God detailing my fears, anxieties, and worries. I might also spend some time meditating on past situations in which I felt afraid and God was faithful in getting me through. At some point I specifically verbalize it: “God, I’m choosing to put my trust in you.” I’ll also focus on a verse or verses of scripture like David’s prayer in Psalm 56:3 and memorize it.

Then as I’m going through my day and recognize the fear welling up inside me, I quietly restate that verse like a popcorn prayer.

I’ll think it. “When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

I’ll whisper it to myself as I’m sitting at my desk. When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

If I’m alone I’ll even say it out loud: When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

I might repeat it incessantly as a mantra:

When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

In the quiet this morning I find my thoughts swirling around the most contentious American presidential election in my lifetime. I have loved ones camped on both sides of the aisle. I long ago observed that politicians use fear of the other side as the core of their campaign playbook because they have long known that fear is the easiest tool to motivate humans to act. With that in mind, I enter this work week with the realization that my country is divided down the middle and the one thing we most have in common is fear of each others’ candidates.

Fear is spiritually counter-productive. I can’t walk in faith and fear at the same time. If I really believe what I say I believe, then, whatever happens, it will be part of this Great Story that is playing out across history.

And so I enter into this week acknowledging my fears and consciously choosing to trust the Author of Life. So, if you see me the next few days and I seem to be mumbling to myself, now you know what I’m mumbling

When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

You’re welcome to join me.

When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The “Why Me?” Blues

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O Lord my God, if I have done this,
    if there is wrong in my hands…

Psalm 7:3 (NRSVCE)

David is on the run from his King, Saul. David is God’s anointed to ascend the throne, but Saul is still wearing the crown and he is hell-bent on killing David and keeping the throne to himself. To accomplish the task, Saul puts a price on David’s head. Bounty hunters are on the loose and they have David in their sites. The reward is not just the bounty, but the favor of the king and all that comes with it.

King Saul is from the Hebrew tribe of Benjamin, and in his tribe, there is a man named Cush who is after Saul’s favor and David’s demise. In those days, hunters often used a technique of digging a pit and arranging for your prey to fall into it. Cush is digging pits to trap David.

I tend to believe that David, after being anointed God’s choice for the throne by the prophet Samuel, probably thought the road to the throne would be a cakewalk. But Saul still has a tight grip on the crown and David finds himself wandering in the desert avoiding the pits that Cush has laid out for him like a modern-day minefield.

“Why me?”

That’s the refrain of David’s heart, and in that spirit he writes a song. Today’s psalm are the lyrics.

“Why me?”

I used to ask that question a lot as a child when things weren’t going my way. I confess, victim mentality comes naturally when you’re the youngest sibling (btw, David was the youngest of eight brothers). There are a lot of times in life, especially when I was young when my mind and heart assumed direct connections between my negative circumstances and divine wrath. If something bad happened in my world, then it must be God punishing me. If I couldn’t come up with any reason God would want to punish me for anything, then I would start singing the “Why me?” blues.

It’s helpful to put myself in David’s sandals as I read the lyrics of today’s psalm. David begins by reminding God of his faith in God’s protection and his acknowledgement that without it, he’s a dead man. David then pleads his innocence. David has done some soul searching and can’t come up with any reason why God would be ticked-off at him, so he sings “If I deserve it, then let Cush take me.”

Having established his innocence, David shifts from plea to prosecution, asking God to rain down justice on the wicked. He envisions Cush digging a bit to trap David only to fall into it himself with Shakespearean irony.

Having expressed his trust, lament, plea, and prosecution, David ends his song in gratitude and praise. He’s musically thought through his circumstances, poured out his heart of anxiety, fear, and uncertainly. He finds himself back in the refuge of God’s protection, trusting God to sustain him against the traps and attacks of his enemies.

Along my life journey, I matured from the childish notion that every negative thing that happens to me is some kind of divine retribution for my wrong-doing. At the same time, I’ve recognized that my mature adult brain can find itself reverting back to childish patterns of thought and behavior, especially when I’m reacting to unexpected tragedy or stress.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself realizing that I often have to do what David did in today’s psalm. I have to process my thoughts and emotions. I have to walk through them, get them out, express them on paper or in conversation with a trusted companion. Once they’re out in the open, in the light of day, I can usually see them with more context and clarity. Silly, childish, tragic, or toxic thoughts and emotions tend to thrive in the darkness of my soul. Bringing them into the light allows me to see them for what they really are. They lose their power and I am able to get my heart back in alignment, my head on straight.

The “Why me?” blues can be good for the soul.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Been There, Done That

I lie down and sleep;
    I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.

Psalm 3:5 (NRSVCE)

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Ironic, that I found myself lying awake in the watches of the night. I finally decided to get up. I came to my office and poured out my heart in my morning pages. In the midst of my writing, which typically starts out with me pouring out my feelings all over the page and ends up as a written prayer, I asked God for some encouragement.

Then I opened to today’s chapter.

King David is on the run. Again. For some twenty-years after being anointed Israel’s next King and God’s man for the job, David lived on the lam with a price on his head. Constantly hunted by King Saul and his forces, David lived in a cave in the wilderness and was surrounded by people who wanted him dead.

It’s happening again. This time it’s David’s own son who has conspired against him. Prince Absalom has run a successful smear campaign against his father. He’s politically maneuvered himself into position and pulled the trigger on a coup d’éta. David flees the city. His approval numbers are in the tank. Political momentum is against him. His own son is hot in pursuit and hell-bent on patricide. David is back in the wilderness. He’s back on the run. He’s out numbered, out manned, and the whole world seems to have risen up against him.

So, he writes a song. Today’s psalm.

In the midst of his lyrics, David says he’s getting a good night’s sleep. The enemies surrounding him, his son’s rebellion, and the threats against him are not stealing his winks. “for the Lord sustains me,” he sings. He ends the song by proclaiming his trust in God’s deliverance.

Of course, he’d been here before. As a young man he’d learned in the wilderness that he could trust in God to deliver him from his enemies. Experience is a great spiritual teacher.

In the quiet this morning, David’s example has me giving a backward glance at the road I’ve already traveled in life. I’ve been in, and through, my own personal wilderness before.

Was God faithful? Yes.

Did I make it through some dark stretches? Yes.

Did they teach me anything? Yes.

Were they ultimately a part of a larger plan that only came into focus after I was able to look back and see them with the clarity of hindsight?Yes.

Do I have any reason to believe that the circumstances stealing my sleep are any different than what I’ve been through before?

No. No, they aren’t.

“Deliverance belongs to the Lord.”

If I’m not sleeping well, then I guess I’ve got some faith-building to do.

Thanks for the encouragement, Lord.

I hope you slept well, my friend. Thanks for reading.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

More Than Enough

[The artisans making the Tabernacle] said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.”
Exodus 36:5 (NRSVCE)

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When I was fifteen I went to a weekend long conference just south of the Chicago area. I’d never been to Chicago, so I and my two friends drove into the city and spent the afternoon sightseeing. When we got back to the car, we discovered that my duffel bag had been stolen out of the car. It had everything I brought with me including my money for the conference. I was left, literally, with nothing but the clothes on my back for the weekend.

Upon arrival at the conference we explained my situation to the people at the registration table. They assured me that it was not a big deal, and they’d make arrangements to have my parents send a check for my registration. At the beginning of the first session that evening I was asked to stand and the host explained to everyone at the conference what had happened.

I was unprepared for the outpouring of generosity I was about to experience. All weekend long people were handing me cash. People who lived nearby went home and brought back boxes full of clothes for me. No matter how much I implored people that I had more than enough to get me through the next two days of the weekend conference, it just kept coming. I went home with far more than I had stolen, including a really good spiritual lesson.

That was my first experience in life with having something stolen from me, and I’d never been in a position where I was on my own and in need. I can remember being kind of freaked out by the experience and how I was going to manage, but I quickly learned that God provides through the generosity of others. I’ve endeavored for just about forty-years to pay it forward whenever the opportunity arises. That’s how Kingdom economics works.

In yesterday’s chapter, Moses asked the Hebrew people to bring an offering of materials for constructing this temple tent God told them to build. In today’s chapter, the outpouring of generosity is overwhelming and Moses tells everyone to stop bringing more materials for the work.

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus words this morning as I pondered the Hebrews generosity, and the generosity I experienced at the very beginning of my spiritual journey:

What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

Matthew 6:31-34 (MSG)

I also thought of the early followers of Jesus generously bringing everything they had to life’s potluck and making sure that everyone had enough.

In this time of COVID craziness with many people out of work, in the wake of small family businesses burned to the ground by riots, there are a lot of people worried “about what may or may not happen tomorrow.” I confess that I’m feeling the anxiety, at times. Today’s chapter is a good reminder of God’s provision. In the economy of God’s Kingdom, there is always more than enough. My priority is to be generous in meeting the needs of others and then trust God’s generosity in meeting mine.

Have a great weekend, my friend!

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Crisis Through Agur’s Eyes

“Under three things the earth trembles,
    under four it cannot bear up:
a servant who becomes king,
    a godless fool who gets plenty to eat,
a contemptible woman who gets married,
    and a servant who displaces her mistress.”

Proverbs 30:21-23 (NIV)

I don’t believe that I can truly appreciate just how blessed I am in this world, and in this time, compared with the general state of human existence throughout history. There are daily necessities for survival that I take completely for granted like fresh water out of a tap, secure shelter, heat in the winter, air conditioning in the summer, and an abundance of food. There is also sanitation, security, safety, and health. Then there’s communication (I get to see and talk to my grandson on the other side of the world whenever I desire), transportation (I can fly through the air anywhere in the world), medicine, and the rule of law make living today easier, safer, cleaner, healthier, and more entertaining than any age in human history this side of the Garden of Eden.

In the ancient Middle East, a very high value was placed on social order. I’m not sure I can completely appreciate why it was so important. I do understand, however, that everyday life for the sage Agur (who wrote today’s chapter of wise sayings) was infinitely more tenuous than for me. His most basic needs for human survival (water, food, shelter) were never givens. If he got a virus, an infection, or had a heart attack he would die. His life expectancy was short. If there was a famine, a drought, or a flood there was no government assistance or subsidies. Agur would starve, or risk traveling to another country to beg, or his tribe might attack another tribe to plunder what they could. Life for Agur was not safe, not secure, and not easy. So, social order gave him and people of his day a sense of peace and sanity to an otherwise unpredictable existence.

Agur then speaks of “earth trembling” (think uncertainty, confusion, insecurity, and being out of control) when four things happen. The four things he lists might seem silly to us today, but they represented the social order of Agur’s world turned upside-down. They were things that brought unease, insecurity, and meant the already tenuous order of life was going to be even more out-of-sorts.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but find myself thinking of the “trembling” our “earth” has experienced in recent weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. The insanely easy and secure order life I enjoy has been briefly interrupted. I am inconvenienced. I will suffer a loss of income. But, as I meditated on what life must have been like for Agur, I imagined him traveling through time and arriving as a guest in my home. I imagine the wonder in his eyes as he sees how much room we have in our house (for only two people). I picture him walking around and seeing the food in my pantry (which could probably sustain us for weeks or months), our water faucet, the sanitary plumbing in my bathroom, the countless gadgets that entertain me, the library of books on our shelves, the safety of my nation and community, the modern apothecary and medical supplies in my medicine cabinet, the bed I sleep in, and the number of clothes in my drawer. I imagine him seeing all of this and taking it all in. Then I hear his incredulous scoff at my whining and complaints of the travails of quarantines, social distancing, and how inconvenienced I’ve been for a couple of weeks.

“Crisis” is a fascinating thing to experience. I find myself being continually reminded just how often Jesus told His followers not to be afraid, not to worry, and not to be anxious. And Jesus’ life was a lot more like Agur’s than mine. I find it ironic how easy it is to step into the fear trap, no matter how safe, secure, and well-provisioned I am.

Today, I want to keep seeing my life through Agur’s eyes.

I think the perspective will do me good.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Up For The Fight!

Like cold water to a weary soul
    is good news from a distant land.

Proverbs 25:25 (NIV)

As I write this I am sweating profusely. With all the crazy of the global Coronavirus initiatives, my local CrossFit box had to close for a couple of weeks as mandated by the State of Iowa. So, my schedule is a bit off from normal and I worked out this morning at home. Now, I can’t get cooled down as I mop my brow with a rag and guzzle cold water.

What an apt metaphor for our current realities. As we struggle to figure out how to keep our daily routines and rhythms amidst working from home, mandatory lock-downs, and social distancing I can feel the corporate sweat we all feel with the unknown. I feel it in conversations with clients. I feel it in text conversations with our children. I feel it myself as I wonder how all of this will play out. The sweat of fear, anxiety, change, and confusion is something we’re all feeling one way or another.

I was reading my favorite Catholic mystic this morning and I loved what he had to say:

We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love. 

But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us. Now is no time for an academic solidarity with the world. Real solidarity needs to be felt and suffered. That’s the real meaning of the word “suffer” – to allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way. We need to move beyond our own personal feelings and take in the whole.

Richard Rohr

The (sweat-marked) t-shirt I’m wearing right now says, “Fight Pessimism” and I consciously chose it after my workout and shower. I have a feeling that we are just at the front-end of the “weary” we will experience in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Nevertheless, in the depth of every dark valley is the opportunity to ascend a new mountain.

The ancient sage Solomon tells me in this morning’s chapter that good news from a distant land is like the cool water I am absolutely loving right now as it refreshes my tired body. In the same way, I have an opportunity right now to be “good news” and refreshment to others in this moment of global insanity. I can offer to help others. I can share words of love, kindness, and encouragement. I can grocery shop for shut-ins. I can share toilet paper with those who can’t find any. I can reach out to old friends through social media to reconnect, share memories, and share a drink over FaceTime. I can get my mind off the sweat of my own fears and turn it into being cool water to another weary soul.

Fight pessimism. I’m up for the fight. You?

Let me know if you need a roll of toilet paper.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Popcorn Prayers

The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king…..”
Nehemiah 2:4-5a (NIV)

I was honored a few weeks ago when I was asked to pray for our meal at my high school reunion. In part, I was honored because it has become increasingly common for prayers at public events to be ignored our outright forbidden. I also realize that I and my classmates grew up in a time when public prayer was hotly debated along with questions regarding whether it was appropriate for public school choirs to sing sacred music at events such as commencement.

I can remember during some of these debates about “school prayer” that it was humorously acknowledged that the school building will always be the center of a million prayers during finals week. Of course, there is a difference between a public prayer at a school event and the silent prayer students staring at the test that has just been placed before them.

For those who are not regular readers, I have been blogging through what’s known as the exilic books of God’s Message in recent months. These are the writings of the ancient Hebrews who experienced being taken into captivity by the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Medo-Persian empires. They eventually returned to Jerusalem to rebuild and restore their homeland. Being an exile, in its very essence, means living away from home, and being in exile often means a loss of power, control, and public standing. My local gathering of Jesus’ followers is currently exploring the notion that the people of God are, by nature, exilic and what that means for us in the 21st century.

Nehemiah was a cupbearer for the Persian king, Artaxerxes. In today’s chapter, Nehemiah could not hide his grief while serving in the king and queen’s presence. It was, in those days, deemed inappropriate to show any kind of negative emotion in the presence of the king. On a whim, the king could have his servant executed for such an infraction. So when Artaxerxes notices the depressed look on his cupbearer’s face, Nehemiah’s immediate fear was warranted.

What I found interesting is that the phrase “Then I prayed to the God of heaven” is sandwiched in between the king’s question and Nehemiah’s response. There is no way that Nehemiah said, “Can you hang on a few minutes while I get on my knees and pray for a while?” Nehemiah’s prayer to the God of heaven had to have been what I call a “popcorn prayer.” A popcorn prayer is the silent, sudden, internal exclamation of my spirit to God’s Spirit in an instant. It’s exactly what I did as a student before every Biology test (science was not my thing).

According to a 2017 survey by the Barna, 79 percent of Americans said they had prayed in the previous three months. Barna found prayer to be the most common faith practice among American adults, but it was also the most multi-faceted. In fact, the researcher concluded that “the most common thing about people’s prayers is that they are different.”

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve discovered that my own prayer life is much like Barna’s research. It’s multi-faceted. I do, at times, spend set periods of time in prayer. Sometimes, I audibly talk to God while I’m alone in my car driving. Wendy and I pray together before meals, and often we will pray together when it is just the two of us traveling in the car. I’ve sometimes described my life journey itself as one long, uninterrupted conversation with God. I’m constantly aware of God’s presence, and my “popcorn prayers” are popping constantly in the heat of Life’s microwave oven.

Our culture has shifted in the 35 years since I graduated from high school. I know some who see this as a source of grief, anxiety, fear, and even anger. Sociologists and scholars are calling our current culture the “post-Christain” world. Frankly, I’m not that worried about it. In fact, I think it might just be a good thing. Throughout the Great Story, it’s clear that God’s people flourish, not when they are in power, but when they live in exile. It’s a paradox that Jesus said He came to model and that He told his followers to embrace:

“You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”

Jesus (Matthew 20:25-28 [MSG])

Paul, one of Jesus’ early followers, put it this way:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul of Tarsus (2nd Letter to the Corinthians 12:10 [NIV])

In the quiet this morning I find my head swimming in thoughts of culture, and power, and exile, and prayer. Nehemiah found himself a servant to the King of a foreign empire. Artaxerxes had the power to execute Nehemiah for having a frown on his face, and yet his precarious position of impotence led him to depend on his faith in the power and purposes of God. Isn’t that the very spiritual reality that Jesus wanted us to embrace?

As I finish this post I’m saying a popcorn prayer for any and all who read it. Hope you have a great day, my friend.