Tag Archives: Comfort

The Spiritual Barometer of Comfort

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
2 Chronicles 16:9 (NIV)

A friend dropped by for coffee yesterday and we enjoyed a long discussion. One of the slivers of conversation was around a class that is being offered in our community in the near future. The premise of the class is that some of history’s most influential people had their most productive and years after the age of 70. The class is intended to encourage adults in the back stretch of life’s journey to consider shunning the traditional view of retirement. Instead of moving somewhere warm and sitting by a pool, the class encourages people to consider how their final stretch of life’s journey might be their most productive and influential.

I thought about that this morning as I read today’s chapter and contemplated the story of King Asa. In yesterday’s post, the prophet Azariah encouraged Asa to “be strong and not give up” but the stretch of life journey that Asa was entering was not one of struggle. Asa’s major challenge and climactic fight was behind him. He was entering a time of extended peace. Thirty-five years of peace and rest. And that’s when he blew it.

Thirty-five years of relatively easy sledding finds King Asa has changed, but not in a good way. He forgot the lesson he learned in his war with the Cushites. He forgot how his faith had led to good things. He forgot Azariah’s admonishment. Thirty-five years of peace and comfort turned Asa into a hard-hearted, self-centric old man. It was the good times and life of relative ease that revealed the true nature of Asa’s heart. A seer named Hanani confronts Asa, but it only confirms and seals Asa’s bitterness (and lands Hanani in the stocks).

This morning I’m thinking about my current waypoint on this life journey. I often think that it’s the tough stretches of pain, tragedy, and difficulty that reveal the true nature of our hearts. Perhaps it is the stretches of comfort and ease that are a better barometer of my spirit.

Kingdom Economics 101: Paying it Forward

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (MSG)

I’ve always loved the movie Pay it Forward. It’s a bittersweet story, but the reality of life is bittersweet. Along our life journeys we all slog through deep valleys and we all have our mountain top moments. The story of Pay it Forward is predicated on the notion of people simply going out of their way to perform a random act of kindness for others, asking only that the recipient of their kindness “Pay it forward.” The whole idea is beautifully void of organization, legalism, regulation, or institutional systemization. It is organic and relational and personal and spiritual.

One of the deepest valleys of my own life journey was the period of time that I was going through the end of my first marriage and subsequent divorce. I’ll never forget meeting with a wise counselor, who also has a prophetic gift. I remember meeting with him expecting condemnation and judgment, as I’d experienced a generous dose of both during that time. This wise counselor, however, extended grace and kindness I didn’t expect.

He acknowledged the difficulty of the situation and then said, “Some day, you are going to walk along the side of another who will find themselves walking this same path. You will help them, and give them comfort.” In other words, “You will take what wisdom and comfort you experienced while traversing this valley, and you will pay it forward.”

I have been able to pay it forward more than once. In the Kingdom of God, paying it forward is Kingdom Economics 101. It’s how God operates and it underlies all of Jesus’ teaching. He gave to me so that I might give to others. He laid down for me so that I might lay down my life for others. He comforts us so that we might pay it forward.

That’s exactly what Paul is getting at with the followers of Jesus in the ancient city of Corinth in this morning’s chapter:

He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.

This morning I’m thinking simply about how I might pay it forward today. I realized long ago, but need continuous reminders, that being focused on myself and my momentary difficulties blinds me to the many opportunities I have to show random acts of kindness, generosity, and forgiveness each day. I have to stop looking inward (at my I-phone, I-pad, I-mac, and I-everything) and looking around at others if I truly and consistently want to pay it forward.

Memorized Lines

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

When I became a follower of Jesus as a teenager, I soon found myself being spiritually mentored by a gentleman who was my boss in an after school job. Every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. we would meet in his office. Very quickly he began to instill in me the discipline of memorizing verses and passages from God’s Message. The verse I’ve pasted at the to of this post was among the first that I committed to memory.

This morning as I woke and began to think about starting my day meditating on today’s chapter, I immediately associated Isaiah 41 with the verse I had memorized some 35 years ago. My soul smiled as I looked forward to journeying through the entire chapter once again.

As an amateur actor, I am used to memorizing words. I have memorized lines for many parts in many shows. In just the past few months, I had to refresh myself in memorizing that same lines for the same part I played 10 years ago. It’s amazing how few of them I actually remembered. I’m not sure having memorized them ten years ago was much of a help.

I find it fascinating that words from God’s Message memorized 35 years ago come so quickly to mind, while words memorized for a part 10 years ago were completely lost to me. I think there are reasons for this on a number of different levels, but I believe one of the key differences lies in fact that the lines of Eliot Herzog in The Christmas Post were committed to my brain for a finite period of time. I had to get through the handful of performances and then the lines had little value to me. Isaiah 41:10, however, was committed to both my mind and my heart. It became spiritually useful and beneficial to me whenever I traversed a particularly rough stretch of life’s journey.

This morning I am thinking of words that live inside my spirit, and words that I have buried in my mind. I am thankful for my old mentor and the discipline he instilled in me during those spiritually formative years. I am grateful for these words of Isaiah that have bubbled up to the surface once again as 2016 wanes and 2017 is about to begin. I am, once again, reminded not to be afraid of what the future holds, as I know Who holds me in the palm of His hand.

Solace in the Storyboard

“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger,
    in whose hand is the club of my wrath!
I send him against a godless nation,
    I dispatch him against a people who anger me,
to seize loot and snatch plunder,
    and to trample them down like mud in the streets.
But this is not what he intends,
    this is not what he has in mind;
his purpose is to destroy,
    to put an end to many nations.”
Isaiah 10:5-7 (NIV)

As I write this post, citizens of the U.S. are enduring a strange and depressing Presidential election. The two most unpopular candidates for President in history are running against one another. It’s enough to make even the most optimistic citizen groan in despair for the fate of our country.

I’m taking a smidgen of solace this morning in a theme that occurs across the writings of the ancient Hebrew prophets, and appears in this morning’s chapter. God used even the worst nations and leaders for His good purposes. The Assyrians were not good people at the time Isaiah was writing. They were deplorable. Yet, even though they remain completely ignorant of the fact, God says that He will use them purposefully in the writing of the Great Story.

I received my absentee ballot and filled out every section except the vote for President. It sat on our kitchen counter for days as I agonized over my choice. I know that I am not alone in my agony. This morning, I am comforted by the reminder of the Assyrians. My hope and faith is not in a man or woman, nor even a nation – but in the Author of Life. I believe that no matter who wins this election, the action of the Great Story will continue to unfold according to God’s story board.

chapter a day banner 2015

(Don’t) Be Afraid, (Don’t) Be Very, Very, Afraid

The Lord is good,
     a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him…
Nahum 1:7 (NIV)

The prophet Nahum lived and wrote his prophecy in troubled times. The kingdom of Israel had been split in two, the northern kingdom called Israel, and the southern kingdom called Judah. When Nahum wrote his prophecy the northern kingdom had been attacked and decimated by the Assyrians.

The Assyrians were known for their brutality and cruelty. When they conquered a city, they would mercilessly hack the limbs off their victims and then leave the limbs and bodies stacked like a pyramid outside the city gates. It was their calling card, the sign that the Assyrians had been there. Now that the northern kingdom of Israel had experienced it, the southern kingdom of Judah feared a similar Assyrian attack.

Fear and anxiety are common emotions. Today I find it common for people to experience economic fear (When will the economy get moving again? Will we experience what happened in Greece? Is the stock market going to collapse?) and fear of terror-ism (When’s the next 9-11? Are ISIS terrorist cells on our soil just waiting to attack? ). There is anxiety about global politics (Will Iran get a bomb and attack Israel?) and climate change (Will global warming  create disastrous change in weather patterns?). When Wendy and I watch or read the news we will often observe to one another that there seems to be one major theme: “Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Nahum also lived in a time of fear, and his prophetic message was to encourage his readers not to give into fear, but rather to trust in God. Nineveh (the capitol of the Assyrian empire), he prophesied, would be destroyed. His prophetic word was fulfilled. Assyria was destroyed by the Medes and Persians in 612 B.C.

It’s Monday morning as I write this post. The first Monday of a new month. For some of us, even the prospect of what the coming week holds brings anxiety. There is uncertainty about what we’re going to do in the coming month and how we’ll get through. Nahum’s message is a good one. Notice that he doesn’t promise freedom from trouble, but that we will find God a caring refuge in whatever comes our way.

Today, I’m choosing not to give into anxiety and fear, but to trust God to be a caring refuge for whatever comes my way.

 

Child-Like Reactions in a World of Adult Suffering

Creative Commons photo by James Wheeler via Flickr
Creative Commons photo by James Wheeler via Flickr

But if I go to the east, he is not there;
    if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
    when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
Job 23:8-9 (NIV)

This, I have come to know: Children see in part, and they know in part. A child’s understanding of the adult world is incomplete. A child’s perception of reality is innocently askew. Children see bogey-men in the shadows, yet their fear is real. A child in an empty room may feel utterly alone in the universe, even when the house around them is fully occupied. For a parent, a child’s warped perception of reality can be alternately endearing and maddening.

We reach a point in adulthood, if we are fortunate and wise, when truth catches up with honest misperception. Having ventured out on our own road to waypoints on the broader horizon, we glance back to find that our vision has expanded with our experiences. What we once saw, as children, in black and white we now see in full Technicolor. When we were young we never saw those details in the background of our child-like perceptions, but now we look back and they suddenly appear to us in high-definition.

I have also observed along my journey that when we experience suffering as adults our reactions are often very child-like. Adult pain unconsciously brings out the screaming, fearful, lonely child in all of us. We want to be embraced. We desire to be comforted. We want to hear a confident whisper in our ear letting us know that everything will be alright. I wonder if, in those moments of pain, we don’t also regress back to our childish misperceptions.

I thought of this as I read Job’s words today. He feels utter isolation from the omnipresent God. It seems to me that his perceptions are askew, yet his feelings are real. Maybe that is the point. Job is on a journey, too. He is progressing through his pain and his feelings and perceptions are working themselves out amidst the mind-bending, spirit quenching realities of his suffering. Like an innocent child suddenly thrust into the harsh realities of an adult world, Job is desperately seeking his spiritual bearing. He will find his way. He will look back from that way-point on the horizon and see this stretch of road with greater clarity. But that’s not where he is in this moment. And, that’s okay.

Presence and Silence in a Friend’s Dark Hour

Job and FriendsThen [Job’s three friends] sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. Job 2:13 (NIV)

Along life’s journey we all have times of tragedy and of suffering. I have observed and experienced that our western culture, by and large, does not handle these stretches of life’s journey well. In a culture that celebrates temporal success and material excess, suffering of any kind tends to be approached with ignorance (“I have no idea what to do or say”), with discomfort (“I don’t want to be around him/her. It will just depress me”), and even with outright suspicion and derision (“They must have done something wrong. I don’t want to be associated with him/her.”).

For several years, Wendy and I aggressively attempted to bring a child into this world together. I have not shared very openly about it. Some day I know I will write more about my experiences. Not yet. Though Wendy and I have pressed on in our journey together, at times the soul wounds feel acutely fresh.

I will share, however, that this period of our lives was a very lonely time. My heart and soul were taken to places on life’s road that I did not desire to go. Even among our family and our closest friends I observed the struggle to know how to approach the subject, what to say, or how to help. Because of ignorance, discomfort, or suspicion there were many who simply avoided the subject around which our lives were painfully centered.

In today’s chapter, I was struck by our initial introduction to Job’s three friends. We will learn more about them in the days ahead, but for the moment I found myself impressed by two things.

First, Job’s friends showed the courage to put aside whatever discomfort, confusion, or suspicion they may have felt to consciously step into Job’s presence. They were not deterred by Job’s suffering but seem to be compelled by their friendship to be present with Job in the midst of it. That simple act of being present with someone in their pain is the evidence of love.

Second, I observed that for seven days Job’s friends said nothing. Wise King Solomon tells us that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. It sometimes takes Solomon’s wisdom to discern between the two. I believe that Job’s friends initially choose the path of wisdom in their silence. There is nothing to say at this point that will be of comfort to Job.

I am reminded this morning of conversations I’ve had with grieving family members after the funeral of a loved one. People have often spoken to me of the comfort and encouragement they took by an individual’s presence at the funeral, despite the fact that they did not talk or interact with that individual. It was that individual’s choice to be present in their dark hour of grief which was meaningful. No words had to be spoken.

Today, I am taking stock of family and friends who have been faithfully present along the dark stretches of my journey. I am also confessing my own fault at letting discomfort, confusion, and suspicion deter me from being present with others whom I love in their own dark hours. I want to be a better, more courageous and more loving friend to others as I understand what it means to do so in difficult times.