Tag Archives: Meditation

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.

Foolish Anxiety and Real Threats

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
Nehemiah 1:3 (NIV)

The immigration of large people groups tend to happen in waves. The town of Pella, Iowa, where I live was founded by a group of Dutch immigrants in the 1800s. It happened, however, in waves. The first group arrived on the Iowa prairie in 1847 and began a settlement. They were the trailblazers. In his book Iowa Letters, Johan Stellingwerff, chronicles the letters sent back and forth between the first wave of settlers and their families back home who were still preparing to make the voyage:

“Dear Parents,

I write specially about the expenses of my journey…The journey from Borton, New York, or Baltimore is tiresom and damaging for freight because of reloading. It is better and cheaper via New Orleans…..

Hendrik Hospers

It is important for readers to understand that for the exiles returning to the city of Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon and Persia, the same is also true.

For many years, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were considered one book with two sections. They were authored by two different leaders of the waves of returning exiles. There were actually three waves of people who returned. The first was c. 538 BC led by Zerubbabel (the rebuilt Temple of Solomon is commonly referenced by historians as Zerubbabel’s Temple). Ezra led the next wave c. 458 BC. Nehemiah led the third c. 432 BC.

In today’s opening chapter of Nehemiah, the author records the word that came back to him from the returned exiles in Jerusalem. The news was not good. The walls of Jerusalem were in ruins and the gates of the city were burned and useless. It’s hard for us to appreciate the magnitude of this reality for the people of that time. Raiding armies were common among the many tribes and factions in the region. Plundering and pillaging were common and walls were an essential deterrent. The success of the exiles in their return and rebuilding of the city was in peril if there were no walls or gates to protect them from outside armies and/or raiding parties.

It may be hard to relate to everyday life in the 21st century, but the truth is that in life and in business, I find myself mindful of potential threats. There are threats of weather for which we must prepare our home and property. There is the threat of catastrophic life events against which we buy insurance for our health and lives.

Along my life journey, I have struggled to find the balance between being prepared for unexpected threats and being worried about them. I am more convinced than ever that I live in a culture in which politicians, media, special interest groups, and corporations peddle a non-stop stream of fear and apocalyptic predictions, which in turn create human reactions in large numbers of people, which in turn leads to clicks, views, ads, votes, sales, revenues, and etc. Wisdom is required.

Yesterday, among our local gathering of Jesus followers I was reminded that the Kingdom of God is not in trouble.

Nevertheless, I have a responsibility to my wife, my family, my employees, and my loved ones. There is wisdom in taking honest stock of potential threats that could seriously affect our well-being, and to take realistic precautions. When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were in ruins and the gates of the city had burned down, he was not motivated by unrealistic fear but by wisdom with regard to very real threats to his loved ones and his people. Two previous waves of exiles had failed to address a very real threat to their existence, and Nehemiah immediately knows that something must be done.

As I begin this new day and this new work week, I find myself asking for wisdom in discerning between fear-mongering, foolish anxiety, and real threats.

Ezra (Aug/Sep 2019)

Below you’ll find a list of chapter-a-day posts on the book of Ezra posted in August and September 2019. Click on an image to be directed to that post.

Ezra Chapter 1: At Some Point, One Must Return Home
Ezra Chapter 2: Lessons in a List of Names
Ezra Chapter 3: Weeping and Joy in the Valley of Infertility
Ezra Chapter 4: “Don’t Scare Worth a Damn”
Ezra Chapter 5: “Who are You?”
Ezra Chapter 6: Trials, Gold, and Dross
Ezra Chapter 7: Mysterious, Mystical, Gracious, and Favorable Flow
Ezra Chapter 8: Consecrated
Ezra Chapter 9: Maturity and Personal Responsibility
Ezra Chapter 10: Spiritual Infection

About…

Tom Vander Well has been writing his Wayfarer blog since 2006. Since then he has blogged his way through the entirety of God’s Message twice along with posting about personal experiences and life observations. He continues pressing on one chapter at a time. Tom is a teaching leader among his local gathering of Jesus’ followers and serves as President and CEO of Intelligentics Inc., a market research and quality assessment firm. In addition, he is a speaker, actor, playwright, lover of history, and back porch musician. He lives in Pella, Iowa with his wife, Wendy.

web: tomvanderwell.com
email: tomvanderwell@gmail.com
twitter: @tomvanderwell

Feel free to share this post!

spiritual infection

While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly.
Ezra 10:1 (NIV)

Earlier this summer I had outpatient surgery to remove a patch of cancerous cells from my ear. Days after my surgery the pain and discomfort were getting worse instead of better. By the time the chills and fever set in, I knew that something was wrong. It turns out I had a nasty infection that required two rounds of antibiotics and some intense attention to quell.

One of the subtle changes I’ve noticed during my lifetime is the attention that has been given to fighting infectious diseases. You can hardly go into a public venue or restroom without finding sanitizers by the door waiting for you to protect yourself and others from germs, viruses, and disease.

But, like so many things in life, infection cuts both ways. The positive example can be infectious as well. A teacher stands at the door of her classroom each morning and greets every child with their own unique handshake. A stranger surprises with a random act of kindness and then tells the recipient to simply “pay it forward.” One person’s sacrifice or selfless act inspires others to follow like Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

In today’s chapter, Ezra’s very public display of regret and repentance compelled others to stop and notice. Eventually, the crowd began to join him. One man’s confession and dedication became the spiritual contagion that started a spiritual revival.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself taking a trip down memory lane and revisiting various experiences I’ve had along my life journey of spiritual outpourings and movements within groups of people. In most cases, I can follow them back to one person whose faith, conversion, witness, or confession became the spiritual pebble that started the avalanche.

I’m reminded this morning that I have the power to infect people in both positive and negative ways. What am I affecting with my thoughts, words, actions, relationships, posts, tweets, and snaps? When Paul wrote his letter to the followers of Jesus in Galatia, he used contrasting descriptions of infectious spiritual results.

A negative spiritual infection Paul describes this way:

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.

Galatians 5:19-21 (MSG)

A positive spiritual infection Paul describes this way:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Galatians 5:22-23 (MSG)

I endeavor to infect those around me in a positive way today.

Have a great day, my friend.

esther (Jul/Aug 2019)

Below are chapter-a-day posts from the book of Esther published in July and August 2019. Click on an image to view the respective post for each chapter.

Esther Chapter 1: Strong Women in Weak Circumstances
Esther Chapter 2: Living in Gray
Esther Chapter 2: Bad Blood Boiling Over
Esther Chapter 4: Unlikely Hero
Esther Chapter 5: The Thrill of Pursuit
Esther Chapter 6: Coincidental Presence
Esther Chapter 7: Victim of My Own Poison
Esther Chapter 8: Structure and Flow
Esther Chapter 9: “If you only knew what it was like….”
Esther Chapter 10: A Small Cog in the Works

Tom Vander Well has been writing his Wayfarer blog since 2006. Since then he has blogged his way through the entirety of God’s Message twice along with posting about personal experiences and life observations. He continues pressing on one chapter at a time. Tom is a teaching leader among his local gathering of Jesus’ followers and serves as President and CEO of Intelligentics Inc., a market research and quality assessment firm. In addition, he is a speaker, actor, playwright, lover of history, and back porch musician. He lives in Pella, Iowa with his wife, Wendy.

web: tomvanderwell.com
email: tomvanderwell@gmail.com
twitter: @tomvanderwell

Feel free to share this post!

Please feel free to share this post! – Tom

Chapter-a-Day Posts by Book

Click on an image to access a summary of posts for the book. I will slowly be going back and adding book summaries. Please bookmark and keep checking back.

Ezra (Aug/Sep 2019)
Esther (Jul/Aug 2019)
Song of Solomon (Sep/Oct 2013)
Tom Vander Well's chapter-a-day posts for the book of Jonah published in June 2019.
Jonah (June 2019)

About…

Tom Vander Well has been writing his Wayfarer blog since 2006. Since then he has blogged his way through the entirety of God’s Message twice along with posting about personal experiences and life observations. He continues pressing on one chapter at a time. Tom is a teaching leader among his local gathering of Jesus’ followers and serves as President and CEO of Intelligentics Inc., a market research and quality assessment firm. In addition, he is a speaker, actor, playwright, lover of history, and back porch musician. He lives in Pella, Iowa with his wife, Wendy.

web: tomvanderwell.com
email: tomvanderwell@gmail.com
twitter: @tomvanderwell

Feel free to share this post!

Jonah (June 2019)

Below you’ll find a list of chapter-a-day posts on the book of Jonah posted in June 2019. Click on an image to be directed to that post.

Chapter 1: Running and Return
Chapter 2: When Obedience Seems Not Such a Wonderful Life
Chapter 3: Same Story, Different Age
Chapter 4: Shades of Schadenfreude

Tom Vander Well has been writing his Wayfarer blog since 2006. Since then he has blogged his way through the entirety of God’s Message twice along with posting about personal experiences and life observations. He continues pressing on one chapter at a time. Tom is a teaching leader among his local gathering of Jesus’ followers and serves as President and CEO of Intelligentics Inc., a market research and quality assessment firm. In addition, he is a speaker, actor, playwright, lover of history, and back porch musician. He lives in Pella, Iowa with his wife, Wendy.

web: tomvanderwell.com
email: tomvanderwell@gmail.com
twitter: @tomvanderwell

Feel free to share this post!