Tag Archives: Prayer

Me and Babel 2.0

Me and Babel 2.0 (CaD John 17) Wayfarer

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
John 17:15-16 (NIV)

Earlier this year Wendy and I were on the back patio with friends late into the evening. One of the things we like to do in the dark of night is keep our eyes peeled for meteors, satellites, constellations, plants, and other interesting objects in the night sky. On that night I spotted a satellite, which basically looks like a moving star, trekking slowly from west to east. Then there was another one right behind it. I’d never seen two of them so close and moving in the same trajectory. Then came another, and another, and another, and another.

Pulling up the internet on my phone to find out what we were looking at, we learned that evening about the satellite train. The brainchild of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, it is a long string or “train” of 60 satellites that follow one another in orbit. SpaceX plan to eventually have 12,000 of them in low orbit to provide internet service everywhere from space. Fascinating.

It’s an amazing time to be alive and to make this earthly life journey. In the course of my lifetime, the world has arguably changed more rapidly and drastically than in any other time in human civilization. Advancements in technology and science are beginning to outpace our ability to comprehend the effects of all that it possible.

Along with the “progress” has come a sharp decline in the number of people who adhere to traditional Christian belief systems or attend institutional Christian churches. One of the things that I read consistently about this trend is the criticism that believers and churches in America haven’t done enough to address social justice issues and the problems of our world.

Today’s chapter is traditionally known in theological circles as “the high priestly prayer.” John records Jesus praying just before He was betrayed by Judas and arrested. In the prayer Jesus acknowledges two important things. First, that His followers are “not of this world.” In my experience, Jesus is acknowledging that those who follow Him have expanded their world-view beyond this earthly life to God’s eternal Kingdom. After acknowledging this, Jesus consciously chooses that His followers not be removed from this world, but protected from the same prince of this world that will see Jesus crucified within twelve hours of this prayer.

To quote Hamlet, “ay, there’s the rub.”

In this world, not of it. How do I, as a follower of Jesus, hold that tension?

That’s what my soul and mind are chewing on in the quiet this morning. And here are a few of my thoughts…

I confess that critics of Christianity are not wrong. Followers of Jesus and the institutional churches of history have not done enough adhere to personally fulfill Jesus’ mission of crossing social boundaries, loving the outcast, and caring for the poor. Mea culpa.

At the same time, history has taught me that revolutions and reformations typically paint complex realities with broad-brush generalizations, and then throw babies out with the bathwater. Despite the moans and wails of how awful of a state the world is in, here are a few undisputable facts:

  • In 1966 (the year I was born), 50% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. In 2017, that’s dropped to 9% despite population growth.
  • When my parents were young, average life expectancy was between 30-40 years. In two generations it’s risen to 72, and still climbing.
  • In 1975, 58% of children with cancer survived. By 2010, it was 80%.
  • In 1980, 22% of one-year-olds received at least one vaccination. In 2018 the percentage was 88%.
  • In 1970, 28% of the world’s population was undernourished. In 2015 that number had dropped to 11%.
  • In 1900, roughly 40% of children died before the age of five. By 2016 the percentage was down to 4%.
  • In 1980, 58% of the world’s population had access to a protected water source. By 2015 the number was 88% and climbing.

It’s easy to cast a stone at the institutional church, its members, and cast stones regarding all that it hasn’t done. I also know many believers in my own circles of influence who, led by their faith in Jesus and dedication to His mission, have given their lives to contribute to the numbers I’ve just quoted.

Scott and Marcia have helped mobilize native efforts in Eswatani Africa to care for unwanted babies, lower the spread of HIV, increase access to clean water, and improve agricultural yields to feed the local population.

Tim and an entire host of individuals in our local gathering of Jesus followers have done a similar work in Haiti. Learning from the mistakes of the past, they are helping native Haitians create sustainable and healthy life and community systems.

My college suitemate, Tim, has dedicated most of his career to helping care for impoverished children and single mothers around the globe. He’s now leading a non-profit to address the 12% of the world’s population that still need a protected water source.

I have long believed that with the technological age I may just be witnessing humanity’s next great attempt at building a tower of Babel. Instead of bricks and mortar, we’re using processors, fiber optics, CRISPR, and satellite trains. The goal is the same: nothing is impossible, and we ascend to be our own god. I find it fascinating to observe what I perceive to be “Babel 2.0” is that we largely still speak the same language but our transmission and translation are increasingly confused. What one intends to say, what they say, and what the other hears and interprets to have been said are incongruent. Language is hijacked and redefined in a moment by part of the population. New words are created, defined, and trend within one part of the population while everyone else in the population failed to notice. They are therefore ignorant and confused when they are discussed.

So what does this mean for me today? I don’t run an institution, nor do I want to. I am a follower of Jesus and, as such, I have a world-view that sees beyond this world and incorporates God’s Kingdom into my earthly existence. I seek to accomplish His mission of “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth” and I take that responsibility seriously. This earthly journey is not about biding my time until death and eternity, but rather trying to bring a Kingdom perspective into my every day intentions, choices, work, actions, and relationships.

I am in this world, a world which remains the dominion of the prince of this world, which is why Jesus prayed for my protection on that fateful night. Jesus asks me to affect this world with love, service, and generosity that He exemplified. He told His followers to be “shrewd as a serpent and gentle as a dove.”

And so, I enter another day of the journey with those intentions.

Note:
Three messages have been added on the Messages page. Click here

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Just Breathe

Just Breathe (CaD Ps 150) Wayfarer

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Psalm 150:6 (NIV)

With today’s chapter, Psalm 150, this chapter-a-day journey through all 150 chapters of the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics is complete. The editors of the compilation chose a short, powerful song of praise for the final refrain. Some scholars believe that it may have been composed for this purpose. In the original Hebrew language, “Praise the LORD” is “Hallelu Ya.” Thus, we end the journey with a shout of “Hallelujah!” and a call for “everything that has breath” to join in the chorus.

Among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers we have a very active team of people who are committed to the spiritual discipline of prayer. They do a great job of teaching others, myself included, in ways to develop our spiritual muscle in this essential practice.

A few years ago, I learned from our prayer team a simple technique that transforms my natural rhythm of breathing into a repeated prayer. One phrase is repeated with every inhale, and another phrase is repeated on every exhale. I have personally found this helpful when I am trying to quiet myself from stress or anxiety and when I am preparing my heart to enter into corporate worship.

As for the specific phrases used, the options are endless, but I have found that certain familiar lines from Jesus teaching and the Great Story that I have particularly helpful…

Inhale: “Come to me you who are weary”
Exhale: “I will give your soul rest.”

Inhale: “Cast all my anxieties on Him.”
Exhale: “He cares for me.”

Inhale: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty”
Exhale: “Who was, and is, and is to come. The whole earth is full of His glory
(This one helps me breathe deeply! 🙂 )

Inhale: “Let everything that has breath”
Exhale: “Praise the LORD.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reflecting on my spiritual journey. As a child I was taught religion, in which empty rituals were carried out as part of a transactional process. I did the religious things in an effort to counter-balance my human failures with religious duties in the hope of earning God’s favor. After entering into a relationship with Jesus, I came to learn that the Spirit connects and holds all things together. It made all the empty religious ritual even more impotent while, at the same time, a whole knew world of possibility opened up to me. I discovered that connection with the God of creation is as simple and profound as breathing.

Just breathe.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Bookends of Praise

Bookends of Praise (CaD Ps 149) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord.
Psalm 149:1a (NIV)
Praise the Lord.
Psalm 149:9c (NIV)

One of the thieves of my sleep is the never-ending task list. As my sleep ebbs and flows in the darkness from deep sleep to semi-consciousness, my brain tends to use the relative wakefulness of semi-consciousness (typically around 3:30 a.m.) to begin spinning on all the tasks I didn’t accomplish the day before along with the ones that I are on the list for the following day. There are mornings that I can’t shut my brain off and return to some restful log sawing. Hello insomnia, my old friend.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 149, I noticed one of the recurring thematic devices used by the lyricists of these ancient Hebrew songs we call psalms. I’d call it the “bookends of praise.” The song begins and ends with what is essentially a tag: “Praise the LORD.”

As I sat contemplating this device, I was reminded of a line from the lyrics of Psalm 113 (which is also bookended with praise):

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised.

I can certainly interpret this familiar line as telling me that my day should be filled with perpetual praise, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As I meditated on it this morning, I thought of it as the perpetuation of the metaphor of this device. As the song is bookended in praise, beginning and end, so my day should be bookended in praise, when I arise and when I lie down. I should begin my day by offering God praise, and end each day offering God praise.

And this is where I have a confession to make. As a morning person, I’ve developed a discipline of spending time with God in the quiet each morning. I’ve got the “rising of the sun” part of the praise bookends down pat. It’s the “place where it sets” part that I’m realizing falls woefully short. Wendy will tell you that it’s not uncommon for me to be in a deep sleep before she has a chance to finish her bedtime routine.

Somehow the childhood discipline my parents instilled in me of “saying my prayers” before bed got lost somewhere in my daily routine. I might do it once in a while, but its honestly few and far between. Have I unconsciously decided that my morning quiet time has got all the spiritual bases covered?

Then I thought about actual bookends. What happens when I’m missing one bookend on the shelf? The books spill out of that end. Is it possible that without bookending my day in the “place where it sets” with praise and a moment of conversation with God, that I’m allowing all of the tasks and pressures of my day to spill out into the night like thieves to rob me of my sleep? If I build a discipline of offering up praise for all the good things in my day, and I offer up my tasks and stresses to be entrusted to the God who cares for me, might it be a spiritual bookend that will help guard my heart and mind from being robbed of slumber?

I’m guessing I know the answer.

Some mornings, the action step from my time of quiet is crystal clear.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Call and Response

Call and Response (CaD Ps 134) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
    who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
Psalm 134:1 (NIV)

My nephew Sam and his family came to visit last Sunday to hear Uncle Tom’s message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and hang out with me and Aunt Wendy for the day. Sam mentioned that in their hour-long drive that morning they’d been listening to the music of an artist that his father introduced him to back in his childhood.

I love all kinds of music, and I consciously endeavored to introduce our daughters to all kinds of music. I even made compilation CDs of different genres and wrote liner notes to introduce them to some of the classic artists and songs of the genre. One of my favorites was Papa’s Got the Blues. In the liner notes, I described the connection between the blues and black gospel. One of the devices that both used is “call and response.” The lead singer calls out in song and the congregation/crowd responds with a word or phrase.

While the device is widely used in more recent musical genres, it is ancient.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 134, is the final in a series of “songs of ascent” that the editors who compiled the anthology of Hebrew song lyrics put together. The song is a fitting end to this section. It is comprised of only three-lines that were an ancient version of “call and response” that was sung between pilgrims who had spent the day worshipping at the temple and are leaving at nightfall Levites working at the Temple.

Members of the Hebrew tribe of Levi were responsible for the care, upkeep, and activities of the Temple (except for priestly acts that could only be done by descendants of Aaron). The lyrics of the song picture exiting worshippers blessing the Levites who will remain at the Temple to perform their duties through the night. The pilgrims sing:

Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
    who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary
    and praise the Lord.

The Levite(s) then bless the worshippers as they exit:

May the Lord bless you from Zion,
    he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.

The reality is that “call and response” is actually a broader spiritual theme in the psalms and in the Great Story. Many psalms begin with a “call” to God anticipating the “response” to the song, prayer, and petition. In 1 Samuel, God “calls out” the boy Samuel who is confused until the priest instructs him to provide the response “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” In the Jesus story, a blind man incessantly “calls out” to Jesus and Jesus responds by healing him.

In the quiet this morning I find myself meditating on the spiritual notion of “call and response” which works in both directions. God’s Word and Spirit may “call out” to me. Am I listening? Will I respond? How will I respond? At other times, I am like the songwriters of the psalms, calling out to God in faith that God will respond. Either direction, there is an interaction that is relational.

“Here I am!” says Jesus in Revelation 3:20. “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice [calling] and [responds, as in] opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Every Tribe and Tongue

Every Tribe and Tongue (CaD Ps 129) Wayfarer

“they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
    but they have not gained the victory over me.”

Psalm 129:2 (NIV)

Wendy and I watched Godfather: Coda a few weeks ago. For those who aren’t familiar, it is the recent re-edit of the final film in the Godfather trilogy by the film’s director, Francis Ford Coppola. Originally released as The Godfather III back in 1990, the film has always been largely criticized for not living up to the first two films. Coppola claimed that he was at odds with the movie Studio on how the story should be told and was forced to rush the film to market. He was finally allowed, 30 years later, to recut it and tell the story as he and Mario Puzo imagined it.

The trilogy is really the story of Michael Corleone. Raised in a mafia family, he swears early on in the first film that he’ll never be part of the family business. The overarching story is how Michael descends into the underworld with the intent to save his family and then can’t escape, as his family is slowly torn apart.

One of the subtle storylines in the third film is that of Michael Corleone’s son, Anthony. Anthony, like his father, wants nothing to do with the family business. “I’ll never be part of the family business,” Anthony states. He then adds, “I have bad memories.”

“Every family has bad memories,” his father replies.

That line has always resonated in my soul because I find it to be true. Just the other day I wrote about my journey of discovery and uncovering some of my families’ bad memories when I was a young man. But there is also the larger reality that we are the product of the systems into which we were born. We are a product of our people. Michael wanted to escape, yet he chose in and tragically couldn’t find the exit.

Wendy and I are both products of a Dutch American tribe who risked everything to come to America, settled as a tribe on the plains of Iowa, and prospered. That prosperity was fueled by our tribe’s deeply rooted values of faith, frugality, and hard work. Wendy and I often acknowledge that we are products of our people with both the blessings and curses that come with every human system.

For the Hebrew tribes, history and identity as a people is one of constant struggle against other tribes and nations and their subjugation by human empires. That is what the writer of today’s chapter, Psalm 129, is pressing into with his lyrics as he describes being enslaved and beaten:

Plowmen have plowed my back
    and made their furrows long.

Psalm 129 was likely written after the return of exiles from captivity in Babylon. The sting of the experience would have still been fresh in the memories of those singing this song on their pilgrimage. It is the cry of a people that first acknowledges that God has blessed them and they have not been overcome, then asks God to justly deal with their oppressors.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself confessing that there are a host of human experiences that I can’t completely fathom because I haven’t experienced them myself, but that doesn’t mean I can’t seek to understand, to empathize, and to learn lessons from the experience of others. Our Dutch American town holds an annual festival of our Dutch heritage. The motto of the festival is “Everyone’s Dutch for a day!” and visitors are encouraged to learn the history, try on a pair of wooden shoes, learn a Dutch dance, and eat lots of pastries. When invited in to learn and embrace the knowledge of other cultures and people groups, I observe that everyone benefits. When excluded from doing so, I observe that the walls of prejudice are fortified to the detriment of all.

One of the sins of the institutional churches and the abuse of their power in history is the perpetuation of prejudice, injustice, violence, and indifference for the sake of power and empire in the kingdom of this world. The Jesus Movement that was about tearing down walls of prejudice and spreading love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness to every human tribe became a human empire. In the black-and-white binary choices to which the world likes to reduce everything, Christianity has been summarily dismissed by many.

I have found, however, that the heart of the Jesus Movement has always continued in the hearts and lives of individuals who embrace it and seek to carry out the original mission. A mission in which every human being of every people group can experience love, forgiveness, and redemption. When given a vision of eternity, John described the crowd as persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. When U2 described it in their psalm they sang, “I believe in the Kingdom come, when all the colors bleed into one.”

My heart this morning is crying out with the prayer of St. Francis. Perhaps it expresses more succinctly what my heart is trying to say in this post:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

“God is Grape”

"God is Grape" (CaD Ps 102) Wayfarer

Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord
Psalm 102:18 (NIV)

One of the silver linings of our family’s COVID plague has been the extended amount of time we’ve had with our grandson. This includes both moments of three-year-old hilarity and DEFCON FIVE toddler tantrums.

One of the more endearing developments has been Milo’s insistence on praying for our meal every night. Some nights he insists that we hold hands and pray two or three random times during the meal as he prays:

“God is grape. God is good. And we thank Him for the food.”

The sweetness melts this grandparent’s heart, of course. But for me it’s also witnessing the innocent openness and sensitivity of Spirit in the wee one.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 102, is another ancient Hebrew song lyric that was written during a time of intense illness. In fact, the songwriter was not sure that he was going to make it. The song begins with the writer calling out to God to hear and quickly respond, then he pours out the angst-filled description of his medical and emotional symptoms.

As the song proceeds, the tone of the lyric makes an abrupt switch. The writer stops focusing on his momentary circumstance and, instead, focuses on God’s eternal nature and the perpetuity of life. It’s as though the writer is saying “Even if this is it for me, and my number is up, life will go on. That which is eternal perseveres. The universe continues to expand. The next generation will emerge, then the next, and then the next.”

One of the oft-forgotten themes of the Great Story is that of descendence.

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”
Genesis 1:28
“God said to Noah and his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and your descendants.’”
Genesis 9:8-9
To Abram: “I will make you into a great nation.”
Genesis 12:2
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (NIV)

The Great Story is a story because it continues, it goes on even when my role is over and I make my final exit. Even in the most tragic and bleak dystopian imaginings, the premise is that Life endures and the story continues.

In the quiet this morning I feel the lingering effects of the virus on my body and realize that at this point in this life journey I don’t bounce back the way I once did. I listen to the unbridled energy of my grandson whose body felt none of the viral effects and who will live his earthly journey without remembering these weeks shut-in with Papa and Yaya.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, for him or for me. No matter the narrative of my story, life will continue in his story. Life gets handed off, a little bit each day, as we sit around the dinner table, holding hands and listening to that little voice say “God is grape.”

A Rocky Start

A Rocky Start (CaD Ps 95) Wayfarer

Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness…”
Psalm 95:7-8 (NIV)

Greetings from quarantine. It’s official that COVID has entered our home. I’m happy to report that symptoms are very mild and it’s only one person. That said, the lockdown at Vander Well Manor has begun.

Some days simply get off to a rocky start, and the past couple of days have been that way. Routines get thrown out of whack when you’re quarantined with the three-year-old and a pandemic throws life into a perpetual state of questions.

Some months get off to a rocky start, and this month has been that way. I won’t bore you with the details, but unexpected issues with work have kept the stress level consistently higher than normal since New Year’s.

Some years simply get off to a rocky start, and the past couple of days have been that way. The political tensions of the past four years, once again, spill over into the streets, through mainstream media, and all over social media.

I can’t say I’ve experienced much quiet this morning. It’s mostly been activity, swapping kid duties so others can work, and trying to sneak in a perusal of today’s chapter. That said, one of the great things about this chapter-a-day journey is that it always meets me right where I am, in this moment, and at this waypoint on life’s road.

The ancient Hebrew song lyrics of Psalm 95 begin with a call to praise. The songwriters calls the listener to sing, shout, and bow down in worship of the Creator and sustainer of life. He then makes a sudden shift and presents a warning that is a mystery to most casual readers. He warns his listeners to learn from the past and refuse to “harden your hearts” as happened “at Meribah and Massah.”

Anyone can read about the event that inspired the lyrics in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. It happened as the Hebrews tribes escaped slavery in Egypt and struck out through the wilderness to the land God had promised. Even though God had repeatedly revealed His power in getting the Egyptians to let them go, to save them from the Egyptian army, and provide for their “daily bread,” they grumbled and complained.

I have written multiple times in these chapter-a-day posts about the Chain Reaction of Praise which begins with my decision to praise God in every circumstance which leads to activated faith which then leads to praying powerful prayers, which leads to overcoming evil with good, which leads to increasing spiritual life and maturity.

It struck me that what the songwriter of Psalm 95 is doing is calling me to the Chain Reaction of Praise. No matter what the circumstance, lead with praise. Choose to shout, sing, and bow down rather than grumble and complain. It goes against the grain of my human emotions, but that is the way of Jesus.

It’s been a rocky start to the day, the month, and the year. Life is not settling back into a peaceful, happy routine. I can grumble, complain and sink into despair. Or, I can follow the path of Jesus. I can follow the Spirit. I can choose to praise, to have faith, to pray, and to keep doing what is good and right in the moment despite my circumstances.

That’s what I’m endeavoring to do in this moment, on this day.

BTW: My daily posts and podcasts might be published sporadically, or not at all, for the next few weeks. Just sayin’. I’ll just be here praising and doing what’s good and right in each moment of quarantine.

“HELP!”

"Help!" (CaD Ps 70) Wayfarer

But as for me, I am poor and needy;
    come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    Lord, do not delay.

Psalm 70:5 (NIV)

There is an urgency that comes with being at the end of one’s rope. I was recording a Wayfarer Weekend podcast with a guest earlier this week (you’ll find out who in a few weeks), and she described hitting an “end of my rope” moment in life. Her journal entries from that time, she said, were a simple, repeated refrain of “Help me!”

Today’s chapter, Psalm 70, stands out for its brevity. In fact, it’s basically a repeat of verses 13-17 of Psalm 40. It’s as if David’s circumstances are so pressing, his present pain is so acute, that he can’t find the spiritual, mental, or creative resources to come up with anything lengthy or original. He’s having an “end of my rope” moment and simply blurts out a repeat of a refrain he made before:

“God?! Quick! Help me!”

Along my journey, I’ve occasionally been asked by others how to pray. It’s kind of like asking, “How do I have a conversation?” There’s no real magic to it. It’s just having a conversation with God which, as with any relationship, can be very different one moment then it is the next. Circumstance usually dictates the content, tone, length, pace, and intensity of the conversation.

There a certain waypoints on the road of life when all I can muster is a cry for help.

It’s okay. God hears those, too.

The Nightwatch

The Nightwatch (CaD Ps 63) Wayfarer

On my bed I remember you;
    I think of you through the watches of the night.

Psalm 63:6 (NIV)

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I’ve always been a morning person. I also struggle with bouts of insomnia. For me, insomnia is waking up sometime after 1:00 a.m., usually around 3:00 a.m. My mind, even in the twilight between sleep and consciousness, starts to spin and ruminate on tasks that need to be accomplished and items that weigh heavy on my soul. Some mornings I gut it out and lay there quiet until I fall back asleep. Some mornings I get up and move to the couch downstairs where I put a movie or documentary on the television that I know so well I don’t need to pay attention, and I can sometimes get back to sleep. Yet other mornings, I go to my office to start my time of quiet with God early.

Those mornings that I opt to meet with God early, I tend to start by “praying the hours.” It’s an ancient tradition of praying prescribed prayers at various times of the day and night, knowing that you are joining with thousands, even millions, of other followers of Jesus in praying at the same time. I have a set of these “Hours” or “Offices” called The Night Offices by Phyllis Tickle. They are prayers specifically prescribed for the hours between 10:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m:

The Office of Midnight (prayed between 10:30 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.)
The Office of the Night Watch (prayed between (1:30-4:30 a.m.)
The Office of the Dawn (prayed between (4:30-7:30 a.m.)

It’s usually during the Office of the Night Watch that I find myself, like David, thinking of God “in the watches of the night.”

I’ve always loved that metaphor. It comes from ancient times when walled cities were susceptible to surprise attacks from enemies in the dark of the night. “Watchmen” would be posted on the walls through the night to keep on the lookout for enemies approaching, or any other threat seeking to breach the wall or gates when they were least protected in and hidden in the dark of the night.

The final prayer of the Office of the Night Watch goes like this:

Now guide me waking, O Lord, and guard me sleeping; that awake I may watch with Christ, and asleep, I may rest in peace. Amen.

The word picture is a reminder to me that, spiritually speaking, Jesus always pulls the Nightwatch. I have this mental vision of Jesus standing on the walls in the dark. The Nightwatch is a lonely duty. In ancient times, there were often two assigned to keep each other awake as added protection. Two, alone together on the walls in the stillness of the night. All is quiet. The world is asleep. Nothing to do for hours but watch, and talk, as we wait for the dawn.

I pray the hours. I join Jesus on His Nightwatch. I keep Him company. We talk. He asks how things are going. The Nightwatch is always somehow like a confessional. Somehow, in the darkness and quiet the things that lie heavy on my heart gain clarity and rise to the surface of my consciousness more easily. There are no interruptions in the Nightwatch. Our conversation can be focused on those troubling thoughts, and then the conversation can wander into dreams and desires and hopeful visions.

Some mornings, Jesus sends me back to join Wendy in bed, assuring me He’s got the Watch and telling me to get a few more winks. Other mornings, we greet the new day together with The Office of the Dawn which always quotes from the lyrics of Psalm 130:

My soul waits for the LORD,
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

The lyrics of today’s chapter, Psalm 63, begin with the proclamation that David is always seeking earnestly for God. It’s a longing of soul. It’s a longing and a thirsting to feel God’s presence, to experience God’s peace and power. In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded of the spiritual simplicity of Jesus’ teaching: Seek and you’ll find.

Of course, that means I have the will and option to seek and to find whatever I desire. Jesus once spoke to the religious people in His audience asking,

“When you went out to hear John the Baptist, what were you seeking? John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

In the quiet this morning I stand with Jesus on the ramparts of my life. We sip coffee together as we look out on the horizon at a pink Iowa sky illuminating the patchwork of harvested fields at sunrise. We’re quiet, thinking about the day ahead.

“Tom?” Jesus asks, his gaze still fixed on the horizon.

I glance his way as he lifts the cup of coffee to His mouth. He drinks slowly. A smile comes to his lips.

“When you came up to join me this morning. What were you seeking?”

Some days He asks me a question, and I know He’s not expecting a quick answer. This is one He means for me to ponder.

If I don’t like what I’m finding in my life, then what is it I am seeking?

Fear Response

Fear Response (CaD Ps 56) Wayfarer

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.