Leave No Unguarded Place

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I woke up with a verse of a song playing in my head.

Leave no unguarded place,
No weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace,
And fortify the whole.
From strength to strength go on,
Wrestle and fight and pray,
Tread all the powers of darkness down
And win the well-fought day.

It’s from the hymn, Soldiers of Christ Arise, written by Charles Wesley. His brother, John, is famous for leading a well-known spiritual awakening, but it’s Charles’ verses that come to memory for me.

I looked for a video performance of the song but none that I saw had the tone of gentle encouragement I felt when I heard this part of it in my spirit. Some of them used photos of modern military and others featured large choirs and brass fanfares.

None of them felt right because “wrestle and fight and pray” doesn’t take place in the middle of patriotic hoopla for me. The battle, for me, takes place mostly in my bed at night when I wrestle with doubt, fight fear, and pray from a position of being very aware of weakness. The only strutting involved is when I am trying to walk the cramps out of my legs, and technically, that looks more like lurching.

I don’t feel particularly virtuous when I am complaining about pain. I don’t feel particularly strong when worries attack without the defenses of daylight logic camouflage. My prayers contain no self-conscious public speech-making bravado. Mostly they are moans, for myself, for my family, for my friends, for my country, for this world where the powers of darkness, in a variety of costumes, seem to be clog dancing on the face of those suffering injustice.

And yet, I hear the voice of my Lord saying, “Get up. Put your armour on.”

In his kindness, Holy Spirit first points out places in my heart that need to be fortified with his love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Then he reminds me of his lavish, empowering grace.

He reminds me that when I fall, I don’t have to go all the way back to the beginning. My new starting point is where I left off last time. I am learning that I can fall, admit it, and get up to fight from strength to strength with his weapons — and aim them at the real enemy, not the hostages.

The process involves acknowledging the unguarded places in my soul where lies about who God is and who I am in Christ have slipped in unnoticed. One common unguarded place is unforgiveness. Another is complaining. Someone told me that complaining is the worship language of hell and not to be surprised by who shows up for a pity party.

Wrestling, puzzling, pondering draws us closer to God. Sometimes trust means moving in obedience without any more insight than knowing he is good and he’s asked me to get up and pray.

Sometimes one crumb leads to another on the path to closer relationship. As I was pondering this song another came up:

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.
-George Croly

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Today is Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came in power on a Pentecost day to enable the followers of Jesus to go from strength to strength. They couldn’t do it on their own.

Sometimes the next step is simply a practical one. While he fried up bacon and eggs, my husband patiently listened to me verbally process the significance of the music in my head and its metaphorical meaning.

“By the way,” he said, when I paused to take a sip of coffee, “You left the back door open last night.”

Note to self: check the doors before going to bed.

A Season of Hardship

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It snowed again. It’s hard in this season when one day is full of the promise of spring and the next throws us back into more time of waiting. Yesterday I worked in the garden, waving to neighbours as I cleaned up dead branches and winter debris, and made plans for planting. Today I’m back in the house, in isolation, wondering when this cold, lonely season will end.

Weather forecasts from several sources differ only slightly on when the weather will warm up again. Forecasts about when voluntary and increasingly forced isolation will end vary much more widely. Health and economic experts seem to be at a loss themselves. Many people are asking, “What is actually going on?”

It’s hard when you don’t know what is happening.

The followers of Jesus must have been at a loss themselves the day after the Messiah died. Only a few days earlier, songs of joy and elation rang out in the streets. Now Jesus was dead. How crushed their hopes! The greatest disappointment in history! They could not see what was being accomplished during that time. From the vantage point of isolation in hiding from fearful opposition they had no idea what was actually going on.

I don’t know what’s going on right now. I don’t know which experts to believe, which news sources are fake, which are reliable, or who is exploiting whom in this situation. It appears many people are suffering physically and financially as the whole world cries out for deliverance from this evil.

This much I do know. God hears and he can take what was intended for evil and turn it to the advantage of those who trust him. He can also use it to reveal himself to those who deny who he is.

Wait, my soul. Take courage. Wait and learn. Remember the Father’s words.

How compassionate he will be
when he hears your cries for help!
He will answer you when he hears your voice!

Even though the Lord may allow you
to go through a season of hardship and difficulty,
he himself will be there with you.

He will not hide himself from you,
for your eyes will constantly see him as your Teacher.
 
When you turn to the right or turn to the left,
you will hear his voice behind you to guide you, saying,
“This is the right path; follow it.”

Then you will see your idols as they are—unclean!

(Isaiah 30:19b-22a TPT)

Under the Weather

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To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.
-Karl Barth

The expression feeling under the weather means feeling unwell. It comes from a nautical expression. If a sailor on a ship felt sea sick due to rough weather he was allowed to go below deck until the storm was over or the ship sailed out of it or he developed sea legs.

The storm most of us find ourselves in right now with the threat of the covid-19 virus and the financial repercussions of efforts to mitigate the spread, have left many feeling sick with anxiety.

When people are overwhelmed with waves of anxiety crashing down on them they react differently than they normally would. They say or do things that escape normal healthy inhibitions. There is grace for that.

Sometimes it’s better to take a break and metaphorically go below deck to find a less stressful place and wait out the chaos. Sometimes I have to quit watching the news or listening to social media squabbles because they upset me. I’m liable to lash out in a way that embarrasses me in the way suddenly vomiting in a crowd is embarrassing.

Some people are called to hands-on-deck practical action – and for those people I am extremely grateful. Some of us are called to a quiet place where we can re-focus and listen to God’s heart for us. It’s only then that we battle, not from a place of fear, but a place of rest and confidence that God is still for us and still good.

God is not tethered to the timeline like we are. He sees the storm, but he also sees the resolution of this atmosphere of fear-inducing disorder.

It’s okay to take a break when you need to go below decks. Rest. Drink in God’s love. It’s the thing that casts out fear. Worship and give thanks, as you wait for the peace that passes understanding that Jesus promised. When you are full and can give out of the overflow, rise up and do the things that are consistent with being the person God sees when he looks at you. If you don’t know who that is, now is a good time to ask.

So now we come freely and boldly to where love is enthroned, to receive mercy’s kiss and discover the grace we urgently need to strengthen us in our time of weakness.

(Hebrews 4:16 TPT)

 

 

 

Struggling Against the Wind

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Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves.

About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw him.

But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” 

Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.

(Mark 6:47-56 NLT)

The disciples were in a storm struggling against the wind and waves. Everything in their evidence-based experience told them this was bad. Very bad.

Jesus saw their struggle.

If this pandemic experience had happened earlier in my life I would probably have felt overwhelmed with anxiety. It’s a sign of how much the Lord has healed my heart that even though I am in the high risk for complications category in several ways should I come into contact with the virus, I have more peace now than I’ve ever had before.

Like the disciples in the boat, my experience tells me this is bad. But unlike the disciples at that time, my heart has been softened by seeing Jesus do the unexpected. Sometimes the scary ‘what-ifs’ break through, but most of the time I can trust that no matter what, God still loves me and still loves and cares for the people I love.

I had no grid for God’s intervention back in the years of anxiety and depression. I struggled against the wind, but all I saw was the waves. Like Jesus’ friends, I interpreted anything supernatural as something even scarier than the storm.

Jesus didn’t shame them for what they felt. He responded to their cries. “I’m here!”

He had compassion and showed them what it was like to be at peace. He demonstrated authority over not only  chaos in the physical atmosphere, but in the spiritual atmosphere as well. He put himself in the same position they were in and the wind stopped.

During a time of turbulent emotions stirred up by fear and illness, I painted a prayer of wanting to see Jesus in the emotional storm that raged around my heart. I had almost forgotten about it until I read this story in Mark today.

In a dream this week, I waited and waited in a church hoping for an encounter with God. When I could no longer stay because the last person turned off the lights and indicated he wanted to lock up, I went out into the dark rainy night. To my surprise, Jesus was waiting in the parking lot for me. When he touched my hand all fear was gone.

He wasn’t in the decently-and-in-order building with its platform and neat rows of seats. He was outside in the storm.

Perhaps that is where he is waiting for you.

 

 

Finding Peace in the Middle of a Contentious Atmosphere

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I fell for it. I didn’t really notice until I asked myself why I felt so agitated. I heard myself snap at my husband over some trivial matter. Later he (and a few others) had to listen to my rant about the way corrupt people with money and power are lying to the vulnerable and gullible. I picked up the nastiness in the atmosphere and, forgetting to get cleaned up after reading about systemic corruption in my country, I ran with it and added to the division.

I lost my peace.

One of the most important things I have learned in the past few years is that when I pray I need to remember who I am, to rest from striving and have confidence in the One to whom I pray — and to tune into His peace. In His presence I am content to trust. Covered by His righteousness, surrounded by His love, and secure in His goodness I can join in the way Jesus prays for a situation.

On my own I become angry. I rant about injustice, cover-ups, the abuse of power, the manipulation of people through fears and half-truths. On my own my best efforts contribute to the kind of division that delights the enemy of our souls. My own emotional reaction doesn’t work.

I thought about attitudes that counter anger and contention. I thought about peace and contentment as neutralizing weapons. But first I had to get cleaned up.

The essence of confession is this: Oh God, I was wrong. I’m sorry.

I was wrong to pick up the weapons of the author of contention. (I once heard in a dream, “You can contend without being contentious, you know.”) I was wrong for applying outrage instead of stepping into the place of confident security in The Truth and The Way.

My scheduled reading yesterday in Psalm 94 made me stop and think. So much of the upheaval we are experiencing comes down to the question, “Who is in control?”

You will be relieved to know it’s not me, nor can I tell God what to do. I can confess, get cleaned up, and step back into alignment with him though. Thank you, Lord, for forgiveness.

The scripture says the purposes of God are not achieved by the anger of man. My dearest brothers and sisters, take this to heart: Be quick to listen,[o] but slow to speak. And be slow to become angry, for human anger is never a legitimate tool to promote God’s righteous purpose. (James 1:19, 20)

Prayer is more powerful than any demonstration of anger. God’s plan of revenge is first a heart transformed by love, but he will not tolerate forever those who hurt his children.

The Lord has fully examined every thought of man
and found them all to be empty and futile.

Lord Yah, there’s such a blessing that comes
when you teach us your word and your ways.
Even the sting of your correction can be sweet.

It rescues us from our days of trouble
until you are ready to punish the wicked.

For the Lord will never walk away from his cherished ones,
nor would he forsake his chosen ones who belong to him.

Whenever you pronounce judgments, they reveal righteousness.
All your lovers will be pleased.

Lord, who will protect me from these wicked ones?
If you don’t stand to defend me, who will? I have no one but you!

I would have been killed so many times
if you had not been there for me.

When I screamed out, “Lord, I’m doomed!”
your fiery love was stirred and you raced to my rescue.

Whenever my busy thoughts were out of control,
the soothing comfort of your presence
calmed me down and overwhelmed me with delight.

It’s obvious to all; you will have nothing to do
with corrupt rulers who pass laws that empower evil
and defeat what is right.

For they gang up against the lovers of righteousness
and condemn the innocent to death.

But I know that all their evil plans will boomerang back onto them.
Every plot they hatch will simply seal their own doom.
For you, my God, you will destroy them,
giving them what they deserve.
For you are my true tower of strength,
my safe place, my hideout, and my true shelter.

(Psalm 94:11-23 TPT)

 

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I Long to Drink of You

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I long to drink of you, O God,
drinking deeply from the streams of pleasure
flowing from your presence.
My longings overwhelm me for more of you!

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My deep need calls out to the deep kindness of your love.
Your waterfall of weeping sent waves of sorrow
over my soul, carrying me away,
cascading over me like a thundering cataract.

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Yet all day long God’s promises of love pour over me.
Through the night I sing his songs,
for my prayer to God has become my life.

(Psalm 42:1, 7, 8 The Passion Translation)

Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened

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Following up on a reminder to remember, let me tell you this story.

“What would we do if that happened in our family?” my son asked. A book he read for a school assignment upset him. It was the story of a girl who became blind.

“First we would cry,” I told him. “Then we would make adjustments and help her to live life as best she could.”

That was an inadequate answer. I had more to learn. A few weeks later our daughter, his younger sister, went blind.

A case of pink eye, combined with side-effects of medication for another condition and the use of contact lens I told her not to wear, but should have confiscated, turned into a raging infection. I didn’t realize how serious it was until one morning, a couple of weeks before Christmas, she screamed that she couldn’t open her eyes because of pain. We took her to the hospital still thinking she was overacting a bit when the ophthalmologist told us she was admitting her. She had “fried her corneas” and faced serious scarring that meant she would probably lose her eyesight permanently.

The doctor was not nice about it. She yelled at us in the hallway in front of patients and staff, berating our parenting ability and accusing us of negligence. I was terrified and filled with guilt. Not only could my precious child go blind, but it was my fault!

The next few days were agony for all of us. Our daughter was placed in a small windowless room near the nurses’ station on the children’s ward. Anyone who visited her was also essentially blind, since any light caused her great pain. Every hour, day and night, a nurse entered and administered painful drops, which, we didn’t know at the time, she was allergic to. Her condition deteriorated.

“First we cry,” was entirely inadequate for the situation. “First we weep and wail and throw up,” was more like it. Of course, we tried to not let her see – or rather hear – our reaction. We tried to maintain a positive attitude around her, even when the doctor told her there was no way she was going home for Christmas. She would be spending it in the dark, stuffy room.

Of course, we prayed, but it was more and more difficult to maintain any kind of faith with every new negative report. But God…

“There was someone in my room last night, Mom,” she said when I came in early in the morning.

“It was probably a nurse, or hospital staff,” I said.

“No. I always know when the door opens because the light in the hall hurts and besides, they always talk to me. This felt different. The door didn’t open. It was just there. I felt, I don’t know, a presence.”

I assumed painkillers caused her to hallucinate.

Then the doctor came in. She was shocked. Our daughters’ eyes were much better. There was no sign of infection and inflammation and swelling were fading. She remained in hospital a couple more days to make sure, but she came home for Christmas.

Today she is a teacher and artist – a professional photographer who depends on keen eyesight. She was told she would never be able to wear contacts or have laser surgery for near-sightedness, but that prognosis was not fulfilled either. Now, she doesn’t even wear glasses. When doctors predicted her husband would die of necrotizing fasciitis, she had faith and hope beyond any logical scientific limitations. An encounter with the Healer opened her heart to possibilities she never imagined. It opened our hearts as well.

Here is where I was wrong. I told my son that if such a thing ever happened in our family, we would try to find ways to cope. Even though I grew up in the church and heard all the stories in the Bible about how Jesus healed people, I didn’t know he still heals. The best we could reasonably expect was help in learning to cope.

I know, the first yeah-but that comes to mind is the question about why many people who pray are not healed. I don’t know. All I know is that people who believe The Healer is part of who God wants to show himself to be for us see a lot more miracles and healings than people who have lost hope. People who rejoice in his goodness are free to live in hope – and hope frees us to live without limits.

God is good.

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I Will Remember

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This is how I fight my battles. I paint my prayers. I started this piece at class on Monday eve, but it was not right. Too dark. I worked on it some more this evening.

Since Easter I have been running into the word “Remember.” Jesus’ last supper with his disciples was important. When you are on your way out you tend to make sure you talk about the things that matter most. He talked about remembering his broken body and spilled blood every time we take bread and wine together. He washed his friends’ feet as a demonstration of a servant’s attitude, but also as a reminder, especially to Peter, that we cannot do this on our own. We need Him. We must let him help us before we can help others.

We also need to let other disciples help us and admit when we are weak. This is about family and relationship and the giving and taking goes both ways. On Sunday I was on the prayer team and prayed for others. Tonight I am praying for my sixteen-year old granddaughter who is an exchange student in France. We just learned she is in hospital after a head injury.  I am also asking friends to come alongside and pray for her and for her parents and brother and us, her grandparents who are all a continent and ocean away.

This is my painted prayer. Bread, wine, water, basin, towel, candle. “Remember.” I remember all he has done for us and I praise and thank him. Jesus is the light of the world. God is love. He is faithful.