BY JORDAN MAYER
"Pray without ceasing..."
(1 Thessalonians 5:17)
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul closes out his first letter to the church with some final instructions. Among a litany of other charges, he writes three short, but impactful words: “pray without ceasing”.
This is not the first time Paul has used these words. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul opens his letter to the Colossians by saying that he and Timothy, “…have not ceased to pray for you...” (Colossians 1:9). How is it that Paul could be so bold as to claim this? And it begs a few questions for how we could possibly pray without ceasing in our own lives.
Should we be mindlessly repeating a few scripted prayers? Should we lock ourselves inside our homes and isolate ourselves from the outside world in order to fully devote ourselves to prayer? Is Paul's charge out of touch with the demands of our fast-paced, modern world?
It doesn’t take long to realize that this definition of “ceaseless prayer” is neither practical or possible, nor is it the message Paul is trying to get across.
For me, I have found it helpful to first remind myself of what prayer truly is: a conversation with God. Prayer is not mere religious utterings, it is the intimate and direct communication with the God of the universe! So, ceaseless prayer is the kind of conversation that is never quite finished. It's about adopting not only the action of prayer, but an attitude of prayer.
Ceaseless prayer is the opposite of occasional prayer or inconsistent prayer. It's about taking God through your day. As we awake in the morning, our first conversation is to thank God for the night’s rest and the gift of a new day. We thank Him for who He is and what He has done. Before the day’s to-do’s begin to pile up, we pray over the day's needs and seek His wisdom, guidance, and strength. When the unexpected trials pop up in the middle of our day, we take them to the Lord in prayer. When we return home and settle in for the night, we recount the day's blessing.
Hour by hour, minute by minute, we keep lifting up our prayers to our Heavenly Father. Thanking Him for His blessings, confessing our sins, seeking His will, asking for His deliverance.
This is a habit I’ve been trying to build in my own life. How easy it is to begin my day in prayer, and then fail to offer up another word to the one who sustains my very life. I get into the office and am quickly overcome by the hustle and bustle of the day's activities. Before I know it, the day is over and I've missed precious moments with my Lord. There is a time and a place for dedicated and extended sessions of prayer, but we are also invited to infuse moments of prayer into every day life. God wants to hear from us, not because we are telling Him anything that He does not already know, but because it demonstrates our willingness to come to Him in faith and trust, in relationship.
Begin the day in prayer. Go through your day in prayer. End your day in prayer. Each day and every day.
In the beautiful hymn, In the Garden, C. Austin Miles speaks of this intimate relationship he shares with His Lord and Savior as he walks in his garden in the cool of the morning.
"And he walks with me
And He talks with me,
And He tells me I am his own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known."
(In the Garden by C. Austin Miles)
BY MARTHA CHEVALIER
"For God says, 'At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.' Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation."
(2 Corinthians 6:2)
Returning home from co-leading a biannual retreat for women battling or surviving cancer, I pulled off the isolated road to wet a line (go fishing). It was raining steady when I stopped, and by the time I had donned my waders and laced up my boots, the weather had morphed into a deafening downpour. I stepped into the fast-moving water on this unfamiliar river. I enjoyed the reassuring feeling of my studded boots securely gripping the slippery rocks. My glasses were useless, steamy, and the rain pounded unrelenting. My concentration was set as I worked hard to tie on a fly. Something emerged out of the river directly in front of me. I had no idea what it was, but based on the splash, I knew it must be large, perhaps an otter? Unwilling to break my focus from tying on the fly. I spoke out loud to whoever/whatever was bobbing at this point very near my left hip. Holding up my index finger and in the tone of a patient mother, I said out loud “hold on, I’ll get to you.” I was interested…. Moments later, I looked up to behold a king-size loon, less than arm’s length away... in borrowed words from Maya Angelou, “this creature was trailing wisps of glory.”
What could this possibly have to do with the bible? Occasionally, while reading the bible, I stumble upon my own “wild loon moments.” Sometimes the words on the page take on unusual bursts of glory. It’s as though normal time and experience shifts from business as usual to anything but usual. Water to wine moments, simple bread becomes a feast. … The ancient Greeks reflect such moments in their vocabulary, expressed through two separate words for time. Kronos, expresses time that’s ordinary, sequential, chronological, as opposed to a Kairos. Kairos has an eternal component, lasting, unusual, remarkable, infused with wonder and awe. The bible has many moments that feature Kairos time. The greatest Kairos wonder is found in John 3:16. For God so loved the world he sent his Son. Kairos tends to emerge suddenly, just like my loon. Moments when we come alive, encountering the living God at a precise moment in time. I suppose it’s akin to climbing into a dusty attic wardrobe, beholding the wonders on the other side. Moses had a burning bush (Exodus 3), Mary had a visit from Gabriel (Luke 1), Jacob encountered God through angels ascending and descending at Bethel while resting his head upon a rock (Gen 28). Elijah heard the still small voice (1 kings 19). Ezekiel saw the wheel within the wheel (Ezekiel 1). John, the beloved, encountered Jesus yielding wild revelations on the Greek Isle of Patmos. Are we any different? We are not.
“Suddenly my righteousness will come near, and my salvation will be shining out like the light; the sea-lands will be waiting for me, and they will put their hope in my strong arm.” Isa 51:5
BY JENNIFER RUTHERFORD
"Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
If you’re anything like me, without even knowing it, your focus is negative before it’s positive. From the moment I wake, I’m mentally assaulted with the “to do” laundry list of the day. I’m preparing for what I need to get done and who I need to deal with in order to accomplish those tasks. Throughout the day, I am only too aware of something I said to someone that I’m not sure how they took? I’m keenly focused on how I just blew my diet and there is zero time to exercise. My time is side-swiped by a problem that has emerged with my children that makes me scared and fearful and on top of that an unexpected bill popped up. I’m annoyed with how someone treated me. I have a list of things I need to accomplish and no time to fit everything in. I’m bummed I still haven’t reached out to so and so who has been waiting for a response. I didn’t complete a task or assignment. The list of joy suckers IS BIG and long. Before I know it, I can grow a negative, joyless mindset and FAST! Take a moment, my list might be different from yours, but can you relate? I bet we all can as it’s part of the human condition in a fallen world.
I don’t mean to be a negative Nancy. Sure there are some tasks that are more pleasant than others. Sure, there are happy things throughout the day, but by-and-large, I’d say as a society, we treat life and our responsibilities as an odious task we need to get through. After-all it’s called “the grind” or “the rat race” for a reason, right? If there isn’t some truth to those statements, escapism through media, drugs, food and on wouldn’t be such a struggle. We wouldn’t have the same level of problems with anxiety, depression and we wouldn’t live our lives for the weekend! Look back at my list above. Is it any wonder why I flip on my device, click facebook or insta and scroll? Just a little numbing please.
Most of us, I’d say, rehearse, (to go over and over something), our trouble and problems. We think about them almost non-stop. We tell our friends, family and co-workers (another form of rehearsal). We wake up and go to bed with many of the same things on our mind. At night, we are often super aware of what we didn’t get done and what we need to muster up for tomorrow. The truth is, long before we ever rehearse the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness or self-control, our mind and actions do a deep dive that fixes itself on a negative thought life.
Our brains are one of the most amazing and complex organs in our body. It’s responsible for our ability to walk, talk, feel, see, hear, remember things, breathe and more. Without straight geeking out, I’m going to give you the super basic 20,000 feet above ground version. Our brain is comprised of over 100 billion neurons connecting with other neurons around themselves to send and receive information in the form of electro-chemical signals. Neural pathways are the connections established between those neurons that give the information sent and received meaning.
When we learn to ride a bike, or maybe a baby learns to walk, it rapid fires laser like signals through the brain. At first, those signals are weak. With repetition, we strengthen those signals, which form our neural pathways. Now as an adult, I don’t need to think about walking or riding a bike because it’s a well formed “dominant” neural pathway in my brain. If that’s true about walking and riding bikes, you can imagine how repetitive patterns of how we think and feel can also create “dominant” pathways. Our thoughts shape our reality. Is it any wonder why secular spiritualism has attached itself to things like “manifesting” and there are whole practices of cognitive behavioral therapies. Our minds are powerful and our enemy, Satan, knows it and uses it to his advantage.
Is it any wonder that in Philippians 4:8 we are instructed to think about, (and fix our mind on), whatever is right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praise worthy? In 2 Corinthians 10:5, we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. In 1 Peter 1:5 we are instructed to cast all of our cares or anxieties on Him because He cares for us.
My husband, Jason and I had a similar dream about leeches. We both marveled at how weird it was that we had such a similar dream. I started to look up Biblical interpretations of leeches. I read about the science of leeches and how their teeth puncture the skin, they insert a venom that creates blood flow and then they suck away! They suck blood! The very marrow of life. As I was writing this, I became aware that the list I started with above is like little spiritual leeches sucking the blood and marrow of my walk in Christ Jesus. They are joy suckers and joy is the marrow of our walk in Jesus!
In Hebrews 12:2 the Bible says, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What we know about Jesus’s time in the garden before his brutal murder was that he was terrified. He was sweating blood. He was asking the Father if this cup could pass. Clearly, that was a “no”. The Bible says, “for the joy set before him he endured the cross”. Hang out with that verse for a minute and put yourself in his shoes. How did God’s son suffer through one of the most heinous murders ever committed? He anchored himself to joy. He anchored himself to joy? He anchored himself to joy!
Look, I don’t know about you, but this is one of those moments when I get a ‘heaven’s talking download’ in my brain (some call it epiphany) and I realize when the Bible says “we haven’t striven unto death” and “pick up your cross and follow me” that I’m being challenged to look at a thing differently and to make a change. If Jesus could somehow make it through a literal death anchoring himself to the joy set before him and we are calling ourselves “Christians” and we are playing ‘the game of life’ sporting heaven’s jersey... what is our life supposed to look like and HOW do we have joy in the midst of all the trouble?
There are a couple of keys in the verses above. Joy is a mindset that requires making up your mind. Let’s look at the word: mindset. We set our mind. We take every thought captive that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. This means we become aware of our thoughts and we break agreement with the ones that don’t align with the kingdom of heaven! Most people that have ever had a leech sucking their blood, want it off RIGHT AWAY! And that is how we have to treat those pesky leech like thoughts that try to attach themselves to our joy and suck! We can’t wait until we have the feeling of joy. We have to cultivate joy. To grow it! To make it become the “dominant” pathway in our brain and to do that, we need to stop rehearsing trouble!
We learn to cast our cares and anxieties on Jesus because we know that he cares for us. Notice I said “learn”. You might not be in the practice of going to Jesus with your cares and anxieties. Those mental pathways might be weak because you’re like the equivalent of a baby learning to crawl. The good news is, perfect practice makes perfect. “We have not because we ask not or we ask amiss.”
If there is anything lovely, of good report, peaceable, righteous and on, we let our mind focus on those things. If you’re like me, (yes, I’m aware that I’ve said that a lot), your mind rehearses trouble before it rehearses good. I’m a lot like Peter. I step out of the boat, I’m stoked to be doing something with God and then I lose my focus, start to think about my circumstances and before you know it, I’m sinking! Half the time, I think I’m afraid to believe the good because you never know what might sideswipe you and steal that joy and it’s better to stay realistic in our expectations than to feel the crash and burn of sadness. That might be safe, but it isn’t kingdom. Jesus didn’t stay safe.
Let’s go back to how powerful our brains are in creating our reality. How you look at your children, parents, spouse, siblings responsibilities, interactions and oh hey… how you look at yourself and the grace you give yourself – all the things MUST bow it’s knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is our plumb line. The thing we measure our lives against. He is our standard. Hebrews says “fix our eyes on Jesus”. When we change the focus of our thoughts to joy, to Jesus, to gratitude and praise – we anchor our self to joy like Jesus and we more than overcome the world.
Pro tip: it doesn’t all happen over night. How long did it take you to build your thought patterns? Start by asking Holy Spirit to help you watch your thoughts and cultivate a heart of gratitude. The Bible says “in everything give thanks”. Yeah, I know how annoying I sound. Yes, give thanks for your problems. Find the joy in them. If you can’t see it, ask Jesus to show you. Don’t beat yourself up for slipping into old patterns, just cast that care on Jesus and give thanks that you recognized it. You’ve got Jesus and He’s got this, which roughly translated means - you’ve got this!
BY JORDAN MAYER
"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
In the book of Jeremiah, we enter a tumultuous time in Israel's history. The northern kingdom of Israel has already fallen to the Assyrians and now Judah's reckoning has come. Despite God's repeated attempts to warn the people through the prophets, His words fall on deaf ears. Consistent and persistent patterns of sin and idolatry have lead the people away from God's blessing to their own ruin. God raises up Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, as His chosen instrument of judgment. Babylon lays siege to Judah and takes the people into exile for 70 years.
With the people now in Babylon, Jeremiah sends a letter to the elders there. It is a word from the Lord meant to be shared with all the exiled people. What words would God speak to His people in this foreign land?
I know what I would say. "Keep your heads down, don't draw attention to yourselves. Be patient until your time of exile is over." But this is the total opposite of what God tells His people and I think there's a word in there for us as well.
The message is not to hunker down and just survive, they are encouraged to live and to thrive! The Lord tells them in verse 6 to "build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease." In short, "Make a life for yourselves!"
I recently finished reading a book called Engage with Honor written by Lee Ellis, a former pilot and POW during the Vietnam War. In the book, Lee describes the difficult conditions in the prison. But as the book goes on, he details the life that he and the other prisoners build inside the camp. They come up with their own programs for entertainment, education, spiritual development and physical fitness. In a situation where you might not blame someone for just throwing in the towel, they find ways to not only stay alive, but thrive.
So here we find the Israelites, strangers in a strange land. Hundreds of miles from home. God's message to them is to start building a life for themselves. Building houses, planting gardens, and entering into marriages are not short term goals. God intends them to settle in for the long haul; they're in exile for 70 years after all. But then He continues in verse 7 with these words to the people. "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." For all intents and purposes, Babylon was Judah's enemy, their captors. And yet, God's message to them is to seek the city's good and to pray for its welfare. For in so doing, they themselves will prosper.
I confess, in my longing for Heaven I can often feel tempted to isolate. To keep my head down and ride out the storm until such time that the Lord returns or calls me home. On the one hand, I think it's important to remember that this life is not our end destination, and thus we should not cling too tightly to it. But the fact that this world is not our true home is not license to isolate ourselves from it. Our highest example can come from no other except Jesus himself. Jesus, who humbled himself by taking human form, who ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners; who died on a cross for sins not His own. He willingly chose to enter into the mess that is this world in order to reach out in love to His people. And He calls us to do the same.
After reading this verse in Jeremiah, these words continue to echo in my mind. Jordan, seek your city's good.
Paul shares a similar message in his letter to Timothy. "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Pray for your company and your co-workers. Pray for those around you, for your friends and for your neighbors, for those you like and those you don't. Reach out and make a difference. Share His hope, show His love, shine His light.
BY JORDAN MAYER
“And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD…”
My year-long Bible reading plan recently had me in the wisdom literature, which consists of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Perhaps I am not the only one that is overwhelmed by all the wonderful verses and bits of wisdom contained in these books?
I am always fascinated by the unique perspective that each book offers. Proverbs highlights the ways of the wise, and the blessing and benefit that follows wise living. There is a simple cause and effect drawn out in the book. Conversely, Job and Ecclesiastes reveal the harsh realities of life, the ways in which things don’t always work the way we think they ought to. Far from simple and logical, life can often be perplexing, frustrating, and overwhelming.
But the thing I find most interesting of all is a particular theme that shows up in all three books (and the rest of Scripture for that matter): the fear of the Lord.
"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:7)
"And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:28)
I find the fear of the Lord to be one of those phrases that immediately elicits a response. We’re not quite sure what to make of it, it sounds somewhat off-putting and abrasive. And yet, each of these books present it as the fundamental element of wisdom, true wisdom.
As we celebrated Father’s Day this past Sunday, I was thinking about how the father-son dynamic is such a helpful aid in understanding this idea. And that is no coincidence! God provides us many models for helping us understand the truths of His Word. When it comes to the fear of the Lord, there is much more wrapped up into this idea than what we might presume.
We often think of fear in the traditional sense, as in being afraid of someone or something. And to a certain extent, this is a healthy fear to cultivate. From a young age, I was taught to fear the consequences of my bad behavior and that became a prompt to pursue what was right. When it comes to God, we must all come to grips with our standing before Him and the terrifying reality of His wrath. This, too, becomes a prompt to seek salvation in the only one who can truly save, Jesus Christ.
But to leave it there is to miss the mark, for that is only one dimension of fear. I think it's the first thing that comes to our minds, but it is not the full picture. Fear is also respect and submission. I don't have to be a parent to know that these two things do not come naturally to children. I do have experience as a child, though, and can say with certainty that they do not! Thus, it is the role of parents to instill these things into their kids. To fear is to respect and submit to a higher authority. This is a fear that is taught and cultivated. It’s a surrendering of the will.
The Bible often uses examples from the lesser to the greater. Thus, if we are to fear our earthly fathers, how much more should we have the fear of the Lord? When we recognize and acknowledge His power and authority, we surrender and submit to His rule over our lives.
Even Jesus possessed a fear of the Lord! Prophesying about the coming Messiah, Isaiah writes, “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD…” (Isaiah 11:2-3).
Notice this fear is a source of delight! What a wonderful insight into what the fear of the Lord is truly about. It’s not a fear that makes us turn and run, it is a delight to be in. How can this be? It's because this fear is ultimately motivated by love. As a son, the fear of consequences is overshadowed by the greater love and respect I have for my father. It is my love for him that prompts me to do that which pleases him. So it is to a far greater extent with my Heavenly Father. Fear leads me away from sin into a deeper relationship with Him. My greatest fear is to do what is contrary to Him. My desire is to honor and glorify His name. We need not shy away from this fear, rather we may fully embrace it, for we fear Him whom we love.
BY JOYCE PELLETIER
I so appreciated Jordan’s reflection recently about his first hike on the West Coast, on such a high mountain last week. More than 20 years ago, Maurice and I made a quest to make two hikes that one summer. The goal was 2 but we ended up doing 4. I don’t know what we were thinking. However, we made them.
The first was quite painful, climbing up Camels Hump, but it was also invigorating. It was a clear day and you could see for miles. The next one was Mt Abraham in Bristol, which was cloudy all the way, and even though we didn’t have the vista, it was amazing to be on top. Hiking down was chatting with our friends about God and so many things about the hike.
The third was the summit of Mt Mansfield and that was a clear day as well. It was an easier hike but you still have to maintain your balance to stay safe. Our son, Joe, was with us and I had wanted to make it across to the end of the very top, as I’d never been there. We were two-thirds of the way when I said I had enough and wanted to quit. Joe reminded me of my goal. We rested for a while and kept
going. When we arrived I had a sense of euphoria. The vista was amazing. We sat and had our lunch as we watched a glider make it’s pass atop of all of us on top.
The last hike was Mt Philo. Now that appears to be the shortest and easiest hike. Well, yes it was short, but steep and we felt the pain from that one more than any of the others. The weather was clear.
The lessons from that summer were not so much as bragging rights, but more of taking each step along the way, one at a time. We can only go one step at a time. We had to stop along the way for a rest, but we made it. I stopped hiking that one summer. My body went into rebellion. I will never be sorry for any of those hikes. There were so many lessons with each step.
On the middle of a high (or low) mountain, the vistas were amazing. On the first one, we had several friends from the church we were attending. We prayed on top, thanking God for getting us safely. We had an exchange student from UVM with us and she had been to Disney in Florida and brought along one of those molded chocolates of Mickey Mouse. She wanted to share it with the 7 of us as a victory.
This was a lesson that God celebrates with us our victories. He also celebrates with us when we accomplish our goals, but also when the goals are not achieved (but tremendous lessons learned through those goals), He leads us through and then celebrates with us as we learn to trust Him to carry us.
It’s not about winning, in the sense of a gold medal. It’s about the one who gets us to our destination. As a believer, we are called to live a life as Jesus promises to be challenging, yet filled with amazing grace and unending love and support. No matter what He knows will happen, we don’t know what it all means, however, we do know we can trust Him. You see He knows, yet we have to remember to trust Him in all things.
In our Grounded sermon series, our iConnect group found the whole book convicting. Amazingly, we learned from Eph 1:5 that we are chosen to be a ‘child of God.’ He predestined us to share in His Kingdom. We are called to be thankful, even in the middle of one crisis or challenge after another. We don’t have to despair and lose heart. Why would our God want to continue to live with us, especially since
we all fall short of the glory of God? However, He is always ready to forgive. No greater love can we experience than this. He gives us grace to forgive ourselves. His grace so eloquently gives us strength to face whatever challenge is before us.
In Eph 1:15-23 we learned to be faithful with gratitude in prayer. For without God, we are nothing. As we walked through His Word, every step is a continuous invitation to trust Him in all things. Even if we have to go through the same circumstances 20 times until we learn to thank Him in all things.
I have read Ephesians many times, but now this series on being Grounded has helped me to see it all more clearly. This series has brought me to a different reasoning. He suggests ever so dearly that because we are not our own, we need to remember, we don’t travel this world alone. We don’t have to rely on our own strength because if we don’t rely on God, we fail to see the wonder of His existence. If we don’t embrace that grace filled with love from our Father, we trip and fall again and again. Even though answers don’t come as fast as we would like, the temptation is to feel sorry for ourselves.
We have to remind ourselves in Proverbs 4:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path!”
When God convicts us of our sin, He does it in the manner of us coming to grips of it. He enables us to rise above the sin to reach for His hand and He does so with the intention of getting us to admit it, then that opens the door to have Him get us through that door of healing. We admit our wrong, ask for forgiveness, and receive grace and His promise to be there to get through the process of starting anew. We can’t do it without Him.
Like hiking, we set our goals, make the effort to achieve them, yet when we get weary along the way, become tempted to take the easy road, we do not walk this journey alone. God is always there to pick us up, and carry us over the crevices so that we arrive safely. The climb down from the tops are so much more daunting because you don’t see the branches we hang onto. We see the deep ravines below
us and realize that if we don’t pay close attention to each step, we could fall to our deaths. At the same time it’s a greater time to realize that our safety net is God. What more can I say?
BY MARTHA CHEVALIER
"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)
A couple months ago, I stumbled across a reddit article that had me speechless. The story featured live action footage of a single brain cell. Maybe you have seen it? It seems, a single brain cell's sole purpose is to press forward, making connection with other brain cells. Pretty cool, connections on the cellular level. We are hard wired for connection. We are hard wired for belonging.
The early days of my college life was a very lonely time for me, a new city, away from the familiar. I remember someone calling out my name across the green, turning around to see the clerk from the bookstore. I had forgotten my checkbook on the counter after purchasing a stack of textbooks. I will never forget that moment. I thought, hearing my name, someone must know me, maybe I’m not as alone as I feel right now. Loneliness and isolation can leave us gasping in a chasm of grief and existential pain. There are many factors that have at times driven me into the wilderness of desolation and inconsolable longing. “C.S. Lewis names this longing with the German word sehnsucht. He calls it “the inconsolable longing in the heart for we know not what.”
Mary cried out in anguish at the graveside of Jesus, riddled with sorrow after the gruesome death of her Rabboni, which means Master” (John 20:16).
“Where have they taken my Lord?” The Son of God brought comfort to His close friend when he spoke her name, “Mary.” Hearing our name spoken from the lips of someone who loves us when we are hurting is a soothing balm. Here we glimpse Mary’s moment of transformation, consolation seeping in, simple connection and so profound.
Jesus makes a better way. Only in Him can we find our belonging, rounding out our faith-life in community, His tribe on earth. Authentic community links us with others who know us at our core, friendships that don’t want fancy sets of fig leaves to camouflage the truth of our broken places. Jesus invites us in, cleansing, offering the way of the Kingdom, to love and be loved, know, and be known, to see and be seen, to belong.
BY JORDAN MAYER
“When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
A couple weeks ago, I hiked Mount Si while visiting my brother out in Seattle, Washington. It was a grueling 7.5 mile out-and-back. As my first hike of the year, both my legs and my lungs were questioning my life choices. But, eventually, we reached the top and, like always, the view more than made up for the struggle it took to get there. Having never been out West, I had never seen mountains quite like this before. It was truly breathtaking.
Something about the grandeur of mountains, or the vastness of oceans, or the brilliance of sunrises stirs something inside me. I believe it’s the same kind of feeling that David had when he wrote Psalm 8. These masterpieces of creation have a knack for recalibrating our perspective. As I stood at the top of Mount Si, apart from the beauty of what was before me, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how small and insignificant I was by comparison. One tiny human atop a mountain looking across miles of forest, neighboring mountain ranges, a small town, clusters of clouds, and endless sky.
Contrary to popular opinion, the world doesn’t revolve around us. In fact, the vast majority of the world doesn’t even know we exist. Most of us will pass through this life in relative obscurity. We are a mere breath, a passing shadow, a grain of sand. We are a small blip on the radar of the universe.
But here is where the truth of God’s Word reveals a beautiful reality. While most of the planet may not know our name, the Creator God who made the planet does! David asks the question, “What is man that you are mindful of him”, because God is, in fact, mindful of us. How can this be? The God who spoke the world into existence knows us, not just generally, but personally.
I admit that I have difficulty even fathoming this reality. I try to think of an example that might help, but the truth is I don't have any frame of reference. So I can merely say like David, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6). In our finite, human minds, we would give God a pass for not knowing anything about us. After all, He not only created all things, but actively sustains it by the power of His Word (Hebrews 1:3). If there was ever anybody that could use the "I'm too busy" excuse, it would be God! And yet, He knows each and every one of us. In fact, He knows us even better than we know ourselves!
This is a humbling and sobering reality. He knows the depths of my sin and depravity. Every evil thought and every wicked deed. All the brokenness and ugliness that I hide and mask from those around me. God knows it all and yet, most amazing of all, He still chose to know me, love me and save me. I can't earn his favor and I don't deserve it, but He offers it freely to me as a gift. As Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”.
May we all bask in the reality that God knows us and is mindful of us. More still, may we rejoice in His great love for us!
BY JORDAN MAYER
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."
I was listening to a podcast recently that was discussing idolatry and the many ways we attempt to satisfy our souls. The human heart is sadly efficient at crafting idols. As John Calvin puts it, our hearts are idol factories! We may scoff at the golden calves and the statues of old, but we, too, form our own household gods. While they may not be as obvious, at their core they are the same. They are the things that command the attention of our hearts. Money, sex, and power get much of the spotlight in books, but what about the more subtle gods of leisure, convenience, security, balance, or health?
I think one of the tricky things with idols is the fact that they are often really good things! Time away from work to relax and unwind is a good thing! Free two-day shipping is a good thing! Feeling safe and at peace is a good thing! Keeping healthy boundaries between work and personal life is a good thing! Being healthy is a good thing! The problem is not in the thing itself. The problem is when we make a good thing into the main thing.
When this happens, these once good things become bad things. They get twisted and distorted in our attempt to be satisfied by them. Try as we might, we end up frustrated and disappointed. It turns out that these are all extremely poor substitutes for God. They were never designed to fill the God-sized void in our hearts. Instead, they become the itch that we cannot scratch or, as Solomon puts it, vanity of vanities and a striving after wind. If anyone could find pleasure or meaning outside of God, it would have been Solomon. Although he withheld no desire from his eyes, it still could not satisfy (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11).
But, when we place our satisfaction in God himself, these "things of earth" fall into their proper place. Desires are transformed, time is redeemed, and the things we pursue take on an even deeper meaning and value than they ever did before.
There is a wonderfully insightful quote from C.S. Lewis in which he says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
We mustn't settle for gifts and miss out on the Giver. Rather, we should allow these gifts to draw us to the One who gives them. Psalm 16:11 says, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."
We rejoice in His gifts, but we are satisfied in His presence.
BY JORDAN MAYER
“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.”
One of the things I love about Scripture is the privilege we have as the reader to not only read the accounts themselves, but also get a behind-the-scenes look into God’s plan and purpose in the situation. Whether it be individuals or entire nations, God has worked and continues to work in and through human history to accomplish His purposes.
It seems so obvious to me as I read in minutes what took days, months, and even years to come to pass. I have to remind myself that these individuals were living these events in real time and didn’t have the benefit of skipping ahead to the end. Instead, they simply had to trust and wait upon the Lord.
Although, I am not always good at waiting. I like the feeling of being in control and taking action. I trust God, but maybe I need to just help things along a little bit. I’m sure we all have had similar experiences and results when we attempt to “help” God. We force situations into directions they’re not meant to go and wind up frustrated with the results.
It goes without saying, but God doesn’t need our help. Can we honestly think that the God who spoke the world into existence, who formed us from the dust of the ground, and sustains our very life needs our help to accomplish anything? It’s the clay asking the potter if he needs help forming the bowl; it’s preposterous! If God doesn’t need our help, what does He want from us? He wants us to trust Him.
I find it funny how I can trust God in some areas of my life and less so in others. Perhaps it’s because the big stuff reminds me of how Ill-equipped I am, while the day to day needs seem within my grasp to handle. But if we need God to sustain our every breath, we need Him for every single aspect of our life. And if God has faithfully provided in one area of our lives, then surely He will provide for the others. But again, we must wait until He does.
When I think of waiting, my mind tends to equate it with inaction. But waiting is an action, and it turns out to be the best thing for me in light of who I am waiting for and on. God will act, but I need to have the trust and patience to let Him act…in His timing! In this modern world of instant access and gratification, waiting and patience are short commodities. I want what I want and I want it now! But for a God who exists outside of time itself, He acts at the precise moment He intends to and not a moment sooner.
And much can be done in waiting. Waiting is a time to deepen our faith and trust in God. While we wait for one thing, we still get to experience his faithful provision in other areas of our lives. Likewise, these times are opportunities for God to be working on us and teaching us.
No matter the circumstances we find ourselves in or the winding path our life takes, God is enough. No, God is more than enough. He will act, but He will act for those who wait for Him.