Encouragement From The Word

Longing and Praying

Around the world, governments are starting to loosen restrictions from the Coronavirus pandemic.  I find this encouraging, and I view it with guarded optimism.

“Guarded”, I say, because we need to be careful.  We’ve never been down this road before, so just because we may have more freedom, for example, to go to the hardware store, doesn’t mean that the virus is dead and gone and will never return.  We will still need to practise procedures that will keep everyone healthy.

Like me, you may be longing – deeply! – to return to holding public worship gatherings, where we can praise the Lord together, instead of uniting by faith, separately, in our homes, watching modified services broadcast over the Internet.  We don’t know when the green light will be given for that.  And we will need to be wise in our roll-out of new practices and procedures that will allow us to be together safely.

In the midst of all that, let me encourage you to pray for the leaders of your church.  At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, where I serve, our elders have begun thinking about what will be permitted once gatherings are allowed once again.  We don’t know how the government of Ontario will roll out permission together, so we will have to abide by those guidelines, but as a witness to the goodness of God, we will err on the side of caution, because doing so demonstrates our love, and God’s love, for the community.

Let me also encourage you to pray for the people of your community.  Pray that they will be released from fear, while not being released from caution.  Pray that they will be given wisdom to retain the important habits and practices they have learned through this time of restriction.  And pray that people will see that only the gracious hand of God has permitted us all to get through this, and that they will want to respond in worship and praise, gathering with the church in celebration of God’s grace.

Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

More than meets the eye

Several years ago, I was on a tour of model railroads, and the bus stopped at the home of an ingenious microferroequinologist (we use fancy terms to make it seem more complex than it is, you know!).  He modelled G, as in “Garden”, scale trains.  His back yard was replete with all the typical workings of a G-scale railroad: houses, stations, hills, tunnels, and the like.

This ingenious model railroader, though, had added a little twist to his layout.  If you looked carefully in the back yard of one of the G-scale houses, there was…a model railroad!

Yes, this fellow had placed within his 1:22 scale world a model train of the 1:160 variety.  Within G-scale was an N-scale layout.  The size difference made it look like there was a garden railroad inside a garden railroad. There was more to it than initially met the eye.

Our lives are like that, aren’t they?  There’s more to them than meets the eye.  I’m mindful of that most interesting video called “Get Service” (which you can watch here).  When an annoyed man puts on a special pair of glasses, he can see footnotes, as it were, of what is going on in the life of each person who annoys him as he seeks to get his morning coffee.  It helps him see each person from a different perspective – not as an annoyance, but as a human being, made in the image of God, in need of love and care and respect.

Each of us has more going on in life than meets the eye.  As a follower of Jesus, you can live out your faith by treating others not as annoyances, but as people in need of your care and your respect.  You don’t know what’s going on that has made them ‘extra grace required’ people crossing your path, but if you will treat them with the care the Lord would treat them with, imagine what a difference you could make!

Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.  See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people” (1 Thessalonians 5.14-15, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Prayer: our real work

Benedict of Nursia (480-543) is best known as the father of modern monasticism; his feast day, for those who mark such celebrations, is today, July 11. He 403nwrote what has become known as the Rule of Benedict, a lengthy guide for those who seek to live in cloistered community.

I could say much about Benedict, but I will limit it to this, for today: Benedict said that for the monk, nothing is to be preferred to what he called “the work of God.” And what is the work of God, for Benedict?

Put simply, prayer.

In a more involved sense, Benedict referred to the divine office as the work of God, the multiple daily occasions where the monks drop whatever else they’re doing to gather together to pray and sing the Psalms. While each monk is assigned work within the community based on training and gifting, his real work is to pray. Ora et labora is the Benedictine motto: pray and work.

Last week, I wrote about patience, and how time spent waiting in line can be used to pray for others – even the people waiting in line near us, whom we may not know. In response, I was asked two excellent questions by a faithful reader of Encouragement From The Word: first, Why would God need or want us to pray for someone we know nothing about? and second, Since God already knows what is best for that individual and we don’t, why would our prayer have any influence on God?

I responded by saying that prayer has less to do with us influencing God than it does with developing our relationship with God. I remember when I was getting to know the woman who is now my wife, in those early weeks and months, we talked, whether on the phone or in person, a lot. If you’ve been in a serious relationship, you probably have done the same. We would talk about anything and everything, and it wasn’t about information sharing; it was about relationship building.

And on those occasions when we pray for others, whose situations (or maybe even names) we do not know, we commend them to God’s love and care, and let the Lord deal with their individual circumstances. While we may not be able to pray with precision, we can build our relationship with the Lord through such prayers.

When I pray with a monastic community (and I do, when time allows), I am not always acquainted with the people or issues that fill their times of prayer. The Psalm chants that we sing are not always familiar to me. But these times, like the times I spent waiting in line and praying for others, help to strengthen my walk with God. And that is never time wasted!

How can you redeem time by spending it building up your relationship with God?

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Living close to God’s heart

As followers of Jesus, we often hear about the importance of knowing and following God’s will.  Yet, it seems so elusive, doesn’t it?  Like looking for a needle in a haystack – or a lost coin or a lost sheep or a lost son.  After all, we aren’t born with an owner’s manual; we don’t know exactly what we’re designed to do.  So often, that is discerned by trial and (lots of) error.

That said, we do have the Bible as God’s written Word to us.  While it may not contain every specific thing for our lives (there is no index telling us whether to buy a particular house, for example), it does contain some general principles that help us know God’s will for us.  Indeed, there is no other written source by which we may know even a hint of God’s will!

Of course, God can speak to our hearts through other sources, but those other sources will either underline or corroborate biblical principles.  Our goal, in the end, is not for us to properly fulfill some sort of divine checklist of things we’ve done that are “God’s will.”  Instead, our goal is to become more like Jesus.

David Benner is a Christian spiritual writer who lives on Vancouver Island; I commend any of his books to your interest.  He has said, “Learning to desire God’s will is not something we can accomplish by resolve and willpower.  It occurs only when we live so close to God’s heart that the rhythm of our own heartbeat comes to reflect the divine pulse.”  Perhaps you know what it’s like to be so intimate with someone that you can feel the beat of that person’s heart.  We can experience that with God, too.  God longs for us to share that degree of intimacy with him.

When we pray – when we enter God’s holy presence at more than just mealtime – we have the opportunity to grow in intimacy with him.  When we serve the poor, we have the opportunity to grow in intimacy with him.  When we read the Scriptures and learn from biblical teaching, we have the opportunity to grow in intimacy with God.  Anything we do that drew the passion of Jesus in his ministry as recorded in Scripture can draw us closer to God’s heart, and have us living in God’s will.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NLT).