Monday, May 11, 2020

Lockdown Longing

“I stretch out my hands to You; my soul thirsts for You like a parched land.” -Psalm 143:6
My soul is fine through the week, but I feel the frustration of longing on Sunday mornings. I miss the church gathered. It brings tears to my eyes even now when I think about it. And this longing to gather exploded off the page as I read Psalm 143. Why does the Lord ever place me in situations where I feel longing? Why can’t I have what I need right now? Why wait? Why do I need to pray and wait? I pray for the church to be able to regather in safety.

Longing led Israel to weep by the waters of Babylon when in captivity, longing to be home and gathered to worship the Lord (Psalm 137). Why do I have longing to gather as a church now, pray in my longing, and still must wait? 

Even as I write this, I do not have an answer. The Bible does not answer the question, “How long, O Lord?” Yet, the Bible is clear how to wait with longing. Frustration sets in when our longings are intense, which a table of temptations is set in our hearts. When my heart is frustrated and my soul thirsts for the Lord to answer my prayers, I am tempted to become bitter, angry, demand to have what I need right now without waiting. 

Yet, my heart is to be ruled by Christ’s peace (Colossians 3:15) and no matter my circumstance to learn the secret of contentment (Philippians 4:11). I can wait to gather while intensely longing to gather through Christ who gives me strength. Waiting when my soul thirsts like a parched land longing for rain makes me weak, but He is my strength. 

Why a pandemic now? Why wait when I am spiritually thirsty now? I do not have an answer, church family. Yet, I know our Lord does not leave us to fend for ourselves. He does hear our prayers in Christ. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Our anxieties, bitterness, and anger in times of waiting are unjustified in light of the sovereignty of God in His kingdom and righteousness. 

Trusting the prosperity of the kingdom of God and His righteousness does not mean we will not suffer here. We may not live to see tomorrow. We may lose jobs or even suffer greatly. Famines and nakedness come to God’s children commanded not to be anxious. Yet, even here, our anxieties are unjustified. Not because pains will not come or things are not scary, but this from Romans 8:35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

The world suffering from a pandemic and economic pains is scary, but I take my weaknesses, my anxieties, and my longings in prayer to God. He is my peace, my strength, and my song. Even if I do not get answers to my questions, or an answer I do not like, I run to Him for safety and mercy. I urge you, beloved of God, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your steadfast love. Ease our anxious hearts. How we long to gather again. How long, O Lord? Give us Your strength to endure in the waiting, to endure with rejoicing that in any circumstance we would enjoy Your peace. Bless Your church, O Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Calling on the Lord in Times of Distress

In my distress I called to the LORD, and He answered me.” -Psalm 120:1
There are days, even seasons, which feels so heavy upon your heart and nothing seems to go right. Your workload and workplace relationships are stressed. Home life isn’t a refuge, but only adds to the stress. Perhaps you become the object of scorn. The idea of stress accompanied with hurtful words stings your heart and keeps you up at night. Everything around you presses upon you. Your heart gives weight to the biblical word “distress.”

In Psalm120, the Psalmist is being attacked by lips of falsehood and lying words which feel like they were arrows shot by an enemy attacker and burning coals upon the heart (vs 4). The Psalmist has lived a long time surrounded by such a crowd of people who hate peace (vs 5-6). He even writes, “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war” (vs 7).

Do you know of such folks? Even the kindest words seem to provoke them. Much like Proverbs 25:21-22, feeding your enemy or simply showing a steadfast kindness is like pouring hot coals upon their heads. The slightest things you mean for peace is viewed as an act of aggression. No matter how much peace you speak, they stir more drama and add to the stress of the whole thing. 

Notice where this overwhelmed, over-stressed, grieved, aching Psalmist goes: “In my distress I called to the Lord.” It is so easy that when others bring war and scorn to break with our peace and engage our enemies in our distress. As our Lord Jesus set the example, so must we follow this Psalmist. When you are in distress, call out to the Lord. Pray. Pray long and pray deep. Pray for endurance in the pains of distress. Pray for His peace which surpasses understanding, even if these lying lips continue their heated and painful scorn.

We have this assurance, beloved: “And He answered me.” Judgment is left in His hands (vs 3), for vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19). Ask the Lord for peace and remain speaking peace even if they speak war. Remain at peace, even if the pressures around you do not ease and the scoffers around you are still provoked by every way of peace. When weakened in your distress, call to the Lord. He will answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9).
Heavenly Father, whether we are in distress or distress can creep unexpectedly soon, we rejoice in the assurance You provide that when we cry out to You, You will answer us. Bless us, Father, by Your rich mercies to be at peace and continue to speak peace, even if the hostility around us does not relent. Your grace is enough for us. Strengthen us according to Your promises for us in Christ. Amen.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Speaking Grace in our Homes and Local Churches

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:29

The New Testament uses family language to describe the local church. We are brothers and sisters, the household of God, and as Paul says in Ephesians 4, “we are members one of another.” We belong to one another and labor with great care the building up of this household for God’s pleasure. Our heavenly Father commands your mouth, which He created for His good pleasure, to speak grace toward the ears of His beloved church to build her up.

The reality of Christ’s cleansing of your heart is displayed in the purity of our speech (Luke 6:45). Our Lord commands your mind renewed and heart pure to love His church, and He sanctifies His beloved by His truth to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander along with malice” and “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

In this new year, make this doctrine an emphasis in your home. Encourage your household how to think purely and speak about purely the other households in the church of Jesus Christ. This means our marriages and homes must be atmospheres which greatly discourage corrupting talk and commands repentance for corrupting thoughts of other members of the local church. This also means we must cultivate homes with the foundation of Christ’s peace to speak only what is good for building up and speaking grace to one another.

There is something beautiful in speaking blessing to one another. Whether another family in our church family is struggling or well, communicate blessing to their ears to hear. “God bless your home with His peace, brother,” is something that must resound in the hallways of a church building far more than criticism. May God grant you wisdom, restore peace and joy, comfort you and your home, protect you for the evil one, remind you and your home of His steadfast love and mercy. 

To speak a blessing, not simply as the act itself but from the heart, can only come from a Christ-like love and care for each other with tenderness and forgiveness (vs32). A genuine love from someone being matured in Christ to labor and build up His church in peaceful unity (Ephesians 4:12-13). May God bless you and your home by His truth that you may bless the other members of Christ’s church. May He build us up for His good pleasure.
Heavenly Father, forgive our hearts of any corrupting thoughts and purify our hearts and minds by Your truth. As You have forgiven us in Christ, grant us tenderness to forgive others in Christ. Grace our mouths, which You have created for Your good pleasure, to speak grace in our homes and toward one another. In Jesus’ name. Amen.