P.S. Thank you for the president

My little green prayer notebook wears a sticky syrup spot and bent cover to prove its usefulness over the last couple months. It’s not just my notebook, but my optimism for our beautiful country feels a bit worn also.

Like many of us, I’m unable to find any peace in the news or in the top leadership. A scan of cultural forecasts doesn’t bring a stillness of heart either. I’ve personally taken a break from intentionally following current events, and it’s refreshing. But there are other ways bad news slithers in. All of us have layers of personal burdens. We never lack reminders that our world groans, and we’re not home yet.

God has been showing me two areas where I’ve needed to cultivate my prayers to incorporate a new heart attitude.

Thanks for The Personal

First, it hit me when I was reciting Philippians 4 on repeat because I was trying to rid myself of anxiety about a family member’s unknown diagnosis.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I lay awake one night, praying hard, making my requests known to God. Then I’d try to think about something pure and lovely to trap my mind into drifting to sleep. Finally dozing, the baby would wake me up, and the whole battle began at step one! The throbbing worry would edge away the peace. What was I missing in my determination to jump to the peace that surpasses and guards part of the promise (which would surely grant me the rest I needed)?

I kept neglecting to add thanksgiving to my supplication as Paul included in his instruction.

You can see this in his letter to Timothy, too — this attitude of gratefulness without complaining or fear.

 “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day.”

2 Timothy 1:3

Even Paul stood the late hours praying (and thanking!) the Lord.

Can it be said of me that I enter the courts with thanksgiving, even when it’s past my bedtime, and I’d rather be dreaming? Is my habit to recognize God’s riches at Christ’s expense — even in difficult waiting times? Anxiety does not have the same hold when I’m focusing on all the personal grace God has given me, including the peace He makes accessible.

My friend Lisa recently wrote something similar in her article as she was pondering this same topic of peace:

“To acknowledge His goodness in even unknowns, call for the promise of God’s peace which surpasses all comprehension. It’s what guarded my heart and mind. Praise God for the means to praise and thank Him even in troubling times…When I came to understand God to be the God of compassion and comfort, when I realized I approached him without a willingness to be consoled, and when I saw my error of withholding gratitude as I presented my concerns—that’s when I began to see my anxiety melt away.”

Lisa Dean

There are always, always traces of God’s lovingkindness even in our worst nightmares. Can we find the grace in the present moments and the past? Even if you have to squint to see, God’s mercies truly are new and clear.

Thanks for The President

Now, secondly, I found myself fretting about my country and the world at large, unprepared to apply this prayerful thankfulness to a havoc of headlines marching closer and closer to home. But there it was, catching me off-guard in I Timothy 2:2-4.

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Thanksgiving on behalf of all men, all administrations? This counter-intuitive practice of giving thanks even for leaders who call evil good and good evil compels me to acknowledge and thank God for His sovereignty. It’s the only way giving thanks in this context makes sense. He’s never surprised, and His care for His people weaves through all of ongoing history, including current events.

This counter-intuitive practice of giving thanks even for leaders who call evil good and good evil compels me to acknowledge and thank God for His sovereignty.

Without a thankful heart, we can’t live a quiet, tranquil, godly life. We’d be too busy fretting about evildoers to commit our way to Him.

I’m working on praying without fretting, without wrath, and dissension (I Tim 2:8). Committing all things to the Lord in awareness of His power and provision. Trying to not just add thanksgiving as a flourished postscript, an afterthought, to my prayers, but to build a heart of humility and thanksgiving as I talk to my Hope.

It’s awkward at first. “Frustrate the plans of the wicked, Lord. Oh yeah, and Lord, thank you for our leaders.” But I can see how slowly a mind shift unfolds, one that results in deeper trust in the One who does all things well. Just by the simple act of saying “thank you,” I’m growing more grateful that He intentionally gives us our leaders and desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. It’s good and acceptable to both petition and thank God for all who are in authority, fully remembering He placed them there with purpose.

Let us devote ourselves to making supplications with thanksgiving (Col. 4:2). Prayer is better than worrying. Worn knees and worn prayer notebooks are better than self sufficiency. Peace is better than optimism and good circumstances. Learning to trust God in the dark hours is better than blissful sleep. Steadfastness of mind is better than quickly forgetting. Knowing who He is will allow us to obey and give thanks, and He promises to guard us with perfect peace.

“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You.”

Isaiah 26:3

Photo by Andres Herrera

Alphabetical Hope

All of us have gone astray like lost sheep. Isaiah 53:6

But the God of peace brought the great Shepherd of the sheep up from the dead through the blood of the eternal covenant! Hebrews 13:20

Clouds in a flawless September sky sing our Maker’s praise. Psalm 19:1

Depths of the earth boil, the sea is like ointment — He made it this way. Job 41:31

Even sparrows can not fall to the ground without His notice. Matthew 10:29

Faithfulness clings to each of His works — how can we forget all He has done? Psalm 33:4

Goodness and mercy trace each of my earthly days, and I have forever to look forward with Him. Psalm 23:6

Holy Holy Holy describes the worth of the King of Kings. Isaiah 6:3

“I am God,” He declares; first thing in the morning we cease striving, knowing God will be exalted among the nations. Psalm 46:10

Justified I stand before His throne. Romans 5:9

Keep those eyes on the everlasting city to come! Hebrews 13:14

Love the one who doubts with mercy, snatching them from the fire. Jude 22-23

More grace upon grace we have received from Christ’s fullness. John 1:16

Never will He leave us; there’s no need to love money or comfort. Hebrews 13:5

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! Romans 11:33

Prepare our hearts to be useful and set apart for You. 2 Timothy 2:21

Quiet our fears in the light of Your presence. Psalm 34:4

Radiant, unashamed faces are ones who look on You. Psalm 34:5

Strength is the joy of the Lord. Nehemiah 8:10

Truth is reality as GOD sees it; He determines the course of history. Psalm 31:15

Unending is our story in Christ; we’re forever co-heirs with Him. Ephesians 1:11

Void are the lives without His voice speaking salvation to us. Ephesians 5:6

Worthy is the LORD who knows all of our thoughts. Psalm 18:3

X-bearer of our sin: Jesus Christ cancels out the debt we owed. Colossians 2:14

Yahweh will not let go our our hand; we will not be hurled headlong. Psalm 37:24

Zion’s Cornerstone will never disappoint us. I Peter 2:6

Do Not Fret About Evildoers

“Fret not because of evildoers.”

As I’ve studied Psalm 37 with my sisters in Christ this summer, I’ve quoted the above verse often. Opportunity upon opportunity for anger and worry rolls my way, but the truth always wins out.  

This is a summer where one headline can make your heart heavy for hours. Friends of mine are facing a clear and present danger as they seek to escape from evildoers. We’re surrounded with those who are prompt to call good evil and evil good. From Olympic platforms to the offices in D.C., the wicked are spreading themselves out like luxuriant trees in their native soil.

This earthly soil is the wicked’s turf . . . for now.

Can I draw your attention to Psalm 37 for the encouragement carrying me today? There’s nothing better than a soul-watering reminder from the One in charge. God won’t leave His throne for one moment of break or flee the scene when “the wicked have drawn their sword and bent their bow to cast down the afflicted and the needy, to slay those who are upright in conduct” (Ps. 37:14).

The wrongdoers are quite busy prospering. They’ve plotted and eagerly carry out violent schemes. Teeth gnashing, they gather in envy-worthy abundance, borrowing without paying back, spying, and certainly seeking to kill.

Their future?

Though they appear to have the strength of a Redwood, their roots are like a dandelion. They’re making themselves at home in the earth’s soil, reaching their roots in all directions, but the LORD laughs at them.

He sees the day coming when they’ll be no more. Cursed. Cut off. Broken bows. Perishing. They’ll vanish like the smoke from wildfires finally snuffed out. They’ll wither like autumn grass, fade like the herbs, shrivel like a neglected garden. The Lord loves justice and giving us visuals for it.

Not only will God one day destroy wickedness, but He is protecting the righteous with unending promises. He is One who gives the desires of our heart and honors our trust in Him. As sure as the noonday, right judgment will be seen.  Our King sustains us. He knows our days, each of them. Establishes our steps and delights in our way when we keep His. He holds our hand so we won’t be hurled headlong. He’ll never forsake His godly, but preserves and exults us a gift of inheritance. He is our saving refuge.

Psalm 37 also addresses the righteous in this war-torn world.  We are described in this way:

“The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of God is in his heart…”

We’re not to be busy taking up revenge, but dwelling in the ground we’ve been given. Our role is to boldly utter wisdom and speak justice amidst the chaos. This won’t be easy, but He sustains us.

Instead of fretting, we cultivate faithfulness. May we be faithful in prayer, in cleaning the kitchen, in worshiping God through the ordinary, in sharing our faith with unbelievers. The passage calls us to do good, delight in the Lord, and commit our way to Him as we keep His way. Cease from anger – vengeance is the Lord’s.

Our friends close enough to hear the gnashing of the wicked’s teeth hold these same promises. We can rest that He won’t forsake His righteous saints who are in danger, nor their children. Our descendants do not need to beg for bread. They will have nothing to be ashamed of in this time of evil. We are inheritors, holding the hand of a Kingly Helper and Helping King, who won’t allow our steps to slip.

Can we forsake wrath against those who desperately need the righteous robes we wear? Can we wait patiently as God unfolds His Sovereign plan, responding graciously to others? Can we trust and wait when we wish we were the ones prospering? Can we wait in meekness for the Lord to bestow our grace-purchased inheritance? Will we speak the words of wisdom and justice we have from hiding God’s law in our hearts? In God’s strength, yes.

As we picture the blameless man, the upright and the afflicted in the line of the enemy’s fire, may we stand boldly for them and uphold them with faithful prayer.

And let’s not forget:

The wicked seem to have the center stage. But God’s eyes are on His people, delighting in our way, and we delight in Him. One day soon we’ll look for the evildoers, and they’ll be no more. We won’t find them in all our searching.

The evildoer and the righteous couldn’t have a more perfect diamond-cut contrast in Psalm 37.

So fret not. Wait patiently and rest in the Lord, because we know that the little of the righteous is much better than the wicked’s temporal abundance. Today we carry on with God’s law in our hearts, deliverance in our futures, and strength in time of trouble.

It Must Be Hard to be An Artist

I think it must be hard to be an artist,

To guide each stroke and gentle brush,

Paint swaths of sky, the sea the largest,

Each drop of color shades loud or hush.

She must pour her heart on a canvas bright,

Displaying carefully curated inspiration,

Perhaps painting the scene here in her sight,

Or relying only on clear imagination.

But when her creation is done, delight or duty,

She gives or sells the loved artwork away,

To part with it to one who also sees the beauty,

And she’ll start with blank easels the next day.

I brought home with me a small blueish sailboat frame,

Now it lives above my desk, drawing me to the shoreline,

In the corner signed “Henle” is the artist’s name,

Somewhere she found the courage to surrender her design.

I can write dreamy sonnets or let my pen discover new pages,

But my own written words never truly venture out of my sight,

I wonder if Henle misses her watercolor etched in stages,

So I admire the artist’s goodbye to her gift taking flight.

by Abigail Rehmert

What if God asks me to do something I don’t want to do?

“What if God asks me to do something I don’t want to do?”

I sat at my grey kitchen table, pink-rimmed tulips wilting in their vase. The sunlight seared the pages of the book of James spread out before me. A friend on the other end of the phone shared she was afraid to submit to God and say, “I’ll do whatever you want me to do” because it would most likely result in her working some place she hated, or moving to a dangerous foreign country, or abandoning a relationship she valued.

Many church members consider full obedience to be certain punishment.

It can feel like that, but – blessedly — this isn’t true.

Know His Heart

Are you afraid to surrender to Him completely?

First of all, we have to clear our head from the me-approach to Scripture. Realize “the Bible is a book about God” as Jen Wilkens reminds us. Too often we’re searching our Bibles to find out how we can feel better. “Where am I in this?” we ask of Isaiah’s poetic chapters.

Good news! As we stare intently at His Word to simply know Him, we’ll be granted more knowledge of Who we left all to follow. Just from the first chapter of James we learn He is wise, righteous, generous, a promiser of the crown of life, can’t be tempted, giver of good and perfect gifts, Father of lights, never changes, speaks words of truth, wrote a law of liberty, and blesses doers of the Word.

Sounds like a God who is trustworthy of our utmost submission. Do you believe the intentions of His will toward you are always kind? Ask Him for the faith to believe His capability to grant wisdom and to weave together His goodness into your story.

As we notice who is He is, we see His heart for us and for His world. And the more time we spend with Him, the more He starts to peel away our fleshly desires and replace them with His set apart ones.

Stare intently at His Word to be unified to His heart.

Know His Will

But what if you can’t figure out the thing He wants you to do?

Thankfully, God doesn’t hide His will from us in a big divine guessing game.

“Let’s begin with a simple assumption. Since God has a will for us, He must want us to know it. If so, then we could expect Him to communicate it to us in the most obvious way. And how would that be? Through the Bible, His revelation.”
― John MacArthur, Found: God’s Will

Need to know God’s will? See the Bible. Need to know how to plan for the future? Acknowledge Him in your plans and He’ll direct Your paths (Proverbs 3:6).

Of course, knowing me and you, we just would resort to worrying about the few decisions not lined out in Scripture, like who we’re going to marry or where we’ll live.

You’ve heard the missionary stories like: “I told God I would go anywhere except Asia, and then He sent me to Asia!” I used to worry that God would make me marry someone I didn’t like.  

Ah, dear younger me, God doesn’t work like that. His ways are not a forceful, grit-your-teeth burden – they’re a joy. He’s a friend and father who guides us gently, who knows us intimately. He doesn’t plan devastation for His children. Joyless, fruitless futures are not ours.  

But what about the scary country He could call us to?

What’s important to know is that if God asks us to sacrifice, He equips us with the giftings, passions, help, support, and any other provision we need. We’re never left and high and dry without His strength. He leads us beside still waters for His own name’s sake. There is always plenty of grace for tomorrow’s problems. As Hudson Taylor put it, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s provision.”

He gets the glory that way.

“Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Hebrews 13:20-21

Stare intently as His Word to know His written will, and don’t worry about where He’ll lead you or if you’ll miss out on His direction. He’ll provide.

Know His Hatred for Sin (What the Flesh Hates, The Spirit Loves)

God gently aligns us to His straight and narrow way when we acknowledge Him (Proverbs 3:6). Is it uncomfortable? Sometimes. But is it worth it?

I had braces as a teenager. As I parted the orthodontist’s office for the last time, they instructed me to wear my retainers at night. I did faithfully for a while. Then the habit loosened. Now whenever I get convicted about how my teeth could move back into their original jagged state, I pop the retainers back in. But it hurts! I have to take them off in the middle of the night just so I can sleep. But the next night it’s better. Then…well, if I would just keep wearing them periodically, I wouldn’t have to repeat the pain, and my teeth would stay aligned!

Alignment of the heart is something beautiful, though, it can also be difficult. The end result is far better than staying on crooked paths.   

When we first start following Christ, we don’t hate all of our sin as much as we should. But as we gaze at His holiness longer and longer, we start to view disobedience to Him as He does — undesirably. We begin to see the goodness of walking with Him, and the wickedness of our own ways.

We certainly get the better end of the bargain. Sure, God will lead us to do things our flesh despises. Alignment is uncomfortable, like barely-used retainers. But holding onto our sin patterns won’t bring anything remotely good. If you think your will and way is fun and worth it, be aware it’s a lie from the world and the devil.

Our flesh would NEVER choose suffering or denying itself. But submitting to Him is freedom and joy. Reward and fulfillment.

The spirit is WILLING. The flesh is what’s weak (Mark 14:38).

Know His Correction

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”

2 Timothy 3:16

Correction might conjure up images of traditional teacher blackboards and humiliation. But James, Jesus’ half-brother, wrote this:

“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”

Who looks at a mirror and doesn’t correct the messy hair and the mascara smudge or the crooked tie? Mirrors lead to something better than before.

Jesus also states the blessedness of correction:

But He said, “On the Contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” 

Luke 11:28

Being a doer of the word brings blessing! The world’s burdens will enslave us to our own passions reaping the punishment of death, but His law is a law of liberty.

What to Do

First, know the One who asks for your obedience, how He is trustworthy and kind. If you don’t want to obey Him, you’re missing the Person He is.

Second, He won’t lead you anywhere without His abundant provision. If you’re afraid to obey Him, Your missing the point of His will.

Third, God will absolutely ask You to do things that your flesh will hate (like denying yourself). Take courage, however, God’s spirit in you is willing. If you don’t want to obey Him, you’re missing a place in your life for His spirit.

“For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Philippians 2:13

Further study:

Read Psalm 119 until you begin to agree with God about how good His commandments are.

Take Courage, Graduate

PC: Photo by Joshua Earle, Yellowstone