Christian Living, Christianity, Prayer

Self-sufficiency

“Even if all fall away on account of You, I never will,” exclaimed the disciple who denied knowing Christ not once, not twice, but three times later that night. And all the other disciples vowed the same. How many times over the years have I said or thought I’d NEVER (fill in the blank). Sometimes what looks like devotion is actually Pride in clever disguise. The clue lies at the root of the claim.

Right after claiming they would never disown Him, Peter, James, and John went to the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. Gethsemane means “pressed out.” I love how even the geographical setting of the Bible account bears symbolic meaning. Gethsemane is on the Mt. of Olives, and the ‘pressing out’ refers to the process of extracting oil from the olives. Jesus, ‘overwhelmed with sorrow,’ went there to pray for strength for the ordeal of His impending crucifixion. He’d asked his closest friends to pray with Him. His prayers were so intense–He was so ‘pressed out’–that the other gospel accounts mention his sweat was like great drops of blood. Yet, returning to his disciples three times, He found them sleeping rather than praying.

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(Painting by Andrea Mantegna c. 1460)

Christ, the Divine One, prayed to the Father for strength to do what He came to earth to do…strength to do the Father’s will regardless of the horror of the cross. Yet, his sleeping disciples were dozing on, oblivious to their need for divine grace and beyond-human strength. Even after Jesus’ gentle chiding, to pray that they wouldn’t fall into temptation, they slept on. They claimed they’d avoid the sin – but didn’t ask for divine strength to do so. In essence, they were relying on Self rather than God.

Watch and pray, so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. ~Mt.26:41

How ironic that the Son of God himself would recognize His human weakness, but the humans in His midst would not–even after being warned of their need to pray. Jesus acknowledged His strength came from the Father; the disciples seem to count on winging it on the strength of their own bravado. But, we were created and wired to be perpetually God-sufficient, not self-sufficient. That is because our God is a Father God of tender relationship, who desires to not only continually communicate with us but also to father us with His goodness. Today’s Psalm touches on the blessings of a humble faith:

How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. In the shelter of your presence you hide them from the intrigues of men….The Lord preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. ~Ps. 31: 19, 20, 24

“All you who hope in the Lord”… So hard to learn to do that when you’re even oblivious to the fact that you are depending on your own self-sufficiency as a disciple of Christ. Been there, done that. It’s called desert-dwelling, and the Israelites did it for 40 years. I fight the tendency constantly. Lord, we love You…lead us across that Jordan River of death to Self, and on into your promised land of great goodness and faithful shelter, where we humbly rely on You alone for our refuge and strength.

FEB 9 ~ Exodus 29:1-30:10 ~ Matthew 26:14-46 ~ Psalm 31:19-24 ~ Proverbs 8:14-26

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Christian Living, Family

I didn’t wake up this morning with thoughts of starting a blog.

My first thoughts were of trying to go back to sleep, truth be told. I tried the usual tricks: counting backwards, envisioning myself at the beach, and praying the Lord’s Prayer. The soothing rhythm of these sometimes helps, sometimes doesn’t. But since the sun was up and was making no moves to go back down, I finally rose as well.

After pouring my coffee, I faced the usual morning debate: Do I go into the family room and sit down in the Black Hole (aka our cozy chair-and-a-half) with coffee and banana, or do I carve out space at the kitchen table crowded with over-wintered plants and my husband’s work papers? I should preface this with the comment that I’m an empty-nester who works from home (when she works). And many times I can get at least some of my work done in that chair. But put me in there with my phone and laptop, and that Black Hole has also been known to swallow me up until sunset. So one of my New Year’s resolutions was to try to avoid sitting in it until after morning chores and workout. That resolution is working about 50% of the time. (Which is actually pretty good for me, as resolutions go.)

This morning, the chair won. Reaching for my One Year Bible, I opened it and read the Exodus 17 account of Moses standing on the top of a mountain, holding his arms and rod up to the heavens while Joshua and the Israelites fought the Amalekites. As long as Moses’ arms were up, the Israelites were winning, so when his arms grew tired, Aaron and Hur seated him on a stone and held his arms up for him. In the end, Joshua’s army defeated the Amalekites, and the Lord instructed Moses to record the story for posterity. Verses 14-16 at the end of the chapter puzzled me, so I reached for my cumbersome Matthew Henry Commentary. Worth its weight in gold, I love it because his insights are not just theologically sound, but they are written in an almost poetic style, and rich in symbolic meaning. And on that commentary page I not only found my answer to the confusion I had in verses 14-16, but I found some personal encouragement as well as inspiration for this blog. And so, yes, I ended up not getting out of the Black Hole until sunset today (Feb 3).

I should interject here that another of my New Year’s resolutions has been to get back to my writing, and in particular, write the story of God’s grace in my father’s mysterious and extraordinary life. My mother passed away unexpectedly 3-1/2 years ago, and I burrowed into my father’s family mystery as a sort of grief therapy, I think. Via intensive genealogy work, I was able to not only locate but also eventually meet two half-families of my dad’s that we didn’t even know had existed. Dad’s birth father was a love ’em and leave ’em alcoholic who toted an alias with his gun…but the astounding thing is, virtually all of the 10 abandoned children from his three families ended up enjoying a close, abiding relationship with their Abba Father, who was indeed a Father to the fatherless. I got to hear their stories when we met, and I came back knowing I must somehow write them down for posterity. It is and has been on my mind for two years, now.

My dad’s dad may have been a scoundrel but we know now, through shared correspondence with the half families, that Dad’s grandmother Bertha was very devout. She was probably a lot like Moses, keeping her arms lifted in prayer for her wayward son and his ten cast-aside offspring. She helped raise her son’s firstborn and namesake, and probably had her hands full praying for him as well as he grew up. I hope that she had someone around her–perhaps her daughters–helping to keep her arms lifted in prayer when she felt weary.

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When I opened up the Matthew Henry Commentary, I read this about what happened after the battle was won:

“God took care that posterity should have the comfort and rehearse of it: ‘Write this for a memorial, and then rehearse it in the ears of Joshua, let him be entrusted with this memorial, to transmit it to the generations to come.’ Moses must now begin to keep a diary or journal of occurrences: it is the first mention of writing that we find in scripture…”Write what has been done. Let ages to come know that God fights for his people, and he that touches them touches the apple of his eye.”

That last popped from the page, so is bolded by me. When I looked at the left-hand column of my commentary, it was addressing the time when the Israelites were complaining of extreme thirst in the desert after leaving Egypt. Moses struck a rock in the desert with his rod, and out poured sparkling fresh water. God showed the runaway rejected wife of Abraham (Hagar) the same care when He met her in the desert, supplying her with water from a well, and assuring her of His tender love towards her. She named the well El Roi, for “I have seen the God who sees me.” With the Israelites and the gushing rock He also showed his tender care, as well as his miraculous power–something they would need to be assured of to continue their journey and fight the battles ahead.

“Moses obeyed, and immediately water came out of the rock in great abundance. It is called a fountain of waters, Ps. 64:8. This fair water that came out of the rock is called honey and oil (Dt. 32:13), because the people’s thirst made it doubly pleasant; coming when they were in extreme want, it was like honey and oil to them. God can open fountains for our supply where we least expect them, waters in the wilderness (Isa.43:20), because He makes a way in the wilderness, v. 19.” ~ Matthew Henry

I know this to be true, experientially; there was a time in my life when God met me in the desert and assured me without a doubt that I was in ‘the apple of His eye.’ He did so primarily through leading me to read the One Year Bible, where I finally saw ‘the God who sees me.’ That bolded Dt. 32:10-13 passage has a huge, penciled, dated heart around it in my Bible. And the best part? That Dt. 32 passage is not just my story, but belongs to others as well.

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Feb 3 ~ EXODUS 17:8-19:15~MATTHEW 22:34-23:12~PSALM 27:7-14~PROVERBS 6:27-35