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Pray More, Worry Less

Pray More, Worry Less

“Pray More; Worry Less”. In our kitchen we have a spoon rest that sits to the right of our stovetop with this simple phrase printed on it. I see it when I cook,  wipe the counters, or whenever I am in the kitchen. Sometimes it’s the first thing I read in the morning. It was a gift from a friend that I didn’t like at first but has become one of my favorite items in our house. It reminds me throughout the day what I often forget: we have God’s listening ear at every moment.  We have God’s presence every moment, and his vast and unsearchable knowledge includes knowing about every moment of our lives. 

I am definitely prone to doing the opposite of the spoon rest. When something is troubling me, I almost automatically worry more and pray less! If you’re like me, you might  worry about upcoming dates, deadlines, people’s opinions, letting people down (again), and what might happen if loose ends are not tied up. You might worry about how your friends are doing, how your kids are doing, how your parents are doing, your siblings, or your spouse. You might worry a lot of the time; maybe even more than anything else you do.  

You might also worry about things that are gut-wrenching and impossible to solve. Those worries lurk and cling to the insides of our hearts: divorce, sudden tragedy, a child’s future, illnesses and diagnoses, a job we need but don’t have, a spouse’s death, someone else’s traumatic hardship, or underlying guilt or shame.

Probably the hardest thing for me about these kinds of thoughts and feelings is that they demand an answer. I feel the need to get to the bottom of them, quickly, or things will not be alright.  In this sense, at least for me, they are powerful. When I worry, my thoughts line up and follow their favorite leaders: it’s up to me and it will not be ok. My tone of voice, my actions, my interactions with others follow suit. And when a larger group of people is worried about something, it is a strong environment indeed. You can feel it. 

But an even more powerful, truer and better way of living is praying, as the spoon rest so humbly states. Here are some words from the Bible that I believe connect to this: 

 “Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life….Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?  Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying?”  Matthew 6:25-27  

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6 

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  Colossians 3:2

For he knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.  Psalm 103:14 

…the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:4–5 

When I read these verses, I am reminded that the truths we stand on are not our own ability to find solutions and solve problems, or threats that things may not be ok. The truth is that things will be more than ok; they will be blessedly, amazingly, and overwhelmingly GOOD. An almighty God reigns and knows about our concerns. We live in God’s universe, and because of Jesus, with God’s own presence. God’s own presence. We have something besides ourselves to count on. 

Even so, it sometimes just seems too hard to pray when I’m worried. I think this is in part because I try to clear my mind of burdens first before I start to pray, which is impossible for me! Another challenge when I am anxious, concerned, or worried is not feeling strong enough to “take every thought captive to obey Christ”.  I have so many thoughts, and so many are often out of line with who God is. So many are “raised up against the knowledge of God”!  I question the truth of his sovereignty and assert my own control and my own agenda over my life.

So, I’m practicing stopping for at least a moment to acknowledge God’s presence as my mind races or when it is fixated on something unsolvable. I let the worries come but think of them moving toward him instead of toward myself. I ask for clarity for what needs to be addressed and what doesn’t, even with the concerns that I feel are most pressing. Sometimes I write them down or talk out loud like I would to a friend. What is God’s agenda for these items? What is his vantage point? 

After driving away from a time of prayer with a family facing a heartbreaking situation, I was amazed that the feeling of our prayer time together was the same as when I pray for smaller things with my spouse, or my friends, or community group.  It was a feeling of rest that our worries had been given to the one who can actually carry them. Maybe, God really is worthy of our trust. Maybe you and I actually can believe that we are dust, but he is King.

The Forgetful Prophet

The Forgetful Prophet

One of my favorite things to do in Kansas City is visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Every time I visit I am drawn to a particular painting that depicts God sending an angel to encourage the prophet Elijah. This is one of my favorite stories in Scripture and the more I have studied the passage, the more I realize that I identify with Elijah. But that identification is not with the positive aspects of Elijah’s character but rather the unfortunate deformation that is taking place in his ministry.  

 

Elijah’s Encounter with God

Before God sends his angel to Elijah in 1 Kings 19, the wicked king Ahab and his wife Jezebel have led Israel into apostasy through the worship of false gods. In the chapter just prior to the encouragement of Elijah, God had shown his glory through the defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. In that scene both Elijah and the prophets of Baal had prepared a sacrifice for their respective god and they were going to see whose responded. Listen to the prayer of Elijah at that moment:

 Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” 

There are three things to notice about this prayer. First, notice Elijah’s remembrance. He calls on God’s personal name, Yahweh (anytime you see the name translated Lord, it is referring to God’s covenant name), and refers to him as the God of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (or Jacob). This title brings all sorts of images and memories of the prior work of God to mind in the story of the Torah. Second, notice his humility. His desire is that people would know Yahweh is Lord and that Elijah is his servant. There is no self-commendation, there is a servant who has only done as his God has commanded. And finally, his ultimate desire is to see the glory of God displayed and have it recognized as such. 

God answers this prayer and sends a fire to consume the sacrifice and the prophets of Baal are defeated and destroyed and there seems to be a glimmer of hope for a nation that had abandoned its God. Keep this prayer in mind as we fast forward one chapter and we see a very different interaction between God and his servant Elijah.  

 

Elijah’s Spiritual Amnesia

In chapter 19 we are told that Jezebel, after hearing about the defeat of the prophets at Mount Carmel, orders the death of Elijah. We are told that the prophet “became afraid and immediately ran for his life.” Our prophet who just watched Yahweh show his power at Mount Carmel is now asking that the Lord would take his life (1 Kings 19:4). In Elijah’s next words to God note the change of tone from his last prayer: 

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God of armies, but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking for me to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10). 

God responds by asking him to stand on Mount Sinai so that God might speak with him in a soft whisper (19:12) but when Elijah hears the voice it says “he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” 

Did you notice the changes? Instead of remembering the character of Yahweh when Jezebel threatens him, he gives into fear and despair. Instead of humbly submitting himself to God, he questions why God has not honored his zeal. Instead of seeking the glory of God, he covers his face to keep from seeing it. What happened? How could there be such deformation in such a short time frame? 

 

Deformative Forgetfulness 

Since Genesis 3, the serpent has sought to lead God’s image bearers into deforming forgetfulness. Curt Thompson says in his book Anatomy of the Soul that “being tricked always involves the subtle or blatant manipulation of fear, memory, and shame.” I believe this is what we see taking place in Elijah’s life. The deformation of fear has allowed him to see Jezebel as a threat beyond God’s control. The deformation of his memory has led him to forget the superiority of the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, demonstrated on Mount Carmel. The deformation of shame has led him to cover himself from the glorious presence of God, much the way Adam and Eve covered themselves in the garden. But similar to the garden, the Lord responds in surprising grace toward this deformed prophet. 

The Lord responds to Elijah in several ways. After the prophet put himself under a tree to die we are told the angel tells him to eat and sleep (twice!). Then God calls him to Mount Sinai, the mountain where Yahweh made his covenant with Israel. God brought him to a physical location where he would feel secure and would encourage him to remember the God who cared for the likes of Abarahm and Moses would also take care of him. Once Elijah arrives at the mountain, the Lord asks him two times: “What are you doing here, Elijah? It reminds me of God asking Adam and Eve in the garden after they ate the fruit, “Where are you?” God is gently inviting his weak servant to see the waywardness of his ways. God does not lash out at his prophet, but instead speaks to him in a whisper and he reminds him he is not alone. There are in fact seven thousand prophets who have not bowed to Baal and God’s plans have not been thwarted. Even so, we see a disturbed prophet who, until the Lord takes him to heaven in a chariot of fire, seems to only reluctantly and begrudgingly listen to his God (2 Kings 2). 

 

Grace to Remember 

So why do I identify with this prophet? Perhaps you can relate: I often allow my circumstances to be much larger than my God. This leads to a forgetfulness of God’s prior work and a “woe is me” mentality. My fear leads to a forgetfulness that I am ashamed to admit. So how can we combat such deformation? 

What is your pace in life? Do you ever find it fascinating that the first thing God has this weary prophet do is eat and sleep? I know that my greatest vulnerability to deforming practices is when I am tired, hungry, and alone. God treats each of these in his interaction with Elijah. Reflect on the rhythms you are setting. Are they for your flourishing? 

Who or what are you paying attention to? Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “The devil doesn’t fill us with hatred for God, but with forgetfulness of God.” Are there ways you live like God is absent? What are some practical reminders and rhythms to keep you mindful of God?  

I believe that today the prophet Elijah is able to look upon the face of his Savior despite his previous desire to cover his face before the glory of God. What a patient God we worship! I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my spiritual amnesia, that even the prophets of old had moments of weakness. But I take even greater comfort in knowing that we worship a God who beckons us back to himself. Even in a soft whisper. 

Equally Revering Work and Rest

Equally Revering Work and Rest

A Kaleidoscope of Personality Assessments

I’m a big fan of personality assessment tools. DISC, StrengthsFinder, Working Genius, Myers Briggs. You name it, I’ve done it. I’ve found them to be a helpful tool on the journey to discovering who God made me to be. I’ve also found them to each have various strengths and weaknesses, which means they become exponentially more helpful when viewed as part of a whole. DISC helps me communicate more effectively with others. Working Genius helps me see where I fit on the team and within the project life cycle. 

And the Enneagram? Well…that one sort of feels as though it sees into my very soul. 

And before you get nervous, don’t worry. I’m not here as an Enneagram evangelist. I promise. More than enough of those exist in the world. No, what I actually want to promote is the musical project Sleeping At Last, led by singer-songwriter Ryan O’Neal. Ryan got his start in the early 2000’s about 45 minutes from where I grew up, so he’s been a part of my life for the better part of two decades. Over the years, Ryan has undertaken a number of ambitious and innovative projects, including Atlas: Enneagram, his album that contains songs he wrote for each of the nine personality types within the Enneagram framework. 

When it comes to determining which Enneagram number you are, it’s preferable to take a “narrative” approach (as opposed to an assessment-based approach), to map your life and carefully discern your type. I’ll never forget the moment I first heard the Enneagram 3 song from Ryan’s Atlas: Enneagram album

From the opening line, Maybe I’ve done enough… all the way to the final stanza, I only want what’s real / I set aside the highlight reel / And leave my greatest failures on display with an asterisk / Worthy of love anyway.  Virtually every word connected viscerally with my heart and soul. 

But there’s one stanza in particular that recently I’ve been unable to shake.

 

The Gift of Sabbatical

I have been the recipient of a sabbatical. Our church’s commitment to this spiritual discipline is extraordinary and unique, and a great gift to the pastoral staff. The time away was an incredible blessing of renewal, restoration, refreshment, and rest.

And it’s that last word, “rest,” that connects back in with the Enneagram 3 song. Famously, Enneagram 3 personality types (known as “The Achievers”) are really good at working hard, and really bad at resting well. 

Now, it’s good to work hard! God is the first worker, and he created us to image him in that way. Jesus, too, knew how to work hard and engage with fullness. But look closely at Scripture and you’ll also see not just divine work, but also divine rest

In six days God created the world, and then on the seventh day, God rested. Jesus worked hard all day, serving, healing, helping. And then, Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] got up, went out, and made his way to a deserted place; and there he was praying (Mark 1:35). Or later, after the disciples have had their own busy day of working and serving: [Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.” For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat (Mark 6:31).

Or how about what can brilliantly be called “The Great Invitation” from Jesus at the end of Matthew 11: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

The witness of Scripture is clear: In the eyes of God, both work and rest are “equally revered.” Now, that phrase, “equally revered,” is a direct quote from the Enneagram 3 song that so deeply impacted me. Here’s the whole stanza:

I only want what’s real
To let my heart feel what it feels
Gold, silver, or bronze hold no value here
Where work and rest are equally revered

To “revere” something is to have deep respect and admiration for it. To value it. To uphold it.

And I can honestly say that until my sabbatical, while I conceptually agreed with the idea of work and rest being equally revered, I had never fully lived into it. Which is why those days of rest  were such a gift. And why I’m attempting to re-order some priorities.

Because while work matters, so does rest.

 

Rest as Silence & Solitude with Jesus

Now, soul-level rest can (and should!) take many forms. I’m not going to prescribe my rest-discovery journey to you. Part of the joy is the journey! But there are a few universal forms of soul-level rest that faithful apprentices of Jesus have engaged in for generations. 

One such example is “coming away” (Mark 6:31 again) for times of silence and solitude with Jesus. John Mark Comer’s chapter on this in The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry makes an incredibly compelling case for the vital universal need for this. The whole chapter (and whole book, honestly) is worth a read, but here’s a quote from the final section of the chapter:

In our ears we sense his voice cut through the cacophony of all the other voices, which slowly fade to the deafening roar of silence. In that silence we hear God speak his love over us. Speak our identities and callings into being. We get his perspective on life and our humble, good places in it. And we come to a place of freedom. Our failures slowly lose their power over us. As do our successes. We get out from under the tyranny of other people’s opinions — their disapproval or approval of us. Free to just be us, the mixed bag we are. Nothing more than children with our Father. Adopted into love. Free to be in process, yet to arrive, and that’s okay. In silence and solitude our souls finally come home. That’s what Jesus meant by “abide,” the verb of abode or home. The place of rest. We come back to our places of soul rest. To what Thomas Kelly called “the unhurried [center of] peace and power.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Sounds like something to revere doesn’t it? I’m certainly on that journey. Will you join me?

Intertwined Identities, Hospitality, and Belonging

Intertwined Identities, Hospitality, and Belonging

Something I’ve been wrestling with in the last few years is the complexity of being a perpetual stranger in the country that has been my home away from home. I have lived in the United States for 17 years! Yet I still feel like a stranger in the place where I have forged most of my adult life. I have attended graduate school here, I work, pay taxes, and vote here, I serve the church here. But somehow, that feeling of otherness, of never belonging, does not go away. Why is that? 

 

The perils of navigating intertwined identities in a culture that loves labels

I am Puerto Rican. That means that my body tells the story of colonization and slavery, that through my veins runs the blood of our native Taínos, Spaniards, and African slaves. It also tells the story of a resilient people who have lived through hurricanes, earthquakes, neglect, and disenfranchisement, but are still standing and working for a better future. My body narrates the story of the Puerto Rican diaspora scattered throughout the U.S.A. while fiercely fighting to hold on to our roots. My body speaks of teachers, engineers, nurses, doctors, and many other professionals who train in Puerto Rico, but feel the need to move to the U.S.A. to find employment opportunities. My body speaks of people en la lucha (in the fight) who would rather die than give up.

Somehow, all of that has to fit in neat categories and boxes upon arrival to the U.S.A. How does one box a story? I loath filling out government forms that ask me to identify as Native American, Alaska Native, Hawaiian, Asian, African American or White. Since I don’t fit any boxes, I often leave it blank. Whenever I find a box that says Puerto Rican, I often breathe a sigh of relief albeit tainted by the sadness that comes with the realization that someone finally managed to make me check a box. With every box I check (whenever I do check them) that feeling of otherness, of not belonging, floods my soul.

Navigating through the labels people assign to us is a confusing and exhausting endeavor. Those of us who walk through that on a daily basis, often feel the need to add many footnotes to each label in order to capture the nuance of who we are. How do we navigate this constant sense of otherness? How do we figure out how to be in spaces where we are perpetual strangers? How do we manage this tension? 

 

The solidarity of Jesus with those who do not belong

The Four Chapter Gallery hosted an exhibit titled, Altars of Reconciliation. In these works of art, indigenous Christian artists wrestle through the tensions of being Native American while professing the faith of the people who invaded their land. One day while on a break, I decided to spend a few minutes studying the art. One work titled Protect Us From Ruin by artist Erin Shaw (Chickasaw-Choctaw) caught my attention. Erin pasted the pictures of three family matriarchs on three individual wooden frames. On each frame there were also other pictures and prints of family documents that spoke of their identity as Native American Christians. Each frame was wrapped in colorful rope, which I interpreted to symbolize the family’s intertwined identities. As I looked through the rope, I noticed that among the documents on the wooden frame Erin had included the words of Jesus, specifically his question to the disciples, “But you, who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

People were saying that Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, this prophet or that prophet, the Nazarene, the Galilean, a blasphemer. Boxes, labels, desperate but failed attempts at explaining the unexplainable. But Jesus wanted to be known for who he truly was by those who walked closely with him. He was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). He was and still is both man and God. The church fought fierce battles in the fourth century against false teachers who questioned either Jesus’ divinity or his humanity. Both are true and essential for God’s salvation plan for humankind. The very salvation of the world rested on the true nature and identity of Jesus Christ! Hence, throughout the centuries, believers around the world have affirmed and recited what the Nicene Creed (A.D. 381) declared about Jesus’ identity. We believe in “…one Lord, Jesus Christ the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made…” Jesus cannot be put in boxes or Enneagram numbers; he cannot be explained away. Likewise, humans who are fashioned in his image cannot be easily boxed or explained away. 

Contemplating Erin’s artwork I realized that the God-Man, Jesus, who lived among us and navigated the liminal spaces of intertwined identities, stands in solidarity with those of us who are far away from home, striving to belong and seeking to be known in the complexity of who we are. No labels, no boxes!  

 

Toward hospitality and belonging 

What can the church do to welcome those who look and sound different from the majority culture? How can we practice hospitality toward people from different nationalities and ethnicities that walk through our doors? 

Hospitality is an ancient spiritual discipline and Christian practice that may be summarized as welcoming others in the name of Jesus. Since Jesus came to die for people of “every nation, tribe, and tongue,” differences are implicit in the practice of genuine hospitality. Therefore, expecting others to assimilate to our way of doing things for the sake of our own comfort and uniformity is not hospitality. Hospitality is not comfortable! It demands mutual sharing and vulnerability in both good and hard times, joy and suffering, the extraordinary and the mundane, parties and funerals. What does this practically look like?

 I offer some examples of acts of hospitality to foster belonging in our church communities:

 

1. Learn to spell and pronounce given names correctly 

Names are a key part of someone’s identity. Parents name their children with purpose. Thus, we should make every effort to know someone’s name and address them as such. Whenever we hear someone’s name and immediately ask them if they have a nickname, we are communicating that we have no intention of learning to address them by their proper, given name. If someone doesn’t want to learn your name, do you think they will truly want to know you? Do you think you will truly belong?

At Christ Community we strive to live into our cultural habit, “We remember names.” That includes learning to spell and pronounce people’s names correctly regardless of how unfamiliar and complicated they may sound to us.  

 

2. Avoid commenting on how well someone speaks English

Whenever we hear a non-native speaker eloquently expressing himself or herself in English and comment, “You speak English so well!” We are communicating our surprise that that person can properly express himself or herself in English and reinforcing the sense of otherness and outsiderness that our sibling in Christ may already be experiencing when walking into a new space.

 

3. Know that you are not entitled to another person’s story

People that walk into a new space, particularly those of a different ethnicity and background, are often asked to share their stories, all the time, as if we were entitled to them. The constant explaining of oneself is exhausting and repeatedly reinforces the notion that “I am not from here. I do not belong.” Curiosity and inquisitiveness about a new person is understandable, but we must realize that entering into a person’s story is a privilege, not a right. Thus, instead of asking a person, “What’s your story?” or “Where are you from?” say something like this, “I’d love to get to know you better and share my story with you. Would you be able to join me and my family for coffee or dinner?” Vulnerability ought to be a two-way street!     

 

4. Learn to receive hospitality    

Embrace the truth that we have much to learn from people who are different from us. This includes us entering into their space, sitting at their table, and eating their food. Of course, this will take time and effort to build the relationship to the point you are invited to their home. You will likely need to take the first step in welcoming people into your home. But when they extend the invitation for you and your family to sit at their table, do not reject it, make space for it, and assume a posture of learning. You will be blessed! 

When we learn to welcome people in the name of Jesus, especially those who are wrestling through intertwined identities and a sense of otherness, we grow more and more into what Jesus intended his church to be, namely his family, a place where his children belong.

God’s Presence in Suffering

God’s Presence in Suffering

By Natasha Layman 

The call came on a rainy, chilly afternoon when I was preparing for oral surgery the following day. A woman who had mothered me as a young adult and continued to love me generously and steadfastly collapsed suddenly and was on life support. I took a deep breath and turned my attention to Jesus, placing myself in his loving presence. Another phone call came a few hours later. She had passed away. In this loss, I experienced as I never have before the safe, strong, and deep tender love of God as he held me close and invited me to run to him and feel. God invites us to experience his presence tenderly and powerfully in our suffering, grief, and loss. 

This was not my first experience losing a loved one. My dad passed away in my mid-twenties after a short-lived battle with cancer. I was there when he died, feeling the last pulse that went through his body. My relationship with my dad was tenuous at best, and I had no framework for how to sit with a mixed bag of emotions and grieve the losses. I detached and dissociated because that is what I knew, and it felt safer than sitting in the grief. I frequently asked God, “Why?” Why did my dad die? Why did we have such a distant and rocky relationship? I felt alone, angry, and bitter toward God as I tried to make sense of my suffering. A friend graciously recommended a counselor who listened and taught me how to engage with my feelings, my history with my dad, and all the wounds that were part of that story. But something was missing in this process. 

Fast forward a decade and a half to the moment I learned of my friend’s death. How was this time so different? How did I experience God’s presence and comfort in my suffering now? Because of my relationship with my dad, I’d envisioned God as distant, uninviting, and rather cold. I invite you into my past year’s journey, as God has rooted out my flawed views of him to form a deeper, more beautiful relationship between us.  

About a year ago, after years of longing to experience God, and not simply more head knowledge or good theology, I started leaning into habits to create space to meet God. I began sitting on my couch each morning for 5–10 minutes and imagining God sitting next to me, his face lighting up with joy at me. This was hard work—I was easily distracted, my mind prone to wandering. Yet God met me there, gently bringing me back to his presence when I wandered. He began to lay a foundation of joy, delight, and trust. In my daily prayer time, I experienced God’s presence. God fully knows me, my limitations, my wounds, and wholly loves me. In this time, God brought healing to deep wounds as well as freedom, laying the groundwork for deeper trust in him. 

As I prayed during the weeks leading up to my friend’s death, God brought me from a beautiful image in prayer of a safe, secure garden, walking with him, resting with him, and knowing his loving arms that held me, to an image of Jesus inviting me to follow him into the wilderness. The wilderness? When this shift happened I didn’t know what the wilderness held, but I knew God was trustworthy, and I could follow him. Days before my friend died, while in prayer, God gave me an image. I was scared and weeping on the side of a trail, with Jesus sitting next to me, arms around me, comforting me. He comforted me with his presence, not words. This image was at the forefront of my mind the day the call came that my friend had collapsed. God’s immediate invitation was to come, lament, and grieve with him

My journey of grief and lament began immediately. I wept tears that felt like they would never stop. The following day, I sat with God in prayer through the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. The verse that the Holy Spirit highlighted for me was verse 4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus was gently telling me that he didn’t say we will not mourn, but we will be comforted. I wept more, with the image of Jesus weeping with me. I grieved that there would be no more hugs from my friend, no more sitting with her and hearing her stories. Most of the time I spent lamenting and grieving, there weren’t words, simply God’s presence; the intimacy of being fully loved by the God who knew my human experiences and limitations and loved me just the same. Jesus didn’t distance himself from me but held me in my woundedness with his scarred hands. The same hands that knew the pain of death were tending me, holding me with gentleness. 

God invited me to sit and lament with him several times in the week and a half following my friend’s death. I knew healing, wholeness, and knowing Jesus more deeply would only flow from continuing to come when he invited me, even when it was hard. In a podcast I heard author Tish Harrison Warren describe a concept from St. Thomas Aquinas as an “arduous good”. The word arduous means requiring great exertion; laborious; difficult. Lament is an arduous good. Lament requires that we be present to our pain and be present to God. Like so much else that God calls us to, lament is a process

My grief over my friend’s death will not disappear this side of eternity. Every room of my house has reminders, large or small, of her influence on my life. Yet, as Curt Thompson so wisely said during his time at Christ Community, “We discover joy finds us in suffering because community is sitting with us in the midst of it.” That journey starts by being present with the community of the Holy Trinity in my suffering and in Christ’s body, the Church. 

As I grieve, I have the hope that Jesus will return and set to right all that sin has broken. But there is a more pressing hope for this life right now. Our loving Lord Jesus, whose face lights up with joy and delight at us, is also sitting next to us, arms around us, holding us in all the storms of our suffering, grief, and loss. He invites us to grieve with him, just as he did with Mary and Martha over the death of Lazarus—death is not how it ought to be. He will not leave us in our suffering because he is “Love Loving,” in the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He is inviting us to come to him and abide, even in our sorrows. 

Before my friend died, as I was processing the news of her collapse, I was interrupted by an image. My friend was running with joy and delight into the arms of her Savior. She no longer bore the frailties of her body in this life but was whole, healed, and at peace. The wounded hands of Jesus held her as a beloved daughter. We are his beloved, and he is inviting you and me to experience his presence in our suffering. 

 

Additional Resource:

Comer, John Mark, host. “Luminary Interview: Tish Harrison Warren.:” The Rule of Life Podcast, Sabbath season, episode 5, Practicing the Way, 2022. 

Comer, John Mark. Practicing the Way. Waterbrook, 2024, 

 

Bread for Jews, Bread for Gentiles

Bread for Jews, Bread for Gentiles

In Matthew chapter 15, Jesus performs a miracle. He feeds 4000 people from seven loaves of bread and “a few small fish” (Matthew 15:34). 

And yet, somehow, if you’ve been reading through Matthew, the miracle seems almost unimpressive. After all, just one chapter earlier, Jesus fed a crowd of 5000 people from five loaves of bread and two fish! (Matthew 14:13-21). As a reader, I’m thinking, Jesus, I’ve seen this miracle already, and it was better last time.

I’m only kidding that the feeding of the 4000 is unimpressive. But it does make me wonder: why did Matthew include these two miracle stories when they’re so similar? 

It’s not like Matthew recorded everything Jesus ever did. Producing a book in the ancient world was very expensive, and with scroll space at a premium, an author had to be selective about which material to include. Why include two such similar stories when one story was sufficient to make the point that Jesus can turn a little bread and a few fish into a banquet for thousands?

I was fortunate to sit under the teaching of New Testament scholar Steve Bryan during my years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and also read a portion of his book Cultural Identity and the Purposes of God:  A Biblical Theology of Ethnicity, Nationality and Race. His insights have helped me consider these two events in a new light.

I think the answer for Matthew’s writing about two seemingly similar miracles comes when we compare the setting of the two stories. The first miracle, in chapter 14, seems to occur near Jesus’ hometown—Jewish territory. If you follow the geographical movements of Jesus in chapter 15, the second miracle occurs in Gentile territory. These recipients of Jesus’ second banquet were outsiders, people who didn’t previously believe in “the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:31).

 

Bread for Jews, Bread for Gentiles

During a lecture, Dr. Bryan pointed out that there is a broader theme that links most of chapters 14-16 in Matthew: bread. Jesus feeds bread to the 5000, which is followed shortly thereafter by a dispute with the Pharisees about food traditions, and Jesus reminds them that it’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out (Matthew 15:1-20). These stories are balanced by the feeding of the 4000, and a warning from Jesus, after the disciples realized they had forgotten to bring bread on their journey,  to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:5-6). 

In his book, Bryan notes that right in the center of these stories is an interaction between Jesus and a Canaanite woman. In the Old Testament, Canaanites were the classic enemies of the Israelites, and the epitome of wickedness and rebellion against God’s design for the world.

This Canaanite woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter, and he initially refuses, saying, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). There’s that word again: bread. The question that’s hanging in the balance at this point in Matthew is: Is Jesus’ ministry (his bread) only for Israel, or for everyone?

The Canaanite woman persists: “Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:27). Her point: isn’t there enough bread for us too, even if it’s just the crumbs?

Jesus commends her faith, and her daughter is healed. A crowd of Gentiles gathers around Jesus, and he heals them, too (Matthew 15:29-31), followed by the repetition of his crowd feeding miracle, this time for a Gentile crowd. 

Jesus’ answer to the Canaanite woman’s question back in verse 27 is a definitive YES. There’s plenty of bread. Bread enough for Jews. Bread enough for Gentiles. Bread enough for all. Jesus’ ministry is for everyone, and it’s the faithful persistence of a most unlikely person, a Canaanite woman, that stands out at the center of these stories about bread.

 

Cultivating an Abundance Mindset

It’s a human impulse this side of the fall to fear that somehow there won’t be enough. We fear and we hoard and we hold others at arm’s length because we want to protect what is ours. But these narratives from the Gospel of Matthew remind us that a kingdom mindset knows that there’s more than enough bread

We don’t have to be afraid that we won’t have enough, because our God can take a meal meant for a small family and feed an army. We can live with abundant generosity. We can share from the bounty that God has given us. Because God is not limited by our resources.

And our abundance mindset shouldn’t just be focused on those we consider to be “our people.” After all, Jesus fed Jews and Gentiles alike. And he also said, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14).

It’s easy for us to share with our friends and our families. But Jesus challenges us to share with those who can’t pay us back. And, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, to share even with those we might consider our enemies (Luke 10:25-37).

How can we cultivate more of an abundance mindset? Who is the equivalent of the Canaanite woman in your life— the person or people group that God also loves deeply, for whom his Son also died and was raised to life, for whom, God may be reminding you, there’s more than enough bread?

 

Additional Resource:

Cultural Identity and the Purposes of God by Steven M. Bryan

More Reflections on Time Spent with My Favorite Author J.R.R. Tolkien

More Reflections on Time Spent with My Favorite Author J.R.R. Tolkien

Some time ago I had the opportunity for extended time away and was able to read extensively from the library of my favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien. I wrote a blog on failure and perfectionism that emerged from a careful reading of Tolkien’s work. Here are further reflections on creative work and joyful hope that were generated as a result of my reading. 

As both a meticulous philologist and a devout Catholic, Tolkien’s stories, characters, and phrases drip with the beauty and power of the language by which they are expressed and the gospel in which they are soaked. I have found Tolkien’s faith to be deeply reflected in his vocation as a storyteller.

 

A Reflection on Creative Work

The entire framework that Tolkien held around creative work was conditioned on an idea he cared about deeply called “subcreation.” Because of his Christian faith, Tolkien maintained that part of the invitation to those who bear God’s image is the invitation to join God’s creative work as “sub-creators.” The value he found in his vocation as a writer of myth and legend was contingent on this very theological reality. In Tolkien’s view, fantasy was one valid form among many arts and sciences for discovering and conveying truth, even the greatest truth of all—the gospel of Jesus.

For a while, his close friend C.S. Lewis saw things differently. Lewis once called myths “lies breathed through silver,” to which Tolkien responded with a poem he wrote called “Mythopoeia.” If you are interested in poetry, I encourage you to find it and spend some time with it. A few lines are worth quoting, as they are poignant reflection on the eternal significance of our creative, Monday work:

 

The heart of man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship one he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact.
man, sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.

Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with elves and goblins, though we dared to build
gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sow the seed of dragons, ’twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which were made.

I will not tread your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker’s art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.
In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day-illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True
Then looking on the Blessed Land ’twill see
that all is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.
Evil it will not see, for evil lies
not in God’s picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice.
In Paradise they look no more awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie.
Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
and poets shall have flames upon their head,
and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:
there each shall choose for ever from the All.

What beautiful poetic language this is to express deep theological realities! Though we have fallen, we are not wholly lost nor wholly changed. The right we were given in Genesis 2 indeed has not decayed: we make still by the law in which we are made. As little makers, imperfect though we are, we still have part in the Maker’s art. 

And one day, we will see all as it is but made free in the new creation. Gardener and garden, child and toy, architect and architecture, musician and music, engineer and engineered—all will endure and be made free, perfect, reflecting the only True God and free from all works of evil. We will continue working creatively on into eternity, making anew as we reign together with the One who is making all things new. 

What a flawless reminder of just how much our work matters to the grand mission of God and just how much it will endure when his kingdom comes in full. As long as our right has not decayed, let us exercise it with the help of the Spirit and the hope of the gospel. We should all be thankful that Tolkien did just that, or we would be missing out on some of the greatest stories ever written.

 

A Reflection on Joyful Hope

On the subject of hope, the word of God and the writings of the Professor both have much to say. It would not be too far off to describe The Lord of the Rings as a story that is ultimately about hope in the face of overwhelming opportunities for despair. 

There is a reason we get this sense as readers and movie-watchers. In his essay, “On Fairy Stories,” Tolkien laid out his groundbreaking defense of the importance of modern fantasy stories for the adult imagination. This alone merits a reflection on childlike faith for followers of Jesus, but I want to focus on one particular theme Tolkien explores in “On Fairy Stories.” 

The essay closes with a discussion of what Tolkien calls “the Eucatastrophe,” which he considers to be the greatest element of any fairy tale. Listen to his explanation of this essential storytelling feature:

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

I wonder if, as you heard Tolkien describe this “unexpected happy turn,” any examples from some of your favorite stories came to mind. In every good tale, as in our everyday, ordinary life, there are infinite opportunities to either give into despair or lean into hope. 

In The Lord of the Rings, we might consider the despair we find in the character Denethor. After losing his oldest son and believing his other son dead, he stares in the face of what he believes to be a losing battle against the Enemy. Denethor is thrown into a fey fit of madness and attempts to light both himself and his youngest son—who is still alive—on fire. It is a scene that captures the essence of giving into despair, and at times it is even possible to sympathize with Denethor. We, too, when life seems to be a losing battle, can be tempted to throw our hands in the air and simply give up.

Yet in the face of the same circumstances, one also must consider the consistent character of eucatastrophic hope: Gandalf. Gandalf, who showed up at the edge of the hill at “the battle of Helm’s Deep unlooked for”, when all hope seemed lost. Gandalf, “The great mover of deeds,” whose role more than anything was to stir up hope in others. Gandalf, who would say things like this: “Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.”

And in the end, it was the hope Gandalf stirred up in characters like Aragorn, Theoden, Frodo, Sam, and the army on whom Denethor had given up, that anticipated the great eucatastrophe of The Lord of the Rings—the ability to hold off the efforts of the Enemy just long enough for the ring to be destroyed and the Eagles to arrive.

For Tolkien, this unexpected happy ending, filled with joy and triumph, is only a small taste of what he considered to be the greatest eucatastrophe of all—the gospel of Jesus. Eucatastrophe, because who would have expected that God himself would become a human being, taking on suffering and embracing death “at just the right time,” only to rise again and overthrow the power of death for good? The greatest because, well, it is real. The truest fairy story of all is the one that we most wish would be true. “Legend and History have met and fused.”

What this should instill in us as Christians more than anything is durable, joyful hope. In many ways we do not see all ends, but dare to imagine that we at least know the end of the story. For those joined to Jesus in life and death, triumph awaits. As surely and suddenly as he came to disarm the power of evil, he will surely and suddenly return to eliminate evil once and for all, establishing an unending reign of good. As Samwise mused, everything sad will become untrue. 

This is real, biblical hope. Biblical hope is not wishful thinking to escape unthinkable suffering. Biblical hope embraces suffering because it does not have the final say. Biblical hope looks ahead to a future that is secure. A former pastor once gave me the best definition of biblical hope that I have heard yet: Hope is a confident expectation in a future reality that we lean into to give us energy to live today.

When summer break from school is on the horizon, we can lean into that future to give us energy to face finals week. When we know we get to see our family at the end of the day, we can lean into that future to give us energy to endure a weary workday. When we know the performance is coming up, we can lean into that future to do the hard work of practicing in the present. 

The same is true of biblical hope. Our future is secure when we are with Jesus. As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:18, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” That glory will be revealed—that much is certain—and in the meantime, when every earthly voice would tell us it is better to give into despair, we are energized by a hope beyond this world. The hope of the truest, best, and most beautiful eucatastrophe ever desired. 

With this reality in mind, may we be emboldened by these words from Professor Tolkien himself, who writes of an alloy of creative work and joyful hope that can stand the test of time:

The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.

Grumble Grumble

Grumble Grumble

“That’s not fair.” 

“But I should get to go.” 

“How come she gets to do that but I don’t?”

I hear statements like these from my kids frequently. I often get to play referee between two siblings both demanding that their way or desire is better. Or sometimes the complaint is directed at me and what I am, or am not, letting them do. It can be exhausting.

But when I think about it, these statements are not just ones I hear from my children. I hear them from adults around me. I hear it in movies, from celebrities, and even sometimes from believers I look up to.

And then, when I look deeper, I realize that I, too, am guilty of complaining. Maybe not always out loud, but definitely in my heart and mind. I also still have some growing up to do in the area of grumbling.  

 

Learning from the Past

In a women’s Bible study I studied salvation stories from the Old Testament. It was so good! The story that stood out to me the most is the serpent on the pole from Numbers 21. Are you familiar with this one? It’s not a typical Old Testament story that we learned in Sunday School, but it holds a very important lesson for us today.

The Israelites are in their last years of wilderness wandering before entering the Promised Land. They often grumbled about God and Moses through these 40 years. But amazingly, God always answered and provided for their needs. He gave them water from a rock and provided manna and quail. He led them through the desert. 

But once again, the people are unhappy. They are hot. They are tired. They are impatient. They are thirsty and probably want more to eat than manna. Instead of crying out to God and asking him to provide, what do they do? They grumble and complain. 

The Israelites accuse God and Moses of leading them to the desert to die. They also complain about the food that’s provided. As a parent, I know it does not feel good when my kids complain about the food I’ve made for them. 

God has been so patient with his people who frequently grumbled about his plans. This time, however, he sends poisonous snakes among the people and many die. Whoa! 

Why did he do this? Why did it have to be snakes? There are many amazing theological possibilities for this specific question of “why snakes” and I’d encourage you to dig into it if you’re curious…but I want to consider what could have been a better response for the Israelites.

 

An Alternative to Grumbling

Were the Israelites wrong to be grumpy and impatient? I think I would have felt very similar if I’d been living in tents as a nomad in the wilderness for 40 years eating the same thing every day. The emotions they were feeling were not sin. They sinned by choosing to grumble. So what could have been a better way for them to respond?

When we are sad, impatient, frustrated with circumstances, lonely, or scared, the Bible teaches us that we can go to the Lord with lament. We do not need to grumble or complain, we can take our worries and cares to the One who cares the most and lay it all out before him.

What is the difference between lamenting and grumbling? That is the question I’ve been wrestling with since studying this story from Numbers 21. 

Grumbling is talking to others about your disappointment with God. Lament is talking with God about your disappointment. 

Grumbling goes to others. Lament goes to God.

Grumbling is talking about God. Lament is talking to God.

So many times in the psalms we read the words “How long, Oh Lord?” The authors are crying out to God for relief. For help and rescue from whatever circumstances they were in. If we take our sadness and impatience to the Lord and cry out to him, we are inviting him into the situation. We are opening our hearts to him to work in us. We are crying out to the only One who can help us and change us. 

 

Not Always the Answer We Want

Lamenting is not a magical prayer that makes God give us what we want. The Israelites ended up confessing their sin in Numbers 21, and pleaded for the snakes to be taken away. But God did not take the snakes away. Instead he provided a way for the people to be healed if they chose to look up at a brass snake mounted on a pole. God did not answer their prayers like they asked, but he did give them a way out. A way to be saved.

When we spend time in lament, we are inviting God in and crying out to him for help. We are choosing to look to Jesus, who was mounted up on a cross and died for us. He knows pain and sorrow. He wants to walk alongside us in our grief and disappointment. When we look up to him, he offers us rescue. It might not be in the way we expect, but he is faithful to be with us in whatever comes.

 

Praising God Even in Times of Lament 

At the end of Lamentations 3, after many verses of lament and crying out to God, the author says Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! I say, “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in him.”

What if the Israelites had chosen to lament instead of grumble? They could have said “How long, oh Lord, will we wander in this wilderness? How long, oh Lord, will we have only manna to eat? Lord deliver us to the promised land you promised to us. You are faithful, God Almighty, and you will be faithful to your promises.” Even when we are in despair, and crying out to God, we can end our laments by claiming the faithfulness of God. 

1 Corinthians 10 encourages us to learn from the sin of the grumbling Israelites. It says, Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer. These things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.

Let’s be a people who learn from the Israelites and not grumble and test Christ. Let’s take our grief to the Lord in prayers of lament and with open hands. He is faithful and hears our prayers. He is worthy of our trust. He is worthy of it all.

Under His Wings

Under His Wings

Our family enjoys watching nature shows. Imagine you’re watching a mother bird in her nest with her babies. I picture the nest on the ground, with tall grass all around it, and the babies scurrying every which way. The chicks are completely dependent on their mother for food and protection. Their very survival is dependent on her.

Now picture a hungry lion creeping through the tall grass. He is hungry, powerful, ready to eat, and he’s headed directly toward this mother bird and her babies. Who do you think is going to win? The mom might be able to fly away, but those babies are going to be delicious.

 

What lions are you facing?

Sometimes I feel a bit like those babies, with hungry lions prowling all around me. Lately I’ve been waking up at 2:00 AM, with the opening lines of of Wendall Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things rattling in my imagination:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be….

Those words get me every time, and it almost feels as if the lions are ready to pounce. What chance does a little bird like me possibly have?

 

Lions vs. Birds: what would the psalmist say?

If you were to ask the psalmist that question, you might find a different answer. There’s a handful of psalms that describe God’s people finding refuge in God, as a baby bird finds refuge under its mother’s wings (Psalm 17, 36, 57, 61, 63, 91). Of those six psalms, three of them (17, 57, 91) all contrast a lion attacking the psalmist and a mother bird protecting him. Psalm 91 includes a cobra and serpent joining with the lions and in Psalm 63, it is the jackals who are attacking us.

In each place, the contrast is similar. The baby birds stand no chance on their own, yet they are safe under their mother’s wings. The psalmist is up against excessively powerful enemies, is completely outmatched, but they are unable to touch him.

In Psalm 57, the literal enemy is the powerful and vindictive King Saul. David is hiding in a cave, and he writes these words:

 

Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in you.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of your wings
until danger passes.
I call to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
He reaches down from heaven and saves me,
challenging the one who tramples me.
God sends his faithful love and truth. 

It’s such a picture of trust, but then, David describes his enemies. As you read his words, imagine the lions in your own life:

I am surrounded by lions;
I lie down among devouring lions—
people whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
God, be exalted above the heavens;
let your glory be over the whole earth.
They prepared a net for my steps;
I was despondent.
They dug a pit ahead of me,
but they fell into it! 

David is being trampled. He’s surrounded. Even their tongues are like deadly weapons. He’s despondent. It’s a bad place, and I know some of us have been there. When despair for the world grows in me…in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be… .Yet even so, David builds to praise:

My heart is confident, God, my heart is confident.
I will sing; I will sing praises.
Wake up, my soul!
Wake up, harp and lyre!
I will wake up the dawn.
I will praise you, Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your faithful love is as high as the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches the clouds.
God, be exalted above the heavens;
let your glory be over the whole earth. 

 

Good for David—but what about me?

Read that first verse again, slowly: Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me, for I take refuge in you. I will seek refuge in the shadow of your wings until danger passes. 

I’ve always been a pretty independent person. It’s difficult for me to ask for help or admit that I need something. I want to fix my own problems and keep myself safe. At the same time, When despair for the world grows in me…I recognize how much I need his wings.

When I imagine what God is inviting me into, I want it. Take just a minute to look closely at these pictures.

 

 

Don’t just glance at them, think about what you see; think about how it makes you feel. Imagine yourself as the baby bird and our good God as the mother hen. Don’t rush this.

This is our home as God’s people—always safe, hidden under his wings. It looks pretty good, doesn’t it? That’s where I want to live. So how do we do it? What does it look like to live under God’s wings? Let me suggest three things to remember.

 

The storms and the lions

First, we have to remember, the storms will still come and the lions will still attack. This isn’t protection from the storms. It’s protection through the storms. David still feels trampled, and in each of these psalms, the threat is very real and very scary.

None of us knows what the future holds, and the lions are out there. There are nights I will still wake up at 2 AM. Where does worry tend to creep into your life? What are some of the scary things you’re anticipating? Close your eyes and picture those things for a moment. Now look again at these pictures and remind yourself, as one of God’s people, this is where we live—under his wings.

 

Our Mother Hen

Second, our Mother Hen will be with us through it all. While God most often refers to himself as our Father, I love that he also compares himself to a mom. I grew up with a good relationship with both my parents, but when I was hurt or afraid or sick, who did I call out for? My mom. God offers us the same gentle, nurturing presence.

Curt Thompson, in his book, The Deepest Place: Suffering and the Formation of Hope, makes the case that our brains can handle a great deal of suffering…as long as we know we don’t have to do it alone. And we are never alone! Not only do we have each other, we have our Mother Hen—our good and gracious God—always with us.

But we forget, don’t we? This is a major reason why we need the daily spiritual disciplines of solitude, prayer, and Bible reading. Perhaps when you engage in those disciplines, begin by taking just thirty seconds to imagine God holding you close, like a mother hen with her chicks. And the next time you rush toward worry or self-defense or self-protection, do the same. Let Jesus gather you under his wings.

 

Gratitude and praise

Third, let this confidence lead to gratitude and praise. Confidence shouldn’t lead us to arrogance or triumphalism, or even a further bitterness toward the lions. Rather, like the psalmist, let it lead to gratitude and praise. As you thank God and praise him for always being with you, reflect on this old hymn by William Cushing.

 

Under His Wings

Under His wings I am safely abiding;
Though the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him–I know He will keep me,
He has redeemed me and I am His child.

Under His wings, what a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to His rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort, and there I am blessed.


Under His wings, oh, what precious enjoyment!
There will I hide till life’s trials are o’er;
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me,
Resting in Je­sus, I’m safe ev­er­more.

Refrain:

Under His wings, under His wings,
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.