Am I Going to Grumble or Shine Today?

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Philippians 2:14-18

Sometimes I make life about me. And sometimes this leads to complaining. I can definitely be a grumbler.

So I find Paul’s words to the Philippians convicting today. I mean, really? Do everything without grumbling or arguing? Those are high expectations! Why not most things? Or on some (crappy) days only some things?

I guess the whole point is growing in Jesus-likeness even when I don’t feel like it, when I don’t have the warm and fuzzies, when life hits me with stuff that is frustrating or uncomfortable. It is on these days—or in these moments—I’m supposed to shine. That happens when I stop focusing on myself and what I want and put it on others around me. Easier said than done, which is why I require the work of the Holy Spirit in me.

Here are some words from today’s Lectio 365 devotional:

“I am struck by the idea that I can shine like a star in this world. Not like the star of celebrity, but the star of service. Paul encourages me in Romans to ‘Take [my] everyday, ordinary life—[my] sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering’ (Rom. 12:1 in The Message).”

And then the prayer: Lord, help me today to pour my life out for the sake and service of others. I want to be known as one who gives and not one who takes. Amen.

When Do We Pray at the Window?

This may or may not surprise you, but pastors don’t have all the answers–even when it comes to what the Bible means and when it comes to how we apply Scripture to our present day lives and circumstances.

But sometimes it’s just as important to ask good questions as it is to provide good answers.

Case in point. One evening when my family and I were doing our Advent devotions, the story we read was from Daniel 6. At this point in the story, Daniel–who was an exile in pagan Babylon–had become very important to King Darius and was about to be placed in a position of even greater authority. But he had also made some enemies. These enemies conspired to trap Daniel by convincing the king to sign an edict which stated that for 30 days prayers could only be offered to Darius. Anyone caught praying to any other god would be thrown into the lions’ den. Essentially, they wanted to catch Daniel praying to the God of Israel in order to have reason and opportunity to get rid of him. Here is how Daniel responded to the situation:

When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 

Daniel 6:10

The passage strongly implies that after learning of the edict, Daniel proceeded to pray as he had always done: at his window which faced the city of Jerusalem. Whatever edict Darius had signed, Daniel was going to practice his faith exactly as he had always done.

My family had quite a discussion about this passage. Since that evening I’ve not been able to get this story out of my head. In particular, I was left wondering whether Daniel could have prayed differently. Did he have to pray in front of the window? Is that how he was found out? Did he do so knowing he could be caught and be thrown into the lions’ den? Were his actions not only an act of faithfulness to the God of Israel but also an act of defiance in relation to the nation of Babylon? Could he not have prayed differently, out of view?

Unfortunately, the text doesn’t seem to tell us. And my limited commentary selection indicates that Daniel–who was probably around 80 years of age by this time–knew what he was doing. Daniel faced a dilemma: be faithful to God or obedient to Babylon. And so he knelt in front of the window in his home facing Jerusalem and prayed three times a day just as he had done before.

Perhaps doing it any other way wouldn’t even have occurred to Daniel. And if it did, he clearly chose to go ahead anyway and pray just as he had done before.

Here are some questions that have been on my mind because of this passage.

Could Daniel have prayed faithfully without engaging in the specific physical posture of kneeling before the window? Why or why not?

Is it only explicit calls by governing authorities to deny what we believe–that is, deny that Jesus is Lord and Savior–that we are called to disobey? Or is it also possible to deny our Lord via our actions? How do we know when that is happening? Can I deny Christ with my body as well as with my beliefs, thoughts and words? Under what conditions do we, like Daniel, practice our faith just as we had done before?

Plenty of Bible passages and historical liturgical practices point to the physicality of worship, to postures and actions that are assumed to be inseparable from the beliefs which underlie them. There are also direct commands in Scripture to lift our hands, to bow, to kneel, to sing, and to come together in fellowship. Is it always possible and right to separate our worship from our bodies? What connection exists–and should exist–between our faith and our physical actions?

Put another way: When do we pray at the window?

Those are my questions. I’m not sure how to answer them. Maybe you don’t agree that all of my questions are relevant or fair ones to ask. Maybe you have more clear answers than I do. If so, I’d love to hear from you.

May We Pray

May we pray that brothers and sisters in Christ—and church leaders especially—would give grace to one another even in the midst of our differences as we face these challenging times.

May we pray that our churches would become sanctuaries for the fearful, the lonely, the otherwise unaccepted, the spiritually undecided and curious, the hurting, and everyone needing the hope of the good news of Jesus.

May we pray that our pastors would find the encouragement, patience, friendship, and wisdom they require while providing care to their congregations and communities.

May we pray that our neighbours would turn to Christ as the one source of peace and hope in this tumultuous season.

May we pray that the people of God would be free to follow their consciences and obey the dictates of their faith while also respecting governing authorities.

May we pray that our governing authorities and political leaders would have the discernment and willingness to balance the various concerns of their constituents while making decisions surrounding COVID.

May we pray that our gracious Lord and God would see fit to hasten the end of the pandemic, the restrictions we have to follow, bring healing to people and relationships that have suffered as a result, and do so in a way that brings glory to his holy and wonderful name.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Amen and amen.

Spiritual Journaling

For a good part of my life I have journaled. Admittedly, sporadically at times. More so in recent years. Being an introvert, it’s one of the ways I have learned to navigate the terrain of my heart, to process my thoughts. Often, my journaling takes the shape of direct prayers. I invite the Lord—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—into the mess of my everyday. Though in one sense, all of my journaling is a form of prayer. After all, my God is intimately acquainted with all my thoughts and desires. He knows me better than I know myself.

So journaling, then, is not like writing in a diary. It’s not a rote account of the days events. It’s the deliberate unveiling of my soul—to myself in the presence of God. It’s a spiritual discipline. I rarely go back and read what I’ve written. That would be like recording myself praying out loud and listening to the recording later on. It’s not about capturing information; it’s about giving expression to the process of what is going on with me spiritually.

For some, spiritual journaling is way outside of their comfort zone, and might seem to be a strange idea. Perhaps because it sounds too “touchy-feely.” Or maybe because being that vulnerable and honest is difficult. I understand that. That’s not me. I’m almost the opposite—at some point, in some way, words have to emerge to give expression to my internal goings-on. Deeper conversations with trusted friends and family is part of this. And so is journaling.

If you’ve never thought of journaling or the idea sounds weird or uncomfortable, I have two suggestions. First, if you have regular times of reading Scripture, write down a few thoughts/questions/feelings that arise when you do. Put it in point form. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be articulate and profound sounding or even neat and tidy. Be honest. Be yourself.

Second, write out a prayer to God. I know this sounds entirely lacking in spontaneity. Maybe you’ve never thought much about the value of pre-written prayers. But there’s plenty of them in the Bible, including the entire Book of Psalms. Perhaps read a psalm and then write it out in your own words. But, again, be honest. No one else is going to know what you’ve written. Unless you choose to share it, what you’ve written is between you and God.

When we engage with God in a new way, we might be surprised how we hear him speak in new ways. We need to get out of our comfort zones because by staying in them our expectations of God never grow and are never challenged. Our comfort zones become a box in which our spiritual lives become stagnant and unfruitful. God is too big for all our boxes. Making use of a new spiritual discipline is way of acting on and experiencing this reality. Spiritual journaling is one of those disciplines.

First Sunday of the New Year

Eugene Peterson, in his book Tell It Slant, describes Sabbath as “a time to receive silence and let it deepen into gratitude.” As we experience the first Sunday of 2022, here’s a prayer from today’s Lectio 365 devotional:

“May this day bring Sabbath rest to my heart and my home.
May God’s image in me be restored, and my imagination in God be re-storied.
May the gravity of material things be lightened, and the relativity of time slow down.
May I know grace to embrace my own finite smallness in the arms of God’s infinite greatness.
May God’s Word feed me and His Spirit lead me into the week and into the life to come. Amen.”