I’M FINE

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. [1 John 5:14-15 (NLT)]

snowy egretsWhen asked about her boys, a friend used to answer, “They’re doing their own thing.” Years later, I learned “their own thing” meant they were breaking her mama’s heart with their addictions and run-ins with the law. Because she kept her pain concealed, she carried the weight of that burden alone for many years. We often hear similar answers when we ask someone how they’re doing— brusque responses like, “I’m fine,” “It’s taken care of,” or “We don’t need a thing.” Maybe everything really is hunky dory but those answers are often used when life has gone seriously awry and things are anything but fine. Those vague but terse responses are conversation stoppers. Even best friends, who suspect something is amiss, won’t pry and the subject is politely changed.

We wrap ourselves up in a nice package on the outside when inside we’re a mess. We allow people into the vestibule of our lives but won’t let them in to see the messy kitchen or dirty floor. We refuse to expose our vulnerabilities and then we wonder where our friends are when we need them. No one knows we need them if we refuse to allow them into our lives. The same goes for God. “Where are you God?” we complain without being willing to admit life’s a mess and we need Him.

Think of the paralyzed man whose friends took him to see Jesus in Capernaum. What if he’d told his friends he was just fine and didn’t need a thing? While his friends went off to see Jesus, he would have remained paralyzed at home and there would be one less miraculous healing. What if the blind man in Bethsaida or the centurion’s servant had said they were fine? Scratch two more healings!

As for Job’s friends—he could have rebuffed them at the door, telling them, “I’m fine; this is just a little setback.” Instead, he allowed them inside to see his scabs, sores and misery. Even with his friends’ erroneous theology, Job must have found comfort when they remained at his side. Perhaps their discussions even strengthened his faith in God.

We tell people we’re okay when we’re not and we often tell God the same thing. We’re so used to replying, “I’m fine,” when a stranger says, “How are you?” that we forget our friends and God actually care about the answer. Most of the time, when people inquire about our lives or ask how they can help, they sincerely want to know. If they’re not really interested, their response to our answer likely will be, “Sorry, I’m busy!” Even though God knows everything about us and all that we need, He tells us to ask Him. He knows we’re not fine, but do we? Fortunately, with God, we can be confident that He’ll never tell us He’s too busy!

Refusing to ask for help when you need it is refusing someone the chance to be helpful. [Ric Ocasek]

You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy. [John 16:24 (NLT)]

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. [Matthew 7:7-8 (NLT)]

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COMPASSION FATIGUE

Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” [1 Kings 19:4 (NLT)]

hibiscusMost of us think of sloth as laziness: a dislike of work or any physical exertion. Having watched the local zoo’s sloth in action (or, rather, inaction), I think the sluggish animal is appropriately named. Spiritual sloth, however, is far different than being a couch potato. Originally, the sin of sloth was two sins: sadness and acedia. Compiled by Evagrius of Pontius, 4th century monk, these two “capitals sins” were part of a list of eight he believed to the greatest threats to devout monasticism.

We know what sadness is and it’s important to remember that the sadness which Evagrius found problematic for his monks was not clinical depression; it was that despondency or gloom that easily came upon a monk living an ascetic life of prayer, fasting and labor in the middle of the Egyptian desert in the 4th century. It was unhappiness with one’s present situation and the melancholy that comes from longing for something different. It was distress at one’s circumstances and the inability to give thanks in all things. In this troubled world, we certainly don’t have to be monks to suffer that kind of sadness.

Acedia comes from the Greek and means without care or concern. Rather than laziness, it is apathy or a fatigue of mind and soul. A spiritual boredom or weariness, acedia results in listless prayers, study or service. In the midday heat, the monks were tempted to let their minds wander during study and prayers and then fall asleep causing Evagrius to call acedia the “noonday demon.” Seeing the correlation between sadness and acedia, in the late 6th century, Pope Gregory combined the two sins into sloth .

A few mornings ago, I fell victim to compassion fatigue and began to understand spiritual sloth. The previous night’s discussion in Bible study had been disheartening. We’d talked of the recent hurricanes (with yet another one on the horizon), Mexico’s earthquakes, Puerto Rico’s devastation, Korea’s threat, the horrendous carnage in Las Vegas, a polarized nation, and the unrest in the Middle East. As I added that night’s heartbreaking prayer requests to my already burgeoning and depressing list, I grew numb with grief. “What’s the point? I wondered as I listed a two-year old just diagnosed with metastasized stomach cancer, a woman who may lose her feet because of nursing home neglect, and a friend’s suicidal son. “What difference can I make? Why bother?” I cried. At that point, my heart was so weary with grief that I no longer wanted to care or pray. I probably felt as Elijah did when, while fleeing Jezebel, he sat down under that broom tree and said he wanted to die. That’s spiritual sloth and it’s not just monks and Old Testament prophets that can be afflicted with it. The enemy wants us all to become so downhearted and world-weary that we fall into spiritual inactivity or sloth.

Elijah was cured of his spiritual sloth by food, rest, and a talk with the Lord. Although I didn’t eat, I was nourished by Scripture. I didn’t sleep but I rested in the words I read and then, like Elijah, I had a prayerful chat with God. God whispered to Elijah and gave him new strength. He whispered to me and refreshed me with his words of love, comfort, reassurance and hope.

I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. [Psalm 94:18-19 (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. [Philippians 4:8 (NLT)]

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DOWN BUT NOT OUT

No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is unhealthy, your body is filled with darkness. Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light. [Luke 11:34-36 (NLT)]

broken lightTo avoid the southwest Florida heat, I waited until dusk to take my walk. Thanks to Hurricane Irma, most of the street lamps in my neighborhood don’t work. For a light to function, electrical energy has to be converted into light energy and both a source of electricity and a working connection are needed. For many of the lights, the connection was broken when blowing debris shattered their bulbs. For others, Irma’s 150 mph winds broke the connection when it blew off their tops, wrapped their poles around trees, or knocked them to the ground. Without a connection to their source of power, those street lights are useless—they’re just a tangle of wires and a pile of glass, plastic and metal. Even though they don’t work, people have been cautioned to remember that their exposed wires are live. It’s not the electricity that is missing; it’s the connection that is inoperative. Two poles, however, were down but not out. Even though they’d been flattened by the storm, neither wires nor bulb had broken. In spite of the storm’s violence, they remained connected and were beacons in the night’s darkness.

When the storms of life batter us and knock us down, like those street lamps, we can lose our connection, not to electricity, but to God. Our minds may get so caught up in anger, worry, fear, depression, or self-pity that we become separated from our true source of power—Jesus. He told us to let our lights shine but we can’t shine if we’re not connected to Him. When our lives go dark, we should remember that God hasn’t gone anywhere—like the electricity, He’s still there. We’re the ones who are broken. Unfortunately, no Florida Power & Light truck is going to arrive and reconnect us to God.

Reconnecting is a choice we have to make. Reconnecting is trusting God and ceding to His will. It is prayer and reading the Bible; it is praise, thanksgiving and worship. Reconnecting is turning to God and choosing joy over misery, light over darkness, love over hate, forgiveness over rancor, peace over anger and service over selfishness. Fortunately, we’re not alone in this. We may not have FP&L but we have something more powerful (and far more dependable)—the Holy Spirit! If we allow Him, He will reconnect us to the light of the world. We may be down, but we don’t ever have to go out! By His power, our lights can continue to shine.

Remember this. When people choose to withdraw far from a fire, the fire continues to give warmth, but they grow cold. When people choose to withdraw far from light, the light continues to be bright in itself but they are in darkness. This is also the case when people withdraw from God. [Augustine]

And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven. [Luke 24:49 (NLT)]

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

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MINDSET

dawn - Duluth HarborDon’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. [Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG)]

The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. [C.S. Lewis]

The above words are from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. For Lewis, those first moments of wakefulness were the most important ones of the day because they set one’s frame of mind. When God is our first thought of the day, we begin the morning with a sense of peace and power – peace because we know it all is in His hands and power because we know that through Him we can get through anything the day throws at us. It’s as if an invisible barrier has been set up between us and the desires, troubles and cares of the world in which we live.

Unfortunately, some days that barrier doesn’t get erected. When that happens, it’s as if the world uses a battering ram to crash into our thoughts and things like anxiety, annoyance, outrage, stress, pain and fear come stampeding through our minds. For the rest of the day, we struggle to find that peace God promised. When Lewis wrote those words about shoving back our thoughts and ceding our minds to God, he added, “We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us.”

Some sixteen years later, Lewis truly knew how difficult it was to shove back the world’s thoughts and let God’s voice come flowing into his mind. His wife Joy had again been diagnosed with terminal cancer and a second miraculous recovery did not appear to be in God’s plan. When writing to a friend about Joy’s cancer, Lewis said the following: “The dreadful thing, as you know, is the waking each morning—the moment at which it all floats back on one.” Sixteen years after writing about those first waking moments, he was still struggling to turn his thoughts over to God. We all do.

When life goes awry, dark troubling thoughts bombard our minds at the crack of dawn. Instead of dedicating our thoughts to God, we think things like, “Oh God, not another day like yesterday…not another day of pain and trouble…not another day of bad news…Please God, no more!” Surely, Abraham woke to dark thoughts the morning he was to sacrifice his beloved Isaac. David, knowing his infant son would die, must have had those dark thoughts every morning during the seven days of his boy’s illness. Perhaps even Jesus, knowing what lay ahead for Him, struggled with dark thoughts when he woke that Maundy Thursday morning.

As Lewis so wisely said, “We are Christians, not Stoics.” Anxiety, worry, and even fear are part of being human and yet they sap our strength and undermine our faith. The first moments of our day, however, can make a tremendous difference in our journey. It’s a darn sight easier to erect a dike before the flood, shore up a wall before it starts to cave, and turn the day over to God before its troubles start barging in. We’ll still have the challenges of the day but we’ll have the power and strength to face them. As Lewis discovered, it’s not easy but it’s worth a try!

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. [Philippians 4:8-9(MSG)]

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ASK, SEEK, KNOCK

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. [Matthew 7:7 (NIV)]

camphorweedAsk, seek, and knock—three easy instructions. Ask. Ask as if we mean it, as if we truly care about the answer. Ask as if we believe we’re being heard. Ask with the hunger of a beggar begging bread. Ask with the fervor of someone sinking in quicksand pleading for help. Ask with the thirst of a dying man in the desert requesting water. Ask as if our very lives depend on the answer. Ask.

Seek. Seek as if we were searching for something of value—not a cursory look as if we’d lost a button or dropped a paper clip. Seek as we would for a lost wedding ring, wallet or child. Search as we would for an exit from a burning building. Seek by adding efforts to our prayers; after all, we can’t ask God for a harvest without first planting the seeds. Seek as if we care, as if our very lives depended on finding it. Seek.

Knock. Knock as if we truly wanted to enter. Knock with confidence—not shyly as if we don’t know whose door we’re at or timidly as if we’re not sure we’re welcome. Knock and keep knocking as if we desperately need the door to be answered, as if our very lives depended on it. Knock.

We have a promise—God’s promise—and we must ask, seek, and knock as if we believe that promise! Where there is a praying heart, He promises we’ll find a listening God—a God who loves us as a father loves a child. Like a good parent, however, no matter how fervently we ask, how diligently we seek nor how hard we knock, He won’t give us stones or snakes or anything bad for us. While there will be no money for drugs when we need rehab, no Ferrari when a bicycle will do, and no escape from facing consequences, there will be mercy, peace, grace, patience, wisdom, strength against sin, and understanding. He won’t sell, loan or rent His gifts nor will He take them back from us. Trust His promise to generously give good things to those who ask, seek, and knock.

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! [Matthew 7:8-11 (NIV)]

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EROSION

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.… When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. [Luke 4:1-2,13 (NIV)]

Athabasca Falls - Alberta, CanadaAs I viewed the picturesque waterfall, the tremendous amount of water pouring over the rock, and the deep gorge formed by the glacial river, I thought of H. Jackson Brown’s quote: “In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins, not through strength but by perseverance.” Thinking it a good start for a devotion about patience and determination, I looked forward to writing it when I got home. Having been out of town thirty out of the last seventy days, however, I’ve been playing “catch-up” since returning from Canada. Domestic chores, family obligations, paper work, commitments, appointments, assorted health issues, and then my mother-in-law’s hospitalization have eaten away at me and I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. Today, during prayers, it occurred to me that something else is as persistent (and effective) as that rushing water—Satan! While the enemy enjoys throwing major disasters our way, as he did with Job, he also likes to peck at us like a troublesome woodpecker or whittle away at us as water does to rock. Through persistence, water defeats rock; like that persistent water, the enemy is determined to defeat us.

Satan came to Jesus when he was weakest—alone, tired and hungry after forty days of fasting in the wilderness. He does the same with us. It doesn’t take much for him to start his work. Even a small amount of worry, exhaustion, illness, busyness, discouragement, fear, delay, discontent, frustration, adversity, anger, anxiety, or pain makes us vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. Add enough of them together for a long enough time and what seemed rock solid may break down or collapse.

The Apostle Peter likened Satan to a prowling lion and we should be wary of his attacks. If he can’t devour us in one assault, however, he’ll take a nibble out of our souls whenever an opportunity arises. Enough little nibbles can erode our spirit the same way water erodes rock. This morning, I realized that Satan was making inroads; it was time to shine up my armor of God and go on the offense. Instead of spending less time in Bible study and prayer, I needed to spend more (especially in the praise and thanksgiving departments)! While it may have taken five million years for water to carve the Grand Canyon, it wouldn’t take the enemy that long to leave a large chasm in my heart.

Almighty Father, Creator of all, thank you for the blessings of this and every day. Strengthen us so that we can resist the enemy’s attacks. Give us wisdom to understand your word and grace that we may live in obedience to it. May our faith increase daily so that we can do your work and fulfill your purpose for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. [Ephesians 6:10-11 (NIV)]

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. [1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)]

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