WORRYWARTS

Don’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)]

Here’s a little song I wrote, You might want to sing it note for note,
Don’t worry, be happy. In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy,
Don’t worry, be happy now. [Bobby McFerrin]

water lily“Don’t worry, be happy,” sang Bobby McFerrin. Right now, for many of us, that’s easier sung than done. This pandemic has turned our lives upside down. Between rising numbers of COVID cases and concern about on-line schooling, money troubles, closing businesses, political divisiveness, and quarantining, it’s hard not to worry!

The word “worry” comes from the old English wyrgan meaning “to strangle” which led to the Middle English meaning “to slay, kill or injure by biting and shaking the throat” (as a dog or wolf might to a lamb). By the 17th century, the verb “worry” also meant “to bother, distress or persecute” and, by the 19th century, the noun meant “anxiety arising from cares or troubles.” All of these meanings ring true. Worry can strangle us with fear and indecision or seize and tear us apart by destroying our confidence, health and relationships. With the ferocity of a wolf, it can intimidate us, attack our plans, shake our faith, and hound our every thought. Fretfulness, sleepless nights, stress, and angst—all come from worry.

While “worrywart” is often used to describe someone who worries excessively by dwelling on the possibility of trouble or difficulty, it originally meant something else entirely. In 1922, Out Our Way, a comic strip depicting rural American life drawn by J.R. Williams, made its debut and a recurring character was the Worry Wart, a young boy (who frequently was accompanied by his mangy dog). Worry Wart wasn’t a worrier; instead, he was a pest who frustrated and worried his parents. Oblivious to the world around him, his schemes and foolhardy actions annoyed others and caused them anxiety!

The term “worrywart” may have gotten its present meaning in 1956 when it was used by Ivan Belknap in a book outlining problems in state mental hospitals. “Worrywart” was used to describe a particularly delusional kind of patient who’d abandoned all reasonable thinking. We don’t have to be patients in an asylum to abandon reasonable thinking; all we have to do is worry! With worry, a simple problem can turn into a major disaster and fill our minds with all sorts of horrible and improbable scenarios. Worse, because our worry often causes those around us their own stress and anxiety, we become as disruptive and bothersome as the original Worry Wart. Worry doesn’t just drive us crazy; because it’s as contagious as measles or COVID, it drives everyone around us crazy, too!

Every day we have a choice; trust God or worry. When we’re unwilling to trust Him to handle things, worry is the inevitable result. Since worry does nothing but steal our joy and rob us of a good night’s sleep, trust seems the better choice. Trusting God with the future, however, means ceding control of tomorrow (and every day after) to Him. That’s difficult if we secretly harbor the belief that we are the ones running the universe. Fortunately, we’re not—that’s God’s job, and His alone. Today, let’s hand Him our worries and choose to trust Him with our concerns.

Father, keep us from worry and from causing others to grow anxious. Lighten our heavy hearts and the hearts of those around us. Help us all to surrender our concerns, burdens and fears to you. Fill us with your peace.

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength [Corrie ten Boom]

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe. [Larry Eisenberg]

People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. [Matthew 6:32-34 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE SLANDERED (Psalms of Ascent – Part 2)

wild phloxRescue me, O Lord, from liars and from all deceitful people. … How I suffer in far-off Meshech. It pains me to live in distant Kedar. I search for peace; but when I speak of peace, they want war! [Psalm 120:2,5-6 (NLT)]

When we are slandered it is a joy that the Lord knows us, and cannot be made to doubt our uprightness he will not hear the lie against us, but he will hear our prayer against the lie. [Charles Spurgeon]

While many of the fifteen psalms designated A Song of Ascents display the sense of joy and pride in Israel that we’d expect from people returning to their homeland, a few express distress, looming peril, or trials. One such psalm is the first in the collection: Psalm 120. It is the individual lament of someone who seems to have become the victim of slander—the prayer of someone who is surrounded by warlike people.

While I’ve never been the victim of slander, I have a friend who was. His reputation was deliberately damaged by falsehoods, misrepresentations, and innuendo. Until I studied this psalm, I don’t think I truly understood how isolated and defenseless he must have felt. Like the psalmist, he longed for peace but felt like a stranger in the midst of a hostile nation.

The psalmist expresses his distress at such deceit and pleads for relief. He then describes the destiny of the liar’s tongue: being pierced by fiery arrows, like those used in sieges to set places on fire. This is a bit of irony since Scripture frequently likens deceivers’ tongues to a bow that shoots out harmful words. In effect, the psalmist is asking that his enemies receive a dose of their own medicine! Having shot their vindictive words at him, in a bit of divine justice, God will shoot his own flaming arrows of judgment at them!

What follows is a lament about living in both Meshech and Kedar among people who hate peace. The psalmist is speaking figuratively since these pagan nations were in opposite directions and he couldn’t be in both places at once. The people of both nations, however, were ferocious and aggressive barbarians. Living among the ungodly—people who prefer war to peace—the psalmist feels like an outsider. The psalm’s final line expresses the psalmist’s desire for peace and the deceitful people’s desire for war. Maligned and slandered by people who wanted to make his life difficult, the psalmist asks the Lord for peace, for His shalom.

It’s easy to wonder why such a psalm would be among this collection of hopeful and encouraging psalms until we realize that, unlike most psalms, this one is somewhat backwards. Instead of beginning by stating his plight and following with a plea for deliverance, the psalmist begins by telling us that God already has answered his prayer. From the first verse, we know that the Lord has dealt with the problem and delivered him from his enemies. Rather than a lament, this is a psalm of thanksgiving. The psalmist found refuge and peace in a hostile world because God answered his prayers. Let us take comfort knowing that we have a God who answers our prayers!

When we fight our battles on our knees, we win every time. [Charles F. Stanley]

I took my troubles to the Lord; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer. [Psalm 120:1 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

RAINBOWS OF JOY (Part 3)

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)]

rainbow at sunrise

While Joshua thought his 48-hour day was long, for most of us, these last seven months have seemed like a year. Unlike Joshua, we’ll need more than another 24 hours before declaring victory on the enemy. Back in March, I naively thought life would be back to normal about now. By the time May rolled around, I realized that what first seemed like a marathon run had turned into an Ironman triathlon. I now see it more as a grueling trek along the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trails. It’s been a long haul with steep hills and dark valleys; without the end in sight, we’re growing weary and morale is low.

Be that as it may, it’s not all bad and there’s been some “trail magic” along the way. Trail magic is a term long-distance hikers have for those unexpected experiences along the trail that inspire awe or lift their spirits. It can be nature’s gifts like a rainbow after a day of rain, a field of wildflowers, or seeing a doe with her fawn on the trail. It also can be a kindness like an encouraging note or a cache of soda or candy bars left beside the trail. Rather than trail magic, a friend who’s been working from home since last March calls these moments “little rainbows of joy.” For her, one such rainbow has been having the opportunity to finally teach her 12-year old how to ride a bike and being able to take a daily ride with him.

A pastor friend found a rainbow of joy in in her new normal because it’s meant having more time with her children than she’s had in years. Another pastor friend finally found the time to adopt a dog. A corporate attorney, whose busy schedule had her on the train by 6:50 AM, expressed her joy at being home and able to make breakfast for her family (they love her French toast). An accountant friend finally had time to share his love of woodworking with his children and show them how to use tools. My son has been teaching his daughter how to use the sewing machine (and admits that reading blueprints is easier than sewing patterns). His wife has discovered a love of baking; she and the children have made some fantastic cakes. People are again finding time to fish, hike, bake bread, play games with one another, and garden.

There are rainbows of joy in the technology that allows on-line church, concerts, Bible studies, doctor’s appointments, book clubs, and even virtual happy hours with colleagues. Grandparents are playing Yahtzee or reading bedtime stories to their grands courtesy of Zoom or FaceTime. We’ve been reconnecting with old friends via email, phone calls, or video chatting. There was even a bit of trail magic in the Celebration of Life I attended last week. Even without COVID, the distance would have meant I couldn’t be there but, because of Vimeo, I could. A family member who couldn’t attend had her own trail magic when two eagles landed on a tree outside the window while On Eagle’s Wings was sung during her mother’s memorial. There are sprinkles of joy scattered throughout even our hardest days.

We are told to be thankful in all circumstances but it’s hard to be thankful unless we find some joy hidden in those circumstances. Regardless of what you call these blessed moments, the key is to find them in the midst of the darkness and challenges surrounding us. They’re found by lowering our expectations from the impressive to the inconsequential but beautiful experiences found in our everyday lives. They’re found by celebrating our little successes—whether it’s making spring rolls or pizza dough from scratch, finishing a 500-piece puzzle or building a bird house, defeating your spouse in a game of Rummikub or seeing a rainbow on the morning’s walk. Let us open our eyes and find the joy that is hidden in this long journey through COVID-19.

The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings! [Henry Ward Beecher]

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:23-24 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BENEVOLENT DETACHMENT

Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. [1 Peter 5: 7-9 (MSG)]

great blue heron“We’re just a big ball of frustration right now!” a public information officer for the San Antonio Police said while describing the rise in road rage and violent driver incidents in that city. Unfortunately that big ball of frustration isn’t limited to the road or San Antonio. Satan must be chortling in glee as he watches people’s virus-fueled anxiety spurring rising levels of aggression and hostility everywhere.

A Texas woman recently had a complete meltdown in the grocery store. After being asked to wear a mask, she went on an expletive-deleted tirade while flinging more than a dozen items out of her cart. Although she’d worn the mask while shopping, she’d removed it in the checkout line. While she chucked her pork chops, chicken, produce, and canned goods into the aisles with one hand, she held her mask in the other. Finally, abandoning the rest of her groceries, she stormed out of the store, screaming profanities and still waving her mask. The outburst gained her nothing but embarrassment as her outburst went viral and she still had to buy groceries (in a city with a mask mandate)!

Whether it’s fear, anger, depression, unease or frustration about health and safety, racial injustice, politics, government, cabin fever, unemployment, financial challenges, on-line schooling, working remotely, or isolation, tension is high and everyone is on edge. But, instead of dealing with our feelings, we seem to be lashing out at one another. While I haven’t thrown a tantrum or screamed at anyone yet, I admit to not liking my mind’s inner dialogue when I see people flaunting the mask order, hogging the sidewalk, wearing masks improperly, with a loaded grocery cart in the express lane, or committing numerous other minor social infractions that wouldn’t have aggravated me a few months ago.

People are wound tight and living that way isn’t good for our bodies or our souls. We need to let go of those petty annoyances along with our major concerns and give them all to God! Christian counselor and author John Eldredge calls this practice “benevolent detachment.” It’s a way to be kind to ourselves as well as to those around us. To practice this detachment, he’s developed an app called “One Minute Pause.” With soothing music in the background, it begins with a few deep breaths followed by God inviting us to give everyone and everything to Him. It continues with our response: “I give everyone and everything to you, God!” followed by a few Bibles verses and a brief prayer. Although I have the app, none of us need an app on our phones to benevolently detach from the world around us. We do, however, have to hit the pause button on our emotions! We need to unclench both physically and spiritually and release whatever is troubling us to God.

The request to put on her mask probably was the least of many things bothering that Texas woman but, as “the last straw,” it was what triggered her frenzy. What if she had made a practice of benevolent detachment—of regularly pausing long enough to hand her frustrations to God? Let us all make a concerted effort to let go of life’s minor vexations before they evolve into a complete meltdown or worse. Let’s regularly step back, take a deep breath, and redirect our attention to the One who is walking through this valley with us. We’re not in this alone! As we give God our fear, anxiety, irritation, exasperation, angst, and sadness, let us choose to trust Him.

Over time I’ve found no better practice to help clear out my cluttered soul than the practice of benevolent detachment. The ability to let it go, walk away — not so much physically but emotionally, soulfully. [John Eldredge]

Don’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 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HE CARRIES US

Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms. [Psalm 68:19 (NLT)]

carrying his childMy daughter-in-law sent photos of the family’s day at the apple orchard. The grands picked apples, pet the farm animals, climbed the tractors, raced the pedal karts, did the zip-line, raced through the corn maze, traversed the goat bridge, and enjoyed their fill of donuts and apple cider. It was a fun-filled but exhausting day. The last picture was of my son carrying the youngest grand (who’d fallen asleep on the ride home) into the house.

The photo brought me back to my childhood when, like my grand, I’d fall asleep in the car on the way home from a family outing. Once home, my father would scoop me up in his strong arms to carry me into the house and up to my room. I remember feeling safe and loved as he carried me in his arms.

The oversized La-Z-Boy in our den was my father’s chair but, when he wasn’t home, my mother and I would snuggle there and talk for hours. I’d pour out my troubles, questions, hopes, and fears. She would quietly listen and then comfort, guide, encourage and pray with me. Holding me in her arms, she’d dry any tears and reassure me that life would eventually work out for the best.

Those childhood days are long gone; my parents passed away more than half a century ago and all that’s left are fond memories. Nevertheless, there still are times I’d like to shed the duties of adulthood and be a child again: to be the one carried instead of the one doing the carrying—the one falling apart instead of the one putting it together again. I don’t think I’m the only person who’s ever wanted to resign from adulthood. The responsibilities that come with maturity can weigh on us all.

In these troubled times, today’s responsibilities feel especially heavy. Every day seems to bring another challenge. We may be grown up but we haven’t outgrown the need to be nurtured, encouraged, comforted and restored. Many of us, however, seem to have outgrown the willingness to stop and admit our vulnerability and need. Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we can’t rest in the arms of our Heavenly Father and let Him carry us when we’re weary. Although we can’t return to childhood, we have a Father in Heaven who loves each of us as if we were His only child. He will hold and comfort us as only a loving parent can. Rather than bandaging skinned knees and feeding our bodies, He bandages wounded hearts and nourishes our souls. He may not carry us up to our rooms but He we will carry us close to His heart for the rest of our days.

Snuggle in God’s arms. When you are hurting, when you feel lonely, left out. Let Him cradle you, comfort you, reassure you of His all-sufficient power and love. [Kay Arthur]

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. [Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)]

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. [Isaiah 46:4 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE PEACE STORE

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. [John 16:33 (NLT)]

Peace Store - Key West, FLBetween demonstrations that turn into brawls or rioting, incidents of mask rage, shootings, negative and misleading political ads, quarrelsome legislators, nations accusing one another of espionage and fraud, and the assorted armed conflicts throughout the world, I wish we could purchase peace as easily as we can items from Key West’s Peace Store. Actually, given the anger and nastiness so prevalent in the world today, I’m afraid wearing one of their tee-shirts politely requesting “Peace Please” or a face mask with the peace symbol could cause conflict rather than promote peace! Real peace, however, is more than the absence of conflict and it’s not something that can be purchased in Key West or anywhere else.

The Greek word usually translated as peace in the New Testament is eirēnē. In classic Greek, it meant the absence of war but, when found in the New Testament, eirēnē has a far broader meaning. This expanded meaning is because Jesus didn’t speak Greek and the word He would have used was shalom, which meant well-being in the widest sense of the word. In the Hebrew Scriptures, along with the lack of conflict, shalom was used for prosperity, physical health, contentedness both when going to sleep and at death, good relationships between nations and people, and salvation. When Gideon built an altar to the Lord, he named it Yahweh-Shalom, which meant “the Lord is peace.” For a Jew, shalom was the sense of general well-being that came from God alone.

When Jesus promised us peace or shalom, along with absence of discord, He included a sense of wholeness, health, welfare, safety, rest, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, freedom from care, acceptance, and harmony. If we could purchase any or all of those at the Peace Store, their website would crash, the line out the door would be a mile long, and the store owners would be among the Fortune 500!

We can’t purchase peace because Jesus, the Prince of Peace, purchased it for us; shalom is ours simply for the asking. That peace doesn’t mean lack of hardship, sickness, death, grief, or difficulties. In fact, Jesus pretty much guaranteed we’d have those. He did, however, promise peace in every one of those situations.

If you’re ever in Key West, you can check out the Peace Store where they say, “Peace is always in fashion.” If, however, you’re looking for true peace, the kind of peace that far exceeds our understanding, you’ll find that only in a relationship with God. If we remain in Christ, keep the Holy Spirit within us, are obedient to His word, study and pray, serve and love, the shalom promised by the Prince of Peace will remain bright within our hearts and souls. Calling Key West “the gateway to paradise,” the Peace Store was wrong; the true path to paradise is found only in Jesus and His gospel of peace.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. [C.S. Lewis]

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. [John 14:27 (NLT)]

This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. [Acts 10:36 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.