Shameless Boldness

Have you ever wondered if you’re bothering God with repeated requests for help? I have, at times.

When we ask for God to intervene, and then experience what seems to be a delay in his response, we can become heartsick. We can lose patience, and even listen to the devil’s lie that God doesn’t care about us.

Jesus is unequivocal in teaching his disciples to risk a “shameless boldness” (Luke 11:8, CSB)) when it comes to our prayers and requests to God.

After providing a model prayer—what we call “The Lord’s Prayer”—Jesus stressed that when we pray beyond that for specific needs, we are to persist.

We knock until a door opens. We ask until we receive an answer. We seek until we find.

Then Jesus goes even further. He illustrates with a commonplace hypothetical situation. What if you had a guest breeze in from out of town without notice, late in the evening, wanting to stay the night with you? You were planning to run to the Kroger in the morning to pick up some groceries, but tonight, the cupboard and fridge are bare, and the stores are already closed.

Proper hospitality dictates you have some refreshment to offer your guest. What to do?

Then you think of your next-door neighbor, who always keeps his pantry full. (I know some people who do, who have extra everything it seems.) Surely, he won’t mind sharing some of his stock until you can get to the store.

So, you trudge over in the dark and knock. You wait a while, because there are no lights on and there are no sounds from inside. You ring the bell, and knock again, a bit louder.

Finally, your friend opens his upstairs bedroom window and looks down to find you there on the stoop. Obviously, you’ve awakened him. When you ask him if he can spare some bread and eggs, he looks at you like you’re nuts and asks you to go away. He finds your behavior appalling. The nerve!

“Don’t bother me! The door is already locked, and my children and I have gone to bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.” (Lk. 11:7)

But you are not willing to walk back home empty-handed.  You simply must have some sustenance to give to your guest. To not do so would be equally appalling to you.

So you persist, and you refuse to budge until finally, as Jesus insists, your neighbor harrumphs, but proceeds to round up some provisions for you. He understands that you’re not going to leave him alone until he does.

Several chapters later, Jesus presents another hypothetical scenario parallel to this one. He speaks of a widow who needs the local magistrate to provide justice in the case of an enemy who has abused her in some way.

This judge is not a kind or even just person (he probably should seek a different line of work). But he says,

“Even though I don’t fear God or respect people, yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice, so that she doesn’t wear me out by her persistent coming!” (Lk. 18:4-5).

Jesus doesn’t leave us guessing as to the application of his parable.

“Will not God grant justice to his elect who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay helping them? I tell you that he will swiftly grant them justice.” (v. 7-8)

These two parables make abundantly clear that Christ-followers are not quitters, whether it concerns getting needs met or seeking God’s justice on an issue.

We have permission—no, we are commanded—to have shameless boldness in asking for things that are in line with the will of God.

This is the attitude we are to practice in our prayer life. Like children who depend on their father to provide, we trust that God’s will is to provide for us, in big and small ways.

This is especially true when it comes to our spiritual requests. God listens, and he does respond. Jesus says,

“If you…who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Lk. 11:13).

And in Romans 8:32, Paul teaches,

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

I love the Apostle John’s unconditional statement of this reality.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. “(1 John 5:14-15).

How do we apply this?

Are you praying for the salvation of a loved one or the return of a prodigal in your life? Ask—are these requests in alignment with his will? Then,

Pray shamelessly and boldly for the salvation and restoration of your loved ones.

Are you praying for the healing of your marriage, recovery from addiction, deliverance from mental torment? Ask—does God want you to have a healthy marriage, body, and mind? Then,

Pray shamelessly and boldly for your marriage, and your physical and mental health.

Are you praying for a return to godliness, integrity, and wisdom in our government and culture? Ask—does God want people to walk in righteousness and lead others with integrity? Then,

Pray shamelessly and boldly for our nation, her leaders, and her citizens to walk in reverence for the Lord, crying out that all will “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly” before God (Micah 6:8).

In both of Jesus’s parables, the seeker did not get the answer immediately, but had to press the matter.

I don’t think Jesus is saying that God is churlish or self-centered like the neighbor or hard-hearted like the judge. I think he’s showing us that if these folks, whom he portrayed as ungodly and unwilling, eventually respond to persistent requests, how much more will our loving, generous Father respond to us?

This way of living requires us to understand God’s will, so we may pray in agreement with him. He is committed to care for us, provide for us, and give us supernatural, unexplainable peace in the midst of trials. He is committed to executing justice, now and later.

But as James wrote, we often don’t receive because we don’t ask, or we are misguided and ask for the wrong things. God is not going to answer a prayer with something that will harm us rather than help us.

It is so important that we learn how to pray, and that we pray with shameless boldness when we are asking for things that are in accordance with his will.

Blessing and Honor in Dark Times

Recently I reread the Book of Judges, and remembered how starkly it portrays the violence, apostasy, idolatry, and sexual depravity rampant in Israel at that time. The author doesn’t pull any punches.  

Sadly, much of it felt quite familiar, as it in many ways resembles what we are experiencing in our current generations of Western cultural and spiritual decline.

Then I reread the book of Ruth—one of my favorites, for many reasons–a side story portraying events in one family that took place during the same time period. Jewish tradition attributes authorship of both Judges and Ruth to the prophet Samuel. Samuel bridged the era of the judges, when Israel had no king, and the era of the kings, initiated when Samuel anointed Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David.

In this pass through both books, the way Scripture came to life was in the contrast between the tone of the two books.

Both books dispassionately record historical events without journalistic judgment. Judges starts and ends with individuals across the societal spectrum doing “what was evil in the Lord’s sight” or at least, “whatever seemed right” to them, without regard to the Law of God. The pattern of horrible conduct was pervasive and persistent, despite God’s repeated acts of rescue. Even the Judges he sent to rescue to save them were reprobates at times.

On the other hand, the tragedies and disruptions narrated in the Book of Ruth are sprinkled throughout with expressions of nobility, honor and blessing. The characters in the story are worthy of our deep admiration.

You may be familiar with the story. During the time of the Judges, Naomi and her husband Elimelech traveled to Moab to escape famine in their homeland of Bethlehem. Tragedy struck when Elimelech and their two sons died. The sons had already married Moabite women, so Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah all became widows.

There was nothing left for Naomi in Moab but grief, so she determined to head back to Bethlehem. She encouraged both daughters-in-law to return to their own families. This is where the first blessing is found, spoken by Naomi:

May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me.May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” (1:8-9)

In spite of her overwhelming grief and bitterness, feeling forsaken by her God, Naomi remembers enough of her God and her identity in God to bestow these blessings on her daughters-in-law.

Orpah returns to her mother’s house, but Ruth famously pleads with and promises Naomi,

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17, emphasis added).

Parenthetically it seems, Ruth calls down a curse upon herself after receiving Naomi’s blessing. It makes me wonder if Naomi’s words of blessing further cemented Ruth’s resolve to stay loyal to her, even calling the wrath of God upon her own head if she were to change her mind.

When they arrive in Bethlehem, Naomi and Ruth are in dire poverty, facing an uncertain future. Naomi hoped to find safety and provision from family members who had remained in Bethlehem.

This is where we meet Naomi’s kinsman Boaz, a wealthy farmer. In his first appearance, we hear Boaz speak to his harvesters, “The Lord be with you.”  They promptly and politely reciprocate with a blessing.

This was a business owner in the habit of blessing his workers and cultivating positive relationships with them. We get a glimpse of his character and personality.

Naomi instructs Ruth to glean behind Boaz’s harvesters, to gather grain for them to eat. Boaz had heard the story of their great travail in Moab and their journey back home. He notices the beautiful Ruth in his field, and he speaks to her,

“May the LORD reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” (2:12)

After the horrific victimization of women depicted in the book of Judges, this is such a relief, such a breath of sweet fresh air. So kind, and affirming, and honoring are his words!

Boaz makes sure that no harm comes to Ruth while she is gleaning. In fact, he instructs the harvesters to let some full stalks of grain “accidentally” get left behind in the furrows where Ruth is gleaning. Ruth returns home to Naomi with an abundance. Naomi’s response when she sees this:

“May the Lord bless the man who noticed you…may the Lord bless him because he has not abandoned his kindness to the living or the dead.” (2:19-20).

Naomi sees that she and her devoted daughter-in-law have been taken into the care of Boaz, at least temporarily, and she appropriately asks God to bless him. She then concocts a plan to put the relationship to the test. She instructs Ruth to enter the barn where Boaz slept during the harvest time, and to lay down at his feet. This would communicate to him that Ruth was interested in him as a man, and not only as a provider and benefactor.

When Boaz awakes and sees Ruth there at his feet, he speaks yet another blessing to her:

“May the LORD bless you, my daughter. You have shown more kindness than before, because you have not pursued younger men, whether rich or poor.” (3:10).

He appears astonished that Ruth doesn’t want to go after one of the younger, hotter, even richer guys around. He further validates and honors her, stating, “All the people in my town know that you are a woman of noble character.”

Don’t you love this man? After seeking the necessary release from the elders at the gate to make Ruth his wife, Boaz receives this blessing from his peers:

May the LORD make the woman who is entering your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built the house of Israel.” (4:11).

It doesn’t get much better than that for a descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

It seems appropriate that the final blessings wrapping up the story are bestowed upon Naomi. With the birth of her first grandchild, a son born to Boaz and Ruth, the women of the town recognize that Naomi’s tragedy has been replaced with joy. She has been redeemed. Her ashes have been turned to beauty. Naomi now can participate in raising the generations that will lead directly to King David, and ultimately to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Her women friends declare,

“Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name become well known in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age.”

This story shows the flip side of Israel’s dark, disobedient ways. I believe this story is included in the canon because God wants us to see that we can be the exception, even in the darkest of times.

We can be like Ruth, showing unconditional love and loyalty to her devastated mother-in-law in her time of need. We can be like Naomi, who finds the courage and energy to return home to her people and her God without assurance she’d find rest there.

We can be like Boaz, who daily speaks blessing to others regardless of their social status. We can call out the gold in people and help them to progress and find satisfaction in the house of the Lord. We can be like Naomi’s friends, who celebrate God’s goodness with her and give all glory to him.

We can be the people that remember who God is, and how he is, whatever the religious, political, or spiritual atmospheres that surround us. We can be the people who walk honorably, and those exceptional people who bless God and others in even the darkest of times.

Servants as Intercessors

(This blog was first published in 2020, and will be part of my next book project, about the metaphor of servanthood and the actual roles of servants throughout the Bible. Intercession is one of those roles. Jesus said that the greatest among us are those who serve, and I believe we should take this seriously as his disciples.)

The wise preacher Oswald Chambers understood the place that intercession plays in the life of the church and the individual believer. He claimed that it is one of the purest acts of service that believers can exercise, not prone to contamination by pride or selfishness.

 When we intercede with God for others, we are “brought into contact with his mind about the ones for whom we pray.” But it is more than prayer, it is a “sustained spiritual sympathy with God” in behalf of others.”[1] This kind of pure sympathy with God is much needed in the church and in the world.

There are also times when we speak for God, interceding with people on his behalf. Paul points to this when he refers to the ministry of reconciliation. We beseech people who are still separated from God, “Be reconciled!” (2 Cor. 5:20)

This type of intercession is beautifully illustrated by the servants in the familiar parable of the return of the prodigal son.The parable, found in Luke 15, was created by Jesus and told to a very mixed audience of tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, and scribes. The supposedly unrighteous mixed in with the supposedly righteous.

Jesus tells of a son who demands his inheritance early and leaves his father and brother to pursue a season of “riotous living.” We can imagine the types of activities he engaged in to waste his inheritance; they are undoubtedly some form of the same activities that entangle people today—sexual perversion, drug and alcohol abuse, gambling.

Eventually the son “hits bottom” and comes to his senses while feeding pigs in a strange land. This was a new low for a Hebrew man from a good family.

This desperate son recalls how well his father always provided for his needs and the needs of his servants. He determines to return home and beg to be hired as a servant, no longer worthy to be called a son.

As the young man approaches, the father runs out to greet him joyously. What is often ignored is that his household servants are part of the welcoming committee.

It is the servants who put the robe on his back and the ring on his finger, who kill the fattened calf and host the homecoming celebration. To these servants the father exclaims, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Lk 15:24). All is forgiven, restored, reconciled. The presence of the servants amplifies the grace, love, and joy of the father.

But this is not the end of the story, nor the end of the servants’ role. The older brother, hearing sounds of celebration, asks the servants what the noise is about. One replies, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound” (15:27).

The self-righteous brother is disgruntled about the fuss being made over the return of his errant brother. He is angry that he has gotten no recognition for remaining faithfully at his father’s side. He hardens his heart.

It is the servants who directly confront his hard heart, reminding him of the love and goodness of his father.

Why am I calling the servants in the story intercessors? Because they were given the honor of representing the father with two types of sinners, one repentant and returning to the safety of the household, and one soured by self-righteousness and unforgiveness.

Servants rejoice with their Father and the angels of God when those, like the prodigal, come to their senses and return home to the embrace of God and his people. Simultaneously, when those like the older brother refuse to rejoice at the rescuing, redeeming grace of God, servants remind them of God’s abundant mercy.

The Father cherishes both those who have stayed close to home and those who have departed and returned. He also cherishes those called as servants in his household, those who bring unity and clarity, proclaiming the tender heart of the Father to one and all. Servants intercede for the lost and for the found.

When we come to the end of the parable, Jesus does not tell us what happens to either brother. The servants have intervened with each in the father’s behalf, but we don’t know what happens next. We don’t know if the prodigal stays home and maintains a godly life, or heads back out onto his prodigal road. We don’t know if the older brother changes his attitude and becomes more gracious or continues to stew in his arrogance.

These characters are so real to us that we forget that it’s merely a parable Jesus utilized to teach some lessons about the Father’s love and kindness. Don’t you wonder how the sinners and the religious folks felt as they each began to recognize themselves in the story?

We all know a family in which a child who has strayed comes back into the fold, only to relapse into addiction and rebellion. And don’t we also know someone who struggles, like the older brother, with legalism, resentment, and unforgiveness? Maybe it is we ourselves who strongly identify with one or both of these brothers.

If we take on the role of servant-intercessors, we will follow and support the will of the Master we serve. We pursue his just and merciful purposes. We are to continually watch with him for those children who are turning toward home, and continually encourage kindheartedness in those who have remained safely in his care.


[1] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

A Portrait of Depression and Recovery

If you have ever suffered with depression, and most of us have, you might find this reflection on Psalm 102 enlightening.

I came to Psalm 102 recently in my daily readings. It is a psalm of lament in which the unidentified psalmist lists an array of physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual complaints.

With many years of both living my life and wearing my clinical hat, I recognized how closely they match the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

If you are not familiar with this weighty tome, it is the guidebook used by clinicians to diagnose, treat, and bill insurance companies for treatment of psychological or psychiatric problems.

Major depressive disorder, referred to as a “clinical depression” is one of the most common psychological problems experienced by human beings. The prevalence varies by age group, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, but over a lifetime, a great percentage of us will experience this distressing condition at some point.

According to the NIH, An estimated 21.0 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2020, which is 8.4% of all U.S. adults.1 (2020 was an especially tough year for so many). And according to the CDC, between 2015 and 2018, approximately 13% of adult Americans were taking antidepressant medications.2

There are two cardinal symptoms of major depression. The first is “depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day” over a period of two weeks or more. This may be experienced as a pervasive sense of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness.

The second is “loss of interest or pleasure.” Things that we normally are motivated to get up and do just no longer matter and we lose motivation to engage in life. Everything becomes flat.

After these two signs, one or both of which must be present to render the diagnosis, there are seven other symptoms that might be observed in a depressed person. To summarize, they are: marked increase or decrease of appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia, agitation or slowing of motion, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt, impaired concentration, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.3

It looks different in different people because of how we are each uniquely knit together. But clinical depression with various presentations and combinations of these symptoms is not a new phenomenon.

Wouldn’t you know that depression occurs in the Bible? Scripture comes to life with stories of Bible characters encountering despair, hopelessness, and loss of the will to live (see David, Hannah, Saul, for example). But we see it most vividly portrayed in the Psalms, and Psalm 102 stands out in this regard.

When we look at some of the physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual symptoms described poetically in this psalm, we see an ancient portrait of a person in the throes of a of depressive episode. But we won’t just witness the problem, we’ll go on to witness the path the psalmist finds to lead him from the darkness of depression into the light of hope.

Listen to his cries:

  • For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers.
  • My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food.
  • In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones
  • I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof.

Notice the loss of appetite, the fatigue, and the insomnia? And he is in pain; even his bones feel like they are burning. The DSM-V doesn’t list it as a symptom, but after 30 years of talking with depressed people, I know that depression often causes real physical pain. As the commercials say, depression HURTS.

Then he names some relational and emotional effects:

  • All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
  • For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears
  • Because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside, my days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass.

Clearly this is a person who feels alone and abandoned, forsaken by God and man, metaphorically “thrown aside.” He has become hopeless, a mere shadow of his former self. Do you see the loss of interest or pleasure in living?

Let’s look now at what happens next. The recovery process.

Depression can be caused by many different biological, environmental, and temperamental factors. Therefore, treatment is most effective when it corresponds to the cause. For example, if there is a physiological depletion of serotonin in the brain, an antidepressant might be called for. If there are overwhelming environmental stressors, they must be recognized and reduced, often with the use of some form of counseling or psychotherapy.   

Fortunately, depression is one of the more treatable psychological problems. Much research has been undertaken over the last century that supports the hypothesis that psychotherapy and antidepressant medication are often effective separately, but even more effective when used together.

This makes sense. I can use an analogy from my ongoing struggle with sciatica. While waiting for a steroid injection to mitigate my chronic pain and allow me to resume normal functioning, I was prescribed several medications that would at least help me get through day and night with less agony.

I finally did get that blessed shot, and I’m relieved. But the removing of the pain does not solve the problem. Whatever has been causing sharp pains to shoot down my leg is still there. Now I have to enter a period of physical therapy, get some imaging done, and change the way I move, sit, exercise, etc.

With depression, pills can pull us back from danger, “take the edge off” the symptoms causing acute suffering. Then we can begin to think about what needs to happen to improve the inner and outer conditions of our lives that triggered the symptoms.

Unfortunately, some people self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, and this compounds the problem. Long-term numbing of emotional pain with no attempt to understand its causes can be a recipe for disaster.  

Instead, the onset of a serious depression is a time to open ourselves to an outside influence—a minister, a therapist, a healing prayer partner, or God himself—so we don’t just mask our symptoms but work to eradicate the disease!

I don’t know if there were mental health professionals standing by when Psalm 102 was written. Either way, the first thing this writer does is to approach God with the problem. He prays.

Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you.Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.

Before laying out his complaints to the Master Therapist, he acknowledges his need for God’s help. He is ready to surrender it and is counting on an answer from the Lord.

I am a good therapist, but I’m not God. And yet, I’ve heard time after time after a first session that the mere act of finding someone trustworthy to talk already starts to bring hope and relief. And if I offer to pray with them, that more powerfully encourages them that help is at hand.

 We must come out of hiding when depressed and begin to share the burden with someone. Who better than God?

After telling his woes, the Psalmist begins reminding God of who he is, and of what he has promised to his people. He praises.

But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations.
You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come…The nations will fear the name of the Lord, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.For the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory.

Do you feel this shift from groaning to praising? Have you experienced it? Being stuck in an inner cyclone of distress and despair, then raising your head to praise God, and finding sudden release? The clouds part and you can see the sun again? I know I have.

Photo by Alex on Pexels.com

The rest of Psalm 102 reads like a good therapy session. The psalmist tells his story. He gives background, reciting both the causes of his despair and his unfolding revelation of the path forward. He regains perspective.

This wonderful psalmist talks it through (or maybe, sings it through) until he remembers that he is part of God’s story, and not the other way around. He’s had mountaintop experiences with the Lord, and he’s been in deep, deep valleys where he felt forsaken, but actually never was.

He remembers that he and his generation will pass away, but while in the land of the living, they can look to the Lord their God and keep their trust in him. New generations will come and live in the presence of this same faithful God and join his never-ending story.

But you remain the same, and your years will never end. The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you.

While the lie of depression is often that we will always feel so terrible and there is no way out, I’ve watched hundreds of clients climb out of the pit and regain hope and health. It can happen a variety of ways. But the underlying process follows the same pattern found in this psalm.

We pray and ask for help—from human helpers and from God. We praise, give thanks, and remember that there is still much worth living for. We regain perspective that all things do pass. We trust that we will get better if we don’t give up.

1 https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression

2 https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db377.htm

3 American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed., text rev.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425787

Our Boasting

With so much conspicuous boasting and self-promotion foist upon us in political and cultural realms and in marketing, it seemed appropriate to revisit this blog from 2019, which reminds Christians that our only cause to boast is in what Christ has done for us!

Ruth E. Stitt

I’ve been reading about the kings of Israel and Judah, and this morning came across a story about King Ahab, the king of Israel, when threatened by one of his enemies, Ben-hadad:

A warrior putting on his sword for battle should not boast like a warrior who has already won.”* In the New Living Translation this reads like a proverb that may have been common in those days, akin to the saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they have hatched.” It can be foolhardy to brag about victory before the first shot has been fired.

It got me thinking about whether it is ever appropriate for Christ-followers to boast about an outcome before we see it.

Immediately David came to mind, when he was just a boy dispatched to bring lunch and check on his older brothers at the front. As the giant Philistine Goliath taunted…

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Bloom Where Planted

Sometimes we find ourselves sojourners in a location or circumstance that is not our ideal, happy place. Maybe we’re undergoing a job transition, adjusting to a new marriage, grieving a divorce, or have lost someone we love.

These can be times of testing and loss. We may find our trust in God weakening and wonder if he still cares. We can spend a lot of energy focusing on everything that is missing or wrong about our environment and circumstances.   

This is a very human and understandable response to changes in our lives that are beyond our control and that we do not like. We complain, shut down for a while, grieve, feel a sense of futility and disconnection. We spend a season in discontent.

Sometimes this season passes quickly, and we move into a better state of mind. But when we discover that the unfavorable circumstances are not going to change any time soon, what would God have us do?

This happened to the Israelites when they were exiled to Babylon. When their captors asked them to sing some of their songs of worship to their God, they lamented, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land” (Ps. 137:4)? They hung their harps on the poplar trees. They were given over to sulking in self-pity.

Jeremiah was a prophet in Israel at the time, and God spoke to him about their situation. Interestingly, this is the same chapter that holds the favorite verse of many believers:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer.29:11) 

It is indeed a wonderful verse of promise that God holds our future, and he intends good things for us. But what about now, when we are frustrated that we are not there yet? If we look at verse 11 in context (as we should always do when studying Scripture), we find God’s fatherly answer:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (v.4-7).

God instructed them that as long they were sojourners in this land awaiting the fulfilment of his promise, they were to settle in and contribute to the welfare of the community. He told them to go to work, marry and build families, bear fruit, and bless the land and people in their temporary home.

I believe this instruction applies to New Testament believers. We too are strangers in a strange land, whatever our circumstances.

God told his people not to forget him while in exile. He wanted them to retrieve their forsaken harps from the trees and start singing songs of praise to him. He exhorted them:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.” (v. 13-14)

We don’t wait for things to get better to praise him.

Nothing we experience here on earth lasts forever except God and his word. Circumstances always change, sooner or later. In this case, the Israelites had to wait 70 years. That’s a long time.

Whatever our period of waiting, in whatever “foreign land” we are experiencing, we hold on to God’s promises for the future. But we stay in the present and “bloom where we are planted.”

We can choose to make new friends, reconnect with old ones, show up to church to worship and serve. We can learn new things. We can live to be a blessing to those around us and allow them to bless us back.

We can strive to thrive exactly as we are and where we are.

Most importantly, we can and must continue to seek God with all your hearts. He will bless, honor, and deliver us in his time. He promised.  

A Walker’s Creed

God came walking through the garden in the cool of the day and spoke to his first listeners. I will walk, because he first walked, and I will listen for his voice.

Enoch walked faithfully with God, until God whisked him away. I will walk away from death and into the whirlwind of God, wherever it carries me.

Noah walked faithfully with God and built a very big boat. If God asks me to build something never been built before, I will do it, even if it seems too big.

Abram walked the length and breadth of the land of promise found a home there. I will walk in the direction of my heavenly home.

Pharaoh’s daughter walked along the riverbank and fished out a special child in a basket. I will be alert for hidden gifts as I walk.

The blessed one does not walk with the wicked, even through a valley of shadows. I will steer clear of evil companions.

If I walk blamelessly, the Lord will be my shield. I will seek to be blameless.

Isaiah saw that those walking in darkness would see a great light. I will walk in the light God gives each day.

Isaiah saw a highway of holiness. I will keep my feet on this narrow road and walk upon it until I die.

Those who wait upon the Lord walk and never faint. Woven together with him, I will keep going and not quit, trusting always in his goodness.

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

There was a fourth man walking through the fire with the Hebrew exiles. Even if I must walk through fire, I will not be afraid.

Jesus walked by the sea and found disciples. I will be one of those willing to leave all to follow him.

Jesus walked upon the sea. I will go to him when he bids me to walk upon the water.

Two disciples encountered the risen Lord as they walked the road. I will walk with him too, as he teaches me about himself from the Scriptures.

The Lord says to stand at the crossroads, ask for the ancient path and the good way. I will ask for the wisdom of this ancient way and walk in it.

The Lord has shown me, a mortal, what is good. I will act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.

Christ loved me and gave himself for me as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. I will walk in the way of love, as he is love. I will walk in the light, as he is the light.

Integrity in Our Hearts

It is uncanny how God’s revelation appears, always so timely and appropriate. This is why I keep insisting that Scripture comes to life in all of our everyday experiences. We can see it if we’re looking for it.

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the word and concept of integrity. This word that has been central in my life and work for many years.

I believe it is often the missing component in our induvial lives, in the church, and in the culture at large. Lack of integrity can absolutely cripple our effectiveness as ambassadors for Christ.

Obviously there are evildoers in this world who spend much time and effort trying to steal from and destroy whomever they can. They reveal the opposite of integrity.

But there is also a tension within believers, and within the body of Christ, between the flesh and the Spirit, the spiritual and the carnal. This also reveals a lack of integrity.

So, come with me as we look at this beautiful word and idea.

Integrity would make my top-ten list of favorite words in the English language. It’s a word that is drenched with meanings that can help us on our journey as disciples of Jesus Christ.

I’ll share dictionary definitions to help us along. But more importantly, we’ll explore how the Bible illustrates this aspect of character and identity.

The first definition Merriam Webster provides is the one that we probably think of first when we hear the word integrity. It is an “adherence to a code” of morality and possessing a character that is “incorruptible.”1

People of integrity are morally and ethically upright. Biblically, people of integrity walk in the fear of the Lord, can be trusted with God’s assignments, and are impeccably honest and honorable.

Scripture attributes this priceless character trait to Job, David, Nehemiah, and Paul. They were humans, and no human has perfect integrity. But when they failed to measure up to God’s standards, they admitted their faults and were restored to moral integrity.

When Job’s life was utterly ruined, the only thing that remained was his integrity. His wife railed at him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). To paraphrase, Job answers, “Nope, not going to do it. I accept all things that the Lord allows, and I will not change my commitment to his righteousness even in my devastation.”

Some alternate biblical translations of the concept integrity corresponding with this first meaning are clear conscience, clean hands, pure intentions, acting innocently. They describe purity of heart, holiness, and righteousness. Jesus declared in the Beatitudes that such people are “pure in heart” and that they will “see God” (Matt. 5:7b)

The second dictionary definition points to structural soundness or having “an unimpaired condition.”1 Integrity is a term used in the engineering field. A quality building must have structural integrity. It must be built on a sound foundation and erected in such a way that it won’t be knocked down by the first strong storm that blows through.

Sound familiar? Jesus says that those who come to him, listen to his words, and follow them, are like builders who build upon rock and not sand.2

Whether sincere, or merely using flattery to advance their own crooked agenda, the disciples of the Pharisees and Herodians said to Jesus,

“Teacher…we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others because you pay no attention to who they are” (Matt. 22:16).

These questioners correctly affirmed that Jesus wasn’t like other teachers they’d met—his words were sturdy, authoritative, grounded in truth, and not swayed by the arguments of men. His were sound words because everything about Jesus was sound and good. Jesus himself declared that his words would persist throughout eternity! (Matt. 5:18).

This reminds me of Chief Ten Bears in The Outlaw Josey Wales, who recognized integrity in Josey when they met on the prairie to negotiate a peaceful sharing of the land:

“It’s sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carry the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life… or death. It shall be life.”3

Do we have iron in our words of life and death? Will our way of life stand up in the face of pressure and temptation? This is one of the measures of integrity in our hearts.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com This bridge is just north of the city of San Francisco, an area know for earthquakes, because it lies on top of the San Andreas fault. It must have some structural integrity, because it is still standing beautiful and strong after 90 years and many earthquakes.

The third definition denotes simplicity, wholeness, and completeness; it is “the quality or state of being complete or undivided.1

This definition is especially true of our God. A.W. Tozer wrote,

God is simple, uncomplex, one with Himself. The harmony of His being is the result not of a perfect balance of parts but the absence of parts. Between his attributes no contradiction can exist.”4

God is whole and indivisible, and God designed his creatures to be whole also, as his image bearers. Because of the entrance of sin, human beings lost their integrity and became broken and in conflict with God and themselves.

Thankfully, there is a way to regain our integrity. When we accept the gospel truth about Jesus Christ as our risen Messiah, Savior, and returning King of Kings, we are not only rescued from hell after we die. We are made whole while still on earth because his Spirit comes to live within.

Body, soul, and spirit can come into harmony and agreement.  Paul confirms this when he writes, “You are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Col. 2:10, NKJV).

We are made complete in him.

But we need to walk this out, to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). There begins a process wherein God heals our broken places and draws us closer to him day by day as we worship and obey him. The work he begins he will complete (Phil. 1:6).

The result is wholeness. Integrity within that pleases God and keeps us in sweet fellowship with him.

David spoke of this, as he confessed his sins to Yahweh:

Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom….

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
(Ps.51:6, 10, NKJV)

Because God answered David’s prayer and restored him, the Lord later informs his son Solomon,

Now if you walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever” (1 Kings 9:4-5, NKJV, emphasis added).

Do we truly desire this kind of character and life?

We now see that Scripture shows us three aspects of integrity that are worth seeking.

We are to seek to be scrupulously ethical in our treatment of others and adhere to the Scripture’s very high standard for moral conduct. We are to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly” with God (Micah 6:8).  We are to remain on the narrow path Jesus has paved for us.

We are to build our lives on the solid rock of the teachings of Jesus and his apostles. This will give us the structural integrity we need to withstand the many storms of life that may come.

And finally, we rejoice in the truth that God made a way for us to be restored to complete wholeness, through our salvation and through our sanctification. He is working to perfect what he has begun!

1 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/integrity

2 See my more detailed study of this parable at https://scripturecomesto.life/2020/05/20/come-listen-follow/

3 Clint Eastwood, Jerry Fielding, and Lennie Niehaus. THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. USA, 1976.

4 A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1978.

God’s Alignment

(This blog was originally published in January 2020, when I had my last round of back problems and chiropractic treatment. I’ve had yet another recurrence in these aging bones. I wanted to revisit the wisdom found in the way God has fashioned our bodies and the way he “adjusts” us in every way throughout our entire lives in relationship with him. Enjoy…and keep a healthy spine if you can!

Ruth E. Stitt

Recently I’ve had a recurrence of sciatic nerve pain caused by disc issues in my lower back. This has returned me to the chiropractor’s office.  Chiropractors address and cure neuromuscular irregularities through “diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, and the effects of these disorders on the function of the nervous system and general health.”*

I’m grateful for this option of care and the ingenious methods chiropractors have developed to reduce pain and restore healthy functioning.

In the midst of this trial common to humans, the opportunity for metaphoric reference to spiritual growth and health has not escaped me. I am inspired in this by the writing of A.W. Tozer on the sovereignty of God and the limitations to human freedom. He writes,

“We are not psychologically conditioned to understand freedom except in its imperfect forms. Our concepts of it have been shaped in a…

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Majesty Streams Down, Praises Rise Up

Lord, your name is so great and powerful!

People everywhere see your splendor.

Your glorious majesty streams from the heavens,

Filling the earth with the fame of your name.

You have built a stronghold by the songs of babies.

Strength rises up with the chorus of singing children.

This kind of praise has the power to shut Satan’s mouth.

Childlike worship will silence

The madness of those who oppose you.

                                                          –Psalm 8:1-2, The Passion Translation

I have for many years been drawn to the Psalms in my summertime devotions. I’m not sure why. Perhaps they invite me to bask in poetry, the luscious sensory images and complex emotional themes pouring out in the spiritual cries of the psalmists.

Psalms seem to fit the different feel and rhythm of the summer for me. Psalms invite us to bring heaven down into our full awareness and can bring color and life to the most ordinary of days. If you’ve never allowed this portion of Scripture to pour over you in its richness, I recommend it highly!

Psalm 8 is what has impacted me most this week. I can’t miss the message of the interchange of heavenly majesty with the fragile simplicity of praise from the mouths of children. The revelation is this:

Majesty streams down from heaven and fills the earth with God’s manifest presence. When God’s children encounter his majesty, they begin to praise him. The praises connect us directly to his infinite strength and give us power over the enemy.

David introduces his theme with a declaration of the greatness of God’s name, and the reality that anyone anywhere can bear witness to it. God is always speaking–through his creation, through his Word, through his Spirit, and through his people. God makes himself constantly, unceasingly available to us. He volunteers to participate in our daily experiences as much as we will open ourselves to him. Then entire Bible attests to this.

This is why Paul boldly states that there is no excuse for missing the reality of God all around us (Rom. 1:20).

In real, everyday life, we acknowledge God’s presence both consciously and unconsciously in the never-ending interchange between heaven and earth. We can become conduits of a flow of energy, majesty, love, and praise, from heaven to earth and back again.

We breathe in, we breathe out…constant communion with him with every breath. Our limited, broken thoughts can be directed toward and influenced by his perfect, wholesome thoughts.

We don’t have to be literal children to join the chorus that sings with heaven. We can all be immersed in the flowing current between God and his world. Have you noticed that we are never called “adults of God” in Scripture? We will always be children in relationship to God.

God delights in our childlike efforts to connect with his majesty, because he is the kindest of fathers. We build our bond with him through our praises and we stay attuned to the larger and higher realities of his kingdom.

Jesus told us to keep it simple (Matt. 18:3; 19:14), to be like kids who haven’t been taught NOT to believe and trust him.

Photo by Guduru Ajay bhargav on Pexels.com

Psalm 8 goes further and bolder. David declares that the sincere praise coming from our flawed and fragile souls carries great power.

 This kind of praise has the power to shut Satan’s mouth.

Childlike worship will silence the madness of those who oppose you.

These days, many of us have a silent scream inside of us as we read about atrocities of human behavior happening around the world. If we choose to release words of anger, criticism, opinion, or judgment, we may get a momentary catharsis, but it will not soothe our souls for very long.

Maybe this psalm gives us another way–exuberant praise and worship to God. In its many forms, praise itself shuts down the advance of the enemies of God. It’s like a system override.

The god of this world has established systems for exploiting and deceiving human beings, stealing, killing, destroying, and robbing the true God of the worship he deserves. When we lift our hearts in praise and worship to heaven, we flip the override switch. Destructive powers shut down and the creative, constructive power of God goes to work. Madness is silenced.

This isn’t a one-time fix for us as individuals or as communities. It is a constant way of living. A life of breathing in and breathing out this exchange of heavenly majesty and earthly praises.

Lord, please remind us throughout our days that we can stay connected to you in your power and majesty by giving you praise. Help us with our praises to conquer and disable the madness of the world. You alone, Lord, truly understand these mysteries. Thank you for revealing enough for us to find you and live as your blessed children.