Why should we sing?

I don’t go looking for posts about congregational singing, but a couple of blogs I follow comment on or link to blog posts on the topic fairly often.

The prevailing consensus is that congregational singing is declining. I have not noticed that myself, but apparently others have.

Naturally, people want to find the problem and fix it. A number of possible reasons for this decline have been proposed.

Some say that the congregation doesn’t sing as well since the advent of worship teams. Some blame this on the atmosphere seeming more like a concert than a church service. Others point blame at the number of instruments on stage, the loudness of the music, the singing of new songs that no one knows, the difficulty of some of those songs for a congregation to sing. Some have blamed the professionalism or the commitment to excellence of the musicians, because that makes us “average Joes” feel like we don’t measure up. Sadly, many churches are eliminating performed music (what we use to call “special music”) for these reasons. The most recent article I saw said the problem started way back even before the worship team advent, when churches had choirs that “drowned out” the congregation.

My own experience is limited, of course. We’ve only visited one church where I truly felt like the stage and musicians were set up for a concert rather than congregational singing. This church had a choir and a worship team, multicolored lighting, a stage covered with instruments. I don’t think any of that would have been insurmountable, though. The one main problem was that the songleader or worship leader never told us as a congregation when to join in or invited us to sing along. As we looked around to see whether others were singing, we noticed that some were and some were not. So we didn’t know quite what to do.

Most of my church experiences have involved one songleader on stage with a choir behind him, sometimes with musicians on stage or nearby, sometimes not. The choir helps keep the pace and provide the melody for those who might not know a song. I have never been in a church where the choir “drowned out” the congregational singing.

I have been in two churches where the songleader was an actual professional in the sense of having a PhD not just in music, but in voice. In both of those churches, the singing was robust. No one seemed to be intimidated by the professionalism of the leader and others in the choir and church. Ordinary, untrained people sang special music as well as the trained ones. So I don’t think professionalism in and of itself is a factor, or at least it shouldn’t be.

There is one factor, however, that overrides any problems with congregational singing: the fact that the Bible tells us we’re supposed to sing.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Psalm 100:1-2, ESV

Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. Ephesians 5:18b-19, ESV

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16, ESV

We shouldn’t use these verses as clubs to beat people over the head with their responsibility, but we should encourage each other to obey God in this respect. Some have tried to encourage thinking about the songs we sing by almost preaching a small sermon between songs, sharing long Puritan readings, etc. There might be a time for that kind of thing, but usually I find that, rather than encouraging singing, it takes away from it. People get weary mentally and their minds wander (or even physically, if they’re made to stand through all of that).

I’ve long wanted to do a study of music in the Bible. I notice that in many of the psalms, singing is associated with thanksgiving. The passages above speak of singing as an outgrowth of being filled with the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Could it be that poor congregational singing is a symptom of a lack in these areas, rather than a problem in itself?

One of my soapbox issues is that our responsibility to do right before God should not depend on other people or circumstances. I can’t stand before God and blame other people for my sin. They are responsible for their influence, and they’ll have to answer for their failures and temptations. But God has promised each of His children that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). That is true not just for avoiding sin and resisting temptation, but also for doing right. I should do the right thing whether the circumstances are conducive or not, whether anyone else is doing so or not.

Sure, it’s good to study what helps and hinders good congregational singing. But we as a congregation need to realize that whether the song is too old or too new, too high or too low, too fast or too slow, too soft or too loud, whether there is one musician or many, whether others sing better or worse or not at all, we need to sing as unto the Lord. He is worthy of our praise. Let’s overlook the petty hindrances to our comfort level and think about His greatness and goodness and all He has done for us. It will be hard to hold back from singing then!

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
And with my song I will praise Him.
Psalm 28:7, NKJV

The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation
    are in the tents of the righteous.
Psalm 118:14-15a, ESV

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Because My Father Is My King

But as for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn’t know what to do or say when they saw him. People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Our church is going through the psalms together and discussing a few at a time on Sundays. In many psalms, the writer pours out his heart to God pleading for mercy, justice, protection, forgiveness, revival. Often the writer comes to God out of sorts, but after a few moments of meditating on who his God is, he is set to rights and sees things clearly.

Other psalms (like 95-100) set forth God’s majesty, holiness, and greatness and our response of awe and worship.

On those occasions in Scripture when someone meets a heavenly being of some kind, like an angel, that person often falls to the ground in worship that the angel has to correct. If just an angel causes that reaction, we can understand God answering Moses’ request to see Him by saying Moses would not be able to withstand seeing the full scope of His glory and splendor. John had been the closest disciple to Jesus during the Lord’s time on Earth. Yet when John saw Jesus in all His glory in Revelation 1:17, he didn’t shake his hand, slap him on the back, cry out, “So good to see you again!” He “fell at his feet as dead,” overwhelmed.

It’s good for us to meditate on and remind ourselves of just Who our God is in all of His aspects. We don’t often think of His majesty, splendor, and greatness unless we encounter those traits in Scripture. Sometimes a glorious sunset or huge waterfall or massive lightning storm will give us a glimpse of His powerfulness and immensity.

Yet sometimes I have a hard time reconciling the greatness of God that would immerse me in awe and bring me to my knees in worship with the closeness and intimacy of my Abba, Father, described in Romans 8 and Galatians 4. It’s not that the Old Testament presents God as massive and majestic and the New Testament portrays Him as close, personal, and loving: no, both aspects are presented all through the Bible.

So one day, this illustration came to mind of a child of a king.

A beloved child played on the floor with his father and sat in his lap to read a book.  His father rocked him to sleep and comforted him when he was hurt or afraid. The child knew his father was something called a king, but he didn’t quite understand what that was or what his father did at work every day.

But one day, an affair of state required his father to wear his full royal regalia and address the nation. As the child stood with his mother and siblings, the king’s entrance was announced, accompanied by a trumpet fanfare. When the king came in, the child hardly recognized the man as his father. He looked so different in his crown and royal robe, standing so erect, receiving the applause of the audience, speaking in such authoritative and measured tones, followed by his entourage. The child was awed, but a little afraid of the king. But as his father finished speaking and turned to go back to the family residence within the castle, he searched for his son, and smiled. And then the child recognized the love in his father’s eyes and knew that he was indeed, the same daddy who had comforted him and played with him so often before.

It’s an imperfect analogy, and it wouldn’t carry over in every single point. But the gist of it helps me to reconcile how the Lord whose full holiness will overwhelm me is the same Abba Father who comforts and cares for me now.

Because my Father is my King, I can rest in His power and authority. He’s in charge, and He is just. He is both kind and righteous. He employs all the sources of His kingdom to protect me and provide for me.

Because my King is my Father, I have the closest access to Him. I can rest in His love and know He cares about every detail of my life. I have a glorious inheritance.

He is worthy of my worship, my trust, and my love.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12, ESV

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. 1 John 3:1a, ESV

O worship the King, all glorious above,
And gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, Whose canopy space,
Whose chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.

~ Robert Grant

(Revised from the archives)

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When Little Trials Give Us Big Trouble

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Sometimes it seems easier to trust the Lord for the big trials of life rather than the little irritations.

When a major crisis comes my way, I realize it’s too big for me. I’m acutely aware of my need for God’s grace and strength. I feel myself sinking, like Peter, and cry out for help almost instinctively.

But when I encounter some smaller provocation — when someone interrupts what I am doing; when my computer acts up; when I am running late to an appointment and hit every red light along the way; when another driver cuts me off; when I am in a hurry at the grocery store and the customer in front of me has some time-consuming problem; when I give dinner a quick stir and slosh red sauce over the side of the pan and onto the stove, the floor, and/or myself — then too often I react with simmering impatience, carnal anger, unloving harshness, discouragement or depression.

Amy Carmichael once wrote:

The hardest thing is to keep cheerful (and loving) under little things that come from uncongenial surroundings, the very insignificance of which adds to their power to annoy, because they must be wrestled with, and overcome, as in the case of larger hurts. Some disagreeable habit in one to whom we may owe respect and duty, and which is a constant irritation or our sense of the fitness of things, may demand of us a greater moral force to keep the spirit serene than an absolute wrong committed against us. (1)

“Well, I was provoked.”

Love…is not easily provoked. I Corinthians 13:5

“I’m only human.”

Yes. That’s the problem, not an excuse. With the exception of One, all humans have a sinful nature. Our natural reaction is likely to be a selfish one. As Christians we’re called to have a supernatural reaction.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Galatians 5:22-23.

Even on the highway or in a check-out line.

Thank God there is forgiveness with Him, His mercies are new every morning, and if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness(I John 1:9).

But how can I get the victory over wrong reactions to little provocations and react in a right manner the next time?

  • First of all, instead excusing it, recognize it as sin and confess it to Him.
  • Carefully evaluate and use my time better, such as such as stopping whatever I am doing early enough for an appointment so that a few red lights will not cause me to be late (or agitated), slowing down and take the necessary time to accomplish something so haste doesn’t create more problems, etc.
  • Fix the issue, if possible. Find out if there is something wrong with the computer, gently ask the other person to refrain from or change whatever they are doing, etc.
  • Put it into perspective. A little thing is just a little thing. Being a Christian doesn’t mean every little bump in the road is going to be removed.
  • Relinquish control of my life and time and schedule into the Lord’s hands will help me to handle interruptions better. Have you ever studied the life of Christ with an eye toward how much He was interrupted? It’s enlightening. Even when He was interrupted during prayer or on his way to perform a miracle, He never reacted harshly or impatiently.
  • Relinquish the “I” factor as well. Some of the agitation I experience is simply my thwarted desire for things to go my way. I mentioned in an earlier post that another of Amy Carmichael’s experiences that helped me was when she felt the “I” “rising hotly” in her toward one who was unfair and dominating, and she realized that moment was a chance to die to self. “See in this which seems to stir up all you most wish were not stirred up — see in it a chance to die to self in every form. Accept it as just that – a chance to die.” (1)
  • Do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I need to remember that I’m probably unwittingly irritating someone else sometimes who is graciously (I hope) being forbearing with me. I need to handle the irritations that come from other people as graciously as I would want them to handle mine. Instead of focusing on the irritant, I need to focus on that person as another child of the Father whom He loves every bit as much as He loves me and seek ways to serve him or her.
  • Forbear. A former pastor used to say forbearing was just good old-fashioned putting up with each other. In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul says, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Not just forbearing, but forbearing in love. “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins,” (I Peter 4:8). Colossians 3:12-14 says, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
  • Remember that my testimony before others is at stake. “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:25). I sometimes think of Satan standing before God and accusing that Job only served God because God blessed him, but let Satan take away Job’s blessings, and he would curse God. I envision Satan saying of me, “Yes, she acts like a nice Christian at church, but let me trip her up here and there and see how she reacts.” We’re not only a testimony to others in our homes and at check-out lines, but we forget that our testimonies are as far-reaching as heaven. Rosalind Goforth was a missionary wife to China during years when the Chinese were quite suspicious of and disdainful toward “foreign devils.” To try to alleviate those feelings and establish relationships with the Chinese, the Goforths would allow crowds of the curious into their home to look around and to talk with them. This resulted in some agitation and disruption as well as theft of some of their belongings, but overall they felt it was worth it. Of one particular day, Rosalind writes:

The day had been an unusually strenuous one, and I was really very tired. Toward evening, a crowd of women burst through the living room door and came trooping in before I had time to meet them outside. One woman set herself out to make things unpleasant. She was rough and repulsive and– well, just indescribably filthy. I paid no attention to her except to treat her as courteously as the rest. But when she put both hands to her nose, saying loudly, “Oh, these foreign devils, the smell of their home is unbearable!” my temper rose in a flash and, turning on her with anger, I said, “How dare you speak like that? Leave the room!” The crowd, sensing a “storm,” fled. I heard one say, “That foreign devil woman has a temper just like ours!”

Now, I had not noticed that the door of my husband’s study was ajar, not did I know that he was inside, until, as the last woman disappeared, the door opened and he came forward, looking solemn and stern. “Rose, how could you so forget yourself?” he said. “Do you realize that just one such incident may undo months of self-sacrificing, loving service?”

“But Jonathan” I returned, “you don’t know how she — “

But he interrupted. “Yes, I do; I heard all. You certainly had reason to be annoyed; but were you justified, with all that is hanging in the balance and God’s grace to keep you patient?”

As he turned to re-enter his study, he said, “All I can say is I am disappointed!

Oh, how that last word cut me! I deserved it, yes, but, oh, I did so want to reach up to the high ideals he had. A tempestuous time followed alone in our inner room with my Lord. as I look back now, it was all just one farther step up the rocky hillside of life — just climbing! (2)*

One time when I posted Rosalind’s experience, a commenter took offense at Jonathan’s response to his wife, thinking he should have been a little more sympathetic and suggesting that the lost need to understand that we’re not perfect. But Rosalind felt that what Jonathan said and how he said it were just what she needed to bring her to conviction. A theme she deals with all through the book is her lack of love and tendency toward wanting her own way, and by the end of the book the nationals they interacted with had a much different testimony of her. Yes, lost people or new Christians need to understand that though we are changed we’re not sinless, but this was a matter of first impressions. Jonathan was right that a harsh reaction could undo much positive ministry. Though understanding her annoyance, his point was that it was not an excuse and she could have accessed God’s grace to react in a right manner.

  • The verses mentioned above in Galatians 5 say that gentleness, long-suffering, self-control, etc., are all a part of the fruit of the Spirit. Maintaining time in the Word so He can speak to me through it, yielding to His control throughout the day, memorizing verses in the areas I am having trouble with, sending out a quick prayer for help when I feel that agitation and frustration building up will all help in gaining the victory.
  • Pray. Part of a prayer I often pray from Colossians 1:9-14 is I might be “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (verse 11). That’s also a reminder to focus not just on avoiding irritation but to also cultivate the positive: longsuffering and patience with joyfulness.
  • Remember “we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:3-5, KJV). Even the little tribulations can be used by God to grow and sanctify us. Elisabeth Elliot wrote in A Lamp For My Feet (and it encourages me that she felt this way about some people, too, sometimes):

How can this person who so annoys or offends me be God’s messenger? Is God so unkind as to send that sort across my path? Insofar as his treatment of me requires more kindness than I can find in my own heart, demands love of a quality I do not possess, asks of me patience which only the Spirit of God can produce in me, he is God’s messenger. God sends him in order that he may send me running to God for help.

This is true of irritating situations and intimate objects as well as people. Like sandpaper they can help rub off our sharp edges.

  • Behold our God. II Corinthians 3:18 says we’re changed more and more into Christ’s likeness as we behold Him. When I look inside and tell myself I need to be more kind, loving, forbearing, etc., I get discouraged and fail because I don’t have it in myself. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18). But when I look at Him, that irritability seems to just melt away. “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.  The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” (Psalm 145:8-9).

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16.

___________
(1) Houghton, Frank. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur. (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 86-87.

(2) Goforth, Rosalind. Climbing. (USA: Bethel Publishing, 1940), 45-46.

(Revised from the archives)

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How to Have a Steady Soul

Unsteady.

I became well acquainted with unsteadiness after contracting transverse myelitis 23 years ago. For a few months afterward, I couldn’t walk on my own. I progressed from a walker to a cane to finally walking without support. But for a long time afterward, anything from uneven ground to someone walking by me quickly or brushing against me would throw me off balance. I had a few falls if I couldn’t grasp anything firm. Though my internal balance mechanism has vastly improved since then, I still have moments of unsteadiness now.

So the phrase “unsteady souls” stood out to me in a recent reading of 2 Peter 2 in the ESV. Other translations say unstable, unestablished, unsettled.

Peter is talking in this chapter – throughout this whole epistle, really – about false prophets and teachers. Chapter 2, verse 14 says “They entice unsteady souls.”

How do false teachers entice these souls? 1 Peter speaks of the false prophets’ sensuality, lust, greed, passion, so they “entice by sensual passions” (verse 18). James 1:14 uses the same Greek word for “entice,” which carries the idea of baiting, alluring, deceiving, when it says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” They “despise authority” (verse 10). “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption” (verse 19). They “exploit you with false words” (verse 3). They’re blasphemous (verses 10-13).

Probably most of the people who fall away to false teachers are not saved in the first place, but weak or new believers are susceptible as well. A true Christian can’t lose his or her salvation, but a believer can get tangled in false doctrines to their own confusion as well as that of everyone on their sphere of influence. But even those of us who think we’re strong need to “take heed lest we fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

How can we make sure we’re not unsteady or unstable spiritually? Peter tells us:

  • Believe on Jesus as Savior and Lord . “Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10).
  • Know His Word. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4, ESV). Know it not just for facts, but to know Him (2 Peter 1:2-3)
  • Live out God’s Word. Be doers, not just hearers. Because of the above, “make every effort to supplement your faith” with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, love (2 Peter 1:5-7, ESV)
  • Rest on the Bible’s sure foundation. Know that God’s Word is not “a cunningly devised fable,” but is a “more sure word of prophecy” than even the transfiguration Peter was an eyewitness to. (2 Peter 1:16-19, KJV)
  • Know that Scripture comes from God. “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21, ESV)
  • Look to Him. After listing several instances of punishment coming to wrongdoers, Peter assures us “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (verse 2 Peter 2:9, KJV).
  • Confess sin to Him, seek His grace to overcome and resist it: “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” (2 Peter 3:14, ESV).
  • Don’t twist the Scriptures as the unstable do. “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). The unsteady twist (wrest in the KJV) the very thing which could stabilize them. We read it in context so we understand its meaning. We don’t wrangle it to make it say what we want it to say. We don’t adjust it to us: we adjust ourselves to it.
  • Be watchful. “Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability (2 Peter 3:17, ESV).
  • Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18, ESV)
  • Listen to sound teaching. Contrast the characteristics Peter lists of false teachers in 2 Peter to what he says about godly shepherds in 1 Peter 5. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Seek to feed our souls His truth rather than feeding our own desires.

Jesus said the one who hears his words and does them is like a man who built his house on a rock which was unshaken by winds and flood waters.

So we watch ourselves, that we’re not being led away of wrong desires. We read and listen to God’s Word as it’s written, in context, not trying to twist it. We listen to pastors and teachers who faithfully proclaim God’s Word. We we obey it. We get to know our Savior better and better and remind ourselves of His truth. and we keep growing spiritually. Doing all of these things might bring persecution, which Peter discusses often in both of his letters. But we can trust God to keep us and deliver us.

Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. Psalm 119:133, ESV

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The Ministry of the Mundane

One morning I chafed over having to go to the grocery store – again. I had just gone the day before, but that store didn’t have everything I needed, plus we were getting ready for company and needed a few extras. I groused inwardly about spending way too much of my life in stores and how I had other things I’d much rather be doing.

All of a sudden the thought came to mind, “She bringeth her food from afar.”

You might recognize that as part of the Proverbs 31 woman‘s description. In fact, a lot of what she did was everyday, seemingly mundane stuff: planting, cooking, sewing, weaving, buying, selling. In those days, with no Amazon, super Wal-Marts, or even grocery or clothing stores, most of what she made for herself, her family, and her home was done by hand, from scratch.

Thankfully I don’t have to weave my own cloth. I don’t even have to go too much “afar” to gather my food. We have four grocery stores within a ten-minute drive, and all but one of them lets customers order online and pick up their groceries curbside. So I really don’t have anything to complain about.

It helps me to realize, or remember, that gathering and preparing food is part of what I am supposed to do. Somebody has to do it. My husband doesn’t mind going to the store for me sometimes, but I don’t like to ask him since he already works more than 40 hours a week and then has yard work and house maintenance on top of that.

But realizing it’s part of my job helps me not to chafe: this is just as important as anything else that seems more valuable. It’s part of my ministry to my family.

I’ve wondered why so much of life is made of the mundane. A friend who was a missionary said that when she first went to the field, she had no idea she would be spending so much time in the kitchen. I remember Elisabeth Elliot writing about dealing with a recalcitrant stove or heater and wondering at how much time, especially in a third world country, is made up of such activities. I remember hearing a missionary lady once say that in her country, they still had milkmen pick up their empty milk bottles, and part of her testimony and reputation involved having clean milk bottles out on her porch at the appointed time.

As I have been pondering these things the last few days, I came up with a few possible reasons so many mundane tasks.

The rubber meets the road in those everyday duties. It’s easy to think about loving and serving our fellow man or woman while at home in a quiet, pleasant room with our Bibles. It’s another thing when our fleshly nature bumps up against each other in the real world.

A good work ethic is a testimony to others. Luther was purported to have said, “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.” This article disputes that. I understand the article’s view that it’s not something Luther would have said, but I don’t totally agree with their logic. Perhaps you’ve known someone who thought they served God better by witnessing to people than by doing their job. But we’re admonished to do our work “heartily, as unto the Lord.” We’ve all experienced the pangs of faulty workmanship, employees or even ministry partners who do a slipshod job, creating problems and frustration for fellow-workers, bosses, customers. Sure, we have Mary and Martha‘s example, and we know it’s possible to have wrong priorities, and we need to set aside the earthly for the heavenly sometimes. But when it’s time to work, it’s time to do it well and efficiently.

These tasks teach patience, endurance, perseverance, fortitude, service, thoughtfulness of others.

I can’t do even these things in the right way and spirit without God’s help and grace. I just stumbled across this quote in my files from Oswald Chambers (source unknown): “The things Jesus did were the most menial of tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did?” God filled the workmen of the tabernacle with “the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship.” He goes on to say, “I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6, ESV).

Ministry to others can be shown through the mundane. Someone said of Francis and Edith Shaeffer, “As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer’s cinnamon buns as through Dr. Schaeffer’s sermons!” Practical help is just as needful as spiritual help.

When Amy Carmichael’s ministry began to change from evangelism to caring for children, she questioned whether God had really called her to be a “nursemaid” when there were so many other needs and ways she could be used. “It was then that she read the words from John 13, how the Lord of glory ‘took a towel and girded Himself.’…never again did she question whether her gifts were being wasted. She knew that the Master never wastes the servant’s time.” (Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton)

Mr. Houghton also writes that, “Occasionally someone suggested that character-training of boys and girls…or, still more, the erection of buildings to house them, was not evangelistic work, and therefore not worthy of support.” Amy wrote, “Well, one cannot save and then pitchfork souls into heaven…and as for buildings, souls (in India, at least) are more or less securely fastened into bodies. Bodies cannot be left to lie about in the open, and as you cannot get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together.”

We don’t always necessarily have to be doing anything “spiritual” to show forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite blogger friends writes about what’s going on in her home and family, but even in her homemaking tasks she reflects the spirit of a woman who walks closely with God. She’s not trying to show that: it just shines through her. In everything she shows “a sense of Him.”

Perhaps, too, the weight of physical, everyday tasks is a reminder that we live in a physical world with limitations and constant needs. That reminder increases our anticipation and longing for the day we’ll be released from these bodies and this world.

At any rate, my perspective changed that day. I had no thought of Labor Day when I first started compiling these thoughts, but perhaps it’s appropriate on this particular day to remind ourselves that “In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23, NASB).

I still need to remind myself frequently that my physical tasks are as needful and important as any type of ministry task. I can do them as unto the Lord. Sure, there are ways I can improve: e.g, planning better can help reduce the number of trips to the store. And I still have plenty of time for things like reading and writing – much more time than the Proverbs 31 woman had. But I can serve, as she did, with strength, dignity, industriousness, kindness, and reverence. Even at the grocery store.

(Sharing with Inspire Me MondayLiterary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Goals for the Second Half

There’s always something to look forward to just beyond the horizon.

When we were children, we looked forward to high school and driver’s licenses. Then we couldn’t wait for dating and college. Then we longed for marriage and children.

Perhaps your life track has run a different course: perhaps your goals were tenure at your university, or making partner at your firm. Personal and professional goals intertwined.

And if God grants all of those gifts, we look forward to still more.

When we reach somewhere between age 40 and 50, we realize we’re at about the halfway point, if everything goes well. Soon we’ll be in the “second half” of life, with more days behind us than ahead of us. But there are still things we want to do. Some look forward to traveling during the “empty nest” years. Others finally projects off the back burner. We want to see our grandchildren grow, develop, learn, marry, and have children. We want to be here to have a part in influencing them for the Lord.

A few weeks ago, I was arrested by a couple of verses in the psalms reflecting the writer’s purpose for his remaining years:

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come.
Psalm 71:17-18, ESV

I recently read of a man who was active in public ministry all his life. When his wife developed Alzheimer’s, he took care of her as long as he could at home. When she needed more care than he could give, she went to an assisted living facility. But he did not want the two of them to be separated: he joined her. He has an active ministry there leading Bible studies and services and talking with residents.

When my mother-in-law was in a memory care unit, I would feel somewhat down long after leaving the facility after visiting her. I can’t imagine voluntarily living in such a place while still in your right mind.

I think of this man’s national and even international ministries contrasted with his life now. His ministry is not evaluated by how many people he is reaching. He is faithfully serving the Lord right where he is supposed to be.

Many of us find that our “older years” turn out quite different from what we had expected due to illness (ours or our spouse’s), parents’ or children’s needs, financial considerations, or any number of issues. But wherever He has put us, we can proclaim His might and His power. We can share those with everyone, but the psalm above particularly speaks of “another generation…those to come.”

One generation shall commend your works to another,
    and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
    and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
    and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

Psalm 145:4-7, ESV

Psalm 78 also speaks of “things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us,” telling “to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done,” “that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (verses 2-7).

We can tell the next generation (whether our own descendants or others God brings across our path) the history of how God has worked in the lives of His people, as Psalm 78 goes on to do. We can share His Word, His law, His grace. And we can also share our Ebenezers, testimonies of how He ministered to us and provided for us. We can assure them that He is not just a God afar off in history, but He is God here and now, active in our lives and theirs.

Moses’s prayer in Psalm 90 asks God in the midst of the flying years (verse 10) to “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (verse 12). Moses concludes:

Let your work be shown to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands!
Psalm 90:16-17, ESV

It was down at the feet of Jesus,
O the blessed, happy day!
Where my soul found peace in believing,
And my sins were washed away.

It was down at the feet of Jesus,
Where I found such perfect rest,
Where the light first dawned on my spirit,
And my soul was fully blest.

It was down at the feet of Jesus,
Where I brought my guilt and sin,
That he paid my debt and forgave me,
For He died my soul to win.

Refrain:

Let me tell the old, old story
Of His grace so full and free;
Let my heart keep giving Him the glory
For His wondrous love to me.

~ Original words by Elisha Hoffman

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

“A Heart at Leisure From Itself”

We all need encouragement some times. We all occasionally feel down in the dumps, or inadequate, even ugly. We have an enemy of our souls who specializes in tripping us up and bringing us down.

The KJV rendering of Proverbs 12:25 says, “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.” We know the blessing of that “good word” that meets us just at the right time in our moment of need. I am thankful for the encouragers among us who, sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, specialize in thoughtful observation and uplifting words.

However, I have seen women Bible teachers express concern over the plethora of material for Christian women which is based on emotion and self-esteem: “You are beautiful.” “You are wonderful.” “You are enough.” There are a handful of blogs I only read occasionally because every single post seems to espouse these messages.

I share that concern, for a few reasons. As I said, we all need a boost every now and then. But this kind of encouragement focuses on self, and the sheer volume of these messages makes me wonder whether we are altogether too preoccupied with self. And if Christian leaders and teachers are constantly feeding us esteem-building maxims, we’re lacking the teaching we most need: that which turns our attention to God and His truth. And, just occasionally, these kinds of message are wrong: for instance, as we discussed last week, we are not enough in ourselves.

Please understand: I am not trying to heap guilt on top of other negative feelings. I’m just turning our attention to a better focus and message. When we’re bombarded by self-defeating thoughts, we need to take them captive and apply God’s truth to them.

I am ugly. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14, ESV.  “And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD.” Ezekiel 16:14

I am worthless. “Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19

I am inadequate. “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God. 2 Corinthians 3:5

I am not enough. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5

I am not lovable. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Personally, a lot of my self-esteem issues were solved once I truly got hold of the KJV translations of Ephesians 1:6: “He hath made us accepted in the beloved.

Some years ago at a leaders meeting for a church ladies’ group, the pastor’s wife was encouraging us to speak up when we each did our various parts during the meeting. She mentioned almost offhandedly that “Self-consciousness is consciousness of self, and we are supposed to forget self.” That was another concept that helped me turn from my preoccupations with self (which increased anxiety about messing up in some way) to forgetting self in doing what God wanted me to do in the moment, trusting Him for the grace and ability.

Last week I caught a couple of Elisabeth Elliot’s radio broadcasts, replayed now on BBN Radio, in which she was talking about these very ideas. When I stopped the car, I jotted down some notes from her broadcast before I got out to run my errands. I was so hoping I could find a transcript of the program online, but I have had no luck so far.  In searching, however, I did find the September/October 1999 copy of her newsletter in which she discussed related issues. She quotes C. S. Lewis as saying:

The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new
self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him…The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it.
Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in. (She quotes from Beyond Personality, but a similar quote is in Mere Christianity as well).

She also includes a few stanzas of this poem/prayer by Anna Laetitia Waring. Two lines which most stood out to me are the author’s request for “a heart at leisure from itself, To soothe and sympathise” and “And a life of self-renouncing love Is a life of liberty.”

I also have in my files a quote from one of Elisbaeth’s old email devotionals that were sent out by Back to the Bible years ago. This one is also from her book Keep a Quiet Heart:

“His purpose in dying for all was that men, while still in life, should cease to live for themselves and should live for him who for their sakes died and was raised to life. With us therefore worldly standards have ceased to count in our estimate of any man…. When anyone is united to Christ, there is a new world (or a new act of creation); the old order has gone, and a new order has already begun” (2 Corinthians 5:15-17, NEB).

That new order is a far cry from the notion of self-acceptance which has taken hold of the minds of many Christians. Any message which makes the Cross redundant is anti-Christian. The original sin, pride, is behind my “poor self-image,” for I felt that I deserved better than I got, which is exactly what Eve felt! So it was pride, not poor self-image, that had to go. If I’m so beautiful and lovable, what was Jesus doing up there, nailed to the cross and crowned with thorns? Why all that hideous suffering for the pure Son of God? Here’s why: There was no other way to deliver us from the hell of our own proud self-loving selves, no other way out of the bondage of self-pity and self-congratulation. How shall we take our stand beneath the cross of Jesus and continue to love the selves that put Him there? How can we survey the wondrous cross and at the same time feed our pride? No. It won’t work. Jesus put it simply: If you want to be My disciple, you must leave self behind, take up the cross, and follow Me.

I also remember Elisbaeth commenting on the radio program that what we sometimes think of as self-hate is actually self-love, because so much of our thought and time is still caught up with self.

Please understand, again, all this talk about forgetting self and dying to self doesn’t mean we neglect self-care. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and we take care of them in thankfulness to Him and for His usefulness. He wants us to glorify Him in our body and spirit. Sometimes we need help with twisted or negative self-talk or self-concepts due to abuse, or a lifetime of put-downs, or other reasons. But the best way to heal from these things is to see what God’s Word says about how He made us and how much He loves us and how He longs to work in and through us. As Robert Murray McCheyne said, “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”

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(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories)

Book Review: Full Assurance

For several years I struggled with whether or not I was really a Christian. During that time we visited my mother-in-law’s home, and I discovered on her book shelves Full Assurance by H. A. Ironside. I borrowed it, and it helped me with one key point in particular.

Recently while looking for something else on my bookshelf, I came across this volume again (I guess that means I never gave it back – sorry, Mom!) I couldn’t remember much about it except for the one point that had helped me so much some 30 or so years before, so I decided to read through it again.

Ironside says in his introduction that he wrestled with assurance for a while himself, and he wanted to “make as plain as I possibly can just how any troubled soul may find settled peace with God” (p. 7). He said that “so many people who profess to want help along these lines are too indifferent to investigate,” but he wanted to appeal to “earnest seekers after truth” (p. 7). He assures that God cares about us and wants us to rest in His salvation.

In subsequent chapters he unpacks several verses that speak specifically of assurance, like Isaiah 32:17 (“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever”) and Colossians 2:1-3 (especially verse 2: “That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding“).

Then his longest chapter deals with “Difficulties Which Hinder Full Assurance” in the form of questions and answers, like “How can I be sure I have repented enough?” and “I do not feel fit to come to God” and “I don’t know if I can hold out.”

Ironside had been a preacher for almost 50 years at the time of this writing, and he deftly handles every issue from the Scriptures and shares several anecdotes to illustrate his points.

The point I mentioned having trouble with was whether I had repented “right” or “enough.” Forgive the long quote, but I wanted to share his whole answer here:

Very often the real difficulty arises from a misapprehension of the meaning of repentance. There is no salvation without repentance, but it is important to see exactly what is meant by this term. It should not be confused with penitence, which is sorrow for sin; nor with penance, which is an effort to make some satisfaction for sin; nor yet with reformation, which is turning from sin. Repentance is a change of attitude toward sin, toward self, and toward God. The original word (in the Greek Testament) literally means “a change of mind.” This is not a mere intellectual change of viewpoint, however. but a complete reversal of attitude.

Now test yourself in this way. You once lived in sin and loved it. Do you now desire deliverance from it? You were once self-confident and trusting in your own fancied goodness. Do you now judge yourself as a sinner before God? You once sought to hide from God and rebelled against His authority. Do you now look up to Him, desiring to know Him, and to yield yourself to Him? If you can honestly answer yes to these questions, you have repented. Your attitude is altogether different to what it once was.

You confess you are a sinner, unable to cleanse your own soul, and you are willing to be saved in God’s way. This is repentance. And remember, it is not the amount of repentance that counts: it is the fact that you turn from self to God that puts you in the place where His grace avails through Jesus Christ.

Strictly speaking, not one of us has ever repented enough. None of us has realized the enormity of our guilt as God sees it. But when we judge ourselves and trust the Saviour whom He has provided, we are saved through His merits. As recipients of His lovingkindness, repentance will be deepened and will continue day by day, as we learn more of His infinite worth and our own unworthiness (pp. 89-90).

One other point that I remember being struck with, though I can’t find now the specific place he discusses it, is from Hebrews 6:11-12: “And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Showing “diligence to full assurance” helped me understand that when we’re having problems along this line, we need to “be not slothful” but diligently seek God’s Word for the answers rather letting doubts and questions fester in the background for years.

I have many places marked in the book. Here are a few of the helpful, standout quotes:

It is well to remember that some vivid emotional experience is not a safe ground of assurance. It is the blood of Christ that makes us safe and the Word of God that makes us sure” (p. 29).

Faith is not the savior. Faith is the hand that lays hold of Him who does save. Therefore the folly of talking of weak faith as opposed to strong faith. The feeblest faith in Christ is saving faith. The strongest faith in self, or something other than Christ, is but a delusion and a snare, and will leave the soul at last unsaved and forever forlorn (p. 39).

Assurance is not based upon any emotional change, but whatever emotional experience there may be, it will be the result of accepting the testimony of the Lord given in the Scriptures. Faith rests on the naked Word of God. That Word believed gives full assurance (p. 45).

So long as a man considers himself worthy there is no salvation for him; but when, in repentance, he owns his unworthiness, there is immediate deliverance for him through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Without repentance the sinner is unable to believe unto salvation (pp. 91-92).

Many times Ironside counsels readers to study the Bible:

As soon as one knows he is saved, he should begin, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, a careful regular, systematic study of the Word of God. The Bible is our Father’s letter to us, His redeemed children. We should value it as that which reveals His mind and indicates the way in which He would have us walk. ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:16-17). The study of the Word will instruct me in the truth, it will show me what needs to be rectified in my life and walk, it will make clear how I may get right with God, and it will guide me in paths of uprightness. No Christian can afford to neglect his Bible. If he does, he will be stunted and dwarfed in his spiritual life, and he will be a prey to doubts and fears, and may be carried away by every wind of doctrine (p. 48).

Nothing will make up for lack of this diligent study of the Bible for yourself. You cannot get the full assurance of understanding without it. But as you search the Scriptures, you will find truth after truth unfolding in a wonderful way, so that doubts and questions will be banished and divinely given certainty will take their place (p. 50).

How necessary then for His redeemed ones to study His Word in dependence upon His Holy Spirit, that they may be delivered both from the fears that are a result of ignorance of His truth and pride that is a result of self-confidence. The liberating Word alone will give to the honest, yielded soul who searches it prayerfully, in order that it shall have sway over his life, the full assurance of understanding, for it is written: ‘The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple'” (p. 54).

There’s a very helpful section for those fearing they might not be “elect” or “predestined,” but it’s about three pages long, too long to share here. But one excerpt: “But what does the Word say? ‘Christ died for the ungodly.’ Are you ungodly? Then He died for you. Put in your claim and enter into peace” (p. 92).

I have seen this book listed by various titles just Full Assurance, or Full Assurance: How to Know You’re Saved; Full Assurance, or A Series of Messages for the Anxious Soul, and the author’s name sometimes listed as Harry A., most times as H. A. Ironside. I assume they are all basically the same book, but I don’t know whether there might have been some revisions between reprintings. The copy I have is from 1968, but it says it is a revised edition. If you look at Kindle versions, check the reviews first: one I came across said that several chapters were left out.

This book is an excellent resource especially for those who have wrestled with assurance of salvation or those who counsel such people, but it is also a good resource for those who want to learn more about what salvation is or for those who are already saved to understand and appreciate more what their salvation involves.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday ,Let’s Have Coffee, Carole’s Books You Loved)

You are not enough

I keep seeing the same message all over the place: “You are enough.” I’m sure people mean it as an encouragement. Sometimes we feel broken down, inadequate, criticized, unsure of ourselves, and dear encouragers want to lift us up by assuring us, “You can do this! You are enough!”

But the thing is, I know I am not enough.

Apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. Romans 7:18

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. Isaiah 64:6

I know, because the Bible tells me. I know, because I have tried in my own strength and failed.

But thankfully, the story doesn’t stop there.

And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord God. Ezekiel 16:14

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God. 2 Corinthians 3:5

God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 1 Peter 1:3-4

Ye are complete in him, Colossians 2:10, KJV

For a while when I was facing a task that I felt was particularly beyond me, it helped to reduce 2 Corinthians 9:8 to a few words to carry with me and remind me what God had promised: All grace. All sufficiency. All things. All times.

Sometimes as Christians encouraging Christians, we take God’s grace and help for granted when we assure others, “You are enough.” We think, “Well yes, of course it’s understood that we are only enough in His strength. Of course they know that.”

But we shouldn’t gloss over or take for granted that wonderful truth that God enables us to do His will when we abide in Christ. Sure, sometimes we need a boost of confidence or a switch from a negative to positive attitude. But we need to remind ourselves every day that we can only do His will by His grace and power. We need to consciously depend on Him. And when we achieve success, we need to remember that it came from Him, thank Him, and give Him the glory.

If you have blogged this phrase recently, please don’t be offended or think I am “getting after” or “correcting” you. I am not “blogging at” anyone in particular and have not kept track of the places I have seen this phrase. I’ve just been pondering the concept, and the Daily Light on the Daily Path selection for August 9 dovetailed with my own thinking. I wanted to share what was on my heart.

So what would some better encouraging phrases?

If this is God’s will, He will help you.

You can do all things through Christ. He will strengthen you.

God’s got this!

Or just quote 2 Corinthians 9:8.

What phrases encourage you yet keep the focus on God?

I Need Thee Every Hour

by Annie, S. Hawks, 1872

I need thee every hour,
most gracious Lord;
no tender voice like thine
can peace afford.

I need thee every hour,
stay thou near by;
temptations lose their power
when thou art nigh.

I need thee every hour,
in joy or pain;
come quickly, and abide,
or life is vain.

I need thee every hour;
teach me thy will,
and thy rich promises
in me fulfill.

I need thee, O I need thee;
every hour I need thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to thee.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

Toward a Quiet Soul

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?

Have you ever felt disquieted?

Three times the psalmist asked himself why he is cast down and disquieted (Psalm 42:5, 11 and 43:5). The ESV says “in turmoil”; the NASB uses “disturbed.” Other translations say “sad,” “restless,” “upset.” But “disquieted” aptly includes all kinds of disturbances.

The Hebrew word translated “disquieted” in those two psalms includes these definitions:

“To murmur, growl, roar, cry aloud, mourn, rage, sound, make noise, tumult, be clamorous, be disquieted, be loud, be moved, be troubled, be in an uproar, to roar, to be in a stir, be in a commotion, to be boisterous, be turbulent.”

Ever felt any of those?

Each of those times the psalmists asks himself why he is disquieted, he answers himself, “hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.

That’s the course of many of the psalms. The writer has no peace of mind for various reasons: enemies are after him; sin weighs on his conscious; wicked people are prospering at the expense of the righteous. I love the honesty of the psalmists’ emotions as they lay out their dilemmas and questions before God. And gradually, as they remind themselves of what they know about their God and put their situation in the proper perspective, their souls return to peace, to rest.

Psalm 107 speaks of a physical storm, but there are parallels to a spiritual, emotional, or mental storm as well.:

Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. Psalm 107:28-30, KJV

We’re always glad when peace and quietness reign after any storm.

A quiet soul is not a result of Zen-like tranquility or an emptying of the mind. It’s not a mystical state. It comes from deliberately, consciously reminding ourselves of God’s love, wisdom, promises, and power and resting in Him. Whatever we’re going through, God has a reason for it and will give us grace to deal with it.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalm 131:2, ESV

It’s fine to pray for calm circumstances.

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 1 Timothy 2:1-2, ESV

God doesn’t always remove the problems, but He gives His peace. I once saw a saying on a plaque that said, “Sometimes God calms the storm: sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child.”

But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil. Proverbs 1:33, KJV

A quiet soul is not passive, but actively resting in God.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling…Isaiah 30:15, ESV

A quiet soul can go from God’s Word and prayer into everyday life, still trusting and resting.

But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-13, ESV

For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12, ESV

But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious, 1 Peter 3:4, ESV

Having a quiet spirit does not mean one is silent or mousy: it doesn’t quell exuberance. It’s a quietness of rest and peace. It’s not stirred up in a wrong way over the wrong things.

It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:26, KJV

And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. . Isaiah 32:17, ESV

Sometimes God has to disquiet us before He can quiet us. Sometimes we need to be shaken out of our complacency or chastened. Jonah was disturbed at God’s calling for him and tried to run away. God dealt with him rather severely. In Jonah’s prayer in the fish’s belly, he laments:

For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me (verse 3, ESV).

The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains (verses 5-6, ESV).

But when his “life was fainting away,” he “remembered the Lord” (verse 7), prayed, thanked God, and promised to fulfill his vows. God delivered him, and Jonah went on to obey God. Unfortunately, Jonah continued to have attitude problems and never did seem to come to truly rest in the Lord, at least in this book. The end result of chastening rightly received is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:5-13).

I originally wanted to publish this post last week, but felt strongly impressed to go with a different one instead. I think one of the reasons for waiting was that God knew I would come across two quotes in my reading this week that tied in with this topic.

H. A. Ironside said in his book Full Assurance:

As one walks with God, and learns to suffer and endure as seeing Him who is invisible, eternal things become more real than the things of time and sense, which are everything to the merely natural man. Thus there comes to the heart a trustful calm, a full assurance, based not alone on the revealed Word but upon a personal knowledge of communion with God, which gives implicit confidence as to this present life and all that lies ahead. (pp. 59-60, emphasis mine).

Then the ESV Study Bible says of Psalm 62:1-2:

The description of a trusting soul is there to set an ideal for God’s people: each one should aspire to this kind of quiet faith (p. 1011).

And the introduction to Psalm 63 in the ESV Study Bible says:

This psalm opens as if it were a lament, seeking God in a time of trouble; and yet the overall flow of the song is one of confident expectation. Hence it is best to see the psalm as enabling each of God’s people to develop confidence during their times of trouble (p. 1012).

Whatever the source of our trouble – God’s chastening or growing us, outward circumstances or inward turmoil – we can rest in His presence, wisdom, love, care, and provision.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness;  he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17, ESV

He Will Quiet You

In this life, there are times of tribulation;
Hearts are filled with deep despair.
Heartache and pain and troubles abound;
Is there comfort anyway?
In your times of trial,
Lift your eyes to the Father above
He alone is the Answer,
The Source of please and love.

He will quiet you,
He will quiet you.
He will take delight in you,
And quiet you with his love.
His plans for you are perfect
And all His ways are best.
He will give you rest
As He quiets you with his love

He longs to take you into his arms,
And gently shelter you.
Only He can calm the storms in your life,
And give you peace anew.
And He will rejoice,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
He will rejoice,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
The Creator of all will lift up His voice;
And over your life
He will sing and rejoice!
He will rejoice!
He will rejoice!

He will quiet you,
He will quiet you.
He will take delight in you
And quiet you with his love.

His plans for you are perfect
And all His ways are best.
He will give you rest
As He quiets you with his love.
Come to Him for rest
Let Him quiet you with his love.

~ Words and music by Cindy Berry

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)