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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Finding Calm in the Tumult


“Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, 
it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints.”
1 Corinthians 13:4,5 (Common English Bible)

An annual childhood tradition that comes to mind, whenever I read this passage of scripture, is the Atlanta Boat Show. Naturally, as is true with boat shows today, this was an opportunity for manufacturers to exhibit new boats and related products and advance boating as a recreational pursuit. The entire, weeklong event was designed to be attractive to all ages, particularly families with young children. Plastic toy boats and other brightly colored toys were plentiful, all free in the sixties and early seventies, to ensure that children would not become bored as vendors sought to seduce the parents into making a major purchase. Inexpensive and tasty food was plentiful and various recreational activities ensured that this annual event was one not to be missed. My brother, Wayne and I marked our calendars each year for this event.

The one activity Wayne and I looked forward to the most was trout fishing. A rather large, artificial pond was placed inside the exhibit center filled with hungry trout. If you have ever experienced an Alaskan wild salmon run from June through September, you get the picture. You could not drop a fishing line without hitting a trout. And that was the point. For a nominal fee, children could trout fish with a virtual guarantee of a successful catch. That is precisely why this passage from 1 Corinthians reminds me of the Atlanta Boat Show – or specifically, trout fishing at that event; the passage is rich with wisdom and truth. Drop a line anywhere in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians and you are going to catch something.

There is present today, in our nation, political disagreements that have risen to an unhealthy state – one where the strains and tensions easily throw us into emotional turmoil and which are inevitably fatal to our peace of mind. Each of us is easily upset and friendships, once seemly located on solid ground, seem fragile. Quite simply, we all seem to have become irritable. How, in this trying political climate, can we recover our emotional poise? Is it possible to recover a sense of personal calm in the present tumult? Located in this passage is our pathway. Here, we are asked to change the conversation, to recall our baptism that is placed squarely in the love of Jesus Christ. Politically, we may disagree. Yet, in our baptism we find common ground in the Lordship of Jesus – a Lordship that calls us to withdraw from the noise and tension of daily life and focus our energies on acts of worship and prayer.

The phrase, “it isn’t irritable”, is not offered as a command. It is identified as the natural consequence of turning our hearts and mind and will to Jesus, surrendering all our desires to knowing Jesus and providing our life as a channel for Jesus’ love to flow into all our relationships. Angst and anger in the present political climate of our country is the result of living in a miserably restricted area surrounded only by our own feelings of what is right and protecting our own interest. The natural result is irritability when others disagree – when others live in a different, but equally miserable, restricted area. 1 Corinthians 13 asks that we prevent our world from becoming small by cleaving to Christ, by focusing our thoughts on the deep center of our baptism – the love of Jesus. As we move to that deep center God will restore calm in the midst of tumult.

Joy,





Friday, October 5, 2018

Our Failure With Prayer


“Early in the morning, well before sunrise, 
Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.”
Mark 1:35 (Common English Bible)

            A little boy once explained to his minister that he didn’t say his prayers every night because “some nights I don’t want anything.” Many of us are like that little boy. Our view of prayer is a limited one, reduced to asking God for something. Certainly, Jesus invited us to take our request to God in prayer. But that is not all Jesus taught – or demonstrated in his own life – about the subject of prayer. The consequence of an inadequate understanding of prayer is felt in our own lack of spiritual power. We are troubled by doubt, by fear, and by a sense of weakness to make any real difference in a world of brokenness and need. We miss much of the strength God would provide us through a more expansive understanding – and practice – of prayer.

            In this teaching from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had just finished a hard, demanding day meeting the needs of numerous people. Another awaited him. How could Jesus be ready for it? The answer is right here in this one sentence of scripture; “Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.” Conspicuously absent is any record of the content of Jesus’ prayer. In other prayers that Jesus offered, we are told the substance of the prayer. Perhaps the most familiar prayer is the one Jesus offered the night he was betrayed by Judas, arrested, and placed on trial during the night. It is a prayer that is familiar because we have offered it so often ourselves: “Take this suffering from me.” But here, in this account of Jesus at prayer, we are not allowed in on the conversation. All we know is that Jesus got up early in the morning to be alone with God.

            This little verse teaches more about prayer than most realize. Rather than distract us with the actual dialog between Jesus and God, we are left only with the fact that it was important to Jesus to be alone with God. Before another day of ministry, before another day of addressing the great need of the world, Jesus addressed his own need to be alone with God. Regular time alone with God was the source of Jesus’ incredible spiritual power. Here, Jesus teaches us that prayer is more than our formal presentation to God of our various needs. Prayer is a demonstration of a life that is lived with God. Our failure with prayer is that we have reduced prayer to asking rather than understanding that prayer is a real and vital relationship with the divine.

            Mark has one additional insight on the wisdom of prayer before we leave this story. Moving the narrative quickly along, we are told that Simon and the other disciples tracked Jesus down, told Jesus that other people, with their various needs, have gathered looking for Jesus, and that Jesus surprises the disciples by announcing that he is going in the other direction. What is apparent is that time alone with God in prayer supplied Jesus with more than spiritual power. Prayer infused Jesus with fresh clarity and focus upon God’s intention for Jesus. Jesus was now to go to the nearby villages so that he may preach there also. “That’s why I’ve come,” Jesus declared. It is easy to respond to the “asks” of those around us, people asking us to meet their needs. It is the greater wisdom to discern God’s intention for us, in prayer, and to respond faithfully. 

Joy,