Buried Treasure

You who see yourself as buried, forgotten rubbish, good as dead, worthless, hopeless. Can you see yourself, not as buried waste, but as buried treasure? A treasure worth, to God, his very life.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Matthew 13:44 (NIV)

I have always seen this verse interpreted, and thought of it myself, as us finding the treasure of Jesus. And then going off and selling all that we have and following him, like Jesus recommended to the “rich young ruler” in Matthew 19:21 (NIV).

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

But this time, as I read Matthew 13:24-44, I saw something else. Previously, in these verses, Jesus is comparing his people, his chosen, as good wheat planted in a field (this world), and the “sons of the evil one” as weeds. What if the treasure found in the field is us too? What if the good wheat and the hidden treasure are the same? And what if the man who finds the hidden treasure and goes away and sells all he has to buy the field is Jesus?

Yes, I believe and know and am joyfully grateful that Jesus is my Treasure, my “Pearl of great price,” worth everything I am and own. But, I am seeing that I am his treasure too. The treasure he came to find. The treasure for which he gave up everything to buy back, to redeem. The treasure that he can rightfully claim as his.

… Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. Titus 2:13b-14 (NASB)

The Greek word translated “possession” in the above verse is periousios, which means peculiar in the sense of special, or one’s own. H. Preisker has written that “Christ’s work of redemption has created for God a people that is a costly possession or special treasure.”[i] A treasure for whom Jesus joyfully went and “sold” all he had, for whom he sacrificed all.

… who for the joy set before him endured the cross … (Hebrews 12:2)

.. who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8 NASB)

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV)

You were bought at a price. (1 Corinthians 6:20 NIV)

Can you see yourself as a special treasure? You who see yourself as buried, forgotten rubbish, good as dead, worthless, hopeless. Can you see yourself, not as buried waste, but as buried treasure? A treasure worth, to God, his very life. A treasure he has pulled up out of that hole in the ground. A treasure who has, through his death on the cross, been resurrected out of the grave to new life, new value, new hope. You, yes you, are his precious treasure.

“You [Jesus] are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Revelation 5:9 (NIV)

 

Photo by Puuikibeach on flickr.com https://flic.kr/p/DyTeW1

This post is also available as a Bible study, freely available for use at Buried Treasure Bible Study

 

[i] Preisker, Herbert, “periousios,” in Gerhard Friedrich, ed., and Geoffrey Bromiley, trans. and ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), VI, p. 57.

I will throw my net over them

… I will throw my net over them … Hosea 7:11 (NLT)

In the book of Hosea the Lord God laments over the sins of his people. In one place he says “Oh Israel and Judah what should I do with you?”[i] As a Mom this sounds very familiar to me. I think I have said that, or something very similar to my kids several times in frustration, “What am I going to do with you?”

Sometimes we look at the God of the Old Testament as different from Jesus. We only see the punishments, the judgments, the prophesies of enemies overtaking and dragging away. And that appears in Hosea. But, as I read chapters six and seven, I saw something else, very heartbreaking, but very wonderful and redeeming.

In the midst of God’s chastisements and listing of all Israel’s sins, he cries out three times from the pain and love of his heart.

I wanted so much to restore …

I wanted to heal …

I wanted to redeem …[ii]

But, they rejected God, they turned away to other gods, they rebelled. God grieves, “… no one cries out to me for help.”[iii] It all sounds so impossible, so despairing, so final.

But there in the middle there is this wonderful phrase. “I will throw my net over them.” This reminded me of Jesus on the shore calling to the disciples, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

Jesus, the Great Fisherman, God in the flesh come to throw his net over us. God’s father-heart of mercy and love, God’s zeal to pursue and save us on full display. So, Jesus came-

To restore

To heal

To redeem

To pursue and catch us in His net of Everlasting Love

Oh Lord God, I cry out to you! I want to turn back to you. I am lost and floundering in the waves. Forgive me of my sins. Throw your loving net over me. And bring me into your Presence.

Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him. So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. Hosea 6:1-3 (NASB)

[i] Hosea 6:4

[ii] Hosea 6:11, 7:1, 7:13

[iii] Hosea 7:7

For more about God’s loving net see Imprisoned

Image, Casting a fishing net, by vakibs, https://www.flickr.com/photos/vakibs/5395469892/

Captured

During a bible study at the jail I mentioned to a woman that we are all the same in God’s eyes, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She responded, “Yeah, we just got caught.”

“No man’s really any good till he knows how bad he is, or might be; till he’s realised exactly how much right he has to all this snobbery, and sneering, and talking about ‘criminals,’ as if they were apes in a forest ten thousand miles away; … till he’s squeezed out of his soul the last drop of the oil of the Pharisees; till his only hope is somehow or other to have captured one criminal, and kept him safe and sane under his own hat.” Father Brown in G.K. Chesterton’s The Secret of Father Brown, 1927

The above quote reminded me of a conversation I had with a woman at the jail recently. During a bible study I mentioned that we are all the same in God’s eyes, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She responded, “Yeah, we just got caught.”

Funny, but true. Jesus made it clear who the criminals are.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:21-22 (NIV)

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27 (NIV)

In our natural selves we are all caught. Caught in the act. We are all criminals. But Jesus came to capture us in our captivity to sin. He told Peter, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). That word translated “catching” is zogreo (ζωγρέω) and literally means to capture or take alive. At its very root is the Greek word ago (ἄγω ) which means “to lead by accompanying to (or into) a place.” “To take alive” sounds fearful, but his heart is always mercy and love. He captures us to lead us to that place of salvation and peace.

When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives (he led captivity captive), and he gave gifts to his people. Ephesians 4:8 (NLT)

He led captivity captive. He captured the captives – we who are captured by our sin, slaves to the enemy of our souls. Yes, it’s true we are all criminals that need to be captured, but Father Brown was wrong about one thing. We can’t do it ourselves. There is only One who can. There is only One who can keep us “safe and sane under our own hats.” Jesus – who was considered a criminal, though he never sinned outwardly or inwardly. He loved us and allowed himself to be captured and executed that we might be captured and set free as new creatures. We must surrender, wave the white flag, and let the Lover of our souls lead us away.

Lord, let me be in that crowd of captives. Captured by your grace.

A thousand times I’ve failed
Still your mercy remains
Should I stumble again
Still I’m caught in your grace

From the Inside Out by Joel Houston

Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew (repair, make new) our days as of old.  Lamentations 5:21 (KJV)

Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives rescued from the fierce? But this is what the LORD says: “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. Isaiah 49:24-25 (NIV)

For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (Amplified Bible)

For more on being caught in his wonderful love read Imprisoned

Photo by Jack Bair copyright 2019

Opening Windows

God doesn’t want me to close and hide what’s inside, pretending I have it all together. He’s never been big on “safe” either. He wants the windows open so His light in me can shine out, despite the interior mess it illumines.

I have done nothing but open windows – God has done all the rest … [I resolved] to be as wide open toward people and their need as I am toward God. Windows open outward as well as upward! Windows especially open downward where people need most! – Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic

He [the saint] wants himself to be simply a window through which God’s mercy shines on the world. – Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness

This idea of simply “opening the windows” was a hard one for a performance and approval junkie like me to grasp. It has been a revelation and healing to me as I tend to think I have to be wonderful, accomplish wonderful things, be perfect, be the savior somehow.

I chose the above photograph of an open window for this post because the room shown reminds me of the inside of my head, my soul – a big, falling apart, scarred, paint-peeling mess. All that indecipherable graffiti yammering away, images of bad things from my past I don’t want to remember. My instinct is to close the windows and curtain the mess – but make sure the outside looks good. And yet, God seems to want me to keep the windows open, revealing it all to every passer-by.

God’s been teaching me the amazing grace of open windows lately as I visit people at the jail. I go feeling, and confessing to God, emptiness. I have nothing to give or say to them. But as I just ask him to speak through me, pray through me, love them through me and “open the windows” His love fills me and pours out, his words and prayers come to my lips, and his Spirit fills the cell. It doesn’t matter that I am a mess. I have found that my mess ministers to their mess. They rightly see the outward attempt at perfection as hypocrisy.

God doesn’t want me to close and hide what’s inside, pretending I have it all together. He’s never been big on “safe” either. He wants the windows open so His light in me can shine out, despite the interior mess it illumines. That can only happen by his grace and when the light in me is Jesus and his love. Christ in me the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Mary accepts an unseen, unborn, and unknown love. She proclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” as if she herself knew she would be a window of grace letting through the light of God’s hidden love. – Suzanne Guthrie, Grace’s Window

Mary, the first to hold the glorious Light of Christ. The first to dare to open the window. And she proclaimed, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” “Magnifies” means to exalt, extol, laud, celebrate, declare great with my mouth. But it also means to magnify, enlarge, show great. My soul, my weakness, my falling apart mess, is a lens that magnifies God. It enlarges him to others; it shows how great he is by comparison. Like the night sky reveals the glory of the stars. All I have to do is be real, be vulnerable, let him love through me, open the window and let the Light out.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

Amazing! You are the light of the world. He was talking to us! We are the town built to have open-windowed houses. We are the lamp that has been lit by his light, and that was never meant to be hidden. The light is in you child of God. There are so many living in darkness today, living in hopelessness, thinking of (or tragically doing) suicide. They need your light.

Jesus commanded us to love as he had loved. Jesus was totally vulnerable. Jesus came to be the Light, to give hope in the darkness.

Frank Laubach said, “I have done nothing but open windows – God has done all the rest” We who have the light in us, let us open our windows.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

 

 

Image, Open Window by Keith Ellwood https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=open%20window%20keith%20ellwood

 

 

City of Refuge

I have been seeing that everything in the Bible points us to Jesus. One of the many wonderful things our Savior provides us is a refuge from the Adversary, from the roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

In ancient Israel there were places called cities of refuge (Numbers 35:13-29) that God provided for people who had killed someone without premeditation or by accident. Since the law demanded an eye for an eye (Exodus 21:24), it was a place to escape the avenger of blood, usually a relative of the person killed. There were six of these cities, placed within traveling distance from anyplace in Israel. It is wonderful to look at the hidden treasure in their names and see the foreshadowing of the Redeemer, Savior, Messiah. Below are the names of the six cities, their definitions, and verses that reveal Jesus, our City of Refuge.

Shechem = “back” or “shoulder” as a place of burdens

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Luke 15:4-5 (NASB)

Ramoth = “heights” (plural of a word that means high in value; the root of both words is a word that means “lifted up”)

Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Isaiah 52:13 (NASB)

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. John 12:32 (NIV)

For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. 1 Peter 2:6-7 (NIV)

Kedesh = “holy place” (from the verb qadash which means to consecrate, sanctify, prepare, dedicate, be hallowed, be holy, be sanctified, be separate)

Such a high priest [Jesus] meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Hebrews 7:26 (NIV)

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Luke 4:33-34 (NIV)

You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. Acts 3:14 (NIV)

Hebron = “association”

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.” Luke 15:2 (NIV)

For there is one God and one mediator* between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NIV)

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”.’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” Matthew 11:19 (NIV)

*“one who intervenes between two, either in order to make or restore peace and friendship, or form a compact, or for ratifying a covenant”

Bezer = “gold ore” or “remote fortress” “inaccessible spot”

The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. Psalm 19:9-10

The LORD is my rock, my fortress (fastness, castle, defense, fortress) and my deliverer; my God is my rock (rocky wall, cliff), in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (refuge, secure height, a cliff or other lofty or inaccessible place, defense, high fort, tower). Psalm 18:2

Golan = captive, “their captivity: their rejoicing”

So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up. John 18:13

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53:7

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

 

Image copyright Jack Bair 2019. All rights reserved.

Imprisoned

Instead of vaporizing us rebels he put us in protective custody. He gathered us into his loving net.

For God has imprisoned all people in their own disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone. Romans 11:32 (NLT)

God has imprisoned all people in their own disobedience – that really struck me. Another way you could say that is that God has made disobedience a prison for all people. It might not seem like it, but he did this because he loves us and wanted to have mercy on us. He could have set up the universe so that disobedience resulted in – boing! – being flung out into space. Or he could have made it so that disobedience resulted in immediate vaporization. Zap! You’re gone.

But instead he made it so that disobedience to God becomes a prison. We have all experienced that prison – addictions, compulsions, obsessions, uncontrollable emotions and urges, those loud voices in our heads building razor-wire-topped walls. Romans 7:24 (NLT) cries out, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?” But what does the next verse answer? “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” The way out of our prison is surrender to the one who loves us and died for us that we might be set free.

Because the amazing thing is that God did not fashion our disobedience into a prison to have a “so there!” retribution for our turning away from him, or so that he could have some kind of “see I told you so” triumph over us. But, he did it so he could have mercy! God is love and he longs to love us, he longs to have mercy on us. Instead of vaporizing us rebels he put us in protective custody. He gathered us into his loving net.

That Greek word translated “imprisoned” in the above verse is sugkleio. It means to shut up together, embrace in a common subjection, enclose. It is used to describe fish caught in a net, as in Luke 5:6 (NIV).

When they had done so, they caught (sugkleio) such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.

Yes! Hallelujah! Instead of flinging us away into annihilation he has embraced us, enclosed us, caught us in his loving net. If right now you feel like you are flopping around, trapped, gasping for breath, surrender to the one who loves you, who came and died that you might be set free.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 (NIV)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish (be lost, ruined, destroyed, abolished) but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

My eyes are continually toward the LORD, For He will pluck my feet out of the net. Psalm 25:15 (NASB)

 

This post is also a Bible study available for free use at Imprisoned Bible Study

 

Image by Melanie Dabovich, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Oscillation

From that strangling fear to give my trust – to joyful confidence in God my Rock. From fear of what people may think – to the desire to only please God. From futility to expectation. From fear that my life has been for nothing – to trust in the Faithful One who works all things together for my good.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 (NASB) 

The word translated “again” in this verse is the Greek word palin, meaning repetition of action, once more, back anew.  Strong’s¹ concordance lists it as probably coming from a word that means to wrestle or struggle “through the idea of oscillatory repetition.”

Oscillatory motion repeats the same movement over and over, like an oscillating fan. The Oxford Dictionary² defines oscillate (among others) as:

  1. To swing backwards and forwards; to move to and fro between two points
  2. To alternate between two states, opinions, principles, purposes, etc.; to vary or fluctuate alternately between two limits.

That definitely sounds like slavery to me. Being stuck in that back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes between two states – standing and falling. Sometimes between two limits – righteousness by works and righteousness by faith and the new life in the Spirit. Sometimes between two opinions – faith and fear, doubt and confidence.  From that strangling fear to give my trust – to joyful confidence in God my Rock. From fear of what people may think – to the desire to only please God. From futility to expectation. From fear that my life has been for nothing – to trust in the Faithful One who works all things together for my good. Back and forth. Back and forth.

There are a lot of verses in the Bible about oscillating or wavering.

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” 1 Kings 18:21 (NIV)

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded (two-spirited, vacillating). James 4:8 (NASB)

Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Hebrews 10:23 (NLT)

Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Jude 1:22 (NLT)

I love that last one. God is merciful to those who waver! We can ask Him, as David did, to help us in our oscillating.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive (hurtful, idolatrous, painful, sorrowful) way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

The Hebrew word for “anxious thoughts” in this verse denotes a kind of oscillating. The word is saraph, and that comes from caiph, the word that means ambivalence, division, divided opinion or divided in mind. Wavering, oscillating comes from anxiety and fear. But the root of both of those words is caaph, which means to cut off, lop off boughs. So, you could say that the root meaning is that my wrong (idolatrous?) thinking is dividing me, cutting me off from God. I still think my problems are a little too big for God. I am still not completely trusting him. But there is grace hidden here. For, what does lopping off boughs remind you of?

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (cleanses) so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15:1-4 (NIV)

I can’t remain in the Vine and bear fruit if I am jumping back and forth between faith and doubt, fear and trust. But amazing grace! The Father lops off those oscillating, unfruitful boughs, the doubt and fear that cuts me off from relationship with Him. The Father cleanses me if I surrender to him. But that takes courage. It takes stepping out of the boat, staying on the path with Jesus, abiding in the Vine. And I will by His grace! Because He is with me and I have not received a spirit of over-and-over-and-over again fear, but I have been adopted by my Abba Father and He is pruning me, caring for me.

Lord, help me to stop oscillating for I know that you can be trusted. Help me to abide and rest in You. Help me to turn off the fan.

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

 

¹Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

²Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2000-

 

Image by Fred Barr https://www.flickr.com/photos/145458916@N04/46457248094/in/dateposted/

The Raven’s Croak

God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out (croak, cry of a raven), “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 (NASB)

It makes me smile that the Greek word translated “cry out” here means to croak, like the cry of a raven. We croak like a raven, “Abba! Father!” I feel like I croak a lot.

Jesus told us to consider the ravens, alluding perhaps to Psalm 147.

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! Luke 12:24 (NASB)

He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens which cry. Psalms 147:9 (NASB)

Why ravens? Why not something beautiful like a dove? The raven was on the list of “unclean” birds under the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 14:4, Leviticus 11:15). In Leviticus it says they are to be regarded as an abomination, as filth, detestable, disgusting. They eat dead things and maggots.[i] Yet (!) Jesus chooses this bird for his illustration of God’s care for us.

In a sermon called The Raven’s Cry, Charles Spurgeon wrote the following:

I can hardly leave this point without remarking that the mention of a raven should encourage a sinner. As an old author writes, “Among fowls He does not mention the hawk or falcon, which are highly prized and fed by princes. But He chooses that hateful and malicious bird, the croaking raven, whom no man values but as she eats up the carrion which might annoy him. Behold then, and wonder at the Providence and kindness of God, that He should provide food for the raven, a creature of so dismal a hue and of so untuneable a tone–a creature that is so odious to most men, and ominous to some.”[ii]

Encouragement for the sinner. Is this why Jesus chose the raven? To show us that no matter how disgusting, unclean – untuneable – that we think we are, or others think we are, or that we really are – God accepts us, God loves us, God takes care of us. What a picture of grace and mercy!

There is another amazing and curious mention of ravens in the Old Testament. It is in the retelling of Elijah hiding from Ahab. God told Elijah to hide at the Brook Cherith and that ravens would be sent to feed him (1 Kings 17: 3-4). Again, God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that. And when the water ran out there at the brook, God sent Elijah to another sort of unclean raven, the Sidonian widow (1 Kings 17:9).

The Sidonians were idol worshippers. They worshipped “Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians (2 Kings 23:13).” This worship included ritual prostitution (we call it human trafficking today) and child sacrifice. The notorious Jezebel was the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31).

So detestable were the Sidonians to the Jews, that when Jesus reminded them of this incident while speaking in a synagogue, He was almost thrown off a cliff (Luke 4:25-29). Yet(!), God sent Elijah there. And Elijah humbled himself to take food from the widow’s “unclean” hands – a widow, however, who was willing to give all she had for herself and her son to Elijah to obey the Lord God – and he ministered life and salvation to her and to her son.

Consider the ravens. Yes, we are all ravens. We are all Sidonians. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have eaten our share of the maggots of lies and idolatry, and maybe still are. Yet (!!) we are loved. And we have been called (even the ravens were called to feed Elijah at the brook!) and chosen to humble ourselves and minister His life and love to all the other fallen, unclean birds. We are not called to judge and condemn, but to love. And we can stand in the strength and grace that He gives. We can abide, we can rest in the assuredness that we are His and He will care for us. That we are His adopted sons and daughters, and that He hears, and is delighted, when we croak “Abba, Father!”

(Abba! Another good one-word prayer? See A Thousand Defects )

 

[i] Wikipedia, The Common Raven

[ii] Charles Spurgeon, The Raven’s Cry, A sermon delivered on Sunday evening, January 14, 1866 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. Reprinted in, The Power in Prayer. Whitaker House, 1996.

Image, Raven by Jim Bahn (background color changed) https://www.flickr.com/photos/gcwest/186088713/in/album-72157594158104053/ 

 

A Thousand Defects

I think that those inexpressible prayers, those prayers reaching out from our hearts to His, stripped of everything but childlike, unguarded, helpless desire for Him – those are the most powerful and – for God – the most satisfying prayers of all.

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (NASB)

“The throne of grace.” The word grows as I turn it over in my mind, and to me it is a most delightful reflection that if I come to the throne of God in prayer, I may feel a thousand defects, but yet there is hope. I usually feel more dissatisfied with my prayers than with anything else I do.”  —Charles Spurgeon[i]

A thousand defects. Over the past ten years or so I have read a lot of books on prayer. I have twenty on the shelf before me right now. They all are good and have lots to offer. They have all enriched my prayer life. But there are many, many times, overwhelmed in the clouds of doubt and fear, words do not come. And I feel “a thousand defects.” I feel dissatisfied with my prayers, but worse, I fear that God is dissatisfied too. That’s why I love Spurgeon’s “but yet [!] there is hope.”  And I am comforted when he goes on to say:

But, brethren, suppose in our prayers there should be defects of knowledge: it is a throne of grace, and our Father knoweth that we have need of these things. Suppose there should be defects of faith: he sees our little faith and still doth not reject it, small as it is. He doth not in every case measure out his gifts by the degree of our faith, but by the sincerity and trueness of faith. And if there should be grave defects in our spirit even, and failures in the fervency or in the humility of the prayer, still, though these should not be there and are much to be deplored; grace overlooks all this, forgives all this, and still its merciful hand is stretched out to enrich us according to our needs.

One of the books before me is The Cloud of Unknowing by an anonymous monk. In it, the author recommends one-word prayers.[ii] That is about my speed in these times when I am in this “cloud of overwhelmed.” One of my favorites has become, “Help!” Just “help.” In the same chapter the author speaks of “a naked intent toward God, the desire for him alone.” And I think that those inexpressible prayers, those prayers reaching out from our hearts to His, stripped of everything but childlike, unguarded, helpless desire for Him – those are the most powerful and – for God – the most satisfying prayers of all.

It’s not a magical incantation. It’s not a precise liturgy, though liturgy is beautiful and can help lead us to the throne. It’s not a perfect recipe of words mixed with the right amount of faith, seasoned with the correct sprinkling of fervency or humility, in the prescribed position and vocal volume.

“True prayer is an approach of the soul by the Spirit of God to the throne of God. It is not the utterance of words; it is not alone the feeling of desires; but it is the advance of the desires to God, the spiritual approach of nature towards the Lord our God. True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise not a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that. It is spiritual commerce[iii] with Creator of heaven and earth.”

It’s a spirit to Spirit communication, a reaching out in the darkness and overwhelmedness. But it’s also that confidence thing. We cannot come to him naked and bare without complete trust and confidence. The word translated confidence in Hebrews 4:16 is parrhesia, which means “openly, frankly, without concealment, free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance.”

Little children come this way to their moms and dads all the time, with requests, inarticulate, but confidently and with complete expectation of being understood and answered. “Owie,” “drink,” “belly,” “up!” Little one-word requests that we jump to satisfy. Or sometimes they come with no words at all, just arms outstretched yearning for the parent’s comforting embrace.

“Help!” may be all I have right now. But it is all I need. Let me run into His merciful arms.

From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2 (NKJV)

(For more on the naked intent toward God, see A Naked Intent Toward God)

 

[i] All Spurgeon quotes from The Throne of Grace, sermon given November 19, 1871. Reprinted in The Power in Prayer. Whitaker House, 1996.

[ii] The Cloud of Unknowing and Privy Counseling. Edited by William Johnston. 1973. Chapter 7.

[iii] Definition of the word “commerce” from Spurgeon’s time: interchange (especially of letters, ideas, etc.); communication. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles.

Image by DVIDSHUB, from flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/dvids/13938506188

Unblameable

Now to Him who is able (has the power)

to keep (guard, watch, protect) you

from stumbling (falling, failing, sinning, erring),

and to make you stand (stand immovable, stand firm, stand unharmed, stand ready, stand prepared)

in the presence of His glory

blameless (without blemish, faultless, unblameable)

with great (exceeding, extreme) joy,  

to the only God our Savior (Deliverer, Preserver),

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

be glory,

majesty,

dominion

and authority,

before all time and now and forever.

Amen!

Jude 1:24-25 (NASB)