The Soul in Paraphrase

I love this poem by George Herbert, 17th century poet and clergyman. There are so many wonderful analogies in it. Prayer as a plummet sounding the depths of God’s love, a siege engine against the Almighty like the widow “crying out to God day and night” (Luke 18:6).

Prayer (I) by George Herbert (1593-1633) 

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,  
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,  
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,  
The Christian plummet1 sounding heav’n and earth  
Engine2 against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,  
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,  
The six-days world transposing in an hour,  
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;  
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,  
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,  
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,  
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,  
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,  
The land of spices; something understood. 

1 A piece of lead attached to a line, used in sounding the depth of water, a plumb bob or a plumb line. — Wiktionary 

2 “’Engine against th’ Almighty–’ writing in the early 17th century, Herbert wasn’t talking about a diesel engine, or even a steam engine. The engine in this line is a siege engine. Prayer is laying siege to God.” — Daniel Stanley https://cultusandculture.com/2016/07/28/engine-against-th-almighty/  

Image by Sheila Bair

It is Done!

This is an invitation to participate in creation, the bringing of His Kingdom and perfect, loving will to earth. 

[Jesus] said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” Revelation 21:6 

What a wonderful proclamation: It is done! How we look forward to hearing it! “It is done” makes me think of Jesus on the cross saying, “It is finished!”  

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30  

That great redemptive work that he came to do, accomplished. The Lamb of God slain for the salvation of the world. But when I looked closer, I found that the two phrases – “it is finished” and “it is done” – mean two different, and very wonderful things.  

When Jesus proclaims, “It is finished,” the Greek word is teleó. It means to bring to an end, complete, fulfill, consummate. Jesus had fulfilled the will of the Father that he had come to do. Only Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, could finish the work on the Cross. 

The root of this word (tel-) means “reaching the end (aim). It is well-illustrated with the old pirate’s telescope, unfolding (extending out) one stage at a time to function at full-strength (capacity effectiveness).”i  It is like the completion of a spiritual journey, the unfolding of a telescope. The coming into focus of God’s perfect will. 

And that is wonderful. That is amazing grace! But, “it is done” means something, at least for me, absolutely astonishing. The Greek word is ginomai. The Strong’s Concordance definition is “to come into being, to happen, to become.” Properly, it means “to emerge, become, transitioning from one point (realm, condition) to another.”ii 

According to Marvin R. Vincent, gínomai “means to come into being/manifestation implying motion, movement, or growth” (at 2 Pet 1:4). Thus it is used for God’s actions as emerging from eternity and becoming (showing themselves) in time (physical space).”iii 

Jesus finished the work he came to do so that the new heaven and new earth could emerge. We could transition from this place of continual warfare and anguish and tears, to that place where all tears will be wiped away. That is breathtaking as it is. But now, if you want your mind completely blown, look at some other times that Jesus used this word. 

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done (ginomai) just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. Matthew 8:13  

Do you see that! Amazing, amazing grace! Jesus says that through faith the centurion participates in this transitioning, this becoming, this emerging from eternity of the works of God into this time/space realm. When we believe. When we pray in faith. 

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done (ginomai) to you”; and their sight was restored. Matthew 9:28-30 

Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done (ginomai) for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15:28 (ESV) 

And Jesus taught us to pray this way – for the manifestation of God’s Kingdom and will to emerge from eternity and become in time and physical space. 

Your kingdom come, your will be done (ginomai), on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10 (ESV) 

This is not just a liturgical prayer to be repeated by rote. This is an invitation to participate in creation, the bringing of His Kingdom and perfect, loving will to earth. 

Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done (ginomai) for them by my Father in heaven. Matthew 18:19 

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done (ginomai).” Matthew 21:21 

Does this give you faith to pray? Does this crystalize in your mind the why of praying – the importance of praying? It does for me. 

… if you have faith and do not doubt … it will be done [it will be, it will come into being, it will emerge]. 

… as it is written, “I have made you [Abraham] the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told … Romans 4:17-18 (ESV)  

And God said … and there was … (Genesis 1) 

iHELPS Word-studies, Bible Hub 

iiibid.

iiiVincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament

Image by Linda Tanner, The Butterfly is Gone https://flic.kr/p/piUExS  

Beyond

Things are getting thrown at me over my head, beyond my strength. But there is another “beyond.”

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (ESV) 

I know that this seems negative and discouraging, but this is where God has me right now. This is where I am – burdened beyond. Weighed down, depressed, overcome. The word translated “beyond” in the above verse is huperballo and means “throwing beyond.” Things are getting thrown at me beyond, beyond my dunamis – my power, might, strength. When I read the definition of huperballo I envision an outfielder leaping up for a high fly ball but not being able to catch it. How many home runs it seems the enemy of our souls is making!  

And so, like Paul, I have despaired – this life beyond me, no way out, no exit strategy – like the sentence of death. Like trapped in a jail cell awaiting the execution. Utterly without resources, powerless. The only hope God. 

But then, God showed me another verse about another “beyond.” 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 

The peace of God also goes beyond our strength, it transcends. The word is huperecho. Again, huper means beyond or over my head, but in this case, echo means to hold. The peace of God holds me beyond my situation, beyond my despair and powerlessness to stop the onslaught. His peace is above, surpasses, rises above, is superior, has authority over beyond everything here on this earth. If I can grab on to this truth I will be “seated with him in heavenly places.” 

Paul said that this beyond-burden we bear is for a reason: to change our reliance, trust and confidence from ourselves to God. God, the way maker. God, our Peace. God who is above and beyond and over and guards our hearts and minds. If we are not anxious, but present our petitions and requests to God we are kept under guard by God’s transcending peace. But for that to happen I have to switch my reliance. I have to roll all my burdens over onto Him and totally trust. Why is that so hard?

“Abide in Me says Jesus. Cling to Me. Stick fast to Me. Live the life of close and intimate communion with Me. Get nearer to Me. Roll every burden on Me. Cast your whole weight on Me. Never let go your hold on Me for a moment. Be, as it were, rooted and planted in Me. Do this and I will never fail you. I will ever abide in you.” — J.C. Ryle 

Paul also said that he felt that he was under the sentence of death. But you know the One who has risen above, who is superior, who has all authority in heaven and earth, over and beyond us? Jesus – he has taken our sentence of death. 

Who is to condemn [pass down judgement against, sentence]? Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34 

We can rely on God who raised up Jesus and will raise us up with him – beyond. He is interceding for us even now. Even though we are in despair, utterly burdened beyond; even though it’s twenty to nothing in the last inning; even though we feel the sentence of death in our souls, yet, we can know that he will bear us up. He will always hold us and never fail. We can rely on God.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7 (ESV)

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Psalm 68:19 

You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely. Psalm 59:17 

Help me Lord to rely on, abide in, stick fast, cling to you always.  

Photo by Minda Haas Kuhlmann  https://flic.kr/p/2mcAUTU  

Let Go of the Seed

This is amazing grace.

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 2 Corinthians 9:10 

I recently read a blog by EagleSighti that blew my mind. When I saw the title, Letting Go of the Seed, I immediately pictured sowing the Word of God like seed as in the Parable of the Sowerii. I soon realized that the verse, 2 Corinthians 9:10, and the blog were really about generosity in giving, but by then it was too late. The Lord had turned this precious gem and I had seen into a different facet.  

I’m still not sure the blog is not about sharing the gospel it was such a bright flash for me. Especially, this sentence: “You have to let go of the seed in your hand to reap the harvest.” Yes! We believers in Christ have seed in our hands, precious, precious seed. The seed we carry is the Word of life and healing for world. But we hang on to it. At least I do.  

Why do I hang on to the seed? Why don’t I let go of it? Why don’t I just spontaneously pray for that stranger in trouble or that friend in need of strength or healing, that dying loved one? Why is it not the first thing I think about? Why don’t I share the gospel message more? Why don’t I speak the truth in love to those who are wandering off the path?

I may not have any money to be generous in that way, but I can give the seed – “silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.” These tiny, seemingly insignificant seeds in my hand are precious, they have power – “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” (Acts 3:6).

So, why do I hold the seed back in my hand? Fear, self-preservation, thinking I have to do or be something wonderful. J.D. Walt of Seedbed wrote an articleiii on the following verse, which has helped me a lot: 

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 

We have been given the ministry; we have been given the message. We have been given the seed. This would be scary except for that phrase, “all this is from God.” J.D. Walt translated the phrase this way: 

“ALL THIS IS FROM GOD.” 

Translation: This is amazing grace.  

Translation: None of this is from us. 

Praise God, none of this is from us!

What does this mean for the seed in my hand? I received grace from God and those to whom I give my seed will receive revelation and new life from God, from the Word – not from me. For God has promised that his Word that goes out “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:11)”. He supplies the seed, he supplies the Message, the Word of Life, he will make the harvest happen. He is the Wonderful One. All I have to do is open my hand and drop it. 

The sower sows the word. Mark 4:14 

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls … John 12:24 

i https://eaglesight.blog/2021/08/02/letting-go-of-the-seed/  

ii Matthew 13 

iii Are You Finally Ready to Receive? https://www.seedbed.com/are-you-finally-ready-to-receive/ 

Image, free download from Pixabay 

Do Not Be Negligent Now

My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before him and serve him, to minister before him and to burn incense. 2 Chronicles 29:11 

And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Revelation 5:8 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV) 

Stay awake (watch, be vigilant, give strict attention to, take heed) and pray … Matthew 26:41 (NET) 

For we know, brothers [and sisters] loved by God, that he has chosen you … 1 Thessalonians 1:4 (ESV) 

“Persistent prayer is a mighty movement of the soul toward God, and it stirs the deepest forces of the soul toward the throne of heavenly grace. It is the ability to hold on, press on, and wait. Restless desire, restful patience, and strength of grasp are all embraced in it. Prayer is not an incident or a performance but a passion of soul. It is not a want or half-needed desire but a sheer necessity.” — E.M. Bounds, The Necessity of Prayer 

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity (impudence, persistence) he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.  Luke 11:5-8 

“[Jesus] shows that prayer is not just mere words, but it is inconvenience, intercession, precision, and asking for the impossibilities … In a nutshell, prayer take guts. God grants our requests not only because He is our Friend, but because we have the guts and faith to ask. ‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16) … ” — The Nature of Prayer, Mulyale Mutisyai  

… do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you … 

i https://carolynemutisya7.wordpress.com/2021/08/02/the-nature-of-prayer/

  Image from Flickr, Praying Woman Hands by Long Thiên

Voiceless Yearning

… for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance. Romans 8:26 (AMPC) 

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 

beyond words 

or thoughts 

my heart drawn 

with voiceless yearning 

incoherent plea  

a long way off 

in the speechless empty road 

you meet my supplication 

wailing 

beyond words 

or thoughts 

Image in the Public Domain. The Return of the Prodigal Son by Christian Rohlfs, 1914.

My Spirit Grows Faint

I am overwhelmed 

When I remember God, then I am disturbed (moan, murmur, growl, cry aloud); When I sigh (complain), then my spirit grows faint (feeble, weak, overwhelmed). Psalm 77:3 (NASB) 

My heart desolate   

… my spirit grows faint (feeble, weak, overwhelmed) within me; my heart within me is dismayed (desolate, appalled, stunned, devastated). Psalm 143:4 

Yet! 

When my spirit grows faint (feeble, weak, overwhelmed) within me, it is you who know (make known, declare, cause me to know, reveal to me) my way. Psalm 142:3a 

You show me the Way 

From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint (feeble, weak, overwhelmed); lead me (guide me, bring me) to the rock that is (raised up, lifted up, exalted) higher than I. Psalm 61:2 

You lead me to the Rock that is higher 

You guide me to the Rock that is lifted up 

You bring me to the Rock who is exalted 

And when I am lifted up on the cross, I will draw everyone to myself. John 12:32 

And being found in appearance as a man, 
    he humbled himself 
    by becoming obedient to death— 
        even death on a cross! 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place 
    and gave him the name that is above every name … Philippians 2:8-9 

I was overwhelmed and you answered me 

Jesus answered, “I am the way …” John 14:6 

“Follow me.” 

Image, original oil painting by Jack Bair. All rights reserved.

A Pure Intention of Heart

I would like to share a prayer written by Jonathan Coussins (b. 1757), one of John Wesley’s itinerant preachers (or perhaps written by his wife Penelope). I was especially struck by the phrase “a pure intention of heart.” It reminds me of the “naked intent toward God”i of the unknown monk, the “fixing of our eyes on Jesus,” the throwing off all the things that lure away and weigh down and entangle. In my mind I see them discarded along the side of the path, littering the Way. 

This prayer was committed to memory and was a great blessing to another early Methodist, Elizabeth Rhodes. She recorded it in her journalii in hope that “it may prove of equal benefit to others.”  May this prayer bless another generation of journeyers toward God. 

  “Grant me, gracious Lord, a pure intention of heart, and a steadfast regard to your glory in all my actions. Possess my mind continually with your presence, and fill it with your love, that my whole delight may be to repose in the arms of your protection. Be light to my eyes, music to my ears, sweetness to my taste, and full contentment to my heart. Be my sunshine in the day, my food at the table, my repose in the night, my clothing in company, my succor in all necessities. 

  Lord Jesus, I give you my body, my soul, my substance, my fame, my friends, my liberty, and my life. Dispose of me, and all that is mine, as seems best to you, and to the glory of your blessed name. I am not my own, but yours; therefore claim me as your right, keep me as your charge, and love me as your child. Fight for me when I am assailed, heal me when I am wounded, and revive me when I am destroyed. 

  My Lord and my God, I ask you to give me patience in troubles, humility in comforts, constancy in temptations, and victory over all my ghostly enemies. Grant me sorrow for my sins, thankfulness for my benefits, fear of your judgments, love of your mercies, and mindfulness of your presence for evermore. Make me humble to my superiors and friendly to my equals, ready to please all and loathe to offend any; loving to my friends and charitable to my enemies. Give me modesty in my countenance, gravity in my behavior, deliberation in my speech, holiness in my thoughts, and righteousness in all my actions. Let your mercy cleanse me from my sins, and your grace bring forth in me the fruits of everlasting life. 

  Lord, let me be obedient without arguing, humble without feigning, patient without grudging, pure without corruption, mercy without lightness, sad without mistrust, sober without dullness, true without duplicity, fearing you without desperation, and trusting you without presumption. Let me joyful for nothing but that which pleases you, and sorrowful for nothing but what displeases you: that labor be my delight which is for you, and let all weary me that is not in you. Give me a waking spirit, and a diligent soul, that I may seek to know your will, and when I know it may I perform it faithfully to the honor and glory of your ever blessed name. Amen.” 

i The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous. 14th century. 

ii Memoir of Mrs. Elizabeth Rhodes. By herself. (Mason, London, 1829).

Image, free download from Pikest

All there is

When despair has obliterated ordinary prayer, when the psalms fail and all words are stupid and meaningless, the mantle of loneliness surrounding me becomes a mantle of dark and wordless love. This darkness reveals the paradox of prayer: in the absence of God, all there is, is God. 

Suzanne Guthrie 
Grace’s Window 

Enough

If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.  Psalms 66:18 (NKJV) 

I always looked at this verse as saying that if I coddled some unrepented sinful act or thought in my heart, the Lord could not listen to my prayers. And it does mean that, but I think God is saying something more to me. The word in the above verse translated “regard” is the Hebrew word ra’ah. It means to look at, see, regard, gaze at, behold, perceive. Derek Prince had a slightly different take on this verse: 

“If I ‘regard iniquity in my heart,’ it means that I come to God with a consciousness in my heart of something that condemns me.”  

I have been having a hard time in prayer. I have been feeling like the Lord did not hear. Suddenly, I realized that I had not been coming to God in prayer with a clear conscious. I was always under the burden of some kind of guilt. Guilt about not being a good enough friend, a good enough wife and mother, not serving God enough, not praying enough, not calling my elderly parents enough — not being enough. I had been listening to those accusing voices in my head and had been feeling a closed door, a heavy curtain, between me and God. My heart was condemning me. I was gazing at my failings and not at Jesus.  

Then I read this from J. Vernon McGee. He was describing the tabernacle in the wilderness and its three parts: the outer court where the sacrifices were received and their blood shed, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies, where God dwelt between the cherubim. About the articles of furniture in the Holy Place of the tabernacle, he writes that it included “the table of showbread and the golden lampstand. Then, in the background was the golden altar, the altar of incense, which speaks of prayer – no sacrifices were ever made there” [emphasis mine]. 

No sacrifices were made at the altar of incense, the place that symbolically represented the prayers of the saints (see Revelation 8: 3-4). Why? Because the sacrifice had already been made out in the courtyard on the brazen altar. The sacrifice had already been made. Therefore, the priest could go into the Holy Place and offer the prayer-incense without further sacrifice.  

But these Old Covenant sacrifices, made over and over, “were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper” (Hebrews 9:9). It is only the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God that can clear our consciences. 

I was bypassing the altar where the Blood of the Lamb has been shed. Should I (in pride) be surprised that I am weak and sinful? No, I should throw away all expectation of ever being “enough.” I can never be enough for anyone, and it’s not my job either. It is not my wonderfulness that helps or saves. Only God can be enough. All I can do is offer my love, serve with the strength he gives and trust him for the rest.  

“We have to get rid of any attitude that suggests some kind of righteousness in ourselves. We have no righteousness of our own. We must come to a place where we are trusting in God’s faithfulness, and that produces confidence … There must come a time when we lay side every attempt to justify ourselves and say, ‘I receive by faith the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to me by my faith in Him according to the Word of God. I will not worry about my merits. I will not worry about my sins. I will not parade my good deeds. I will not blush for my bad deeds. I will not examine and analyze my own heart all the time to see if I am good enough. I will trust God that the blood of Jesus has cleansed me from all sin. And now I am going boldly right to the throne, right into the holiest place of all.’” Derek Prince, Secrets of a Prayer Warrior, chapt. 2, Basic Conditions for Answered Prayer [emphasis mine] 

Instead of beholding, gazing at my real failings and unrighteousness and listening to the accusations of our enemy, I need to fix my thoughts and eyes on Jesus, Our Righteousness (Hebrews 12:2). As the Holy Spirit points out sin, I repent of it and give it to the One who washes it away with his Blood as if it never happened and forgets it. 

The humble find the Holy One. Just when the consciousness of sin and weakness, and the discovery of how much of self there is, makes you fear that you can never be holy, the Holy One gives Himself. Not as you look at self, and seek to know whether now you are contrite and humble enough—no, but when no longer looking at self, because you have given up all hope of seeing anything in it but sin, you look up to the Holy One, you will see how His promise is your only hope.” — Andrew Murray, Holy in Christ [emphasis mine] 

But you know what the really wonderful, amazing, grace-filled thing is? We don’t have to stop at the altar of incense in this new temple. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can go all the way into God’s very presence and talk to him in person. Let us go there with assurance. 

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a Great Priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22 

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. Romans 8:1 (Message) 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14  

But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (The Passion Translation)

Photo copyright Jack Bair

%d bloggers like this: