Ashes

(This poem is in response to Emma’s Wednesday Writing Prompt of 11/03/23 )

Our God is a consuming fire 

my life consumed 

seemingly gone 

Ashes rising in the vortex of furious love 

amidst the incense of fire-yielded despair 

by Spirit-breath blown away  

Yet not despised 

Scattered on the soil of 

withered hope 

dying trust 

stunted love 

Nothing is lost 

that is surrendered to 

His fire 

Photo, Flame by Annie Roi https://flic.kr/p/9VB6y7  

Our Father – Where We Grow Up

Our Father, I know from long experience that I do not do well in the candy aisle.

OK, here I am at the campfire still. I’m getting stinging smoke in my eyes now, and some mosquito bites. But let’s keep looking at the Lord’s Prayer from the point of view of a child.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13). I read a commentary on this verse that I thought was definitely a child’s point of view of the Lord’s Prayer. It compared God not leading us into temptation to a mother avoiding the candy aisle when shopping with her children. “Praying, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ is like praying, ‘God, don’t take me down the candy aisle today.’ It’s recognizing that we naturally grasp for unprofitable things and that God’s wisdom can avert the unpleasantness of our bellyaching.” 

You know, there are myriad examples of ways we keep children from temptation. There is a whole industry devoted to it – baby gates, toilet seat locks, cupboard and drawer latches. Even with all of that, we sometimes have to chase them down as they run, giggling, toward a busy street. For a toddler, that is temptation – doing something forbidden (actually, for grownups too!). And so, we have to put blocks in their way to keep them safe.  Maybe sometimes when we find blocks in our way it is God answering our prayer to lead us not into temptation. 

God always has a purpose. Remember the commentary from the first blog on this subject: “Through ongoing sanctification, the believer more and more resembles their heavenly Father – i.e. each time they receive faith from Him and obey it, which results in their unique glorification.”2 Through ongoing sanctification, through obedience and yielding we become like Him.  

The word above translated “temptation” also means testing. Ellicott’s Commentary3 notes that “[t]he Greek word includes the two thoughts which are represented in English by ‘trials,’ i.e., sufferings which test or try, and ‘temptations,’ allurements on the side of pleasure which tend to lead us into evil.”  

This is where the child learns that some things are “nos.” This is where she learns to yield to the will of the Father. Learning to choose obedience. To not play in the toilet water. To begin to grow up. 

Receiving a place in the family of God, receiving daily spiritual and physical sustenance, receiving forgiveness: this is like being the little baby child, drinking the spiritual milk. But forgiving others, sharing what we have been given, yielding daily to God’s will for our lives, obeying His commands to love even our enemies, passing the test – the enduring, the waiting, the sanctification part, the becoming like Jesus part – that is where we grow up. 

Perhaps Jesus is saying to me in this part of the prayer: You are a little child of God. He is your loving, strong Father. Pray like a child who knows her weakness and vulnerability. 

“But those who are conscious of their weakness cannot shake off the thought that they might fail in the conflict, and the cry of that conscious weakness is therefore, ‘Lead us not into such trials,’ even as our Lord prayed, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass away from me’ (Matthew 26:39). And the answer to the prayer may come either directly in actual exemption from the trial, or in ‘the way to escape’ (1Corinthians 10:13), or in strength to bear it.”3 

Our Father, I know from long experience that in myself I am weak. I do not do well in the candy aisle. I do not endure trials patiently. And after very bad days I even sometimes find myself playing in the toilet water again. Oh Father, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me! 

“We beg for forgiveness, protection, and deliverance just as a young child asks for help and safety as she prepares to fall asleep at night.” — Jeremy Linneman, The Lord’s Prayer is Meant to Be Lived4 

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Peter 2:2-3 

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:13-14 

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (ESV)  

Our Father … 

1Lead Us Not into Temptation, but Deliver Us from Evil | The Lord’s Prayer Petition 5 By Stephanie Soderstrom and Terry DeYoung https://www.faithward.org/how-to-pray-like-jesus-the-lords-prayer-petition-5/  

2HELPS Word Studies by Discovery Bible 

3Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers 

4Blogged by Dr. Peter Cockrell https://pjcockrell.wordpress.com/2022/08/07/the-lords-prayer-is-meant-to-be-lived/  

Photo of candy aisle by Tiia Monto https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Candy_in_store_2.jpg  

Our Father – Total Dependence

The Father wants me to acknowledge my total dependence on Him. Even more, He wants me to realize the implications of this.

Last week I started looking at the “Lord’s Prayer” from the point of view of a child. I’m still camping out there and I’m seeing things I have never understood before. It’s so easy to just repeat it with everybody else at church without paying attention. But that’s the good thing about camping. It gets you out of your usual environment and helps you to “be still and know.” 

Your Kingdom come, your will be done (Matthew 6:10). What does the Kingdom of God coming to earth have to do with children? It turns out – everything! Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).  This kingdom is the Kingdom of a Father, and a Kingdom of His little children who believe and obey His word, children who do His will and resemble their Father. You know how little children watch every move and mimic everything they see their parents doing? Of such as these consist the Kingdom. Father, let your Kingdom of little children come! 

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (ESV) 

Give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). Jeremy Linneman has written about this part of the prayer. 

“There’s no way to honestly live the Lord’s Prayer without seeing that we’re hungry, needy children at the feet of a good and loving Father. Yet the Lord’s Prayer only makes sense within the context of childlike faith and dependence. We acknowledge it’s God’s kingdom we live in, not ours. We ask humbly for daily provision, knowing we can’t ensure our own survival and flourishing apart from him.” 1  

The Father wants me to acknowledge my total dependence on Him. Even more, He wants me to realize the implications of this, consciously, from the beginning of the day and all the day through. This would really change my days if I did this. It would take away all my trust in my own abilities and successes (and any performance burden). It might also pry my clutching, possessive hands off what has been freely given. All that I have comes from the hand of the loving Father. He wants me to mimic His overflowing generosity. He wants me to have confidence in Him, to know that He is worthy of my trust in His love. No matter what happens. 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:9-11 

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35 

Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10:8 

I will still be sitting by the campfire next Thursday if you want to join me. 

1Blogged by Dr. Peter Cockrell https://pjcockrell.wordpress.com/2022/08/07/the-lords-prayer-is-meant-to-be-lived/   

Image, mmm, num, num by Naomi https://flic.kr/p/4cdp1q 

Claims and Cares

My portion is this wispy little brush stroke over here on the edge.

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. Psalm 55:22 

Before I start, I want to tell you that I have been angry and grumbling a lot lately and not really knowing why. So, I asked God to show me. These verses and the quote by Lewis, I believe, are His answer.  

The Hebrew word translated “cares” here is yehab (יְהָב). This is the only place it is used in the Bible. Surprisingly, it doesn’t mean worries or anxiety, it means “what is given, a lot [as in a portion], a burden.” So, this verse could say, “cast what God has given you, your lot in life, back on Him and He will sustain you.” 

The word translated “sustain” is another amazing word. It is kul (כּוּל) and, at its root, it means “to keep in” to measure, contain. It means (be able to, or can) abide, bear, comprehend, feed, forbear, guide, nourish, be present, make provision, receive, sustain, provide sustenance. 

He sustains us; He provides sustenance. He knows and is able to bear my lot or portion. The problem comes when what He has given is not what I expected or feel entitled to. The Israelites following Moses out of Egypt felt they were being misused by God for this reason.  

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” Numbers 11:4-6 

“This manna” was not what they expected or felt entitled to or felt they were promised. C.S. Lewis put it very well in a fictional conversation between demons training to tempt and derail the faith of humans:

“Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered.” — Screwtape Letters, XXI, C.S. Lewis   

“The more claims on life.” Ooo, ow, ouch! That is really peeling off the hard scab on my heart to clean out the pus of sin. Like me, the grumbling Israelites in the desert felt they were being misused. They felt their claims and entitlement. “Moses, I thought this was supposed to be a better life than in Egypt. I thought this was supposed to be some great salvation! And here we are wandering around in the life-sucking heat with just this manna to eat!”  

My claims are not meat and fish and cucumbers and leeks. My claims are more based on my conception of a perfect life. I hear myself grumbling like them. “I don’t want this lot. This is not what I signed up for. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. If only I had never started out on this hard, hot, rocky desert journey, where all I have to eat is this manna!” 

But, oh, do you hear the hard slap in the Face of God? For who is the manna? 

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:26, 43-51 

And see, Jesus points here to another thing. God has a BIG plan. It is way bigger than my ability to comprehend, much bigger than my short time here on earth. He is always setting His face toward the Cross. He is always one-track focused on reconciling people to himself. He is always painting a huge canvas, writing this wonderful story, portraying the bread given for the life of the world.

Those people crossing the Red Sea and wandering in the desert, eating the manna provided there, were part of that canvas. And I’m seeing that in God’s amazing grace, my failures and wanderings and returnings are part of it too. My portion is this wispy little brush stroke over here on the edge. You can hardly see it close up. But when you stand back I hope, that in His strength and grace, it contributes my tiny portion to the salvation story picture. 

But it seems that my claims and assumptions blind me to my true portion, to what God is really like and what He is after. Like Adam and Eve I listen to the “what ifs.” Did God really say? What if He just doesn’t want you to have all you deserve? Like the man who was entrusted with the one bag of gold, I assume the worst of God.  

Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ Matthew 25:24-25 

Two bad assumptions about God: that God had given a bad lot, that God is “hard” and requiring more than the man was able to bear. That man received what he expected. But what did the master say to the two men who received gladly, and served with, the portion they were given? “Enter into the joy of your master.” 

I think this lot or portion we have been given is only a heavy burden if we resist it or try to carry it ourselves. We were never meant to carry it, but to cast it back on His broad shoulders.  

And I begin to see that if God contains my lot, then my lot is in God – that my lot is God. The manna from heaven. 

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. Psalm 16:5-6 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 

Those who cling to their lives will give up true life. But those who let go of their lives for my sake and surrender it all to me will discover true life! (TPT) 

But here is the bread that comes down from heaven … 

Image, detail from painting by Jack Bair

%d bloggers like this: