Meditating on the Commands of Christ (56): Consider the Birds

Having just returned from a cruise along the Amazon, I can’t think of a more appropriate topic than considering birds, since we must have seen many dozens of the more than 1,300 species of birds that make their home in the rain forests of the Amazon. (One in every three species in the world exists in Amazonia!)

There were times as we cruised along in a smaller boat close to the shoreline that the cacophony of bird sounds emanating from the jungle reminded me of the aviary of the John Ball Zoo (our local zoo) when the budgies were almost out-of-control noisy!

(If you don’t believe me, check this link to our visit a few years ago: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/a-few-of-my-favorite-the-birds-32-budgie-mania/

If you know me, you know I love birds, and one of my daily pleasures is watching them come to the bird feeder that’s just three feet in front of my nose as I type!

Female cardinal on our snowy cherry tree

At any rate, I do think about birds pretty much every day. BUT, what is that our Lord wants us to learn from considering the birds?

Brazilian Toco Toucan

Let’s start with the Brazilian toco toucan. His uniquely large schnoz, which can be half the size of his entire body length, is specially designed of light bone struts filled with a spongy keratin tissue that makes it exceedingly light and strong. The toucan’s beak is useful for grabbing fruit, reaching deep into the interior of holes, intimidating the competition, and is a wonderfully efficient thermoregulator—just perfect for the tropical areas where he lives.

Amazon Parrot resting in the snag of a tree

Consider the Amazon parrot, arrayed in gorgeous green and yellow feathers with brown underparts. Talk about perfect camouflage!

Flamingos at the Bird Park near Iguazu Falls in Brazil

Consider the flamingo, with her amazingly long neck and legs, just perfect for wading. Consider her uniquely designed bill, which is used upside down and is especially adapted for filtering the mud and silt from the tasty tiny shrimp and algae that she loves to eat!

Harpy Eagle in Brazil

Consider the harpy eagle—largest and most powerful raptor in the Amazon and top of the food chain, routinely carrying off monkeys and sloths for dinner. Wings, talons, razor-sharp beak and piercing eyes that sent chills through me!

Glittering-throated Emerald Hummingbird

Consider the smallest birds of the tropical rain forests—beautiful hummingbirds! So tiny they’re hard to spot, and so fast they’re almost impossible to capture on camera . . . or probably for dinner, too! Notice how perfectly color-coordinated they are as well!

Male Saffron Finch in Amazon

Consider the humble saffron finch, which is tiny and vulnerable but nevertheless thrives without even having to build a nest! These unassuming little birds nest in holes that other birds have built and abandoned.

Beautiful Scarlet Ibis searching for supper in the soft mud

Consider the scarlet ibis—adorned as brilliantly as a fire siren. Her beauty makes her a perfect target, but the powers that be have made her a protected species the world around! Both God and man watch out for her!

Color-coordinated Macaw in front of a grass hut in Brazil

Well, I could go on and on sharing about the fascinating birds we saw in Brazil!

White-naped Jay in Brazil

The songs and calls, the size and gorgeous colors, the similarities and differences from North American birds. Everywhere we wandered, birds appeared and serenaded (or scolded) us!

Black-collared hawk perched on a post beside an old fishing boat
on the Rio Negro in Brazil

As I “considered the birds,” I realized that what Jesus taught about them is absolutely true! God has created each bird with the unique qualities that it needs to survive and thrive. Survival skills come as standard equipment, and birds never seem to worry about the future!

Black-collared hawk in Amazonia

They aren’t busy planting and sowing and sweating whether or not it’s going to rain so they can reap a harvest.

Kingfisher perched on a snag along the Amazon River

Birds live one day at a time, focused on the present moment. Sure, they work tirelessly to provide a living for themselves and their little ones, but they don’t worry about tomorrow, and God does provide for them: “He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry” (Psalm 147:9).

Alcyon Amazon Kingfisher

No matter if we’re at the top or bottom of the food chain in this world, God loves us and tells us to trust Him with our future. He makes sure the birds of the air have food, and He will help us find the provisions we need too.

Iguazu Falls in Iguazu National Park, Brazil

I’m going to take my inspiration from the swallows at Iguazu National Park, who build their nests behind the torrential waterfalls.

Swallows darting through the waterfalls to their home in the cliffs

Rather than worry about tomorrow, let’s live under the rainbow of God’s protective care. Sure it’s scary having to dart back and forth through the downpours of life to find food every day, but God will provide, and we’ll get through! God loves us even more than He loves the beautiful birds that He’s created, and He will take care of us too! He wants us to relax and trust Him with our future! “Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God” (Psalm 84:3).

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 6:26 “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Luke 12:24 “Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (55): “Take No Thought for Your Life”

Some of Jesus’s commands seem impossibly hard, but others seem simply impossible. This is one of the latter! How in the world can we, as humans, actually “take no thought” about the most basic aspects of our physical lives: Food and clothing? After all, doesn’t the Bible teach us that, “having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8)? Or, in other words, “As long as we have food and clothes, we should be satisfied” (Names of God Bible rendering).

I can get far enough in my thinking to understand that Jesus doesn’t want us to be all caught up in material possessions and to imagine that it’s possible to be content with simple food and shelter. My mother, who grew up on the western prairies with a fierce pioneer spirit, claimed as her theme songs “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1964)

I—on the other hand—identify more with Eliza from My Fair Lady, who sang:

“All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air.
With one enormous chair,
Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly?”

That’s me! I could be content with a quiet corner of a small, warm home ( . . . especially if I had access to my camera and computer! 🙂 ) How about you?

I always thought contentment with “whatsoever state I’m in” (Philippians 4:11) was the goal, but Jesus calls us to something higher! He challenges us to “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Matthew 6:25). If life is more than eating and the body more than clothing, then what is that “more”? What’s more for you? Got any thoughts?

I’d love to hear your response! Is there anything in life even more essential to your well being than food and shelter? What’s the essence of your life? Is there anything even better than life to you? I’ve been pondering this passage particularly in light of just returning from a cruise down the Amazon River. There is something better than life to me, and I’ll try to be ready to share it with illustrations from Amazonia by this coming Tuesday!

Texts for today: Matthew 6:25, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” and Luke 12:22-23, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.

(Painting of Jesus holding a little girl by Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlight.com )

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (54): Do You Know Where Your Heart Is?

“The Light of His Love.”

Do you know the first thing that popped into my head when I asked you if you know where your heart is? I probably shouldn’t even admit it, but it was a line from a song written years before I was born. I can’t remember the last time I heard it (probably as a little girl somewhere while shopping in a store with my mother), and I never knew who sang it or the context, but one line has stuck with me all these years. I just looked it up and promptly stopped, because the context was an old movie with a skanky theme. BUT, what I remember about the song is good, because it says, “Yes, my heart belongs to Daddy,” and the song goes on to say, “so I simply couldn’t be bad . . .cause my Daddy treats me so well.”

For the past fifty plus years, I’ve thought of that line and attributed it to God, my heavenly Father, who has been so unbelievably kind to me that I’ve never been tempted to run away from him. His love keeps me reigned in when temptation threatens to undo me. My heart really does belong to Daddy . . . my Abba Father!

How about you? Does your heart belong to Daddy? This week’s “command of Christ” is found in Matthew 9:20, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If our hearts belong to our heavenly Father, then we will want to lay up our treasures in heaven, not on earth. But, what are heavenly treasures? From last Sunday’s study, we learned that spiritual treasures are eternal and spiritual in nature rather than transient and material.

While studying to see what the scriptures teach about treasure, I found a few lovely ideas. First, Israel is God’s treasure (Psalm 135:4), and if we have become “children of Abraham” by faith in Christ, we are part of God’s treasure too! In Proverbs 2:4, we are told to seek wisdom the way some search for hidden treasure, so “wisdom” is certainly something of eternal value that we can “lay up” in heaven! Isaiah 33:6 adds this bit of insight: “And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is his treasure.

What is “the fear of the Lord”? I’ve heard it defined as “reverential trust with a fear of doing evil.” When we trust the Lord’s Word as pure and right, we avoid evil out of respect and love for God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Want treasure in heaven? I do! Looks like it starts with reverentially trusting the Lord as the omniscient law giver who teaches us the way of wisdom. Even when the Bible looks “wrong” according to current trends—or even our own ability to judge good from evil—God wants us to trust Him and obey Him more than we trust our own hearts and obey the strictures of government (only when they disagree with the clear mandates of the Bible).

So, heavenly treasures start with belonging to God as our Father and becoming wise through learning to obey Him. As we follow him, then we’ll start producing the heavenly “treasure” of good works: “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (Matthew 12:35). These “good works” aren’t produced in order to earn our way into heaven, they are the natural by-product of loving our heavenly Father and are like gifts we can offer him.

Continuing along the path of treasure hunting, Matthew 13:44 teaches us that “the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” and in verse 46, the kingdom of heaven is likened to “the pearl of great price” worthy of giving up everything else in life in order to obtain it! How do we “obtain” the kingdom of heaven? By being born again: “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In Matthew 18:3, Jesus said it this way, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” If you’re not sure what that means, please click where it says “Coming to Christ” at the top of this page. This explains how to be born again and enter the kingdom of heaven.

In the Gospels, Jesus shares with us several times that when we give to the poor, we’ll have treasure in heaven! Do you believe that? I do!! It’s one of those “by faith not sight” things that doesn’t make sense in the world’s economy, but Jesus has a better way in mind for us than heaping up material treasures for ourselves! In 2 Corinthians 4:7, we’re told “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” What is this treasure? It is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This may make no sense at all to those who do not believe, but for those of us who have experienced the radiance and comfort of the glory of God, it makes perfect sense!

Think of it this way: What do you love more than anything else in life? Isn’t it being in the presence of the one whom you love more than anything else in the world? Think about it for a minute. What DO you love more than anything else in the world? Is it a person, or a possession? There is no person or possession that will bring you the pleasure and peace of residing in the presence of God and experiencing the light of His countenance smiling down on you! If you’re not sure, try meditating on this prayer over this coming week, and see what happens.

God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.” (Psalm 67).

Another song I just love listening to is by Michael W. Smith singing “Shine on Us.” (You can start about a 1:05 into it without missing the song): https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-SGMedia-sgmedia_maps&hsimp=yhs-sgmedia_maps&hspart=SGMedia&p=michael+w+smith+singing+shine+on+us#id=2&vid=e0ae2b512544e28688f8f2aee6716d0f&action=view

“Lord
Let your light, Light of your face
Shine on Us

That we, may be saved
That we, may have life
To find our way
In the darkest night
Let your light, Shine on us

Lord
Let your grace, Grace from your hand
Fall on us . . .”

Text for today’s meditation: Matthew 9:20 “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

(Photo of the painting “The Light of His Love” by Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlight.com)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (53): What Are Your Favorite Earthly Treasures?

Jesus told us not to lay up treasures for ourselves on earth. This is excellent advice, and as I survey my life, I realize how badly I’ve failed in this area! I’m surrounded by such abundance that my closets and drawers are stuffed. What is wrong with me? My lame excuse is what I call “Depression Consciousness” I wonder if it’s a diagnosis . . . I took too much to heart the training of my parents who lived through America’s Great Depression during the 1930’s (nearly a hundred years ago now!) and learned that every bit of scrap anything was worth keeping because it just might come in handy someday. However, that’s really no excuse for hoarding more than I need, which is in fact what I’ve done. I need to change my ways!

Many of you are probably neat as a pin and this is not your weakness, so hats off to you!! I grew up helping my spiritual mother (who was a millionaire) empty the last crumbs of bread from the wrapper onto her bird feeder (along with commercial bird feed). “Waste not, want not.” Good training, for sure, but some of us (like me) need to relax our grip on material possessions and unload our overabundance into the hands of charitable organizations whose mission is to help the poor (not just get rich on our donations; there is a difference, so I hope we’re all intentional about where we contribute our used clothing and no-longer-needed house wares). As a Christian, I like to contribute to organizations whose mission is to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world, but if you’re not a believer, you may have other priorities.

On an even deeper level, I’ve been exercised by meditating on this command to recognize that my favorite earthly treasures are actually not “things.” “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19). My favorite treasures are the people I love, and my guess is that—if you stop to think about it—this will be true for you also. So, what is Jesus trying to teach us about not laying up treasures in this context? Moth and rust may not cause the demise of the people we love (more likely illness), and it’s rare (although it does occur) that “thieves break through and steal” our loved ones.

Still, all earthly treasures, whether people or possessions, will not last on this earth, and I think this is the point. Jesus is warning us that what is physical is not eternal, and we should not set our hearts on that which is only ephemeral. Instead, God wants us to “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3).

I’m sure this does not mean to withhold our love from those around us. The Bible from beginning to ending teaches us to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 37-40). So, Jesus doesn’t ask us “not to love” those around us, He tells us not to “set our affection” on them.

What does this mean to you? To me, it means I need to stopping hoarding material possessions and adding to my collections of “things.” (Yes, even tea cups!) I need to open my hands more completely to the needs of the poor and clean out my closets! AND—I need to hold my family and friends with open hands, recognizing that even my most precious possessions on earth are gifts God has granted me for time rather than eternity. I need with great soberness to acknowledge that only those fellow human beings who are reborn into spiritual life will go into eternity with me, which intensifies my desire to pray for others and shout out the good news of the gospel from the rooftop of my life! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

Jesus Saves
(—Priscilla J. Owens, 1881, Public Domain)

“We have heard the joyful sound:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Spread the tidings all around:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Bear the news to every land,
Climb the mountains, cross the waves;
Onward! ’tis our Lord’s command;
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

“Waft it on the rolling tide:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Tell to sinners far and wide:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Sing, you islands of the sea;
Echo back, you ocean caves;
Earth shall keep her jubilee:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

“Sing above the battle strife:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
By His death and endless life
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout it brightly through the gloom,
When the heart for mercy craves;
Sing in triumph o’er the tomb:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

“Give the winds a mighty voice:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Let the nations now rejoice:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout salvation full and free;
Highest hills and deepest caves;
This our song of victory:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!”

Matthew 6:19 “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (52): Putting the Feast in Fasting

“When God opens our eyes for his word, we see into a world of miracles. What previously appeared dead to me is full of life, the hard demand becomes the graceful commandment” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

Have you ever gotten into the habit of fasting? To date, I have not, but I’ve been thinking very hard about it! As a young person, every once in a while, I would get an ascetic urge to fast out of a desperate desire for God to move in someone’s life (based on Mark 9:29, “And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting“). I could make it for about one 24-hour period before I’d give up! Man, how did Ghandhi ever do it?? I marveled at his will power and my lack of it!

After marrying, my husband—due to his medical training—did not want me to fast even for one day for my own health’s sake while nursing or pregnant . . . which was most of our married life into my early forties. So, in the spirit of Numbers 30:8 (although I didn’t believe in taking a vow as such, based on James 5:12*), I (somewhat begrudgingly) gave up fasting as a favored means of focusing more on prayer and hoping for deliverance for beloved friends from various maladies.

Fast forward twenty years, and in my sixties, I began partial fasting during Lent, which has definitely had ample benefits: helping me focus on prayer and appreciation for Christ’s sacrificial life for me, as well as weight control, although I never really experienced specific answers to prayer as a result, nor did I end up feeling any more “holy” or “spiritual.”

It wasn’t until just lately, as I studied for this post, that I realized fasting was not a usual part of weekly life for Jewish people during Jesus’s time. In fact, my beloved husband was completely indemnified when I learned that the ancient rabbis forbade scholars and teachers from fasting lest it interfere with their studies! (And, I think caring for infants is every bit as important, don’t you?) I was also surprised to discover that there is really only one official fast day prescribed by the Mosaic Law: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29). This is the holiest day of the year in Judaism, also known as Yom Kippur, and it was just observed this past week on October 8. This annual fast lasts approximately 25 hours, from the time the sun sets on Yom Kippur until three stars appear the following evening (October 9). The purpose is to set aside usual pleasures and activities (including eating and drinking) in order to spend the time in reflection both personally and communally, repenting of sins from the past year.

I love this explanation from ReformJudaism.org: “Yom Kippur is the moment in Jewish time when we dedicate our mind, body, and soul to reconciliation with our fellow human beings, ourselves, and God. As the New Year begins, we commit to self-reflection and inner change. As both seekers and givers of pardon, we turn first to those whom we have wronged, acknowledging our sins and the pain we have caused them. We are also commanded to forgive, to be willing to let go of any resentment we feel towards those who have committed offenses against us. Only then can we turn to God and ask for forgiveness. As we read in the Yom Kippur liturgy, ‘And for all these, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement.'” Amen? This sounds exactly like the teaching of Christ on forgiveness too: ” For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).

So, what does all this have to do with fasting, or putting the “feast” into fasting, or the opening quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer? This is what I think after a lot of prayer about fasting: Jesus doesn’t tell us to fast, but he does tell us how to fast when we do. Unlike many religions, which require fasting as a means of obtaining grace or increasing spirituality, the Bible teaches us that holiness comes from trusting in God, repenting from sin and avoiding evil. In Isaiah 58:6, God declares, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” God doesn’t require intentional deprivation. Instead, He wants us involved in actively caring for others. And what about this one from Zechariah 8:19? “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace.” God isn’t looking for asceticism; He’s looking for positive action!

I really believe there will be times in our lives when we are so distraught over something that we don’t feel like eating, and we may even intentionally fast for a specific time in order to focus on prayer and seek God’s will and favor. (Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.) However, Jesus’s disciples didn’t fast routinely. In fact, when the Pharisees grumbled against Jesus for not requiring his disciples to fast, he answered, “Can the children of the bride chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days” (Mark 2:19-20). We don’t have Jesus today, but He has given us his Holy Spirit to abide with us forever. Therefore, I think it’s appropriate to turn our weeping into “joy and gladness,” with our thoughts being focused on loving the truth and peace and sharing what we have with others “in cheerful feasts.”

However, when you do feel a need to fast, do it with a pleasant face, uplifted heart, and trusting spirit. Remember that your heavenly Father sees your needs, hears your prayers, and will reward you.

Text for today’s meditation: Matthew 6:16-18, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”

*”But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation” (James 5:12).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (51): One Prayer Worth Repeating . . .

There is one prayer that can never be repeated too often. It’s so simple a young child can learn it but so profound that only those who have surrendered their hearts to God can confess it with sincerity. Through this prayer, we affirm God’s fatherhood, our sonship, and His holiness. We bow before Him in submission to His will, asking for his blessed kingdom to come to earth and for His will to be done on earth. We acknowledge our dependence on Him for the most basic of our needs and ask for His forgiveness based on our willingness to forgive those who have sinned against us and are indebted to us. We ask for relief from temptation and deliverance from evil. We confess these truths as self evident: God is the rightful king of the world; all power belongs to Him; all glory is and ever will be His. In this we rest content and live at peace.

This was our Lord Jesus’s prayer, and this is now our prayer! There are no end of reflections that could be made on this prayer. It is a model for us. Do we need to repeat it word for word? No, but why not? Was it intended as a model for what we should be praying for? Yes, but it also encapsulates all that we usually fret about, and all our needs are subsumed under this rainbow. It expresses our faith in God and our eagerness to see His perfect will accomplished. In this simple prayer, all of our material needs are reduced to the only thing we really need for continuing life: sustenance.

Years ago, I worked with a group of people bringing Bibles to believers in China. Many of the Chinese Christians were severely persecuted, and most suffered deprivation for their faith, as they were discriminated against by the Communist Party. Above all else, I was moved by one of the songs they sang, which said they didn’t need any bread but the manna from heaven (the Bible). It isn’t a song we sing in America, so I don’t even know how to share the lyrics with you, but the message always brought tears to my eyes. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Oh, to be so focused on the Word of God as that which nourishes our souls! Is it even more critical to our existence than physical bread? Do we treasure the Bible above any other earthly possession?

And, what about forgiveness? My sister sent me this bit of tongue-in-cheek wisdom from Orlando: “A happy home is one in which each spouse grants the possibility that the other may be right, though neither believes it.” Or, how about this rather pompous thought from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To be great is to be misunderstood.” I suspect most of the time, we’re not 100% in the right, but even when we are, God calls us to forgive. That’s one of the hardest things we’re ever asked to do, because we have to absorb the shock of injury and suffering at the hands of another person. But, that’s what Jesus did for us, and that’s what He wants us to give others as a gift of love from God through us to them. Mercy. Help us to be merciful!

What about this one? “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” This isn’t just about keeping us from getting shot when we’re innocently walking down the street. It isn’t only about helping free us from addictions that enslave us and make us miserable. It’s also about resisting that delectable piece of pie that we don’t need after we’ve already eaten an excellent dinner and are full. It’s about avoiding the mall when we don’t need a new blouse. It’s about cooking dinner at home when we’d rather eat out. It’s about visiting the sick or grieved when we’d rather sit at home because we’re tired. It’s about living out the life of Christ when we’d rather indulge ourselves. Are we willing?

What an amazing prayer! Have you learned it? Do you repeat it at church or before you get up in the morning? The prayer our Lord taught us to pray gets right to the heart of who God is, who we are, and what we really need. It’s worth repeating!!

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Combining Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. )

“Our Father Prayer” Sung by Andrea Bocelli at the New York DreamCenter

(Photo of painting by Yongsung Kim used by permission of Havenlight.com.)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (50): A Consideration in Prayer

Do you have a favorite prayer you recite at certain times of the day? When I was ten, my two best friends were both devout Catholics, and one wanted to be a nun. No matter what we did during the evening, Susie would always end her day by repeating a cycle of prayers on her rosary, explaining that if she could fall asleep without sinning after this recitation, she might be able to go straight to heaven without needing any time in purgatory. Being a cultural “Christian” (based on being born in America), I knew nothing about the mysteries of purgatory or rosaries or the meaning of “Hail Mary, full of graces,” but I did admire her devotion and would definitely try to fall asleep quietly (at least most of the time) to honor her wishes.

A few years later, after hearing the best news ever—that Jesus died to save us all from our sins and wants us to turn to him in faith, accepting his gift of eternal life—I began to pray too, although I went to a little baptist church, where we were taught that praying is more about talking to God, who is our Father. Instead of reciting prescribed prayers, we were encouraged to open our hearts and let all our thoughts tumble out, the way a small child pours out his heart to a tender-hearted parent.

I don’t want to deny the efficacy of memorizing or reciting prayers, but I do want to encourage anyone reading this to consider praying to God the way you would talk to your father. (Or, if your father was unavailable or not good to you, then pray to our heavenly Father with the recognition that He is better than the very best father who ever lived on earth!)

If this seems irreverent to you, or uncomfortably intimate, consider that we are instructed in Hebrews 4:16 to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” If you have never asked God to become your father and Jesus to become your savior, please do! Come to him for mercy and grace! His arms are wide open! No matter who you are, God loves you with an everlasting love and longs to receive you into his family! Last week a friend said there had been just 18 inches between hell and heaven in his life . . . the distance between his head and his heart. Until well into his adult life, Randy had a head knowledge of God, but it wasn’t until he embraced Christ with all his heart as his Lord and Savior that he was born again and on his way to heaven.

On the other hand, if you are already saved by faith and a child of God, then the omnipotent creator of the universe has become your “Abba” Father! According to Strong’s concordance: Abbá – “Father,” “is also used as the term of tender endearment by a beloved child – i.e. in an affectionate, dependent relationship with their father; ‘daddy,’ ‘papa‘.”

So, prayers don’t have to be anything fancy or formal, any more than you’d ignore your two-year-old unless he could speak with the eloquence of an adult! God knows what’s in our hearts, and He wants us to share with him, just the way we long to share with our children . . . even our adult children! My “kids” are now 28 up to 44, but I will never stop wanting to hear “all about” whatever’s going on in their lives! Right?!

I have a girlfriend whose kids sometimes say she’s too nosy about their business. I love her response: “I ask too many questions because I love you too much!” God loves us more than the world’s nosy-est, most loving parent! Please, please talk to Him!! He’s here! Because he’s omnipotent and omniscient, He has all the time in the world for each one of us! He’s not too busy! He can carry on an infinite number of conversations at the same moment! He’s available. He’s knocking at the door of your heart! Have you let him in? If not, will you let him in? May we not only let Him in, but may we make the King of the Universe welcome as the resident King of our hearts as well!

Matthew 6:7-8 “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

“Abba Father” sung in Korean (with English subscripts)

(Photo of the painting of Jesus praying by Yongsung Kim is used by permission of Havenlight.com.)