Of Courage and Contemplation

Today is Saturday, the first of October, 2022, in the twenty-sixth week of Ordinary Time.

May the peace of Christ dwell within you!

Day 23,578


Lord our God, we thank you for your gospel, the great, good tidings we may carry in our hearts to give us joy in this present time, even though on all sides people are in anguish and agony. We thank you that your gospel fills our hearts with compassion, enabling us to help carry what many have to suffer. Show us our need of you so that we can receive your help. If we must be the first to suffer all kinds of pain and distress, may we do so joyfully because we have been promised blessing in the midst of all the pain. May we continually honor your name, praising you for the good news of your kingdom, for the promise that everything must work together for good through Jesus Christ the Savior. Amen.
(Daily Prayer from Plough.com)
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. . . . Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 
(Romans 12:12, 15 NIV)

Today I am grateful:

  1. for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the compassion with which it fills my heart
  2. that all things work together for good through Jesus Christ
  3. for the privilege and ability to simply sit and contemplate our God
  4. that all of humanity is created in the image of God
  5. for the strength that God gives, the courage to go on when we are afraid

For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
(Romans 14:8-9 ESV)

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
(Revelation 1:3 ESV)

Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! 
Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. 
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! 
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. 
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. 
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. 
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! 
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! 
Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! 
Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity." 
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 
let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy 
before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.
(Psalms 96:1-13 ESV)

Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!
(Psalms 31:24 ESV)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
(Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV)

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
(Matthew 14:27 ESV)

Only to sit and think of God,
Oh what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name
Earth has no higher bliss.
(Frederick William Faber)

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
(Genesis 1:26-27 ESV)

What is courage? The word is mentioned a few times in Scripture. First, I will tell you what it is not. It is not the absence of fear. That is a false belief that comes from toxic masculinity. There are a lot of guys out there who think that doing something “manly” (aka, “stupid”) makes them courageous.

Courage, though, is the ability to do something that frightens you. It is also “strength in the face of pain or grief.” It is not the absence of these things. It is the ability to move forward in spite of them.

It takes courage to follow Jesus, especially in these times. But Jesus speaks peace to us, just as He did to His disciples when He met them on the water. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

We’ve noted, multiple times, that the command “fear not,” along with its variations, is the most often repeated command in the Bible. My opinion is that, if I weren’t already afraid, Jesus wouldn’t have to say that to me. To me, it’s more of an encouragement than a command. I don’t think He is saying “fear not” as a directive, as much as He is saying, “Hey. It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay.”

One of the best ways to embrace this idea is through meditation and contemplation. Now, those are two entirely different things (and those who are more of the “fundamentalist” persuasion really detest those words, for reasons I will never quite understand). Meditation involves a sort of “chewing” on passages of Scripture, while contemplation is pretty much what that little poem up there says. “Sit and think of God;” “To think the thought, to breathe the Name.”

Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is simply sit and breathe the name, “Jesus,” over and over. I can tell you from experience (scoff if you want) that it helps; it is good for the soul. Faber isn’t far off when he says, “Earth has no higher bliss.”

Here’s the rest of that poem:

I love Thee so, I know not how

My transports to control;

Thy love is like a burning fire

Within my very soul.

Father of Jesus, love’s reward!

What rapture will it be,

Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,

And gaze and gaze on Thee!

O Spirit, beautiful and dread!

My heart is fit to break

With love of all Thy tenderness

For us poor sinners’ sake

Father, I know the joy, the bliss, of simply sitting and thinking of You, thinking thoughts of You and breathing the Name of Jesus. What strength, what courage, can be supplied by doing so. I thank You for this privilege, this ability. I praise You that, in Your divine omniscience, You ordained that I should be introduced to these things in my life.

I thank You, also, for the confidence that comes from knowing that we have been created in Your image. I don’t fully understand what that means, since You don’t have an “image,” exactly. Perhaps “likeness” would be a better word. I pray that, as I grow in You, I would become more like You. And, as I become more like You, may I more and more heed the common words in Scripture, “do not be afraid.”

I am moved, this morning, by the words from Romans 14, Lord. Whatever I do, be it living or dying, I belong to You. I am Yours, Father, to do with as You will. I simply pray for the courage to walk in the way in which You direct me.

Even so, come soon, Lord Jesus!

Things We Know, by Daryl Madden

Let’s make a list
Of the things we know
Starting with how much
Our God loves us so

We have a purpose
There’s nothing to fear
We always belong
And God always here

His mercy never ends
Forgiveness of our sins
He prepares our way
Before each day begins

No matter of the form
When we say a prayer
Something of beyond
Is happening right here

Just how we are blessed
Showered by His grace
To receive and share
Our joy to embrace

Please check out more of Daryl’s inspirational poetry at the link provided above.

Grace and peace, friends.

The Dialogue

Today is Friday, the thirtieth of September, in the twenty-sixth week of Ordinary Time.

May the peace of Christ flow through you today!

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
(Jude 1:2 ESV)

Day 23,577


“As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number.”
(Job 5:8-9 ESV)

Dear Father in heaven, in the world we are full of fear; in you we have peace. We pray that your Spirit may give us the joy of your heavenly kingdom and the strength to live in your service. Remember those who suffer pain, who still have to walk paths of fear and distress. Grant them help, to the glory of your name. May we be united in hope and in expectation of what you will give through your great goodness and faithfulness. Amen.
(Daily Prayer from Plough.com)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33 NIV)

Today I am grateful:

  1. for the great and unsearchable, marvelous things without number, that our God does
  2. for the peace that Jesus gives us, He who has overcome the world
  3. for the lifelong dialogue between God and His children
  4. for the promises of God that give us life and purpose
  5. that God knows me by name

I could write a whole devotional blog just based off of the two passages already featured. But I will see what else comes up, first.

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; 
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; 
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 
For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 
In his hand are the depths of the earth; 
the heights of the mountains are his also. 
The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. 
Oh come, let us worship and bow down; 
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, 
and the sheep of his hand.
(Psalms 95:1-7 ESV)

Look on my affliction and deliver me, for I do not forget your law. 
Plead my cause and redeem me; 
give me life according to your promise!
(Psalms 119:153-154 ESV)

“I have called you by name, you are mine.”
(Isaiah 43:1 ESV)

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! 
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 
you discern my thoughts from afar. 
You search out my path and my lying down 
and are acquainted with all my ways. 
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, 
you know it altogether. 
You hem me in, behind and before, 
and lay your hand upon me. 
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; 
it is high; I cannot attain it. 
Where shall I go from your Spirit? 
Or where shall I flee from your presence? 
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! 
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 
If I take the wings of the morning 
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 
even there your hand shall lead me, 
and your right hand shall hold me.
 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, 
and the light about me be night," 
even the darkness is not dark to you; 
the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. 
For you formed my inward parts; 
you knitted me together in my mother's womb. 
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
 Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 
My frame was not hidden from you, 
when I was being made in secret,
 intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; 
in your book were written, every one of them, 
the days that were formed for me, 
when as yet there was none of them.
(Psalms 139:1-16 ESV)

"What is this then but saying that of such consequence was it to the happiness of man that he should know how to behave himself as a creature, that it was necessary the Creator should take a created nature, and come Himself to show how to wear it? Thus one of the many known reasons of the sublime mystery of the Incarnation was that the Creator Himself might show the creature how he should behave as a creature. . . . The mysteries of Jesus are man's studies of the beauty of holiness." 
(Frederick William Faber, quoted in Spiritual Classics, by Richard J Foster and Emilie Griffin)

As I navigate through the various Scriptures, this morning, I see that, in many ways, this life, this journey of faith, is a dialogue. The dialogue is initiated by God, not us. We err if we believe that we are so important that we have begun the dialogue.

I took a class on worship, back when I was in cemetery seminary. The teacher of the class, Dr. Bruce Leafblad, told of a time when he and another pastor illustrated the dialogue of worship by playing a game of ping-pong at the front of the church. I have always been fascinated by that illustration, and I believe it can be found in Anne Ortlund’s book Up With Worship: How to Quit Playing Church, which I read during that course. It’s a delightful little book.

There is a reflection of this dialogue in the Scriptures that I have shared today. They are from different books of the Bible, different scenarios and circumstances, but they still serve to illustrate the principle.

God tells Israel, in Isaiah 43, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” This declaration was made to a people. Yet when we look at David’s Psalm 139, can we not also think that it applies to us as individuals?

David wrote, and was confident, of the Lord’s complete knowledge of him, even from before he was born. This dialogue with our Father begins even when we are still in the womb! Of course, it will be a number of years before we can actually begin to participate in the dialogue.

It continues as our God calls us to worship Him and sing to Him. And we declare that we will seek Him (or at least hopefully, we do). As Job said, “I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause.”

As I consider this statement, I think about what my “cause” is, that I am committing to God. The older I get, and the more I read and meditate on God’s Word, the more I realize that the only “cause” that I have is Jesus. And here is where the quote from Frederick William Faber comes into play.

Jesus, first of all, says, Himself, that He gives us peace. He has overcome the world, and He gives us peace. Then Faber tells us, in this wonderful passage, that one of the reasons for the Incarnation was to show us, the creature, how to live in our creature suits. The only real way we have to know how to behave as creatures is to examine the life of the Creator, who condescended to become creature, Himself, in order that we may know how to behave. I find myself wanting to read more of this Faber.

I do not have any other cause in life than this. To know Jesus; to proclaim His life and death and resurrection to all who would listen. And to walk as He walked, treating others the way He has taught us to treat others, to love God with all my being, and to love others as I love myself. This is my “cause.”

And I believe that this is the only cause worthy of our energy and attention.

How does the dialogue end? It doesn’t. It is still going on. The Bible, itself, is a “closed book.” It has been written and “sealed.” However, the Word of God lives on, through Jesus Christ, and through His people, the Church of God, the Bride of Christ. The Word of God is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). This dialogue will go on for all eternity, I believe. And I cannot wait to participate in it, face-to-face.

Until then, I will share in it, best I can, through worship and prayer, and through meditating on God’s Word daily.

I praise You, Father, that You know us by name, both as Your people, and as individuals. I thank You that You know me utterly, and completely, even more so than I know myself. I also thank You that You, in Your omniscience, remember that we are simply “dust.” You remember that we are the creature and that You are the Creator. Thank You for becoming one of us, in order that we might look at You and see how we should behave. Forgive us for the times when we fail to behave properly; forgive us for the times when we engage in “causes” other than the cause of Jesus Christ.

Help us, Lord, to love better, to love You with all our being, and to love others as ourselves, and to love one another (the saints) as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us.

Thank You for the dialogue between us and You. Thank You for beginning it and sustaining it, and thank You for putting up with our occasional ranting and raving and whining and complaining.

Even so, come soon, Lord Jesus.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
(Jude 1:24-25 ESV)

Grace and peace, friends.