Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Day Like Today

There is something about a dark, pouring-down-rain day like today that makes me feel like God is closer than ever.  The sky is nearly touching the ground, you can't see beyond what is right in front of you, and it is as if the distance between us and Him has grown smaller.  My thoughts tend to turn inward on these days.  I am more contemplative and prayerful.  I am thankful for the smells of wet soil and green trees, and the sound of drops pounding the roof.  I think of old loves and how though some involved pain, the love that was there was real and came straight from the hand of a good God.  Moments of time that seem more like poetry flood my mind and bring a smile motivated by joy.  

We carry umbrellas, on a day like today, cover our shoulders with raincoats, and wear rubber boots to our knees.  But sometimes we need to be soaked to the middle of our thighs, walking in puddles with inside-out wind-broken umbrellas just to feel God in the cool, relentless rain drops.  We need to be reminded that nothing bad happens when we are pelted by rain, not really.  We get wet.  We feel uncomfortable.  But we are here and we feel something, we feel God.  

Sounds are muted on a day like today.  A plane flies silently overhead.  Birds hide in nests.  Trees bend in the wind, but without a noise.  Really the only thing we hear is thunder.  Deep, roaring, overpowering, unpredictable thunder.  In between these eruptions of sound, there is silence.  It is a silence we do not create, but that he gives, wanting us to hear something other than the interruptions and busy humming of our own lives.  This silence makes me lean in, makes me stay attuned.  Let me hear you, Lord.    

Everyone looks a little tired on a day like today.  We were all jarred awake by the alarm ringing because this morning felt much more like the middle of a night than a new day.  There are lots of closed eyes on the train and I can't help but wonder what kinds of work God might be doing behind those lids and in the quiet hearts -- what he is doing in me to draw me closer.  The open eyes that I do see seem deeper somehow on days like today.  Maybe none of us are quite in control as we thought on the bright sunny yesterday.  And love seems urgent today, but harder to hand out, harder to give than on the days the sun and birds and endless blue sky cheer us on.  What we want most is to collect the ones important to us, the ones who hold our hearts in delicate hands, and ride out a day like today behind closed doors.    

Things slow down on a day like today.  The breaths are deeper -- both coming in and going out -- our thoughts more thorough, each minute longer than the same minute on a sunny day, every word more meaningful and longer lasting.  I want to fall in love; listen to jazz; hold a mug of hot coffee and a long conversation; cuddle under warm blankets; savor a good book; fill my soul; still my mind; and slow my heart. 

Pain feels broader on a day like today because it feels a little like adding insult to injury.  But in a strange way, a day like today is a reminder that a day like yesterday, bright with sun and hope and color, will come back.  Everyday will not be like today.  We know this for sure if the the past is any indication of the future. 
And perhaps this is the key to all the other stuff that a day like today uncovers: that something deep and long-lasting and beautiful happens in the rain, but not everyday will be like this day.  The sunny day that floods warmth, hope, joy, uncomplicated, unending love is on the way:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'  He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'  Then he said, 'Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true.'  He said to me: 'It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes will inherit all of this, and I will be his God, and he will be my son.'"  (Rev. 21:1-7)

Thank you, God, for a day like today and the tomorrow it brings.

Friday, May 20, 2011

All Three Wishes

Remember when you were a kid (or maybe you still do this) and you would play those question games like: If you could be any animal, what would you be?  If you could marry anyone, who would it be?  If you could live anywhere, where would you live?  If you had three wishes that you knew would come true, what would you wish for?  On this last one, you might say $100 million, a new car, a new job, a new brother or sister, whatever.  Maybe you would use one wish for someone else – a cure for cancer.  Maybe you’d try the old trick of using one wish for three more wishes.  Clever.  You’re probably a lawyer or something now.  Rarely though would you use all three wishes for the benefit of someone else.  This would just be nuts.  I mean, they’re your wishes.  I have to say, sometimes I pray this way, don’t you?  I spend lots of time praying for healing, courage, strength, patience, love, mercy.  In. My. Own. Life.  I do pray for others, but if I’m honest, my strongest, most time-consuming, most regular prayers are for me.   I mostly use my “three wishes” for me, just like when I was 10.  Perhaps this is why the Holy Spirit has been guiding me lately in some pretty specific ways about how to pray, what to pray for, and who to pray for.  

I met with a woman this week who is going through a kind of pain I can’t imagine and which penetrates every single minute of her life.  Her daughter died at a young age two years back and her granddaughter, who is a little girl, is suffering physically and emotionally at the hands of an alcoholic and abusive father.  The grandmother has been cut out of the granddaughter’s life and spends most days on the edge of despair wondering what might be happening to her granddaughter at any given moment.  Sorrow preceded her as she sat down with me and we talked through her legal options.  She had deep brown, watery eyes.  As we talked, and came up with a legal strategy, I was overcome by a persistent whisper from the Holy Spirit to pray to God for His power to be applied to this desperate, broken situation.  Not His grace or mercy or love, His power. 

So, at the end of our legal discussion, I held my hands out to this woman, who, in the span of this short consultation, I had fallen in love with – no other way to put it.  I then proceeded to pray the boldest, most direct prayer I have ever spoken: “God, we approach you with confidence and ask that you apply your incomparable power to protect the granddaughter, that you give the grandmother the words to say and the courage to say them to take the steps she needs to take in court.”  At this point, I felt another nudge to pray for the abusive father, and continued: “Lord, please make the abusive father stop his drinking and abuse, and transform his heart and heal whatever pain is causing him to act the way he is.   Please Lord, only your power can relieve the pain here and we trust you to make it so.”  By the end, both of us were undone.  Tears flowed freely, dripping down our cheeks.  Then we embraced like a mother and daughter might.  But, our tears were not of sadness.  They were tears that come in the overwhelming, holy presence of the Lord.  Even though nothing had changed in this woman’s life or the situation of her granddaughter that we knew of, we cried tears sparked by the hope and love God supplies at the instant one of His children is presented to Him for healing. 

In the gospel accounts, there are many stories about Jesus healing individuals he encounters.  Over the last week or so, I have been stuck on one story in particular: the story of the centurion, or commander in the Roman army.  (Matt. 8:5-13)  Remember this one?  This centurion is the most faithful man Jesus encounters in all of Israel.  His faith is so strong that Jesus is described as being “astonished.”  But, get this: the centurion didn’t go to Jesus and ask that something in his life be fixed or healed or that he be forgiven.  The centurion went to Jesus and asked that his servant be healed.  And he was.  This guy used all three of his wishes on someone else.  Can you imagine?  One shot at a request to the Lord in the flesh and his request is not for some kind of healing in his own life, forgiveness of his sin, eternal life, a private meeting.  His request, made from a place of complete confidence that it could be granted, was that his servant be healed.  We don’t even know whether the servant knew or asked the centurion to ask Jesus for healing.  And, we don’t know whether the servant believed in Jesus.  All we know is that he was healed and he was healed because of the centurion’s act of faith in presenting him to Jesus.  Remarkable.  Think what it must have been like when the centurion saw that his servant was completely healthy and no longer on the brink of death.  How close must he have felt to God at that moment!  How loved must he have felt!  How his faith must have soared!  I imagine he and his servant must have cried together, tears dripping down their cheeks.

There is another story in which a group of men carry their friend, who is paralyzed and can’t walk, on a mat to a house where Jesus is teaching.  (Luke 5:17-26)  Because of the crowds, they can’t get in the front door, so they climb up on the roof carrying this friend, and then lower him through the roof, presenting him to be healed.  This seems like quite an effort to me.  It’s hard to even picture what this must have looked like. They had to think there was a pretty good chance this was going to work.   But what’s so amazing is that once the man is before Jesus, and his friends are standing around him, the friends do not ask Jesus to heal anything in their lives.  Their one and only request is for their friend.   The text says: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’”  Later, Jesus says: “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  When Jesus saw the faith of the friends, he healed the paralyzed man.  And when the friends saw this, they didn’t themselves say: “Wait, what about us?  Please forgive us too, please heal my marriage, or my this or my that.”  They used all “three wishes” for someone else.  Their friend was healed because of their act of faith in presenting him to Jesus.  How their faith must have expanded when they witnessed their friend’s healing!  How Jesus’ love must have filled their souls!  I imagine they and their friend must have cried together, tears dripping down their cheeks.

My own experience earlier this week with the grandmother in combination with studying the stories in Matthew and Luke got me thinking about the fact that at various points in our lives, we all need someone else to carry us to Jesus.  Theologically speaking, this is called “intercession” – that is, a prayer to God on behalf of someone else.  For some reason, I have a hard time connecting with this word.  It seems too formal.  There is something so much more intimate and loving in describing intercession as carrying someone to Jesus.  And we all need this.  Sometimes our faith falters, or we are too weak in sin or in health to walk ourselves into the presence of Jesus for healing, or we are blinded to the fact that we even need healing.  During these times, we need someone else to act in faith for us, to carry us, to use all “three wishes” they have for our benefit.  Conversely, there is someone you know who, right now, needs some kind of healing in their life, but their faith is faltering, they are too weak to bring themselves into God’s presence through prayer, or they don’t even realize, for some reason, that they need help.

Would you act in faith and present them to Jesus?  Would you carry them for miles, hoist them up on a roof, and then lower them into Jesus’ presence so that they can be healed?  Would you go to them, even though you’re busy and it would be a long drive, just to join hands with them, and pray boldly and directly, knowing with confidence that God will intervene?  There are times when someone you know and love needs you to exercise whatever faith you have solely for their benefit.  They may not ask, they may not even know.  They may not have faith.  But when you use your three wishes for them and bring them into the presence of Jesus, it is a gift, plain and simple.  And not just for them, for you.  It brings you into the presence of the Lord and plants hope and love in you.  It builds your faith and brings you closer to God.  It is nothing short of a miracle.

How are you using your three wishes?

PS: If you need someone to carry you into the presence of Jesus, I would love to do that.  Email me: 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Come, Lord Jesus

Many months ago, I read the book of Revelation cover to cover on my way to the office on the train.  This was a strange way to start my day, and you know what I mean if you've read the book of Revelation in one sitting (or at all).  Since that day, though, there is one particular line, which appears at the very end that has been seared into my soul, haunting me at times.  Jesus says: "Yes, I am coming soon," and the text then says: "Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus."  Come, Lord Jesus.  I sometimes wonder what kind of emotion was behind this simple, power-packed prayer.  John, the author, knew and loved Jesus in the flesh.  What must saying these words have evoked in him once Jesus had been taken up to be with the Father?  Tears well in my eyes when I say it or pray it.  There are stories I hear from others or on the news to which I can only respond with three words: Come, Lord Jesus.  There are also deeply personal struggles I face to which there is only one prayer I can muster: Come, Lord Jesus.  And what incredible sustenance and indescribable holiness calling on the name of the Lord Jesus brings.  Try it sometime.  A recent encounter with this prayer:

Come, Lord Jesus

A wine glass and my book with cracked binding
teetered on the edge of the bathtub
as I floated in the warm, still water,
breathing out the end of another day.

And then you were there, sitting beside me
with an endless grace in your eyes that
was meant for me in just that moment
of lonely struggle and pain.

Without words, I understood you knew
the source of each tear that ran down my face,
how my heart cried to you for strength
and pushed you away in my weakness.

You knew the heaviness I carried
and worked unsuccessfully to overcome.
You knew my darkest moments and most
hurtful, deceptive deeds and considerations.

With your mere presence, love rushed in,
swallowing in an instant all loneliness and pain,
all guilt, shame, and sin,
as if they had never been born or indulged.

My eyes fixed on yours.
How you love me.
Yes, I am coming soon.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.