Friday, January 28, 2011

Thy Will Be Done

Even in the twenty-first century, a few Scripture passages are still famous in their King James translations. One of these is the Lord's Prayer: "...Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done." And another is Jesus's Gethsemane prayer: "Not My will but Thine be done." There is a shining example of practicing what one preaches. Anyone can say to God, "Do whatever You think is best" when we have little obvious to lose either way; anyone can counsel someone else to accept a difficult situation as "God's will"; but the real test of spiritual strength comes when, facing situations we would do anything to get out of, we sense God saying, "Go through with it." Are we able then to sincerely say, "However much I dread this, Lord, Your will takes precedence over mine"?

For too many of us, the answer is "no" in situations far less serious than imminent crucifixion. Even serious Christians can fall under the influence of a society that preaches "you get what you want by thinking positive" and detests slow progress and delayed gratification. We often pray in the manner of whining children and selfish sweethearts: "If You really loved me You'd give me what I wanted when I wanted it!" Alas, our God is a God of tough love, and not someone who can be bullied or manipulated. He gives us things for our own good, whether we like it or not.

The more mature among us eventually learn, if not exactly to like our struggles, to face them with the attitude of Jesus: "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame" (Heb. 12:2). Once we develop a strong confidence in what God has waiting for us, we can finally say "Your will, not mine, be done" and mean it--not because God's will is always easy to live with, but because we appreciate that "our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Cor. 4:17).

A vision like that makes even crucifixion worth enduring.

Lord, my soul is stubborn,
Always longing for
Things to make me "happy,"
Health, and wealth, and more.
Lord, Your Word has told me
Joy will come through trial:
Free my heart from grumbling
At each "second mile."

Lord, my heart is selfish:
All it wants is ease
And a life of constant
"Doing as I please."
Lord, Your Word has told me,
"Be a slave to all."
Make my spirit humble,
Lest I slip and fall.

Lord, my mind is prideful,
Longing for a day
Praise and fame and glory
All will line my way.
Lord, Your Word has told me,
"Be the humble one."
Take my will and mold it;
May Your will be done.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Perfect Day

A frequently heard suggestion for "living right" is to start each morning by saying out loud, "This is going to be a wonderful day." Not bad advice, really, unless you demand that "wonderful" include every tiny aspect of said day. Those of us with perfectionist tendencies can get surly even about inarguably good things, if they don't fit our prewritten "scripts." ("What's the big idea serving gourmet cheesecake when I had my heart set on a chocolate chip cookie?")

Probably a better saying for Christians to start their days with is the Bible verse "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Ps. 118:24, NIV, 1984 edition). But many of those to whom this verse is familiar have probably never read it in context. Psalm 118 as a whole is no idyllic pastoral meditation, but sets a scene of "anguish," hard battles, and severe "chastening." The writer rejoices because God delivered him out of trouble, even from near death. He never complains because God didn't stop things from going that far.

There's someone from whom those inclined to grumble over traffic jams could take a lesson.

Do you hope this will be a perfect day?
Has there ever been such a thing?
Does not every day in this fallen world
At least one disappointment bring?
Are you tempted to find some tiny flaw
And to let it ruin all the rest
Of your day? Do you curse the smallest pain
For disturbing your "perfect" quest?

Even Christ Himself, when He walked on earth,
Knew frustration and stress and strain, 
And He did not come to remove all such,
But to show us where loss is gain.
When we walk with Him, He will give us strength
To be faithful, and watch and pray,
Till we all stand pure, at the end of time,
In our God's endless, perfect Day!

Friday, January 14, 2011

When He Came

Some readers, on seeing the opening verse of today's poem, may wonder if it was intended to post before Christmas, not three weeks after. Or you may feel a bit chided if, like some of my neighbors, you haven't yet taken down all your decorations. However much we talk in December about "keeping the spirit of Christmas all year," few of us really seem interested in Christ-in-the-manger by January. Which would be a minor problem except that for many, the story of Jesus stops at the manger. As one Advent writer put it, even Christians tend to prefer the cute baby to the "bossy, grown-up Jesus."

We shouldn't forget that the concept of Advent was created to encourage not only the remembering of Christ's first coming, but the looking forward to His return--and that's an attitude that can come naturally in any season. Now, I don't endorse the obsession with an imminent Parousia (if indeed it is imminent) that consumes many believers to the point that their whole concept of "God's work" seems to be harping on the sorry state of this world. But probably as many go to the opposite extreme and live for worldly success while treating God only as a source of material blessing. What He wants is for us to work hard under His guidance to make this world more like His future Kingdom, while maintaining a humble yet eager awareness that only He will bring it in fullness and permanence.

That's the way Jesus Himself lived--making the Kingdom a present as well as a future reality.

No proper rooms were free that night; no lodging could be found
Except among the animals; few people gathered round
That peasant woman as her Baby took first earthly breath,
And cried, as newborn infants do, within this world of death.
And just a few, among the lowest in the land’s esteem,
Would know the coming of their Lord, would see their God’s light gleam.
There was no wealth, no great renown, no trace of mortal fame,
Upon that night that touched the world with starlight when He came.

No hope, it seemed, could yet remain when that dread day was past
When, hanging bloody on a Cross, the Master breathed His last.
For human hearts crave earthly might, and dream of crown and throne:
Who would have thought the Lord of All could die in pain, alone?
And just a few, in coming days, despite the empty grave,
Had eyes to see the Risen One, to realize all He gave.
Although His power would shake the city through the Spirit’s flame,
The quiet dawn was little stirred when from the tomb He came.

Still mocking God and all His ways is this world as a whole,
This world that worships human pomp and scorns the humble soul.
Still mortal hearts crave wealth and power from their first earthly breath,
And still the helpless mourn and weep within this world of death.
But, someday soon, the day will come when Heaven shall open wide,
And from the heights there shall descend our Lord, the Glorified.
However many years we wait, as daughters and as sons,
We know all pain will melt away forever when He comes.

Friday, January 7, 2011

O, Master of Heaven

Welcome to New Songs from the Heart 2011!

My last (pre-Christmas) post talked about how we sabotage the true spirit of Advent by wishing for a quick ride to our "ideal" image. Perhaps I also should have noted a deeper source of the problem; we set that ideal (and its timeline) by our own judgment, and try to reach it by our own strength. If this is a stumbling block at Advent, it's all the more so in early January. Just about everyone, Christian or not, starts each year determined to get all the bugs out of her life by next December--then, typically, lets the resolve die of neglect by February. Most New Year's Resolutions lists are motivated by an optimism that, if not exactly blind, could certainly use a strong pair of glasses. If exchanging old habits for new ones was a hard struggle in 2010, why should the coming of 2011 make it any easier?

New year or no, we still live in the same old world. And we aren't going to make it--or ourselves--any different.

Am I saying everything is hopeless? Not at all. I'm saying that we forget Who really does the work of making the world--and us--new. That we too easily get impatient because He refuses to work according to our orders. That our resolutions and plans fail because we make them without consulting Him, or try to achieve them without acknowledging our dependence on His strength. He is the One Who will "make everything new" (see Rev. 21:1-5)--in His time.

Since much of our frustration stems from forgetting God is in charge of everything, today's poem takes a look at Him in a wide variety of aspects: Trinity, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier--and ultimate Consummator and Ruler.

O, Master of Heaven, Creator of all,
Who brought forth the world by the sound of Your call,
It was Your command that made everything grow:
Your power is far greater than mortal can know.

O, Christ, Blessed Savior, Redeemer of all,
What joy leaps within us when we hear Your call!
It was for our sins that Your life-blood did flow:
Your love is far greater than mortal can know.

O, Marvelous Spirit, Enlightener of all,
While You dwell within us we never can fall.
You’re working to make us as pure as the snow,
With wisdom far greater than mortal can know.

O, Lord of all being, great Ruler of all,
We long for the day of Your summoning call.
With time passed away, still Your rule on will go:
And we’ll see Your face, and pure joy we will know.