Peace in a Long, Dark Valley

It’s nice to think of a valley as a calm, safe place where we can rest. But often valleys are long and dark. Silent, sunless, hopeless. Sometimes we’re stuck in trials that seem unending, with no high points of relief or joy. That sort of valley can be hard to endure.

And yet we can have peace even there. Not ease, not happiness, but peace. Each of us will pass through valleys, and we rarely know how long they will be. God longs to give us the “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Let us seek to walk close to the Almighty, who is with us in each trial. We are never alone.

Media lagniappe: “Peace in the Valley” —
Gospel version by Carlton Pearson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnuRc-LPuQU
Traditional version by Elvis Presley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMD8d7oUjxw

Dark and Dismal Valley; engraving by George Pearson (1864)
from a work by Johann Baptist Zwecker (1815-1876)

Measured? Beloved.

I received a late-night text from a friend that left me breathless: “We have been measured, and found beloved.”

Can this be true? Yes, and eternally yes.

I tend to measure myself a lot. Prayer, exercise, discipline, weight, restraint, meditation, talk…and the numbers are never quite right. Has it been enough? Almost always too much or too little. (Confession: I sometimes measure others also, with similar results.)

But this says we are evaluated by Divine calibration, and by God the results come out not in numbers but in value. Eternal worth. Not flawless, but beloved.

Amen. So be it. Amen!

From selftution.com

A Mattress of Prayer

My friend Marilyn described someone as “resting on a mattress of prayer, or maybe a pillow.” What a lovely image! And, since I’m a quilter, I visualized a quilt of prayer.

Now, you fill in the blanks. How does this push you to think about God, comfort, prayer, rest? Maybe take just one minute, 60 seconds, to consider resting on prayer.
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I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts. Please feel free to email me directly (maryps121@aol.com) if you don’t want to comment publicly. But whether or not you contact me, please contact God about this. And just see what happens.

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash

Take up, and follow

“Take up your cross, daily,” said Jesus, “and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) That’s two separate actions, but they have to go together.

Too often we seek the excitement of following Jesus but prefer to do it without the cross.

That cross can be different things for different folks. It can also change, over time. And sometimes we take up burdens that are not meant to be ours. One of the responsibilities of discipleship is discerning, with the Spirit’s help, which cross we are being asked to carry, and when.

Then we have to follow. Too many times, we take up our cross but just stand there, weighted and miserable. It gets lighter as we follow. Or maybe we get stronger. Either way, following is just as important as lifting that cross.

Dear God, please help us to do both.

“Crossed” by thefost is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

When God Says NO

It’s happened to all of us: someone we trusted says NO to us, lets us down, in word or deed. That’s often really painful, and we develop ways—healthy or not—to handle their refusal.

But what about when God says NO? How do we deal with that refusal? The temptation is to react to God’s NO the same way we react to a loved one’s NO. And yet the Lord is not a human with weakness and frailties. When God says NO, it’s for the best. It’s for our good, and the good of our children.

God’s NO is not based in selfishness, indifference, personal pain, sin, inadequacy, anger, dislike, or anything else negative. God’s NO comes from love. Our job is to believe—to embrace the fact—that, somehow, God’s NO is immeasurably better than the YES we asked for and hoped for.

O Divine Love, grant us faith to embrace your NO.

Gerrit Dou, A Hermit Praying (public domain)

“For those who identify as children”

It was the special time set aside for the younger members of our church. The pastor got our attention by saying, “This is for all of you who identify as children.” First that made me laugh, then it made me think.

In certain aspects, I hope I always identify as a child. I always want to be excited to learn, ready to have fun, confident in my heavenly Parent.

But in other areas, I need to put aside childish behavior as soon as I recognize it. There were harmful thought patterns and unhealthy reactions that I learned as a child, 60+ years ago. My past does not have to determine my future. With God’s help, I can identify as both: a carefree child, a happy adult.

Lent: Sacrifice? Or Surrender?

Three days into Lent, I’d failed at my self-imposed Lenten discipline of rising extra-early for prayer. I got up late three days in a row. Getting up early is difficult for me but that’s what Lent is about, right? Suffering and sacrifice?

I was wrong. Lent is about submission to God’s will.

It’s a dreadful temptation to think that salvation comes only through pain. Salvation comes through surrender to God. Yes, suffering is often involved, but it’s not the point.

The Lord calls us to walk in love, shown through obedience to God. Obedience often requires sacrifice, but sacrifice is only godly if it is offered in loving obedience.

Hosea 6:6 (ESV) says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Now, for Lent, I’m focusing on loving and knowing God more each day, instead of simply giving up something. Will you join me?

Whispered Prayers

It’s a sad thing to pray only when we’re in trouble. But it’s even sadder when we’re in trouble and choose not to pray, for whatever reason. The prodigal son, when he came to his senses, looked around and said, “Why should I sit here until I die? I will arise and go to my father.”

If you are anxious today, or in need, or afraid, or bone-weary, go to God in prayer. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been neglecting the Lord who loves you: God still yearns to hear from you. Isaiah wrote about people who, in their distress, “poured out whispered prayers” (Isaiah 26:16, ESV). If all you can do is whisper a prayer, or groan one, or even think one, do it. Don’t wait.

We never deserve the privilege of prayer, but we always have access to it. Any time, anywhere.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Prodigal Son.

So, What’s Ahead?

We’re about to turn the page on a tumultuous year. I hear folks talking about putting 2020 behind us, speaking about 2021 with great anticipation, and I cringe. Because, really, no one knows what’s ahead. We’re all hoping for better days, of course. But many of the problems that plagued our country last year are still not fixed. The change in political leadership will help, but it won’t be an automatic cure-all. A lot of work lies ahead, along with a lot more heartache, pain, and turmoil.

Yet we must soldier on. And we can be strong with the confidence that our faith, indeed our hope, does not lie in any organization or person. No, our faith and hope must only be placed in God. We can securely trust in the promises that guarantee God’s presence with each of us. There are no universal promises of ease, health, wealth, or physical safety; but there are many utterly reliable promises of God’s mercy, love, attention, and companionship. Here’s a link to a gospel classic, “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3rIzgXJBX0

May we trust Divine Love, and go into 2021 without fear.

Snoopy was wrong…

…Or at least only partly correct. In this year’s Christmas Day Peanuts cartoon (https://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/2020/12/25) Snoopy tells Woodstock, “Christmas is for the innocent.” I think Christmas is more for those of us who are not innocent: who are dogged by regrets, battered by the results of unwise choices, hindered by habits that we can’t seem to break. Emanuel — God is here to offer us mercy, pardon, restoration. Jesus was born so we can all have access to fellowship and union with Divine Love. Whoever we are, and whatever we’ve done or left undone.

Let us turn our minds to the ongoing miracle and meaning of Christmas. Yes, it’s personal.

Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Nativity