I am enjoying reading Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund. Ortlund compares more privileged authors to the less privileged Bunyan. Here’s the quote from Gentle and Lowly: “By the world’s standards, everything was against Bunyan’s making a lasting impact on human history. But this is just how the Lord delights to work — taking the sidelined and the overlooked and giving them quietly pivotal roles in the unfolding of redemptive history.” The Bible develops this theme by emphasizing the low man on the totem pole like Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his older brothers, and David left out in the field while his brothers line up to see who’s going to be king, ad-infinitum. The Bible carries this theme to the cross where Jesus takes the low position (Phil 2). The temptation to valuing the people who went to the best schools, grew up in the wealthy homes of status, etc. more than valuing people of lower circumstance should be avoided since God does not operate on the basis of such criteria. Another book I am enjoying right now is G. K. Chesterton‘s biography of Charles Dickens. The first chapter is a masterful essay on this same theme from a literary critics point of view. Dickens shares this unlikeliness of circumstance with Bunyan. God uses people in both sets of circumstances but seems to value or delight in using the disadvantaged because it brings his glory into greater focus.
Just for a moment, imagine the discipline of giving God one of your thoughts every minute, one second out of every sixty. If you can imagine that, then you wouldn’t be the first. Perhaps a guy by the name of Frank Lauback was the first. He is most known for developing the “Each One, Teach One” literacy program; but he also was a missionary to Muslims in the remote Philippines around 100 years ago. The idea occurred to him to discipline his thinking and give one second of every waking minute to prayer. He was serious. He worked at a plan. He practiced it.
As far as spiritual disciplines go, this one would go a long way toward keeping you thinking about God! And thinking about Jesus is after all what spiritual exercises are meant to accomplish. Lauback got his inspiration from the Apostle Paul. “Pray without ceasing” is what Paul had penned as he was winding down his letter to the congregation. He continued the crescendo of encouragement: “Give thanks in everything!” And to drive home the seriousness of praying constantly and giving thanks in everything he wrote, “for this is God’s will.” (1 Thess 1:17-18).
Not easy to give thanks in everything! Hard to do! Counterintuitive! So how might we get started? Consider this simple exercise.
We drop things everyday. Sometimes we drop the same thing we just picked up. So set you mind to being thankful for gravity every time you drop something. This is very simple. Every time you drop something on the floor, utter a prayer of thanksgiving for gravity. Without gravity I would be floating out into space, along with everything else that is glued to this circling ball called earth. Even the oxygen we breath would fly away without gravity. In other words, we could not survive except that God created gravity.
Hopefully, you are not dropping something every minute of the day; but this is a start on the way to more intentional attention to prayers of thanksgiving instead of sighs, groanings, and other expressions of frustration after accidentally dropping your cell phone or car keys. The next time you drop your spoon or your spectacles, thank the Lord. The next time you drop spaghetti on your nice white blouse or shirt, pray a prayer of thanksgiving. It will take practice. Even if frustration slips out grab it by its shoe stings and reign it back in so you can correct it with a celebration of God’s provision of gravity for your safety.
There are numerous enough inconveniences in the ebb and flow of our days to fuel a discipline of frequent prayer. Stop lights, senior moments, awkward interruptions, and excruciating equipment failures. Set your minds to turning them into opportunities of delight.
Dr. Stephen Williams
What shall I say?
If I say that I am a human,
what have I said except
that I trust I might last 70 or so many years.
If I say that I am a Williams,
what have I said except
that my grandchild might just bear one more male child.
If I say I am a citizen,
what have I said except
that I belong to a nation, 1776 and counting,
a blip on 6000 years of civilization.
But if I say I belong to Jesus,
what have I said except
that I find my identity in eternity’s light.
And as to what memory will notice no more
10000 years from now —
what will matter as little as less
than any least can linger —
I will not worry my little head any longer.
- by Wm. Stephen Williams, January 7, 2021
“Why are the nations in an uproar?” (Psalm 2:1) The culture seems to be in disarray, if you pay attention to the news. So how can God laugh? (Psalm 2:4). Laughter is a complicated display. Here, it is not funny. There is only irony. The world chooses to tear itself down at the doorstep of deliverance! Right in sight of salvation from shooting the foot. It is all unnecessary for God says, “I have installed My King Upon Zion.” (Vs. 6). “How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!” (Vs 12)
So, “Why are the nations in an uproar?”
God wants to change us by expanding our experience with him and knowledge of him through our reading and study of the Bible. So God reaches down and connects with us using our common experience. For example, James tells us that we should not pray with a double-mind (James 1:6-8). To understand this, we must have experienced double-mindedness in our communication with others. When we hear or read God’s word in the Bible given in human terms, then we can understand what he wants in his relationship with us.
When we relate to other humans with a double-mind, we say one thing but feel or believe another. No one likes this insincerity when they discover the truth has not been shared. God knows the truth right away. He will not play games by going along with insincerity. Prayer is communication within an honest relationship with God. He will not respond to prayers uttered in hypocrisy.
When James gives us this teaching, it informs us that God expects what honest people expect and honest people expect it because God expects it. So the teaching is like a double edged sword (Hebrews 4:12-13). It teaches us both about how to relate to God and how to relate to each other. This is what happens when reading the Bible makes a difference in our lives.
© Wm. Stephen Williams, 2018
We have every good reason to be optimistic about the church — which is the bride of Christ. When we look at the New Testament, perhaps we could lament; but despite the immorality in the Corinthian church, the antichrists described to the church at Ephesus in the letter of 1 John, the necessary and firm correction issued by Paul to the Galatians, and the Jerusalem business meeting about the degree to which prejudice against the nations should be exercised (Acts 16); God loved the church — as he still does, he used the church — as he still does, and he used flawed people in it — as he still does.
Think about the meaning of hope in the Bible. Biblical hope is not chancy like a long range weather report. In the Bible it is always a promise that comes with a guarantee. The one who secures that future is God.
Martin Seligman in Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, shows how easily pessimism can be learned and compares this with learning optimism. Perhaps the most often used practice among counselors today, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is built on the idea that negative thoughts can be disputed resulting in a healthier outlook. Can you dream of a more secure, more positive, more victorious outlook than the one God has promised the church? Paul challenges the Corinthians “to take ever though captive.” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NASB) “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” We can adjust our speculations.
Frank Laubach, early 20th century missionary to the Philippians and literacy advocate, while concerned about poverty and illiteracy, went about each day committed to devoting at least one second to thinking about God out of every waking minute (Letters by a Modern Mystic). You cannot help but to be optimistic if you are thinking about what God can do every minute you are awake. That state of mind would be an example of optimistic. Enough so — to keep you ministering to the weak and wayward.
Now we cannot just fly in the face of current reality when it is less than good! But even when the immediate outcome looks shaky, how are we encouraged to think in Scripture? That when a difficult episode is over, yes, even through the low point, we will still be on tract for an amazing future. Along the way, if we are determined to see the best in church people, we will see it if we are looking at them the way God does.
Sometimes we act as if God cannot do it with the people and churches we know; but there is every good reason for optimism. Sometimes we think the called-out leadership are too flawed for God to use them; but God still calls flawed ministers that sometimes act in ways that are less than inspiring. Apparently Paul himself suffered from that criticism.
It is true that sometimes the way going down is just part of the pathway back up; but the way will go back up toward the promised future.
Jesus creates a mental cartoon in Luke 5:34 “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?”
Ha! Of course not! It would be totally inappropriate! People lining up at the table filled with all that good food with arms folded, frowns pasted to their faces, and every plate shinning clean with their pitiful reflections.
You do not find that people at wedding parties have dull faces. It is uncharacteristic. We do not expect it.
Cartoons cause laughter when they picture the absurd. Can you visualize Jesus laughing out loud as he responded to criticism that his disciples were not dull enough?
Sources on laughter:
Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ
Karl-Josef Kuschel, Laughter, A Theological Reflection