Praying Through the Stress of Work

June12

Psalm 104.1
Bless the LORD, O my soul! 

The beauty of the psalms is they are not simply inspiration and instruction, but example. In hearing and praying through the psalms we find spiritual vitality in a world austere to the divine. 

The idea of commanding one’s soul to bless the Lord, as the Psalmist does five times in Psalms 103-104, can seem trite and overly emotional — but this is far from the holistic rejoicing the psalmist had in mind.

In his journals Jonathan Edwards reveals the way his spiritual life is burdened by stresses of his vocation. He creates space to recenter himself on Christ through the scriptures, prayer for others, and community. And in this, he rejoices in the joys of his Heavenly Father:

Tuesday, June 26. In the morning my desires seemed to rise, and ascend up freely to God. Was busy most of the day in translating prayers into the language of the Delaware Indians; met with great difficulty… But though I was much discouraged with the extreme difficulty of that work, God supported me; and especially in the evening gave me sweet refreshment. 

“In prayer my soul was enlarged, and my faith drawn into sensible exercise; was enabled to cry to God for [them]; and though the work of their conversion appeared impossible with man, yet with God I saw all things were possible. 

“My faith was much strengthened, by observing the wonderful assistance God afforded his servants Nehemiah and Ezra, in reforming his people, and re-establishing his ancient church. 

“I was much assisted in prayer for dear christian friends, and for others that I apprehended to be Christ-less… [I] was enabled to be instant in prayer for them; and hoped that God would bow the heavens and come down for their salvation. It seemed to me there could be no impediment sufficient to obstruct that glorious work, seeing the living God, as I strongly hoped, was engaged for it. 

“I continued in a solemn frame, lifting up my heart to God for assistance and grace, that I might be more mortified to this present world, that my whole soul might be taken up continually in concern for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom: longed that God would purge me more, that I might be as a chosen vessel to bear his name among the heathens. Continued in this frame till I dropped asleep.”

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 17 (Listen – 3:24)
Psalm 104 (Listen – 3:37)

Life and Eternity
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Deuteronomy 18 (Listen – 3:08); Psalm 105 (Listen – 4:02)
Sunday: Deuteronomy 19 (Listen – 3:04); Psalm 106 (Listen – 4:52)

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TBT: The Grace Which Rises

June11

Psalm 103.10-11

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. 

TBT: The Grace Which Rises | by Augustine of Hippo

Observe heaven: everywhere on every side it covers the earth. Men sin beneath heaven: they do all evil deeds beneath the heaven; yet they are covered by the heaven. From heaven is light for the eyes, and air, and breath, and rain upon the earth for the sake of its fruits, and all mercy. 

Take away the aid of heaven from the earth: it will fail at once. As then the protection of heaven abides upon the earth, so does the Lord’s protection abide upon them that fear Him. You fear God, His protection is above thee. But perhaps you are scourged, and believe that God has forsaken you. God has only forsaken you if the protection of heaven has forsaken the earth.

When sin is remitted, your sins fall, your grace rises; your sins are as it were on the decline, your grace which frees you on the rise. You should look to the rising, and turn away from the setting. 

Turn away from your sins, turn unto the grace of God; when your sins fall, your rise and profit. This is the grace which rises unto us: both our sins fall forever, and grace abides forever.

Who but Christ has prepared His throne in heaven? He who descended and ascended, He who died, and rose from the dead, He who lifted up to heaven the manhood He had assumed, hath Himself prepared His throne in heaven. 

The throne is the seat of the Judge: observe therefore you who hear, that “He has prepared His throne in heaven.… The kingdom is the Lord’s, and He shall be the Governor among the people. “And His kingdom shall rule over all.”

And why? God is the Judge. “In every place of His dominion: bless thou the Lord, O my soul!” From blessing we set out, to blessing let us return, in blessing let us reign.

Prayer

Have mercy, Lord, on me
and make me a temple fit for yourself.
In your great mercy,
in your boundless compassion,
wash away my sins, through Jesus Christ,
your only child, the truly holy,
the chief of our souls’ healers.
Through him may all glory be given to you.

— Unknown author. Likely a private family prayer, found on papyrus, published 1924.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 16 (Listen – 3:25)
(Listen – 2:07)

Life and Eternity
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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The Prayer of One Afflicted

June10

Psalm 102.2
Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call! 

“Blather, hokum, and trumpery,” scathes Algis Valiunas as in his summary of the modern self-help industry. One in five Americans lives on psychiatric medication. Millions more face non-clinical discouragement, anxiety, and depression on a regular basis. The self-help industry aggressively promotes its products as the pathway to happiness.

The revenue is staggering; Americans spend over half a billion dollars a year on self-help books. The self-help genre thrives from a high recidivism rate. The person most likely to purchase a self-help book has previously purchased one in the past 18 months.

While bibliotherapy is relatively new, the idea that we can save ourselves is not. Shortly after the turn of the century Maslow posited that self-actualization would unlock supreme happiness. Half a century prior to that Emerson predicted that, “As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions,”

“There is pap from sea to shining sea, of wanton avarice, or diaphanous lunacy, or simpleton dullness. One fears for a nation awash in this drivel,” Valiunas concludes. “One longs for a practical democratic philosopher to save us from drowning in it.”

Valiunas is correct in his diagnosis of the futility of self-help. But his longing for an individual to discover themselves as the answer to life’s greatest needs, even under the guidance of a grand philosopher, is misguided. It’s like hoping a castaway, languishing in the outer-reaches of the ocean, will suddenly summon the strength to swim home.

Loss of appetite, hopelessness, sleepless nights, and a sense of isolation: these experiences — exploited by the self-help industry — sit at the heart of Psalm 102. The psalmist takes his darkness, brokenness, and hopelessness before God in prayer. He looks to God as his only sufficient hope for restoration, redemption, and renewal.

God sacrificed greatly on our behalf to win such victories — not only the small ones in this life, but the final one in the life to come. (The exuberance of receiving such a gift is revealed in the words of Psalm 103.) As Edward Mote wrote in his hymn “The Solid Rock,”

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

Listen – On Christ The Solid Rock I Stand,  Blake Quimby (2:10)

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 15 (Listen – 3:20)
Psalm 102 (Listen – 2:45)
Life and Eternity
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Hope and Joy

June9

Psalm 100.1-2
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! 

In the late 1860’s Charles Feltman replaced the pie wagon he had pushed through the sand on Coney Island for years with a new one that could serve his latest creation: sausage wrapped in a pastry bun. 

People were skeptical of what would become known as the hot dog, but the idea took off and Feltman built a restaurant that expanded rapidly. The Coney Island History Project reports that Feltman’s, “covered a full city block and consisted of nine restaurants, a roller coaster, a carousel, a ballroom, an outdoor movie theater, a hotel, a beer garden, a bathhouse, a pavilion, a Tyrolean village, two enormous bars, and a maple garden.”

Even after his death in 1910 the restaurant continued to expand — with over five million patrons in 1923 alone. If ever there was an institution that looked like it could last it was the dime-a-hotdog restaurant that could serve 8,000 people at a time and sat not far from the beach and newly-opened subway. But in less than a decade the Great Depression set in and business dried up quickly. Feltman’s family was soon faced with the task of closing the venues and selling off the land. 

We strap our hopes and dreams to what looks most successful and trustworthy. Yet ventures succeed and fail — taking entrepreneurs, investors, employees, and families along with them. Far too many people end up wrought with strife and brokenness because they invest everything they are into things which are exposed as unworthy.

Psalm 100 is the closing Psalm in a series of psalms (starting at Psalm 93) that renders praise to God because he is sufficiently worthy of our praise, affection, and hope. Those who praise God are full of joy because worship centers their life in God’s presence — and better is one day in his presence than thousands elsewhere.

Our work on this earth might carry on beyond our lives — last month a Coney Island man opened a Feltman’s pop up — and is worthy of our time and energy. At the same time, we should guard ourselves from allowing vocation and success to become the object of our affection or the source of our hope and joy. 

Prayer
Lord you are unchanging and eternal. Let us rejoice in you. Let us rest in your arms. Give us clarity and energy for our work. Give us hope and joy in you — both now and for eternity.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 13-14 (Listen – 6:35)
Psalms 99-101 (Listen – 2:49)

Life and Eternity
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Why We Want Objective Good

June8

Psalm 97.10
O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked. 
Our post-modern culture may teach that there is no such thing as an objective good or an objective evil, but no one really wants to believe that this is true. For when there is no objective standard, then “might makes right” — and that is unacceptable.
When there is an objective standard, John Piper says, “the simplest peasant in Russia, the simplest Jew in Germany, the simplest slave in Georgia or the simplest Christian prisoner in Rome can say to the most powerful Stalin, the most powerful Hitler, the most powerful plantation owner or the most powerful Caesar, ‘Excuse me. No, sir, this is wrong. Your power does not make it right. There is a God above you and there is a right and a wrong outside of you and your might does not make it right.’”
God defines objective good and objective evil. Good is that which honors Him and helps others, and evil is that which dishonors Him and hurts others. And He calls us to conform our emotions to this reality.
Yet loving an objective good and hating an objective evil – although somewhat easy to talk about when it comes to international injustices – gets complicated when we start talking about our own hearts.
In the Gulag Archipelago Alexander Solzhenitsyn reflected, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts … even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”
Prayer
Lord, Jesus himself is the ultimate objective good. There is nothing better for us than him. In light of this reality, we beg you to give us your mercy for the miracle of new affections. Help us love good and hate evil, especially the evil in our hearts. Lift our eyes to Jesus, who died at the hands of evil to bring us the ultimate good. Let us not merely reject evil and choose good; let us hate evil and cling to good. Change our affections and, thereby, change our lives. Amen.
Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 12 (Listen – 5:11)
Psalms 97-98 (Listen – 2:11)
Life and Eternity
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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