Many of us are familiar with the classic hymn, “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,” by Edward Mote, written in 1834. But have you ever stopped to think what is meant by the phrase, “he then is all my hope and stay”? The word stay has many meanings, but I’m pretty sure Mote was thinking of this definition when he wrote those words: to provide physical or moral support for (sustain); to fix on something as a foundation (merriamwebster.com).
The British pastor most likely based this hymn on the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew and Luke. In this parable, Jesus explains how we are to build a foundation for life on the written word of God, which points to Jesus himself, the living Word. He is our support and our sustainer through anything life throws at us.
Another meaning of the word, one which Mote may or may not have had in mind, is of a stay that holds a corset together, or a heavy rope used on a ship to secure the mast or spar. In the corset, stays were typically made of bones and on a ship, the rope stays were necessary to keep the masts in place.
If you’re like me, you have probably been through times when you felt you were barely holding yourself or your life together. It’s amazing and unifying to think this song from almost two hundred years ago can still point us to the security and stability we find in God, who is our only hope and most secure stay.
Much has been written about Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus, which we will celebrate this coming weekend. It’s one of the three pivotal events (his birth and death being the first two) in not only Christianity but all of history. Contemplating the events leading up to the crucifixion evokes many emotions, including deep sorrow over what Jesus had to suffer as he willingly and lovingly laid down his life for all of humanity.
When I meditate on the resurrection itself, I am always flooded with hope and joy – what an amazing and powerful finale to an incredible week, and an incredible life. I can’t help but think of the last scene of The Gospel According to Matthew, made almost 30 years ago. The script was the book of Matthew, word for word. At the very end of the movie, we see Jesus walking away. Then he turns around and with a huge smile, waves for us to follow him.
The look of joy on his face, his welcoming smile and his gesture of inclusion make me want to get up and go. That smile reminds me why I have been willing to follow him anywhere and will continue to follow him. He did it – he conquered sin and death – for me, for you, for all of us, and cemented our place in eternity with him. Happy resurrection celebration!
A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (The Knowledge of the Holy). He goes on to talk about the history of the world and religion, ending with the thought that: “Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.”
What we think and believe about who God is influences the way we live, the way we conduct business, what we do with our money and resources and all of our relationships. It also influences governments and as Tozer said, churches. Sadly, who God is doesn’t enter into many decisions and policies by most institutions today.
What comes into your mind when you think of God? A distant, aloof being who wound up the world and stepped away? An angry judge/jury/executioner, waiting to lower the boom? A benign, helpless God whose hands are tied and just wants us all to get along? Or a loving, engaged Father who is active in the lives of believers. Or a Brother who laid down his life for every human being so all could enjoy eternity in peace. Or a divine Comforter who gently and lovingly guides, teaches and helps all who are in need.
In keeping with the foundational purpose of this blog, over the next few weeks, we will look (briefly) at who God is in all his triune glory. Until then, I hope you will take time to ponder Tozer’s statement and what first comes to mind when you think of God.
As I was praying about something, the thought popped into my head that my request probably wasn’t very high on God’s list of prayers to answer. There are many needs more urgent and dire than mine. And then I wondered where that thought came from. I know God loves me and cares about even the smallest requests, but sometimes I feel like I’m bothering him with my perhaps smaller needs. I even bug him about things like trying to get back to sleep in the middle of the night.
Having those thoughts reminded me of Philippians 4:6 in the New Living Translation: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” I also thought of Matthew 10:31, when Jesus talked to his disciples about what they would be doing when he sent them out: “So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (NLT). And Matthew 6:28-30 (NLT): “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?”
These verses reminded me of what I already knew but seem to have forgotten during my late night prayer – I am high on God’s list. My prayers matter to him. He cares about me more than the little birds and takes care of me better than the flowers that spring up and die just as quickly. You are high on his list too. He wants us to bring all of our cares and concerns to him, no matter how small. We don’t ever have to feel we or our prayers are too far down God’s list for him to listen or answer.
We don’t often give serious thought to the concept of time, but we frequently check our clocks and calendars. Even if one is retired, life is structured around schedules and routines. Don’t mess with mealtime! It can be fun and also mind-bending to venture into, as it’s called in Star Trek, the time-space continuum. I love movies and books that explore time travel. Scientifically of course, it doesn’t work – or maybe it does.
God is the creator of time and space; he lives outside of both but he freely “moves” in, out, around and through. He’s not limited the way we are, bound up in our linear timeline and restricted by laws of physics. Psalm 139:1-6 in The Passion Translation tells us: “Lord, you know everything there is to know about me. You perceive every movement of my heart and soul, and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind. You are so intimately aware of me, Lord. You read my heart like an open book and you know all the words I’m about to speak before I even start a sentence! You know every step I will take before my journey even begins. You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past. With your hand upon my life, you impart a blessing to me. This is just too wonderful, deep, and incomprehensible! Your understanding brings me wonder and strength.”
Jesus is our past, present and future and he is our redeemer. He redeems our past – it can’t hurt us anymore (Isaiah 43:18-19). He redeems our present with his grace and love (2 Corinthians 12:9). He is redeeming our future, preparing a place for us so we can be with him forever (John 14:2-3).
Time travel is possible and God does it all the time. He doesn’t need a spaceship and his mission, unlike that of the people on Star Trek, who are only interested in exploring space, is one of love for us, his children.
The difference between a New Year’s Resolution and One Word (besides the former usually being abandoned by February 1) is one is an attempt at behavior modification and the other is a matter of focus. A single word can take your mind off a negative action you are trying to change and focus your mind on something positive. If you want to see what others are using as their One Word, go to the One Word website (myoneword.org). It can be anything: a Bible verse, an attribute of God or even a manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit.
I thought my word would be pearl, but as I rolled it around in my mind, the word choose popped up as a better way to focus. Speaking of minds, the last half of 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us: “We capture, like prisoners of war, every thought and insist that it bow in obedience to the Anointed One” (TPT). Other translations say we bring our thoughts into captivity, or capture rebellious thoughts. By using my word to focus, I hope to work on making my thoughts bow in obedience – at least I’m going to try. I can choose to practice Philippians 4:8, thinking about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. I can choose praise and gratitude. I can choose love and mercy, to trust, to be kind.
My word this year is about much more than making the right choices in life. We deal with making choices every day and I’m sure I’m just like everyone else – some are good and some are not. But actively participating in my spiritual transformation means making conscious, on-purpose choices to capture and bring into submission my wayward, sometimes rebellious and self-willed thoughts. Choosing to do this won’t be easy but God’s Spirit living in me will encourage me and reinforce my good choices, which will not only carry me past February 1, but perhaps even through the rest of my life.
Another aspect of either/or thinking (see last week’s post) concerns Christians and how they (we) approach God and our lives in relation to him. Many think Christianity means we do our part and God does his. If we meet him halfway, will he reciprocate? Does our part involve praying and obeying, fulfilling his requirements and then and only then, will he answer our prayers, bless us and secure our salvation? Or is it as some have described marriage – 100% on both sides? How much of our life as Christians is active and how much is passive?
I must admit in my zeal to get away from my legalist past, I may have become a bit too passive in my way of thinking. I used to believe obedience was what God wanted most from me, but grace taught me he wants my heart more – a relationship built on love and trust. I may have begun to expect him to just change me without much, if any, effort on my part. But I’ve learned my transformation is not my part/his part, either/or, passive/active – it’s much more complex.
The interplay between God and humans, divine and physical, is way too complicated for us to understand and I can’t possibly explain it. All I really know is that Jesus loves us. But I’m also learning it’s both passive and active. His love is always and continually active in our lives. He is intimately involved in every moment, every breath, each trial and every joy. We can and should be active as well – actively receiving his love, participating in his life in us and in our transformation.
We can choose to be as active as we want; we can also be as passive as we want and sometimes it’s all we can do. Even though it’s both active and passive at the same time, this year, my word is choose – and I choose to be more active in my relationship with him, to not be just a passive recipient or expect him to do everything. My life and his are deeply intertwined and I don’t want to be a spiritual couch potato, but fully involved in the life of Christ.
Have you ever noticed we humans tend to think of almost everything in terms of either/or? We know things that are black and white always have shades of gray, but we tend to dislike the gray areas. We have a difficult time wrapping our minds around ideas, situations and even people that don’t fit into our preconceived notions of how they should be. Taking the shades of gray into account means we have to be flexible, open-minded and willing to let things be a bit uncertain.
We also tend to think God is the same way, that with him, everything is black and white – good or bad, on the naughty or nice list, going to heaven or consigned to hell. Trying to figure out how he thinks is an exercise in futility at best and dangerous at worst. Isaiah 55:8-9 are verses we should keep in mind or our brains could explode: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (NIV).
But we do know he is full of grace which teaches us that what seems either/or to us isn’t necessarily so with God. We say things like, if you hurt me or slander me, you can’t be my friend. We used to hear of parents who disowned their children for disobeying them. We are quick to judge and condemn others when God would give them a second chance. We think we know how to tell if someone is saved or not and we write off people we think are lost causes.
In this increasingly polarized and divided society, may we all remember that people aren’t either/or, but are complicated spiritual beings with many shades of gray. Jesus understands who we are all the way down, while we often don’t understand ourselves or others. Let’s try to be flexible, open-minded and less hasty to judge others, giving them the latitude to fall somewhere between either and or.
The last couple of years have been challenging to say the least. Many have experienced a range of negative emotions and it’s not been easy to maintain our equilibrium. We all have our favorite coping mechanisms (Hallmark movie anyone?) and some are better than others. It’s easy to say just trust Jesus, and yes, my faith and trust in him is how I cope with life. But in difficult situations, I sometimes need a little help to turn my focus back to him.
A devotional from YouVersion (a Bible app with devotionals, different translations and reading plans) mentioned turning our irritations into pearls, much as oysters do. (Sorry I can’t remember which one so I can’t give credit.) Most of you are probably familiar with how a mollusk can cover a grain of sand or other irritant with nacre to form a beautiful pearl. An oyster doesn’t complain, just gets busy covering that irritant with aragonite (a mineral) and conchiolin (a protein). These are laid down in layers and can take two years to form the pearl.
We don’t have any kind of automatic way to cover irritants in our lives, but we can choose to cover them with prayer, rather than let them wear us down. When I let something continue to bug me, it seems to grow and make me miserable. But I can remind myself to make a pearl, praying for God to lay down a layer of patience, peace and equanimity. By choosing to focus on Jesus and his always sufficient grace, I am laying down a layer of surrender, trust and dying to self. Just like an oyster, I also have to continue covering my irritants over and over in layer after layer, waiting patiently for the pearl to form.
From now on, when something, anything, bothers me I’m going ask Jesus to help me make a pearl. One day, my spiritual jewelry box could be full of beautiful pearls rather than the sand and grit of bitterness, resentment and a bad attitude.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I moved to Oregon. I’ve never lived so far north. This time of year, the sun sets early and rises late, which is something I’ve had to get used to. On top of the long periods of darkness, the area where I live has no street lights. With lots of clouds and rain (and even a little snow), we don’t often have the moon or stars to brighten up the sky. Living with all this darkness means longtime Oregonians look forward to the sun coming out, even if it’s for only a few minutes.
The whole world was in a different kind of darkness until, as Isaiah said in chapter 9, verse 2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Matthew quoted this verse to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecy: “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” ((4:16, NIV, both verses). Jesus called himself the light of the world in John 8:12. He said following him means we won’t have to walk in darkness because in him we will have the light that leads to life.
Jesus brought light and life to this world, but we are still somewhat in darkness. I guess that’s why he told the people listening to him (Matthew 4:14-16) they were to let their lights shine. That applies to you and me too. As we enjoy the lights of Christmas, may we all be reminded of the Great Light who came to the world to light up our darkness and may we reflect his light in our own little corners of the world, a world in desperate need of the Son.