Archive for the ‘Devotional Thoughts’ Category

Praying in Crazy Times

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

During this pandemic, I’ve heard people say they don’t even know how to pray.

I’m thinking about the Psalms lately as I think about praying. I do believe there are many ways to pray — but some of those ways are to pray like the psalmists.

I’ve been looking at laments lately. An interesting thing about laments is that in the Psalms, they generally spend a lot more time telling God what the problem is than they do telling him what they want him to do about it. It’s almost like praying is more for our benefit than it is for God’s.

Over the years, I’ve often been told to pray specific prayers, because then you can see when God has answered. I’ve been told to name it and claim it.

And yes, we’re supposed to lay our requests before God with thanksgiving. There’s nothing wrong with telling him what we want to happen. He’s said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

But what is the difference between asking God and telling him what to do?

Take a look at the Psalms. They pour out their hearts to God about the big mess they’re in, and then they ask God to act. They ask God for help. They aren’t usually terribly specific about what form the help needs to take. In fact, it seems like they actually trust God to figure out what should be done.

I think about when my husband left me. For years, I prayed that God would bring him back. It took a long time before I realized that I wasn’t trusting God. I was telling him what I thought needed to happen.

God did answer my prayers for help. He granted me protection and security, a new job, a new home, and a church family that cared about me. He took my relationship with himself to a whole new level.

In fact, he graciously granted me an abundance of blessings I’d never thought to ask for.

There was a key moment for me when I realized that “standing for my marriage” wasn’t actually trusting God. Could I trust God to help me and bless me when I was not deciding what the outcome had to be?

Take a look at some Psalms. You can almost page through and take your pick, but I’ll point out a couple where it’s really striking.

Look at Psalm 44. The psalmist goes on for 22 verses about how bad things have gotten. Then they end with these four verses:

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.

Another good example is Psalm 10. This one is a more complete lament, and it’s got the “Words of Assurance” section after the “Petition.” In fact, out of 18 verses, there is only one where he asks God to do anything, and that verse is short and sweet:

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.

So this is an idea for praying during this pandemic. I’m not saying this is the only way to pray. But as an exercise, try pouring out to God all your worries and all the ways things are not going well.

And then ask him:

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.

It doesn’t hurt, after that, to continue with the form of the lament. Remind yourself that you really do believe that God can handle this. Make some promises about how you’re going to celebrate when God brings you through!

But I for sure don’t know what God should do about this global pandemic. I’m glad that I do trust that he knows, and that he will have mercy.

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief.
You consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.

Walk with us, Lord.

A Psalm from the Scatterbrained

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

I’m feeling scatterbrained this week. I’m trying to focus and failing. Tonight I was trying to get to working on my Psalms book again and just going nowhere.

That’s when I thought: I want more example Psalms. To show that you can use these forms to pray and it really helps, because they direct your thoughts. Why not write a Psalm Prayer about it?

I’ve done Laments. But tonight I tried a Penitential Psalm. Because I’m pretty sure it’s my own fault I’m getting worried and distracted. I’m not trusting God; I’m trying to figure things out myself.

A Penitential Psalm has pretty much the same form as a Lament, but you ask God for mercy in the address to God and the complaint part talks about how bad things have gotten because of what you’ve done, so it’s also confession. (See Psalms 6, 38, and 51.)

Let me review the parts:
1) Address to God
2) Complaint
3) Confession of Trust
4) Petition
5) Words of Assurance
6) Vow to Praise

Okay, I tried not to edit too much and just pray it through, so this doesn’t pretend to be polished. But here goes:

A Psalm from the Scatterbrained

Father, have mercy on me,
according to your unfailing love.
Look on my situation and have compassion;
see my failings and grant me grace.

We’re in a pandemic,
and the world has turned upside-down.
I don’t know what’s normal,
and I don’t know how to plan.
My thoughts are bouncing around my brain
like ping-pong balls.
I’m having trouble focusing,
distracted by each new announcement or speculation.

My work serving the public has come to a halt.
Helping people in person spreads germs.
So now we look for ways to help
while keeping everyone at a distance.
I write reviews;
I read those journals that were stacking up.
Will I learn about customer service
while staying away from customers?

What’s the problem? As an introvert,
being at home should give me focus.
But instead, I’m scatterbrained.

I want to know what to expect,
how to plan,
what date to schedule the make-up programs
and when the books are due.

It’s out of my hands.
It’s out of my hands.
Wash those hands free of germs
and free of holding the world.

Lord, is this what it takes
to show me my plans are butterflies?
Does it take a pandemic
for me to realize I’m not in control?

You do see the future.
You do watch over your children.
If you see a sparrow fall,
then you know today’s death count.
And you are there.
And you gently bear each soul to heaven.

You’ve told us that riches are fleeting.
You’ve told us our life is a breath.
Does it take a pandemic
to make us understand?

Lord, walk with your children.
Forgive us when we run ahead.
Hold our hands through the dark fearful chasm
and carry us safely out of the fire.

Lord, do not forsake us!
Show yourself by our sides.
Come quickly to help us
and grant us peace and strength.

We don’t know how this pandemic will end.
We don’t know what our lives will look like next season.
But we know you will be with us
and show us new joys on the other side.

The day will come
when we again shake hands with new friends
and throw our arms around old friends.

The time will come
when we again meet as a choir
to join our voices in praises to God,
and lift our voices together to our Mighty Fortress.

Do Try This At Home!

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

I got some wonderful responses to yesterday’s Lament for Covid-19. People said it touched them.

But that wasn’t what I was going for. What I wanted was for people to say: I can do that!

I want to motivate people to try this way of praying themselves. I think I’m going to have to post a much shorter example.

But before I do, I want to point out something that blessed me in writing yesterday’s lament. I already knew that what I love about the form of the lament is that Thanksgiving is built in. It automatically includes what Christians are taught in Philippians 4:6-7 – to present your requests before God with thanksgiving.

But I wasn’t prepared for how powerfully the “Vow to Praise” would hit me. You make promises of what you’re going to do when God comes through and answers your prayer. I started imagining all the people I’m going to hug when this Covid-19 crisis is over… and that was more powerful to me than anything else I thought about.

Okay, now let me write a short lament. Here again are the parts:

1) Address to God
2) Complaint
3) Confession of Trust
4) Petition
5) Words of Assurance
6) Vow to Praise

I’m also going to use parallelism, like the Psalms do – which just means saying the same thing in a different way on the next line.

A Shorter Lament for the Sick

Hear my voice, Lord,
I’m calling because you’re the only one who can help.

Thousands are sick across our country,
suffering, alone, scared.
Our hospitals are filling,
and their workers are risking their lives.
Others at home are wondering
at what point do they need to get help?

We trust you, Lord.
We know you see each one of us.
You are with us
and we are never alone.
You are the Great Physician,
and you have the power to heal.
You give wisdom to the healers
and comfort to the sick.

Lord, have mercy.
Grant your help and healing.
Give wisdom to everyone seeking a cure,
stamina to everyone helping the sick,
comfort to everyone ravaged by illness,
and protection to everyone still healthy.

We will get through this.
As a community,
as a country,
and all humanity together.
We will once again create vaccines and treatments.
We will conquer this illness
long before it conquers us.
And that is because of the
wisdom and grace you have granted
to humankind.

Lord, when the church meets again,
we’re going to do lots of touching.
We’ll share communion
and envelop each other in hugs.

When the library reopens,
we’re going to sing “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes”
and touch our eyes and ears and mouth and nose
with great excitement.
And then again, faster!

Okay, your turn! Do you have something that needs prayer? Try a Lament. God can take your complaints, and it will do your heart good to plan how you’re going to celebrate when He answers.

A Lament for Covid-19

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

I’ve been thinking for a long time about praying like the Psalmists, using the forms of Hebrew poetry to pray.

The Lament is the most common form in the Psalms, and it’s a wonderful form because you fully complain, but the form brings you back around to remembering that God’s going to take care of this. You even plan how you will rejoice when you get through it. So — I’m going to do a practice Lament about the coronavirus.

This isn’t polished, it’s not pretty. But I want it to be something anyone can do.

I wrote this with two things in mind: I tried to use parallelism, repeating myself. And I tried to use the form of a Lament:

1) Address to God
2) Complaint
3) Confession of Trust
4) Petition
5) Words of Assurance
6) Vow to Praise

So that’s enough. I’ll offer below my lament I wrote for this time.

This is my offering — but I offer it in hopes that you’ll see that you don’t have to be good at this to do it! I hope that you’ll try writing your own Lament and voice your complaint — but remind yourself that you really do believe that God will pull you through.

A Lament for Covid-19

Lord, are you there?
Have you seen the world going crazy?

Your people are falling ill,
young and old are suffering.
This virus is spreading the globe,
people in every country are affected.

We’re afraid to touch each other.
We’ve banned hugs and handshakes.
We stay at home and keep our distance.
Even people I pass on the outdoor path draw back.

Businesses are closing;
hairdressers are afraid.
Librarians are too scared to touch books,
and restaurants have become take-out only.

The economy is crashing.
Friends are getting laid off.
Small businesses are failing,
and classes are switching to online learning.

The scariest part is exponential growth.
Our country went from hundreds
to thousands of cases
in less than a week.

Can our hospitals tend
those who need it?
Will we run out of facemasks?
Will we have enough ventilators?

Lord, the future is unknown
and everything we thought was normal has changed.

I do trust you, Lord.
You’ve seen the world through every disaster.
This seems so big,
but you are always bigger.

Can you save mankind from the consequences of our mistakes?
You can.
Will you have mercy on us?
You will.

You see the individual.
You notice when a sparrow falls.
You see the hourly worker laid off,
And you have compassion for the owner who lost their business.

I wish you were not quite so good
at redeeming bad things,
for then you wouldn’t
let bad things happen.

As it is, we ask for redemption.
We ask for bursts of goodness and grace.
We ask for ingenuity for doctors and scientists,
finding treatment, finding cures,
developing an effective vaccine.

We ask for compassion
in the hearts of caregivers,
that those suffering may know
their pain is seen.

We ask for protection
for those serving on the frontlines,
that the virus will not enter their bodies,
that they will not succumb,
that they will fight on.

We ask for creativity
in the hearts and minds of artists,
that they will lift us above these times,
draw us out from fear.

We ask for community
even as we distance ourselves.
We ask for creative ways
to reach out and tell people we care.

We ask that we will never forget
how richly blessed we are
to have each other,
and what an amazing gift
is the presence of another human being.

Lord, have mercy on this world You’ve created!
Look with compassion on our suffering!
Give humanity the wisdom and resilience
To stop this virus and cut short the harm.

Lord, you’ve said when we walk through the fire,
you will be with us.
We will not be burned,
the flames will not set us ablaze.

When we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
You are with us.
You comfort us
with your rod and your staff, the signs of your presence.

We don’t know what’s coming,
but you do.
Jesus took on our infirmities
and carried our diseases,
and he never stopped
caring for the ills of the world.

Lord, we will sing for joy
when we meet back together again.
Our hugs will be
strong and invigorating.

We will laugh with joy
when we see friends and family
in person again,
when we feel our loved ones in the flesh.

Thank you for the precious gift of community,
and thank you that we’re learning
Love is stronger than any virus
And community transcends physical distance.

Amen, Lord.

God’s Guidance

Sunday, March 1st, 2020

Recently, the pastors at my church did a short sermon series on God’s Will. They made some wonderful points, but didn’t talk much about how these things fit with God’s guidance. This post is going to mull over what I think and believe about God’s guidance.

In the choir on the third week of the series, we sang “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” and “He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought” — so I expected that third sermon to touch on God’s guidance and God’s leading. God’s guidance does relate to “God’s plan.”

Now, what the pastor did talk about was very helpful. He mentioned that Time Travel movies have conditioned us to think that every little decision we make can drastically affect our futures. Combine that with talk of “God’s Perfect Plan,” and we put too much pressure on ourselves when we make decisions. He made the strong point that the idea of “God’s Perfect Plan” is not biblical.

God gives us agency! He allows us to make choices. Real choices that affect our lives and the lives of others. He doesn’t have One “Plan” for our lives — one that we can irrevocably mess up.

What we can do is align ourselves with God’s Will. We can make choices that align with loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

I like that message. Though my first thought is along the lines of What happens when other people around you are not aligned with God’s will and your life is affected? Okay, let’s get specific. Suppose your husband has an affair (clearly not aligned with God’s will) and divorces you.

Well, this message brings hope — Since God doesn’t have only One Plan for my life that I have to follow — my ex-husband can’t mess up my destiny. I already have seen that God has redeemed my single state and has filled my life with good things — some of which specifically came from my divorce. I would not have sought full-time work or become a librarian if I were still married, for example. And if I weren’t a librarian, I never would have gotten to serve on the 2019 Newbery Committee or received the 2019 Allie Beth Martin Award from the Public Library Association. Becoming a librarian has been a wonderful thing for me. Even though it wasn’t my personal Plan A for my life.

So let me receive the point loud and clear that someone else’s sin may affect your life dramatically, but it doesn’t pull you out of the possibility of aligning with God’s will. God can redeem the trials, and He promises in Romans 8:28 that He will work all things together for the good of those who love Him. That doesn’t mean that “everything happens for the best.” God doesn’t promise us “the best” at all times, and people sinning against you can indeed do you terrible harm. But I do believe that God can bring good out of anything.

In fact, I believe that if God can’t bring good out of it, He won’t let it happen. Unfortunately, He is very good at bringing good out of bad things! (I personally would prefer it if He would just keep the bad things from happening.)

So, yes, God gives us agency to make choices. And yes, He is with us as we live through the consequences of those choices — our own and others.

But I still believe that God gives guidance when we ask.

I mainly base this on James 1:5:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

In the Bible, wisdom consistently refers to what you do, to making good choices. So if you lack wisdom to know what to do, God encourages you to ask.

The Psalms have several passages where the writer asks God to lead.

Psalm 31:3 — “Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name, lead and guide me.”

Psalm 25:5 — “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”

Psalm 23:3 — “He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”

Psalm 119:105 — “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”

Psalm 5:8 — “Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness because of my oppressors — make straight your way before me.”

Psalm 143:8 — “Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”

Yes, God gives us agency, but He is happy to help us figure out how to use that agency.

The pastor was urging us not to put so much pressure on our choices. If we have a big decision — whether to take a job in another state, whether to accept a marriage proposal, for example — we can’t mess up God’s will for our lives. Make the best decision we can, and God will be with us.

When faced with a big decision, though, is a good time to ask for wisdom.

One of the big good things that came out of my divorce was that I learned to ask God for wisdom. I was desperate, and I believe He answered.

But how does He answer? How does He give wisdom?

John Eldredge takes on this topic head-on in his book Walking with God. I’m going to copy here the same long quote I posted in my review of the book.

Now, I know, I know — the prevailing belief is that God speaks to his people only through the Bible.  And let me make this clear: he does speak to us first and foremost through the Bible.  That is the basis for our relationship.  The Bible is the eternal and unchanging Word of God to us.  It is such a gift, to have right there in black and white God’s thoughts toward us.  We know right off the bat that any other supposed revelation from God that contradicts the Bible is not to be trusted.  So I am not minimizing in any way the authority of the Scripture or the fact that God speaks to us through the Bible.

However, many Christians believe that God only speaks to us through the Bible.

The irony of that belief is that’s not what the Bible says.

The Bible is filled with stories of God talking to his people.  Abraham, who is called the friend of God, said, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me . . .’ (Genesis 24:7).  God spoke to Moses ‘as a man speaks with his friend’ (Exodus 33:11).  He spoke to Aaron too: ‘Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron about the Israelites’ (Exodus 6:13).  And David: ‘In the course of time, David inquired of the Lord.  “Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?” he asked.  The Lord said, “Go up.”  David asked, “Where shall I go?”  “To Hebron,” the Lord answered’ (2 Samuel 2:1).  The Lord spoke to Noah.  The Lord spoke to Gideon.  The Lord spoke to Samuel.  The list goes on and on.

I can hear the objections even now:  ‘But that was different.  Those were special people called to special tasks.’  And we are not special people called to special tasks?  I refuse to believe that.  And I doubt that you want to believe it either, in your heart of hearts.

But for the sake of argument, notice that God also speaks to ‘less important’ characters in the Bible.  God spoke to Hagar, the servant girl of Sarah, as she was running away. . . .  In the New Testament, God speaks to a man named Ananias who plays a small role in seven verses in Acts 9. . . .

Now, if God doesn’t also speak to us, why would he have given us all these stories of him speaking to others?  ‘Look — here are hundreds of inspiring and hopeful stories about how God spoke to his people in this and that situation.  Isn’t it amazing?  But you can’t have that.  He doesn’t speak like that anymore.’  That makes no sense at all.  Why would God give you a book of exceptions?  This is how I used to relate to my people, but I don’t do that anymore.  What good would a book of exceptions do you?  That’s like giving you the owner’s manual for a Dodge even though you drive a Mitsubishi.  No, the Bible is a book of examples of what it looks like to walk with God.

In my own life, a turning point happened soon after my husband had moved out, very much against my wishes. For months, very helpful books had been landing on my desk at the base library, books that helped me respond to my husband’s anger with compassion and that helped me more calmly work on my own attitude and gave me hope that he would come around.

But the turning point in my attitude came in a pastor’s sermon. He was talking about a very odd miracle that Jesus did in Mark 7, healing a man who was deaf and mute.

After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

I’ve always thought that story was a little strange. But this pastor pointed out something I’d never noticed but seems absolutely true once you think about it — Jesus was speaking to the man in sign language!

The man could not hear or speak. Jesus took him aside and got his attention. Then he dramatically pantomimed what he was going to do.

The pastor made this powerful point: “God speaks your language!”

It brought me to tears at the time. Because all those helpful books that had been showing up on my desk at just the right time? My language is books, and God was speaking to me that way. My language is also Scripture (I have memorized large portions of the Bible.), and throughout those divorce years, God continued to speak through Scripture as well. More than once, I’d think God was speaking to me through a verse. I’d ask for confirmation, and the next Sunday that verse would be mentioned in the sermon. (These were obscure verses, too.) That was enough for me.

Now, there’s a part of me that feels very presumptuous to think that God would pay enough attention to my life to speak to me. It’s that part that leads me to burst into tears most times when the coincidence is simply too big — I have to believe God is speaking.

Yes, God notices me. Yes, God cares about my life. Yes, God will give me wisdom and guidance. He will give that generously and without finding fault. He won’t be angry when I need confirmation.

So this is the flip side of putting so much pressure on a decision that we’re paralyzed. Yes, God gives us agency. But He’s generous to help us when we don’t know what to do.

And that flip side is what I want to say loud and clear: God loves you enough to be interested in your life and to give you guidance. He pays attention to you, yes, you!

I think a big part of why that hits me so hard is that I’m the third of thirteen children. It feels presumptuous to think that God would be concerned about the details of my life. But God notices even me!

Now, I have to add that as much as I learned to listen to God’s voice, to not be afraid to ask for guidance — all that was cast into doubt when things didn’t turn out the way I thought they would.

For a very long time during my conflict with my ex-husband, I really thought God was telling me that he would come back.

But about five years after he moved out, I did think it was the right thing to file for divorce.

I thought through what I believed God had told me. And the wisdom part, the part about knowing what to do was: “Wait on the Lord.”

And that was indeed wisdom. If I had filed for divorce or given up on my husband at the very beginning — I don’t think I would have believed that he had truly changed. I knew I’d given him ample opportunity to return. I still believe and hope that God was saying that my ex-husband will eventually have a change of heart and come back — to God. But he does not need to come back to me, and I finally figured out that wouldn’t be the best thing, anyway. (In fact, before I signed up for online dating, I made my friends promise to stop me if I was ever tempted to take my ex-husband back.)

So maybe I was wrong about what was going to happen. But I was not wrong about what God was telling me to do: Wait.

And there were other things God told me that turned out to be truly wise: “Do not go down to Egypt for help.” (Do not try to get him in trouble with his first sergeant for having an affair.) “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” (Got me not to send my initial answer to an abusive email.) After the divorce, when I was still obsessing over him: “Ephraim is joined with idols. Leave him alone!”

All of those things — and the many other ways God led me — helped so much!

But now, almost a decade after the divorce was final, it doesn’t seem like God is speaking as much any more. Is that because I don’t need it as much, not being in anywhere near as difficult a situation, or is that only because I’m not asking?

And what does it mean to walk with God, to align yourself with God’s will? I’m going to accept my new pastor’s reminder that we shouldn’t let our desire to follow God’s will be paralyzing.

I also think of a sermon my former pastor preached. He brought a chalkboard into the room and drew a long line that he said represented a continuum. On one end was “letting things happen.” He said that was living life like you’re on a raft, just going where the current takes you. This is often all in the name of “God’s will” and not exercising agency at all.

On the other end was “making things happen.” This is when you try to do everything yourself. It’s all about exercising your own agency to make sure your life goes the way you want it to go. Or trying, anyway. This is like living life on a motorboat, not relying on any power outside yourself.

But he said that where we want to be is somewhere in the middle, on the “Path of Trust.” This is more like living life on a sailboat, turning the sail to catch the wind and move with the power of the wind. It’s not trying to be in total control, but it’s also not just giving up any control at all. Walking on the Path of Trust is trickier than being on either of the ends of the spectrum.

It was when I heard that sermon that I realized that in my prayers, I wasn’t trusting God. I’d been insisting that God bring my then-husband back. I was telling God how things had to turn out. That wasn’t trust. That was me trying to be in control.

Walking with God when I’m not sure what I think God should do? That’s much trickier. To be honest, when I was praying so much, asking God for guidance about my failing marriage, in my heart I was asking God, What should I do to that will help my husband come back? I really thought it must obviously be God’s will for divorce not to happen.

God was faithful. And God answered the question, What should I do to walk with You as I live my life in this difficult space?

Now? I’m not in as difficult a daily space. I’m not asking for guidance out of desperation, but maybe I should still be asking for guidance. Because I do lack wisdom.

And then there’s the matter of what I want to happen in my life: I’d like to get married again. But how to find a man who loves the Lord and loves me?

And that’s where the Path of Trust seems like a good analogy. On the one hand, I could decide the Lord has to do it and not make any effort at all. On the other hand, I could throw myself into online dating and try to get the attention of any and every man I find there.

In practice, I’m tending to wobble between those two approaches, though leaning more toward the no effort extreme. But for the most part, I’m seeing the Path of Trust as having an online presence so that I’m not hiding under a rock, but still being very selective about what messages I answer, and not spending hours of time looking. I’m not sure if this is the best approach, but that’s the thing about the Path of Trust — I do think it can change.

But what if I let go of the outcome? What if I ask God for guidance today, but I don’t try to tell him how my life has to turn out? And what if I’m open to that guidance having nothing to do with finding a man, for example: Today, Sondy, you should try to get a lot more sleep, because you need to get well.

Hmm. The verse that came up in my Bible reading today was Psalm 127:3 —

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat —
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Now, it may be completely crazy to take that as a message from God to me. Why would God pay that much attention to my life?

Never mind that I’ve been sick for eight weeks and counting and have been asking my friends to pray for me. Never mind that I asked God what I should say Yes to for Lent. Wouldn’t it be presumptuous to take this passage as God speaking to me, giving me wisdom?

And that’s kind of how it works. This verse leaped out at me today. It seems like a wise thing for me to do at this time in my life.

So I’m going to dare to say that God put that verse in my life today. Because He loves me, and does care about my life.

So for Lent, I’m going to try to shut off my computer earlier, not make sure I do all the things I’d like to daily before I go to bed. I’m going to try to go to bed earlier, and say to myself, “Sondy, God’s giving you sleep tonight because He loves you.”

I’d better start now….

Ash Wednesday and Illness

Thursday, February 27th, 2020

It’s Ash Wednesday, and just this morning I was complaining on Facebook.

I’ve been sick for seven-and-a-half weeks with a nasty bug. Yesterday I actually took a sick day, hoping a lot of sleeping would help me shake it off, but this morning, I had a lot of chest pain. The pain itself was fairly mild, but was happening over an extended period of time. (Though after I got to work, I didn’t have very much chest pain the rest of the day.)

I’ve seen doctors at various times over the seven-and-a-half weeks. They’ve told me it’s viral bronchitis and it takes a long time to heal. There’s no sign of a bacterial infection to go with it.

Now the first week was awful — the main symptom being ear congestion and extreme room-spinning dizziness, but I was in California for my mother’s funeral, and my family took care of me. Even when I got home, I didn’t have to go to work right away, and I took it easy. Since then, I haven’t been all that sick — but I’ve been sick for a long time.

But today I felt convicted for complaining.

There’s a balance between acknowledging that I’m going through tough things and complaining — Why should this happen to me? There’s a distinction between facing difficulty and self-pity.

Just a few days ago, I was reading quotes on my Sonderquotes blog and found this one from Fred Luskin’s book Forgive for Good.

Follow the link to read the entire (long) quote, but it’s about telling a story about what happened to you where you’re the hero, not the victim. Talking about what you’ve overcome rather than how you’re being defeated by these big, bad problems.

So instead of feeling sorry for myself about this illness that’s hanging on and on, how can I look at it differently?

And the first thing that comes to mind is this: Maybe I’ll go easy on myself.

The fact is, this illness seems like a physical manifestation of emotional things I’m going through. And those aren’t “cured” in less than seven weeks, either.

I came down with the bug a few hours after my mother’s memorial service. My mother passed away after a very long bout with Alzheimer’s, but my father passed away unexpectedly two months before that. There’s a part of me that thinks I should be “over” my grief after seven weeks, just as I think I should be over that virus. I’m not.

I won’t say much about it, but a couple weeks after that, I became estranged from my oldest child. That is great grief, too. I am not over it.

And a couple weeks after that, my little 3-year-old niece Meredith was diagnosed with leukemia. That’s not exactly grief — but it’s worry and deep sadness that a sweet little girl would go through that. And she’ll be dealing with that for a few years, even if all goes well.

And so, yes, being sick physically almost feels like a reminder to take care of myself. Maybe if I can see and feel that I am not healthy — I will remember to be kind to my emotional self as well.

I’ve been reading and memorizing Isaiah 43 ever since our pastor preached a sermon on it a few weeks ago. The beginning is inspiring —

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you,
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned,
the flames will not set you ablaze.

No, I’m not burned. Yes, being physically ill as well as emotionally wounded helps me stop and quiet down and notice that the Lord is with me.

And another verse in Isaiah 43 seems perfect for Ash Wednesday:

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more.

Yes, I’ve been complaining. And I’ve sunk into that periodically throughout these two months.

But the Lord doesn’t ask us to wallow. He blots out our transgressions because that’s the kind of God He is.

This illness reminds me of my weaknesses. That there are things I’m not able to handle. God doesn’t reproach me for that. But He reminds me that He is with me. And I need the Lord.

When I sing and pray, Lord, have mercy! I pray it from my heart.

And indeed, even the illness itself is touched with His mercy.

The Depths of God’s Forgiveness

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

This morning these verses in Micah 7:18-19 struck me:

Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

Hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

My photo above isn’t right for this, since my picture is of the edge of the sea, not the depths of the sea, but it was the best recent sea picture I have. But there’s no chance the waves are going to bring our iniquities back to shore.

I’ve long thought that evangelicals tend to go overboard with confession.

Now, I understand that confession is important. I learned I John 1:9 by heart when I was a little girl — “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

But I was also taught as a little girl to “keep short accounts with God” and that “sin demands payment” — and the result is the idea that God’s willing to forgive, but he’s keeping track — and you’d better confess every single sin of omission or commission, or he’ll sternly disapprove.

I’ve seen prayer meetings stop for time of confession — and see people agonize over all the little ways they’ve failed God.

I don’t think that’s what God is after.

Look at how God is portrayed as the Father in the parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15). The son was ready for a profuse apology, but the Father didn’t even listen to that.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

At the end of my marriage, my ex-husband gave me a long list of ways I had hurt him over the years. I groveled and cried and apologized — but he didn’t accept my apologies. That’s what it’s like when someone demands payment.

God does not hold grudges! He doesn’t require us to make up to him what we have done. He simply wants us to be free from sin.

He says as much in Psalm 103 —

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

I think conscientious Christians can especially get ourselves feeling guilty for sins of omission. For example, I’m sick today, but starting to feel better — did I do enough good things?

That’s why that last verse quoted above comforts me so much — “He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” God does not hold against us that we are not perfect. Just as we do not hold against our toddlers that they can’t run and jump.

He loves us, even though we are as yet imperfect.

And though we’re told to confess our sins, and we’re told to examine ourselves, I think we can overdo it if it gets into guilt and groveling. We are God’s children. He’d like us to enjoy his presence instead of spending our time with him apologizing for things in the past.

George MacDonald shook up my thinking about this in the chapter “Salvation from Sin” from his book The Hope of the Gospel. (You can read it online through the link above.) Here’s a passage I especially love:

Not for any or all of his sins that are past shall a man be condemned; not for the worst of them needs he dread remaining unforgiven. The sin he dwells in, the sin he will not come out of, is the sole ruin of a man. His present, his live sins—those pervading his thoughts and ruling his conduct; the sins he keeps doing, and will not give up; the sins he is called to abandon, and clings to; the same sins which are the cause of his misery, though he may not know it—these are they for which he is even now condemned.

What does all this mean? I don’t know about you, but when I’m at the start of a new year, I start to think about, What did I do badly last year? What ways do I need to do better this year?

What if instead I think of God taking everything I did wrong or poorly in 2019, all my flaws and failings of 2019 — and hurling them into the depths of the sea?

Can I accept that God does not hold grudges? Can I accept that he loves me as I am today?

And then I pray: Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Help me to live the life you’ve called me to and walk in your love today.

But even as I pray that prayer, I imagine the Lord interrupting me and saying, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on my child!”

Guilt and groveling? I don’t think God even wants me to think about those ways I’ve failed him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have hurled them into the depths of the sea.

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – John 3

Friday, May 10th, 2019

As my church is reading through the New Testament together, I’m using this opportunity to stop and point out some passages that look different when you read them from the perspective of a Universalist.

When I first realized that the great author George MacDonald, who loved the Bible and studied the original Greek, claimed the Bible teaches that all will be saved, I wondered how he could think that, since the Bible doesn’t teach it. Or does it? Once I actually looked at Scripture, I began to think differently.

Today’s passage was John 3:16-21. It’s a passage that both Universalists and non-Universalists can use, so I’m not going to try to argue for Universalism with this passage, but I do want to point out how it looks just a little different from this perspective. I found some new richness I didn’t expect. It also touches on several themes found elsewhere in the writings of John.

Beginning with verse 14, here’s how it goes in the New International Version:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Now, as a universalist, I wish the passage stopped there. See that? God loved the world and sent his Son to save the world! If the whole world is not saved, did God fail?

But the passage does continue.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Okay, there’s judgment in this passage.

But you know what? It mentions condemnation, which can be translated as judgment – but it does not say that those who are judged will be tormented in hell forever and ever.

And do notice that it’s not that God is angry with people. God loves the world. But so many hate the light and are afraid to come into the light. It’s not that God can’t look on sin. It’s that sinful people don’t want to be seen.

Two things I’m sure of from this passage:

1) God loves everyone in the world.

2) There will be judgment. My view is that after death we’ll be brought into the light, like it or not.

I’ve said all along that I’m a universalist who believes in hell. But I do not believe that hell lasts forever. And like all of God’s chastisement, it’s for correction, not retribution. This means it has to come to an end.

The word translated “eternal” here is that same word “eonian,” “of the eons,” “of the ages.” It doesn’t indicate a definite time period, and it may indicate an enduring, deep quality.

John himself seems to use it to talk about the type, the quality of life in John 17:3:

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Mind you, I’m definitely not saying that Christians won’t live forever! I believe we will. But I’m not sure if that’s John’s focus here.

And what does he mean by “perish”? It certainly doesn’t say anything about everlasting torment.

It’s interesting to look at the Concordant Literal New Testament translation of this passage. The Concordant Literal New Testament is the closest you can get to the original Greek, peppered with symbols to indicate the verb tenses. They use one English word for each Greek word used, the better to be clear about what was actually written in the original language.

Here’s how they translate John 3:16:

For thus God loves the world, so that He gives His only-begotten Son, that everyone who is believing in Him should not be perishing, but may be having life eonian.

What’s interesting to me about that is that it’s present tense. The passage isn’t saying, “This will save you from going to hell when you die.” Instead it’s saying, “You’re perishing right now, and believing in the Son will give you life eonian right now.”

In fact, that fits with the illustration of Moses and the snake in the desert. The story goes that the Israelites had been struck with a plague and they were dying. But when they looked up and saw the bronze snake that Moses had put on a pole – they stopped dying.

Even so, Jesus stops the perishing that we’re doing right now.

To me, this fits with what Jesus told Martha at the tomb of her brother Lazarus in John 11:25-26. Here’s the Concordant Literal translation of that verse:

Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who is believing in Me, even if he should be dying, shall be living. And everyone who is living and believing in Me, should by no means be dying for the eon. Are you believing this?”

Again, it’s all present tense – and seems to be talking about something deeper than physical life and death, especially since Lazarus was physically dead at this time.

Now, the book of John is very clear that judgment is coming after death. We’ll talk about that when we get to John 5. But here there’s something going on in the present. Jesus can save you from the fact that you are perishing right now.

It also has to do, I think, with becoming a child of God. This is a huge theme in both the Gospel of John and the epistles of John. And in this chapter, Jesus just told Nicodemus, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

This ties with what’s said in the passage we’ve already looked at. You’re perishing right now, in this life. You need a whole new life. Which means you need to be born again, “of water and the Spirit,” “born from above.”

This fits with the idea of becoming children of God.

John introduced this theme in his very first chapter, in verse 12:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Then we hear more about being born of God here in John 3.

In John 8, we get the negative side of that. The Pharisees say that God is their Father, and Jesus responds harshly:

If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.

John repeats this idea in I John 3 –

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

So becoming God’s child changes our very being! We become someone different and someone who acts differently. It changes the quality of our lives. And we are no longer perishing.

I’ve strayed very far afield! But back to John 3:16. Let’s remember that God loves the world. And the reason Jesus came was not to judge the world but to save it. And when we believe in Him, we become God’s child. We are no longer perishing, and we have life eonian, which is to know God. We become His child and His life permeates our being.

And as a universalist, my great hope is that God’s desire will not be thwarted, that even though many will not believe, will love darkness instead of light – God will triumph and by the end of the ages, all humanity will have turned to the light.

But meanwhile, how great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!

With Thanksgiving

Saturday, April 27th, 2019

I did a post recently about praying with thanksgiving.

Today I’m thinking about a big prayer request I’ve had for a long time: I’d like to get married again.

After taking a year and a half off from “looking” while I was on the Newbery committee, a couple months ago I paid for six months on an online dating site – and have not found any good matches. Yes, a few were interesting to me, but so far no one has shown interest back.

I know I’ll be hard to match. My faith is important enough in my life that I’m not really interested in anyone who doesn’t even mention their faith on their profile. At the same time, I have an adult transgender daughter who’s planning a gay wedding, and I’m thrilled about that. I hate it that it’s not always true that someone whose faith is important to them is completely accepting of LGBTQ people, but unfortunately, they don’t always go together. I’ve got a few other quirks that might make me hard to match, and so far I haven’t found anyone.

I feel ready to date again. In fact, it’s been almost five years since I dated someone for two months. (Found him online!) And I feel like I’ve experienced a lot of healing since that time. Some of the healing came from that relationship – only the second relationship in my life, the first being my ex-husband. Some of the healing came from breaking up with him myself instead of getting left, as I did with my ex-husband. If I were desperate, I would not have let a perfectly good boyfriend go! So in a sense breaking up with him was affirmation that I am not desperate to be in a relationship.

[I need to add that my ex-boyfriend is a wonderful person and will make a wonderful partner for someone. I just don’t think we’re a great match. I’m happy to still be friends with him five years later, and I’m even more convinced we’re better off as friends. I do think that’s another sign that I’ve come a long way in healing since my divorce.]

The biggest factor in my healing journey was writing Project 52, the story of my life, including the divorce years. I looked at old journals, confronted that my marriage hadn’t been as ideal as I remembered it, and looked at the painful times with the knowledge that things really did work out for good. My life is happy – how can I continue to hold it against my ex-husband that it’s not anything like I expected it to be – when it’s so very good?

Also in the past five years, I have come into my own as a librarian. I was on the Newbery Committee!!! (That still thrills me!) And this year I won the Allie Beth Martin Award given by the Public Library Association. That feels wild. I didn’t officially become a librarian (with a Master’s in Library Science) until I was 43, and still have the feeling that coming to the profession so late makes me somehow less of a “real” librarian. Yes, I knew I’d found my calling – but to be validated like that? Wow!

That’s all good, and that’s all true, but it’s also true that I liked being married. I liked being married to my best friend, or at least the person I thought was my best friend. I also think being married helps me be a better person, getting the perspective of someone other than me. So yes, I’d like to apply all the lessons learned in the healing process to a new relationship. As far as I’m concerned, all this healing means I’m ready now to jump in again.

I’ve been praying about it for a long time, and nothing’s happened. I made a big deal of putting up an online profile again – and nothing’s happened.

But a few things encouraged me about it today.

One was from taking a personal spiritual retreat a couple weeks ago. It was wonderful – and then I got back excited about doing more writing and wanting to write an hour every day as well as post my book reviews and post pictures and have daily quiet times. And I ended up staying up late every day the next week, which wasn’t a good way to do it.

And I realized that if I were married, I’d have even less time for personal projects like that. I was reminded of I Corinthians 7 where it says that a married woman wants to please her husband, but an unmarried woman can be devoted to the Lord in body and spirit.

If I can’t even do all the meaningful things I’d like to do when I’m single, it would be even harder with a man in my life. Maybe this is my opportunity to figure out my priorities and realize that I have no one to blame but myself when I don’t get everything done I’d like to do.

And then it occurred to me: Maybe it’s not that I’m not finding a match because I’m a hard person to match. Maybe it’s not that God is ignoring my request.

Maybe the Lord is saying, “Sondy, I love you so much I’m going to let you linger in this happy place for a while. You went through the wilderness. Now is an interlude in the garden.”

And thinking of it that way (rather than what is wrong with me that I can’t find a match? or what is taking God so long?) makes it much easier to rejoice.

All of this brings me right back to praying with thanksgiving. Because today was a day off, and the weather was utterly glorious. And I got to thinking about all the things that would have at least been different if I were married.

So I’m going to make a list of things that happened today that wouldn’t have necessarily happened that way if I were married. I am thankful for them all.

— I got to sleep late.
— I had a leisurely quiet time, reading chapters from several additional books, taking my sweet time.
— I got to choose from the piles of interesting books on my dining room table.
— I got to listen to Christian music and sang along without embarrassment.
— I memorized Scripture, reciting aloud without bothering anyone.
— I took a wonderful walk by my lake, at my own pace, stopping to take pictures whenever the fancy struck me.
— I sang in the shower without bothering anyone.
— I cleaned my bathroom. It was much less work than if I didn’t live alone and I’ve got a nice monthly cleaning rotation that works really well. This is less frequent than if I didn’t live alone, and there was no negotiating necessary.
— I did my laundry. Also less work.
— I made dinner – with enough leftovers to last me the whole week. Wouldn’t be true if I were cooking for more than one.
— I had time to write.
— I went to some friends’ house and played games. No worries about whether my romantic partner can handle being beaten in a game. No accusations that I am too competitive. (Now those things definitely don’t have to happen. But there was also no anxiety at the possibility they might happen.) Just a lot of fun. And I got to be around people I enjoy.

And did I mention? The weather was glorious today. The new grass and new leaves are all bright Spring green and were shining under the bright blue sky. A wind was blowing, and it was neither hot nor cold. I didn’t need air conditioning or heat and wore a light jacket when I went on my walk. At one point I looked out the window and saw a great blue heron soar past.

That’s another thing I probably wouldn’t have if I were married: My cozy condo by the lake, decorated exactly as I want it with things meaningful to me and also with stacks and bookcases of books. There’s not really enough room for another person’s stuff, so I will probably move if I ever marry again. But meanwhile, I love Sondy’s Snuggery.

Now, I’ll admit I do have hopes of finding someone who maybe even likes to hear me singing. But you get the idea. For this time in my life I get to be selfish. I get to take only my own needs into account. I would like to have someone else to consider; I would like to be able to give someone else love day after day. But there are perks to living alone.

So yes, Lord, my request is still that I will meet someone who is a good partner for me, who loves You and seeks to follow You, and who will share life together with me, adding love and joy to my days. I ask that we would enhance each other’s lives and help each other follow You. But meanwhile, thank You so much for today, such a wonderful and joyful gift.

Thank You for this season in my life. Thank You for all the healing You’ve done in my life, and may that healing continue so I have all the more to offer a man You bring into my life. And may I continue to delight in the many good and perfect gifts You send my way.

On Prayer

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

This is going to be a hodgepodge of thoughts about prayer, and I want to tell about an amazing answer to prayer as well, because now it’s public information.

An Example

Let me start with the start of the story of an answer to prayer. First, about the praying:

It was December 2018. I was thinking about my New Year’s Goals. Every year for the last few years, besides goals, I’ve made prayer requests that I pray every day. What are the top things I want to ask God for?

For years, one of those requests has been getting out of debt. It was a long-term goal (We’re talking $30,000 in credit card debt) and I didn’t really expect it to happen any time soon. But then in early 2018 after my old car died and I bought a new one – I discovered that I had enough equity in my home to get a home equity loan that would pay off all my credit cards! So my prayer was answered! And my monthly payments were smaller so I hoped to build up some savings.

But alas! In the summer, just when I’d successfully paid off some unexpected large bills including a dental crown – my hot water heater broke and the cost to replace was over $3000. I charged it.

So now it was December 2018 and I was discouraged by that bill. I’d just paid it down to exactly $3000 but it felt like I was back in that grind. I was probably going to add to my debt with Christmas gifts and some more unexpected expenses hitting then. Would I ever get it paid off?

The next day when I went for my walk and prayed through my prayer requests, I actually thought, Why do I even bother praying to get out of debt? It’s not like God can give me a sudden influx of cash now. I’m not applying for a better job. There are no prospects of money on the horizon. Why do I even pray about this?

And it took a minute, but I thought, No, I’m going to ask. Because wasn’t I completely surprised when God did it last year? And now what I owe is so much less.

Lord, I do ask that you would get me out of debt. I don’t see how you’ll do it, and maybe it will take patience on my part, but that’s what I ask. Thank you that you helped me pay off ten times this amount last year when I least expected it. Lord, if this is my opportunity to pay it down little by little over a few years, thank you that it can still happen. Thank you for providing for me. Thank you that I have a job I love. Thank you for credit cards and that I was able to get that water heater fixed when it was leaking down into my neighbor’s hot water closet. Thank you that I can afford the payments on this, and thank you that you faithfully provide for me.

With Thanksgiving

That’s what I want to talk about regarding prayer: With thanksgiving.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything. But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Why give thanks when making a request? It reminds us that God will come through. Whether or not we get what we want, God will come through. Doing it in my prayer above completely changed my attitude.

A lot of Christians know about the Philippians verse. But did you know this idea is also in the Psalms?

I’ve already talked about forms of psalms, particularly Laments and Thanksgiving Psalms. Both forms – even the lament where you’re asking for help from a dire situation – end in praise.

I also love the words of assurance – Here’s what God will do.

In a lament, the psalmist fully moans about his plight – and then talks himself into trust. Sometimes he asks God “What’s taking you so long? Don’t you even see what trouble I’m in?” But he goes on to say, “I’m going to be praising you in the great assembly after you get me out of this!”

Look at the end of Psalm 4, after he’s asking for help:

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

Look at the end of Psalm 5, where he’s got enemies after him:

But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

Or look at the refrain in the great Thanksgiving Psalm, Psalm 107:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

But I’ll go on for hours if I try to list all the Psalms that end with thanks. Go through yourself and look at how psalms end – so many end in praise. And yet many also begin with requests for help out of great trouble.

And one thing so interesting about the Psalms is that a lot of that thanks and praise is about what God is going to do. They give thanks for God’s future actions. Yes, psalms go over what God has already done, but that’s usually in the main body of the psalm. As the psalmists work themselves into a better place, they remember what they know about God – and one of those things is that they can count on him to help.

Look at the end of Psalm 7. Note the future tense:

I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.

I’ve been looking at Psalm 117 lately, the shortest psalm in the Bible. The first verse says to praise the Lord, and the second verse says why:

For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

God is faithful.

So we know that however he answers our request – Yes or No – He will still be faithful; he will still be good to us.

My challenge is: Thank God for the outcome, whatever it is. And thank him ahead of time.

Manipulation and Faith

When I desperately demand that God answer a certain way, when I believe it will be utter disaster if he does not make happen what I want to happen – then I’m trying to manipulate God, trying to tell him what to do, trying to control circumstances with my “faith.” But is that faith?

When my ex-husband left me, I connected with a well-meaning ministry that taught you must “stand for your marriage,” and for years I tried to pray my husband back. (Now, this ministry had many positive effects in my life, one of them being encouragement to listen to what God wanted to tell me.)

But through various means, it became clear to me that with my prayers and my words and everything I did or didn’t do, everything I said or didn’t say – I was trying with all my might to make my husband come back – or even to make God make my husband come back. Put bluntly, I was trying to manipulate God. Or at least I was trying to manipulate my husband by manipulating God.

But if I stopped praying for my husband to come back, wouldn’t that be lack of faith?

One day, our pastor preached a sermon that spoke to that. He brought in an actual chalkboard and made a big diagram on it. On one end he put “Fate” or “Letting it happen” and on the other end he put “Control” or “Making it happen.” He said where we want to be is the sweet spot in the middle – the Path of Trust.

And it dawned on me that telling God what to do is not trusting God. All this time in my prayers, I’d been telling God what to do – bring my husband back.

But isn’t that what we think of as faithful prayer? Tell God what to do! And the more boldly you insist, the greater your faith, right?

But what if instead I lay my requests before God – and thank him for what he’s going to do. Do I still trust that God is faithful if his answer is No?

I can think of a lot of prayers that didn’t go as I hoped. My husband did not come back. Because I needed to work full-time for the first time in my life, I got my Master’s in Library Science and became a librarian. I love being a librarian, but I wouldn’t have done it if not for the divorce, I would have been content working part-time.

Back in 2013, I was on the ballot to be on the Newbery committee. I missed being elected by 15 votes (out of about 800) – and was heartbroken. Four years later I tried again – and the timing was much, much better, for multiple reasons including that now I had an empty nest and more time for it.

There have been a couple of jobs I applied for and prayed for and didn’t get. There was the time I got cut from the library because of budget cuts. But all of those things worked out to the amazingly wonderful job I have now, with co-workers who are fantastic to work with, a library system that paid for my trips to the ALA conferences for Newbery deliberations and even nominated me for an award. (More about that in a minute.)

All that is to say that God does and has done in my life exceedingly abundantly above all I ask or think. And very often the blessings come after not getting what I asked for.

Why not thank God for the outcome in advance. The thing is – whatever happens, I know that God is faithful.

Answer to Prayer

Back to that December 2018 prayer about getting out of debt, prayed on a day when I had just paid down the debt to be exactly $3000.

The next day I was at work, and my branch manager asked me for my resume. She said she hadn’t wanted to mention it to me, but I was being nominated for an award and they wanted to be sure they listed all of my qualifications. She wasn’t sure exactly what the award committee was looking for, but it was a Public Library Association Award about knowledge of books. The Library Director of our library system and Branch Coordinator (who had once worked with me as my branch manager) had asked her to write up a nomination for me for this award.

Well, I was completely honored! Wow! Nominated for a librarian award! Kind of puts a capstone on God working things out for good from my divorce. Kind of emphasizes that my life is going a good direction. Feels really good to be nominated, too! Wow!

But she hadn’t known exactly what they were looking for, so I started wondering – would I feel like a fraud being nominated for this award? Did I at all fit what they’re looking for? So – I did a search on the PLA Awards. I knew this was about knowledge of books.

I found the Allie Beth Martin Award. The award is for a public librarian who has demonstrated: “(1) extraordinary range and depth of knowledge about books or other library materials; and (2) distinguished ability to share that knowledge.” At the bottom of the page it says to think of people “who have widely and enthusiastically shared their knowledge through book talks, presentations to community or professional groups, written reviews, etc.”

Okay, I don’t feel like a fraud being nominated for this award, seeing as I’ve been writing Sonderbooks since 2001 – on my own time and for the love of it. I’ve always felt like Sonderbooks epitomizes who I am – incorporating my love of reading, love of writing, and fun with a little bit of computer coding. And now I learn there’s an award for being who I am! Not to mention that it feels like being on the Newbery committee gave me an advantage – since I’d been living and breathing books all year.

But the punchline? Much to my surprise (the Newbery doesn’t come with any money), the Allie Beth Martin Award comes with a $3000 honorarium!

And I found this out the day after I’d asked God for help paying off my $3000 credit card debt! Even though I didn’t think he could! It felt like God saying to me with a big smile, “Oh can’t I?”

The postscript to the story is that I did win the award. I won’t receive the honorarium until June at ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. (Since it’s in DC, some of my colleagues can come to the presentation.) Honestly, I recently had to get another dental crown – and the total I owe is now more than $3000. And they’ll take out taxes, too. But I simply don’t have any doubt at this point that God will meet my needs. And can get me completely out of debt again.

It sure took the worry away.

Now, I’ve got other prayer requests. Some others that I’ve prayed daily for years without getting what I asked for. I’m not saying that praying this way always has such a dramatic result.

But I’m more and more sure that God is faithful.

And like the psalmist says:
I will sing your praises, Lord.
I will be telling everyone I know about the amazing ways you will work these things out.
Thank you, Lord!