devotional, pastoral care

God Has Our Best Interest

More than anything, it’s people that have tried to persuade me that God cannot be relied up to help us.

“What if God doesn’t heal?
What if God doesn’t provide?
What if God doesn’t come through?
Does God really act on our behalf?
Is God really involved in our lives and does he care?
Will God really look after me?”

Psalm 16–the writer–is saying…YES! He says,

‘I always put the LORD in front of me; I will not stumble because he is on my right side. You teach me the way of life. In your presence is total celebration. Beautiful things are always in your right hand.’

Psalms 16:8,11

John Goldingay says,

The psalm knows that if you want to enjoy a full life in this world, you are wise to look to the God who devised this bodily life for us…I am confident that I will be OK, not because I secretly turn to other deities but because I do rely on Yahweh, the one who guides me, the one whose voice I heed in the darkness of night when some people might secretly look in other directions.

Psalms For Everyone, John Goldingay

As a chaplain, I’ve received the calls and heard the stories:

“Chap, I got cancer.
I need surgery.
I had a stroke.
I got covid and hospitalized with a 10% chance of surviving.
I lost my job and they’re gonna foreclose on my house.
My mother died. She was my rock.
My marriage is ending. She had an affair.
I didn’t achieve the dreams and goals I made for myself.
I don’t know what to do with my life.”

These are painful realities. There are no quick fixes. I have noticed a difference in responses and reactions from people though. People who have faith in a God who is with them seem to have a deeper hope and resiliency. They are able to share their anguish and sorrow but the story doesn’t stop there. They say things like,

“Whatever happens, I’ll be ok.
I’m in God’s hands.
I’ve done what I can.
The rest is not up to me.
I’m praying for peace, joy, and hope in the midst of this trial.
I can still love others.”

These conversations happen in the hospital room, hospice, or in someone’s living room. They’re obscure places, hidden, in solitude. They smile and gently squeeze my hands, assuring ME that they’re going to be ok. There is a lightness in the room, a sense that whatever fear or worry they’ve had, it’s been shared with Jesus and He is assisting in carrying the cross with them.

The Psalmist is calling us to look to the God who is the creator of life as we go through our own journeys. As Christ followers, we make a decision every day to respond to God’s presence in our lives. We pray, we listen, we act on behalf of His good purposes. We make time to meditate on the wisdom tradition passed down to us. We learn to know the rhythms of grace and to foster an awareness of when God is speaking and leading. And when God does “show up”, He shows out.

To follow Jesus is to enter into the fullness of life NOW. Psalm 16 reminds us to show up to our lives and to be attentive to God’s presence as the One who loves us and shepherds us into the fullness of joy.

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devotional, pastoral care

Psalm 119 is Special

“Those who guard God’s laws are truly happy! They seek God with all their hearts. I keep your word close, in my heart, so that I won’t sin against you.” Psalms 119:2,11

Psalm 119 is special. It hits different. I love the practical wisdom it offers, and it comes from someone who is aware of the ebbs and flows of life. I remember reading this psalm in my teens and twenties, often praying that I’d be like this person, inspired to meditate on the sacred book and be influenced by it.

John Goldingay, in his brilliant Psalms for Everyone Commentary, says:

First, the psalm teaches, adhering to God’s rules is the way of blessing. Things go well in your life. You can hold your head high. You can expect God to be with you and not finally abandon you…

Sometimes you have to live in light of the way you believe things will work out in the long run.

The psalm can speak of people who have done no wrong in relation to these laws, which shows that they are not setting an impossibly high standard. The Ten Commandments illustrate the point. It’s not so esoteric, though it may be difficult in that other people are worshiping other gods and making images and working 24/7 and having affairs. The question is whether we want to do so. The psalm encourages us to keep reminding ourselves that being desirous of living by God’s rules is worthwhile.

Goldingay, John. Psalms for Everyone, Part 2: Psalms 73-15 (Old Testament for Everyone) (p. 144).

I’ve had a good life so far and I believe it’s in part because I’ve made a commitment to follow Christ the King. I’ve wanted to. I’ve seen the payoff to living by God’s decrees and wisdom. I love how Goldingay says that it’s not so impossible to live by the 10 commandments. It may become difficult when others don’t live by them. I’ve seen the pain and hurt of affairs, murder, and stealing. All it takes is one person to act out and it’s felt in the community.

And I love how the Psalmist pronounces a blessing as we seek God with all our heart. While we may have difficulties in our life and journey, seeking God and doing his will come with a blessing that as we keep God’s decrees, we will experience an unspeakable joy and peace. We also never be left to fend for ourselves. It’s a lie and distortion of God’s wisdom that we’re something happy accidents, living this life completely on our own and by our own efforts. There is a God who loves this world and every single aspect of it, moving hearts and minds. He is an Involved God, not distant or disinterested.

Lord, grant us the heart and willingness to listen and to obey your decrees, which are nothing more than expressions of the purest form of love for you and for others.

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pastoral care

God, Come Through!

‘See, the home* of God is among mortals.
He will dwell* with them;
they will be his peoples,*
and God himself will be with them;*
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

Revelation 21

God became human form that human form might become the image of God.

God became human form, living among mortals, that mortals might have a new living hope beyond death.

God became human form to wipe away human tears, human pain, human lament.

What tears and pain do you carry today?
A broken relationship.
An inability to forgive and forget.
The pain of politics, loss of spiritual community, lack of finances.
A loss of purpose and meaning.
Feeling misunderstood and unseen.
A fear of getting older, irrelevant, unknown.

How might God be wiping away your tears and pain today?

How might the power and reality of God’s presence with you be a grounding and calming effect on your heart and mind?

I believe God sees the pain and creates space for us to face it and act as needed. I don’t like this process but I know what it’s like to avoid the pain long term. Depression. Anxiety. Mood swings.

When I’m in pain and loss, I need to know that I’m not alone and that I’ll be ok. I need a space to voice all my fears and hopes, struggles and issues. I don’t want to be in pain and loss. But it’s here and it’s better for me to face it than ignore it.

I want wisdom and strength to face the situations.
I want to be a loving person in all my interactions.
I want to forgive and love my enemy.
I want the energy to work towards breakthrough and wholeness.

God, come through!

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pastoral care

Thriving and Self Care

Stress and anxiety.  That’s what my doctor shared with me about 15 years ago when I went in for an appointment.  I was tired, couldn’t sleep, and felt like I had a ton of bricks on my chest.  After a medical exam, he determined that I was under a lot of stress.  “What’s causing the anxiety and stress?”  I shared with him the difficulties I was facing.  He was very compassionate and advised me to see a therapist.  This was the beginning of what I would later learn to call care of the self and soul.  And I realized that I wanted to thrive in all areas of my life. 

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Thriving personally and professionally.  It’s a phrase I come back to when I feel overwhelmed or misguided.  It’s a working vision for my life.  

I also like the word flourishing.  It conjures up an image of fresh vegetation that is life-giving, both to the body and mind, but also to the desire for beauty and aesthetics.  In sum, thriving is about wholeness and vitality in life, not just one dimensional.  It’s all the major areas of our lives being attended to and nurtured.  

For some, the stress might surround their physical health.  Losing weight.  Just moving around more.  For others, it might be professional health.  Setting work hour boundaries.  Dealing with a conflict between coworkers.  

The following illustration is an example of how one might engage in the work of thriving.  We are empowered with personal responsibility to cultivate such a life and this diagram is a helpful place to survey where one might start.

Exercise

One way to engage with the diagram is to read through the wheel and do the following:

1.  Assess:  what area seems to draw my attention?

2.  Advise:  given my need to address this part of the wheel, what do I want to do about it?

3.  Action:  commit to small steps of care this week.

In my faith tradition, we talk about flourishing and thriving under the auspice of wholeness and life to the fullness (John 10:10b). We believe that God has made us in his image (Gen.1:27, James 3:9).

God cares about every facet of our lives, including work! God’s love and salvation extend to each area of the self-care wheel. Out of love for us, God is intimately aware of the stress and anxiety you are experiencing. Our faith offers us a way to interpret (discern) what is happening in our lives and to make meaning. In sum, God cares about you thriving personally and professionally.

Prayer: “God, I look up and where does our help come from? It comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. We pray that you would grant us the strength to engage in the kind of self-care that would help us thrive personally and professionally.”

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