The Mercy of Waiting: learning to pray with Psalm 130

Psalm 130 begins with praying to God from the depths. But midway through there comes a word about waiting:

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
(Psalm 130:5-6)

We tend to think of waiting as bad: waiting rooms at the hospital, waiting for your tax return, waiting for Christmas presents, waiting for a spouse/healing, etc.

Timex’s study of waiting indicates: “It’s easy to see why we don’t know where the time goes. The survey revealed that on average, people wait seven minutes for a cup of coffee, 20 minutes a day in traffic, 20 minutes a day for the bus or train and 32 minutes each time they go to the doctor.”[1]

But the waiting in Psalm 130 is different.

We know there is a good side to waiting; a waiting for something to be ready, such as dough rising so we can bake it or wine to age so it can be enjoyed; there is also the waiting for something to be mature, like a child growing into the fullness of life or love being awakened at the right moment.

The waiting in Psalm 130 is like that. First of all, it is fully engaged waiting. Not half attentive, but fully on board.

Secondly, it is not just waiting, but watching. A watchman cannot be off duty until finally the dawn breaks. The watchman watches with longing for the sun to rise. His eyes, his body, his very being are watching for it. So, too, God gives us the mercy of waiting so that we might be drawn to him more than to any other person or thing.

We read about it in the small New Testament letter of Jude, in verses 20-21:

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

So, although everything in our culture trains us to go against it, enter into the mercy of waiting.

You could resist it, but no waiting was ever stopped by fighting against it.

Or you could be resigned to it, but no great life ever came from someone who has given up.

Or you could rest in it, trusting God to be at work even in your waiting.

You can either resist it; be resigned to it; or rest in it.

Rest in the mercy of waiting, fully engaged and attentive for God.


[1] http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20120925006167/en/Time-Timex-Releases-Results-Survey-Detailing-Americans. Accessed: November 30, 2017.

The Weekend Wanderer: 15 May 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to help me think more deeply.


Prayer-Button-Background-2-1024x536“Giving Greater Honor to the “Minority” in Your Midst” – Here is Raymond Chang in excerpt from Ministers of Reconciliation: Preaching on Race and the Gospel: “As a second-generation Korean American, I straddle the line between the East and the West. In my upbringing, I was told to be “American” (a euphemism for white) in public and “Korean” at home and at our first-generation Korean church. I hold within me the values of Western individualism and Eastern collectivism. Within me resides both the American spirit of independence and the Korean spirit of filial piety. For better or worse, these forces shape how I live in this world God created. Our understanding of honor is heavily influenced by our culture. As a Korean American, I view honor through both a Western and an Eastern lens. My Western sensibilities tell me that honor primarily goes to the one who earns it. It is given to the ones who deserve it through their merits. My Eastern sensibilities, however, tell me that honor primarily goes to those who came before me, regardless of their merits. This is because relationships weigh more than achievement (though achievement brings honor to the relationship). In my opinion, there is gold and dross in both of these views. It is appropriate to give honor to those who have achieved and accomplished much—especially if it came at a great sacrifice and led to much fruitfulness.”


Screen Shot 2021-05-13 at 11.11.07 AM“The Fading of Forgiveness” – Tim Keller in Comment: “After the 2014 deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, a new movement for racial justice emerged, especially embodied by a new loose network called Black Lives Matter. ‘This ain’t your grandfather’s civil rights movement,’ said rapper Tef Poe. This one, he said, would be much angrier. At an October protest in Ferguson, street activists heckled and turned their backs on the president of the NAACP. Unlike the older civil rights protesters, journalists on the ground in Ferguson reported that the activists were ‘hurling insults and curses’ at police. After relatives of the nine African Americans killed in Charleston, South Carolina, publicly said to the shooter, Dylann Roof, ‘I forgive you,’ a Washington Post opinion piece by Stacey Patton responded with the headline ‘Black America Should Stop Forgiving White Racists.’…Barbara Reynolds, a septuagenarian who had marched in the civil rights protests of the 1960s, wrote a counterpoint essay in the same newspaper. She said that the original movements led by Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela were marked by ‘the ethics of love, forgiveness and reconciliation,’ and they triumphed because of ‘the power of the spiritual approach.'”


051921teresa“As the world reopens post-pandemic, how will we find our way in it?” – Stephanie Paulsell in The Christian Century: “This is a small trepidation in the scheme of things. There’s so much to look forward to in a post-pandemic world: hugs, unmasked faces, gathering in churches and classrooms again. But our worries about how to reenter the world of classrooms and offices are reminders that the post-pandemic world also looms up as a challenge. As the world reopens, how will we find our way in it? We have an opportunity to do more than go back to the way things were—a chance, even a responsibility, to do better. How can we rise to it? As I was thinking about what my own pathways back into the world might be, I picked up The Interior Castle, Teresa of Ávila’s exploration of the pathways of the human journey toward God. It might seem counterintuitive to read an account of an inward journey to think about a journey back out into the world, but Teresa seems always to be looking in both directions at once. The whole point of the journey inward, she writes, is to make ourselves fit for service to our neighbor; the whole point is to love more.”


Warren - women ordination“I Got Ordained So I Can Talk About Jesus. Not the Female Pastor Debate.” – Tish Harrison Warren in Christianity Today: “Rick Warren’s Saddleback church recently made headlines by ordaining three female leaders. I was grateful to see these women recognized and lent both the public authority and institutional accountability that comes from ordination. But when I read the news, I also thought with a heavy sigh, “Oh, here we go again.” I knew the debate about women’s roles in the church would dominate conversation all week, and I could already predict the rutted arguments I’d hear recited over and over. Here’s an open secret: You know who hates talking about women’s ordination? Female pastors. Not all of us, of course. Some women have a special unction to debate this topic, and honestly, more power to them. But the reality is that few of us become pastors in order to talk about women’s ordination. We get ordained because the gospel has captured our imaginations. We get ordained to witness to the beauty and truth of Jesus. We get ordained to serve the church in the ministry of Word and sacrament.”


897197“What We’ve Lost in Rejecting the Sabbath” – Sohrab Ahmari in The Wall Street Journal: “In 2019, North Dakota lawmakers abolished their state’s Sunday-trading ban. Going back to the 19th century, business owners had faced jail time and a fine for keeping their doors open Sunday mornings. It was America’s last statewide blue law, and it went the way of the rotary telephone and the airplane smoking section. The bill’s main GOP sponsor in the state legislature claimed that a majority ‘wants to make decisions for themselves.’ Ending the ban, officials argued, would boost shopping and, with it, revenues. Who but a few scolds could complain? The share of Americans who don’t identify with any religion continues to grow, and even many believers reject the concept of the Sabbath as a divinely ordained day of rest. Instead, we are encouraged to pursue lives of constant action and purpose, and we do.”


ECPAChristianBookAward“Christian Book Award Winners 2021”The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association announced the 2021 Christian Book Award winners by categories, including audio books, Bibles, Bible reference works, Bible study, biography & memoir, children, christian living, devotion & gift, faith & culture, ministry resources, and more. LaTasha Morrison’s Be The Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation was named the book of the year, as well as winning top marks in the “Faith & Culture” topic area.


Music: Asgeir, “Living Water,” from Bury the Moon

The Weekend Wanderer: 30 January 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


Sebastian Kim“Democracy, ‘The Problem of Minorities,’ and the Theology of the Common Good” – In this brief, but informative essay, Sebastian Chang Hwan Kim, Academic Dean for the Korean Center and Robert Wiley Professor of Renewal and Public Life at Fuller School of Theology, offers a helpful exploration of theology for the common good. Engaging with other prevalent theologies for public engagement, Kim suggest some meaningful ways in which we as Christians can step into the public sphere for the good of all without relinquishing our theological footing.


Praying for the World“Prayers and Praises from the World’s Hardest Places to Be a Christian” – Just over two weeks ago, Open Doors released their annual “World Watch List,” which tracks the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to follow Jesus. I strongly encourage you to explore the amazing resource that Open Doors has assembled there, but also want to encourage you to take a look at this resource from Christianity Today. Here, CT has assembled both praises and prayers not merely for that part of the world but from believers in many of those countries. This is a very helpful resource for intercessory prayer for the world.


wayne

Jesus and John Wayne – a series of reviews” – One of the most thought-provoking religious books of the past year is Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. The title itself may either draw you in or frustrate you, but the book has sent ripples through the church. It was through church historian John Fea that I first heard about a series of reviews of the book at the Mere Orthodoxy website. If you’re interested in the book (love it or dislike it) or if you’ve never heard of the book, consider reading this series of reviews for appreciative, reflective, and critical responses, often intermixed in each essay:


Wintering“How ‘Wintering’ Replenishes” – In this interview by Krista Tippett from On Being, Katherine May, author of Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times speaks to something many of us have felt in this past year of trials and challenges. Here’s the description from On Being: “In so many stories and fables that shape us, cold and snow, the closing in of the light — these have deep psychological as much as physical reality. This is “wintering,” as the English writer Katherine May illuminates in her beautiful, meditative book of that title — wintering as at once a season of the natural world, a respite our bodies require, and a state of mind. It’s one way to describe our pandemic year: as one big extended communal experience of wintering. Some of us are laboring harder than ever on its front lines and also on its home front of parenting. All of us are exhausted. This conversation with Katherine May helps.”


Jefferson Bible Jesus“What Thomas Jefferson Could Never Understand About Jesus” – Vinson Cunningham offers an insightful review of Peter Manseau’s The Jefferson Bible: A Biography in The New Yorker, touching upon not only Jefferson, but also Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Howard Thurman: “Jefferson, meanwhile, was mulling a book project. He imagined it as a work of comparative moral philosophy, which would include a survey of ‘the most remarkable of the ancient philosophers,’ then swiftly address the ‘repulsive’ ethics of the Jews, before demonstrating that the ‘system of morality’ offered by Jesus was ‘the most benevolent & sublime probably that has been ever taught.’ This sublimity, however, would need to be rescued from the Gospels, which were—as Jefferson put it in a letter to the English chemist, philosopher, and minister Joseph Priestley—written by ‘the most unlettered of men, by memory, long after they had heard them from him.'”


Music: Víkingur Ólafsson, “Philip Glass: Études, No. 2,” from Glass Piano Works | recorded at the Yellow Lounge

Finding Peace with God: praying Psalm 131

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My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
(Psalm 131)

One of the shortest psalms in the Bible is also one of the most profound in its picture of prayer. The first verse of the psalm is a declaration of release from things which usually grip our lives. First, the psalmist guides us into a release from pride and haughtiness. I know we all hate to admit it, but there are places of great pride in our lives. We become self-centered either by lifting ourselves up over others or by thinking so lowly of ourselves in false humility, a sort of wicked reversal of pride. As you read Psalm 131, what a gift it is to let go of all the ways we hold ourselves over others, whether specific people who come to our minds or entire categories of humanity.

Next the psalmist chooses to let go of “great matters” that are “too wonderful for me.” It is not wrong to think great thoughts or pursue great things. It is helpful to have a vision for our lives and aim for something. But there is also a time to release them. The psalmist reminds us that when we enter into the presence of God through prayer, we let go of exalted thoughts about ourselves or other things, and we turn our thoughts to our great God.

Yet here is one more interesting thing that Psalm 131 leads us into. So many encounters with God throughout Scripture reflect a reverent awe that verges on fear. But while this psalm leads us to the presence of our exalted God, we find God to be One whose presence brings us to utter stillness and peace as we tenderly yield to Him. The image of a weaned child with its mother in verse two is one of absolute care, total dependence, and satisfied peace. Unlike the soul raging with discontent and pride, the soul humbly at prayer with God comes to a pace of shalom in God. As the psalmist leads us into prayer, as we release great thoughts about ourselves and other things, as we turn our minds to God, now we enter a place of rest with God. First, we let things go and now we grab ahold of God. We hold on and are held. We can relax our striving as we “be still and know” He is God. even now as you read this, let me encourage you to reread the first two verses of the psalm and pray your way into contented rest in God.

The final verse reminds us this is not a personal journey alone but a community journey. Psalm 131 is part of that marvelous collection known as the Psalms of Ascent. These psalms were  used as a prayer journey that mirrored the geographical journey of the Hebrew people from their homes to the Jerusalem Temple for great festivals. They crossed great territory and sometimes rough terrain to come together and worship before God. These psalms helped them also go on a spiritual journey of soul preparation not in isolation but in community. In long journeys over rough terrain it is important that we are not alone. We need one another.

Here in Psalm 131 the preparation of the soul becomes a journey of release from pride, a journey of attaching to God, and a community journey of hope that becomes vital to the earthly pilgrimage of God’s people. There are so many “hopes” we might have in life, but the psalm leads us through them into the active hope in God that pervades all of our days. What are your hopes today? What are your fears? How might you lay them down at the feet of God, even as we find hope in Him by resting in Him now and forever. Consider reading the psalm one more time and then take some time in stillness and prayer before our great and tenderly loving God.

Sabbath: recovering identity through God’s rhythm for life

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When I used to hear the word Sabbath, I thought of something legalistic and rigid or just plain out of touch with my life. I would picture flowing robes and beards of Old Testament characters exhorting people to rigidly ‘keep the Sabbath day.’

But the more that I have thought about Sabbath, the more I have come to see it as perhaps one of the most important and most ignored aspects of our lives. Sabbath literally means to cease or stop. God ordained the Sabbath as a way for human beings to recover their identity by entering into God’s own rhythm for life: six days on and one day off. God Himself rested after the powerful work of Creation (Genesis 2:2-3). God has given us this rhythm of life so that we might recover our identity in Him, reflect His ways, and also be refreshed in life.

Sabbath as a day is often incredibly difficult for us. I struggle to absolutely be still or to set aside a day in which I will not check email or scan through the internet. But Sabbath is an all-important chance to both adore God and be refreshed. We neglect at our own peril. As Eugene Peterson says, it’s about praying and playing. We gather with brothers and sisters in Christ to worship in the morning and then we are renewed through playful enjoyment of life given by God throughout the day. Even though setting a day aside for a Sabbath is difficult, it is something that we both need for our own benefit and for our connection with God.

But Sabbath is more than a day. It is an attitude. We are no longer bound by legalistic obedience to God’s law, but we are set free by Christ – through His fulfillment of the law – to enjoy a life of Sabbath rest. The peace in life and trusting relationship with God that flows from the Sabbath day should rightly impact all of our minutes, hours, and days. We are set free to be at peace because of Christ. We can trust that God cares for us each moment. Our lives are different.

So, Sabbath is something very old, but so very important for our lives today. I hope we might all recover Sabbath, even in the midst of the chaos of the world, so that we regularly recover who we are in God.