Weeping to Blessing

Tears, we all have them, sometimes tears of joy, sometimes tears of grief or sadness. In scripture we see tears in a variety of settings in scripture. Yet they are primarily associated with grief, which we will look at.

5 “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord.” 2 Kings 20:5 (NKJV)

6 I am weary with my groaning; All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears. Psalm 6:6 (NKJV)

20 My friends scorn me; My eyes pour out tears to God. Job 16:20 (NKJV)

A particular portrait of tears is Jeremiah. He is often referred to as ‘the weeping prophet” for the many tears he shed over the state of Jerusalem. In fact, Jeremiah’s second shorter book is titled ‘Lamentations’ due to all of his tearful laments.

In highlighting the reality of tears, in this case in the Old Testament, we see that the Hebrew people were not stoics. Grief was expressed rather than denied. Yet we also see people moving beyond their tears and in many Psalms, we see laments turn to praise. In this first reference above Hezekiah poured out his heart in tears and received the blessing of health and added years from the Lord. This means that tears can be a place of transition, which brings us to a specific passage in Psalm 84.

5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, Whose heart is set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca, They make it a spring; The rain also covers it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength; Each one appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:5–7 (NKJV)

These verses highlight the transition through tears to blessing. Though it isn’t obvious on the surface the reference notes in my bible point out that ‘Baca’ means weeping and ‘pools’ refers to blessings. The Amplified bible puts verse 6 this way,

6 Passing through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of springs; the early rain also fills [the pools] with blessings. Psalm 84:6 (AMP)

The passage is about a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a difficult journey and near the end Baca is reached before Zion (the hill of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem). This is another Sons of Korah Psalm where we don’t know the timeframe, pre or post Temple. We do have a clue though in that the first verse literally says ‘dwelling places’ in Hebrew and we know that prior to the Temple of Solomon being constructed there were two dwelling places, the Tabernacle of Moses at Gibeon where the daily sacrifices were offered and the Ark of the Covenant in a tent David set up on Mount Zion with open worship before the ark in His presence. The latter seems to be in view.

What the writers of the psalm are telling us is that when we encounter tears on our journey to His presence they will turn into blessing if our hearts are ‘set on pilgrimage.’ If our focus is on walking in His presence then in this life or the next our tears that come as a result of faithfulness will turn into blessing. I am confident that when I appear before His judgment seat I will have tears as a result of sin, failures and opportunities I have missed. Yet I also know that I will rejoice in His presence with ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’ because for decades my heart has been ‘set on pilgrimage.’ I look forward to the blessing of continually encountering His presence. Tastes here and fullness there. How about you?

Paying Attention

There is an old saying, “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Emerson was an American thinker and philosopher of the 19th century. He lived in a time still more in tune with natural rhythms and reflection. In our current internet and social media environment I think we need to add a precursor to ‘sow a thought.’ We could say, ‘respond to a stimulus/impulse.’ If we think back to Pavlov and his experiments, we recognize that most of us are conditioned by our environment, more influenced than influence. We can reverse that.

Prior to exploring this further I want to look at what another ancient philosopher and thinker had to say.

7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:7–9 (NKJV)

Like Emerson, Paul also addressed the importance of sowing but his focus here was more on behaviour. In his letter to the Philippians (4:8-9) Paul presented the connection to right thoughts producing right behaviour.

Putting together the ideas of thought and action, we need to be intentional about how we live in our current era of culture wars and hyperstimulation. A couple of decades ago I used to say that if you gave your average ‘busy’ person 5 minutes alone in a room with no stimulation it would drive them crazy. I think the issue has simply been exacerbated in the intervening years. We know how to be ‘busy’ but I don’t know that we know how to prioritize our time and how to filter out the unimportant and filter in that which is truly of value.

Here is my attempt at some of the how. Start by setting aside time and minimizing distractions. Turn off and tune out the unnecessary and unhelpful. We can train ourselves to focus our hearts on Him. Read and reflect on varying opinions. The social media algorithms send us down the same path and simply reinforce what we already think. Great if we are on the right path, not so much if we are on the wrong one.  

Lastly, my title. Paying attention carries with it the idea of cost and exchange. We are giving something (our attention) as a payment in exchange for something else. The question is really whether we are doing that by design or default. For any of you that follow my Facebook posts you know how much I enjoy and appreciate the outdoors, particularly being in the mountains. To truly appreciate those environments, I need to give them my attention – an exchange. When I was a child and we went on family vacation my parents would get frustrated with myself and my siblings when we wanted to read comics in the car rather than look out the window at the view. At that stage comics had my attention, now the mountains and other aspects of nature do. The latter is of greater value for how it imparts to me the grandeur of creation and turns my thoughts to Him. Let’s find ways to ‘pay attention’ to the things that truly matter. If we embrace Paul’s injunction that I referenced earlier we will do just that, he tells us how to pay attention.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8–9 (NKJV)

Thoughts on God

Some decades ago, early in my Christian walk, I wanted to know the Lord better. In seeking to accomplish this I came across and purchased J. I Packer’s book Knowing God. I confess, I found it very dry and never finished it, as from my perspective it was more theoretical than practical. Given the popularity of the book (over 1,000,000 copies sold in North America) the shortcoming may have lain with me at the time. Be that as it may, I am presently not inclined to revisit the book. I am however inclined to think upon scripture and meditate upon the Lord’s attributes as that is a major part of knowing Him and what drew me to this verse.

9 We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness, In the midst of Your temple. Psalm 48:9 (NKJV)

This is a Psalm from the sons of Korah. They were prophetic musicians and worshippers as set up by David (1 Chronicles 6:22, 31) and were descended from the Korah who rebelled against Moses and Aaron. He and those with him perished (Numbers 16, Jude 11) yet since our Father’s heart is to redeem, we find that Samuel the prophet and judge of Israel was a descendant of Korah and an ancestor of the sons of Korah (1 Chronicles 6:22-23, 33-34).

Whether the temple of Solomon or the heavenly temple is in view in Psalm 48 we don’t know as it is not clear whether Solomon’s temple had been completed when this Psalm was written. What we do know is that being in the temple inspired them to reflect on Yahweh’s lovingkindness. The word in Hebrew is an important one, chesed, and it is generally translated as lovingkindness or mercy. It is the word we have in the famous Micah 6:8 passage where we are enjoined to ‘love mercy.’

Since we are now His temple it seems appropriate to reflect on His chesed and how it is evident in our lives. We may be tempted to view chesed in our lives in terms of health and abundance but that is not the case for many believers around the world. For the persecuted believers around the world life is very different and many have little in the way of material goods. Yet what they do have is a good and loving Father, one whose care and presence can be tangibly experienced where they are, just as it can be here.   

One way to become more conscious of His presence and His chesed in our lives is to simply turn our thoughts to Him and reflect on His character. If we wonder what He is like Jesus said He came to reveal Him and in John 17:26 promises to still do so for us. We also have in scripture His character unveiled to Moses.

6 Then Yahweh passed by in front of him and called out, “Yahweh, Yahweh God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” Exodus 34:6–7 (LSB – Legacy Standard Bible, a new update of the NASB)

The word translated as ‘lovingkindness’ in this passage is chesed. We can thus pray something like this as we respond to the invitation from the sons of Korah,’ Father, I thank You that You are merciful, gracious and patient. I thank You that You abound in lovingkindness/chesed and that Your heart is toward me.” Pray and think about that and see how it affects your day.  

 Here is a song by Jesus Image extolling the virtues of Jesus.


How is the Soil?

I briefly wrote about the parable of the sower in part of 4 of my New Wineskins series in September 2020 (http://wisdomfromtheword.ca/new-wineskins-part-4/) and there I focused on the importance of purpose. Here I am focusing on Mark 4 and a different aspect, the power of the seed. Here is how Mark presents what Jesus taught.

3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. 5 Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. 7 And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” Mark 4:3–8 (NKJV)

We know from Mark 4:14 that the seed is Jesus’ teaching, the word of God. From Luke we know that that the type of soil is representative of our heart condition and the seed produces a harvest in good soil.

15 But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. Luke 8:15 (NKJV)

In Hebrews, more light is shed on the power of the seed.

12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV)

What is significant is that if the seed, the word, encounters good soil it increases thirty, sixty or one hundredfold. The application is obvious. If we are not seeing a harvest from the seed, then Jesus is telling us we need to examine the soil where the seed is being sown.

In the parable there are four condition which includes three types of soil. We have soil that is rocky and shallow, soil infested with thorns and good soil. The first seed never germinates as the birds make off with it. Even though the seed germinates in the rocky shallow soil the seed won’t continue to grow due to the poor quality of the soil. The second type of soil is that in which the seed can grow but due to the thorns the life is choked out of the seed. The fourth type of soil without the rocks and thorns produces a harvest.  

In explaining the parable (Mark 4:13-20) Jesus says the birds of the air represent Satan stealing the seed that has been sown. The shallow rocky soil represents a lack of depth in us. The thorns in the soil represent all of the things around us that distract us and take our attention away from the word that has been sown in our hearts. If we want His word to produce fruit in our lives, we need to keep the soil in our hearts tilled and free of rocks and thorns so that it is receptive to the seed. I know in my life that I regularly need to address distractions to keep my heart focused on Him so that when I interact with His word it produces change in me. As for you, how is your heart? Do you need to remove some rocks or thorns?

In His Presence

I have shared some of this previously. In addition to a regular prayer and scripture time in the morning I like to pray and worship when I am hiking, walking or biking. I obviously also need to be aware of my surroundings so the prayer and worship in these times is part of what I am doing. I am simultaneously paying attention at a couple of levels. While doing this I can have a greater or lesser focus on each aspect depending on where my attention is being drawn in that moment.

While it doesn’t happen it nearly as often as I would like, due to my wandering thoughts, I want my heart to be drawn to His presence throughout the day. Earlier this summer I was cycling through the woods and praying when I verbalized a prayer that arose from my heart, “Help me to live in and out of your presence.” That is my desire and I hope it is yours as well. Yet to do to do this effectively we need His ongoing presence and leading. As Paul put it long ago.  

14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. 2 Corinthians 13:14 (NKJV)

We need grace from Jesus to walk in the Father’s love for us and need to live in and out of communion/fellowship with the Spirit. This doesn’t simply happen to us; it is the result of the pursuit of His presence.

As I noted, I desire to do this more effectively. Presently I have struggled in my prayer life for a number of months and it has at times felt both routine and disconnected. Yet, in spite of how I ‘feel’ I encounter His presence resting upon me at various times, whether praying or doing something else. This past Sunday in a small congregation I felt His presence on me leading me to share something with the congregation near the end of the service. It was one of those times where I knew that I would be disobedient if I didn’t share so I waited for an opportunity but there wasn’t one. So, after the service was dismissed, I asked if I could share something. Permission was granted and I did. As we filed out of the service one person came up and thanked and encouraged me and someone else came up and said they thought the word I shared was for them.  

I share this as in my experience I am generally more conscious of His presence during worship. Yet, as I shared earlier, I spontaneously released a prayer while biking because His presence rose up within me. That happened because I have cultivated the pursuit of His presence and I was thinking about Him and worshipping when this prayer arose from my heart. I believe and experience that the more we seek Him the more He opens up encounters to us.

This leads to a closing thought. Though I know theologically that at conversion each of us was transferred into Jesus’ kingdom (Colossians 1:13) I believe the fuller gospel message isn’t about getting us into the kingdom of God, that is the first step in a process. The aim of the gospel is getting the kingdom of God into us so that we can carry it in our daily activities and change the culture and environment around us. After all, He saved us to be a blessing to others, not to live for ourselves. To accomplish this let’s pursue His presence and purpose so that He spills over into more of our days.