Nothing Can Separate

The Church of England wrote a prayer for those affected by coronavirus, which today is the overwhelming majority of people in the world. It’s offered here as our prayer for the day. I’ll be using it as a guide throughout the day in my own times of prayer. I hope it can be beneficial to you in that way as well.

Keep us, good Lord,

under the shadow of your mercy.

Sustain and support the anxious,

be with those who care for the sick,

and lift up all who are brought low;

that we may find comfort

knowing that nothing can separate us from your love

in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen

The Gambler

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run

This past weekend Kenny Rogers passed away. I listened to a lot of country music growing up because that’s primarily what my grandparents liked. It’s strange to me though because I don’t remember a ton of Kenny Rogers in the mix. I can think of a few songs, and I’m sure there were more sprinkled in that I just didn’t know. One that I do remember though was easily his most successful song, The Gambler.

This song is a country music classic, and I pulled it back out this weekend as part of a short retrospective with Hannah in the car. Her choice was Islands in the Stream, a duet he did with Dolly Parton. As I listened to The Gambler for the first time in some years, I couldn’t help but think of it like a proverb. The chorus begins with the lyrics above, and it strikes a very similar tone to wisdom’s discerning eye in proverbs.

The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way,
but the folly of fools is deceiving. Proverbs 14:8

One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil,
but a fool is reckless and careless. Proverbs 14:16

These two verses from Proverbs 14 get at the same idea that Rogers is trying to communicate through his parable. Opinions on gambling aside, he’s promoting caution and discernment over recklessness and carelessness. What’s brilliant about the narrative of the song (and something quite biblical actually) is that he takes a character whose stereotype is often one associated with negative traits like debt, negligence, imprudence and flips that on its head.

Discernment is something that develops as we mature. For the Christian, it hinges on our relationship with Christ and our reliance on His Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2 tells us that the things of God are revealed by the Spirit and discerned spiritually. Part of discernment is trusting that God is leading, which is not always easy to do or to recognize. The best way that I have been able to understand this is to look back. Discerning what is ahead of us requires us to reflect on how we’ve seen God work in the past. We trust that He is good and that He will act in the future how He has acted in the past. This is the heart of faith.

For some of us, we may not feel like we have seen God show up in the past, so we have to cling to Scripture, which is the account of His actions in history. These actions and words communicate God’s character and nature to us, and in that we have faith.

Prayer and Reflection

How has God shown up in your past? What does the Bible say about who God is? Pray that these things are revealed to you and pray for the faith to trust that he will help you discern your future actions.

Freedom in Limitation

May I find freedom in limitation—

           to fully give myself

To what I can do

          rather that to worry about

          what I cannot.

This short prayer from Justin McRoberts seems like an appropriate one for our current cultural moment. It’s a strange feeling to be uprooted from our normalcy so quickly. The world feels so fragile right now, and it’s easy to be discouraged and afraid. There is a very real part of me that is unsettled by the very clear uncertainty of so many things ahead of us.

For you Gen Zers, this will likely be a defining moment for your generation. It’s possible that it will fundamentally shape the way you see and interact with the world around you for decades. It’s hard to understand how a single event is able to do that, but it has been true of most generations and will be likely be true for yours as well. I think what’s most amazing about this experience is just how global of an event it actually is. People across the world are simultaneously having similar experiences.

Currently in Memphis this situation is not nearly as dire as in many other places. The biggest thing most of us are dealing with is how to cope with this new normal of social distancing. I pray that things don’t get worse here, but there is no promise that it won’t. In the meantime, my hope is that we begin to see newfound freedom in the limitations that we’re experiencing. This posture is one that nurtures growth and helps us see what is possible rather than what is not.

There are a lot of people hurting because of the losses suffered from the effects of this virus. We don’t ignore that pain, but we recognize the possibility to surround one another with love and support in whatever ways we can. The limitations we are experiencing in physical proximity give us an opportunity for creativity, to creatively love those who are experiencing heavy pain and loss. When we focus on the possibility, I think, it positions us to come out of the other side of this thing with deeper trust, deeper trust in God, in others, and in ourselves.

When we focus on possibility, we find hope that there is a way through this current crisis. We recognize that God is still working in the midst of our broken world, that he always has been. When we focus on possibility, we find trust in others rather than suspicion. We recognize that the fight is not against one another but against something else altogether. When we focus on possibility, we find out that we are more resilient than we ever knew. We recognize that God has made each of us for more than what we are currently experiencing.

It’s easy to be discouraged and afraid right now, but my hope is that we can begin to see clearly the freedom to love more deeply that has been put so clearly in front of us. It will take creativity and grace to learn how to do this well, but there’s something in me that is excited to figure it out.

Prayer and Reflection

Think about people who may need to hear an encouraging word from you. Pray for the courage to reach out and let them know you’re thinking of them.

Through the Deep

Psalm 77

I cry aloud to God,
    aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
    in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
    my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
    when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah

You hold my eyelids open;
    I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
    the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
    let me meditate in my heart.”
    Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
    and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
    Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
    Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah

10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
    to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will ponder all your work,
    and meditate on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
    What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
    you have made known your might among the peoples.
15 You with your arm redeemed your people,
    the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

16 When the waters saw you, O God,
    when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
    indeed, the deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
    the skies gave forth thunder;
    your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
    your lightnings lighted up the world;
    the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea,
    your path through the great waters;
    yet your footprints were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
    by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Aren’t there times when we just seem to be inconsolable? Our circumstances seem so heavy, we feel so burdened that our natural response is one of annoyance. “My soul refuses to be comforted.” It’s hard not to get bogged down by circumstance, to feel like the Lord is the one keeping us up at night. This is what’s wonderful about the Psalms.  They give us permission to feel. They give us permission to hurt, then they encourage us to remember, to remember that we serve a God who hears us when we cry out to Him.

Sometimes God’s way brings us through hardship. Sometimes His way is through the sea, His path through the great waters, but He leads His people like a shepherd. His path might be through the deep abyss and that might scare us, but it’s the waters that are afraid of Him.

It’s always hard to do in the moment, but it’s helpful sometimes to try to view your current circumstance, whether good or bad, from a greater distance. Back up and try to see the whole picture as difficult as it can be because it always offers perspective. Try to view this one circumstance within the scope of your entire life. It always offers context, and context helps keep us grounded in the truth.

Prayer and Reflection

Pray for eyes to see the whole picture. Pray for the ability to see outside of yourself and view your life in context. See how it relates to others right now, but also throughout history.  Reflect on the truth that God hears when you cry out. He hears you.