God Calling

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up…

— Mark 1:35 (New International Version)

The alarm sounded. Not the harsh hounding of horns, nor the frightening bleat of an emergency. ‘Twas but a gentle, repeated angelic rhythm: harps.

Morning has broken.

My eyes opened.

Ding-dong. God Calling.

A new day. A new month. New adventures await…even though old issues remain.

Today there will be family matters: rides to arrange, lunches to make, receipts to reconcile, budget to plan. Church to attend. People to see. Demands. Requests. Pets to pamper.

The sun has scarcely begun to light the sky, and pondering the list has already brought fatigue. I’d rather stay in bed, yet, those things still need to be done. As I am alone, before the others stir, I have time to contemplate the tasks. Or go back to sleep.

There is, of course, the television background diversion. Or the social media. Maybe the news to read in some form.  But the silence beckons.

In the silence is solitude. In the silence are the sacred sounds of creation awakening. In the silence is the voice of creation. The voice of God.

In the silence is solitude…sounds of creation awakening.

People often ask how you can hear the voice of God. I’ve had the query come frequently in recent weeks. They read the headlines, or anti-social posts, and wonder if God speaks. Or even exists. They see the human failures of souls who have claimed to speak for God — priests, pastors, politicians — and wonder why God chose such flawed people to represent Him; and if God did, He must not be worth following. Not long ago, a noted writer of Christian worship songs renounced his faith citing, among other reasons, he doesn’t see God doing miracles any more.

I admit having difficulty hearing God’s voice, but not for reasons of global proportions. When I read the news of hurricanes and fires and shootings and evil people in the streets, I do neither doubt God nor His existence. In fact, those things cause me to believe in Him more. Which is why my difficulty hearing Him is personal, and my desire urgent. My problem is too many voices. Too many needs. So, early in the morning…

The questions asked of God and the distracted busyness of the day are not new. Nor are they relegated to this century.

Jesus faced such questions, temptations and doubts when He walked the earth. Studying how He responded to such moments is not only a study for Sunday school. It’s a model for those who claim to follow Him.

“Early in the morning, while it was still dark…” Jesus went off to think…and pray.

In his full humanity, Jesus was subject to every emotion, temptation, uncertainty as we. The New Testament writers recorded these moments in their journals we call “the gospels.” They also wrote their observations of Jesus’ habits, one of which is for mornings as this. For when the alarm sounds.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Mark 1:35 (New International Version)

Jesus knew that, though his over-arching mission — His calling — was to provide a path for people to have an eternal relationship with God, that to do so, He needed strength each day. Super natural strength. Jesus knew that, left to His own human confinements, once he began interacting with people, he could become crabby, too tired, tempted to abuse his power, or ineffective when asked. The gospel journals include snippets of snippy Jesus.

READ MORE: Jesus “snaps” at the crowd.

READ MORE: Jesus “snaps” at his disciples.

And so, when God awakened him each day with the natural alarm clock, Jesus went to a solitary place to be with Him. It’s a familiar passage to many, and a personal favorite that long ago altered my life. And in recent months, a concept I’ve gotten away from. Thus, my auditory difficulties.

Despite the familiarity with the verse, do you ever wonder what Jesus did in such moments? Dare we imagine what He prayed for in His fortresses of solitude? And how long? Perhaps Jesus’ prayers were not much different from ours.

Strength to address the to-do list: Make it a prayer list.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

He prayed for strength to address His to-do list. He prayed for those in His inner circle of friends and followers. He prayed for the people He would meet and serve today, asking, likely, for the Holy Spirit to provide words to say when such moments came and words failed Him.

Maybe He prayed for the religious and government leaders, that they — having been given their appointed responsibility — seek and follow the will of God. Perhaps he asked that they — the priests, pastors and posing politicians — repent, and change behaviors that are contrary to God’s law.

Yes, difficult as it is to imagine, Jesus likely prayed for himself, that He not yield to temptation when human passions were stirred. Jesus likely confessed and asked forgiveness for moments of His humanity (dare we say, sins?). Moments when He was angry, didn’t feel like_____: caught himself doing a double-take at an attractive person. Maybe He acknowledge the moment, gave thanks He didn’t yield, asked forgiveness and strength to move on.

In the early morning hours, Jesus likely … mostly … gave praise to God, quoting back the Hebrew Bible scriptures He had studied and memorized; for in those scriptures God spoke to Jesus, as He speaks to us. “His compassions fail not; they are new every morning.”

In the early morning hours, Jesus likely reflected on the beauty God created in that quiet or desolate place; gave thanks to God for His chosen assignment; expressed how grateful He was to be chosen to lead, and asked God’s strength, wisdom, honesty and live to walk with Him and show through Him as he prepared to interact with the people during the day…the earnest, the hypocrites, the hopeful, the ailing, the people like him, the aliens among them.

In his prayer Jesus may have sung his praise, and then, sated and filled with God’s strength for the day, come to his Amen with strength for the day to fill the hopes of His followers for tomorrow.

I like to think Jesus prayed like that because…because I did.

And having completed his prayer of thanks, confession, requests and praise, Jesus may have sat in that quiet place feeling the presence of God…His voice…until choosing to rejoin the people, or until they, missing Him and needing him, called out, “Jesus! Jesus! Oh! Found You.” And He, in reply, stood and said, “Follow me.”

Later That Morning…

Not 30 minutes after completing my reflections and writing the above, I turned to my regular, two-minute audio devotional on Abide. The first image that came on the screen floored me. I broke the early morning silence with a loud guffaw. The last line of the cover photo (below) left me speechless. It was my first #HolySpiritMoment of the Day.

But wait…there was more.

We pulled into the lot of “the wrong church.” That is, when my wife and I decided where were worshipping, she thought we were heading to another place. Similar names will do that.

Rather than turn around, we continued in. We’ve been to the church frequently, presenting sometimes, but wanted to blend in and worship inconspicuously.

The preaching pastor, in my wife’s words, is “the bomb,” so we nestled in. Early into the in the sermon, #TheBomb began ticking. We began audible responses, then #TheBomb exploded #HolySpiritMoments.

LISTEN: Let Prayer Change You

READ MORE: 13 Verses Telling How God Called You

The message, based in 1 Timothy 1:18-20, began tapping into an element of “Jesus’ prayer” above: individuals who have left the faith, or who misuse their responsibilities and need redirection. #HolySpiritMoments, for the record, cause me chills. I sense and see God in action.

Near the end of the message, my guffaw went to “spent.” Having already written and titled this missive, I became slackjawed when the pastor said, “Now, what has God said about ‘calling?’ “

He then began reeling 13 New Testament passages that explained the responsibilities to which a Christ-follower is called by God.

Between my early awakening, the audio devotional, the sermon theme and the 13 verses, by noon, I had no doubt about the question of whether or not God was speaking to me. He does. Loudly, clearly. He starts by saying:

Ding-dong.

“Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture …?”

So, I re-read my notes instead of taking a Sunday nap. That’ll help me sleep more soundly overnight. And get up early in the morning.

Story Song: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”

We don’t hear hymns much anymore, but once introduced, their power lingers. Much of the reason, I believe, is that the influence of Scripture is more easily discernible than many modern tunes. Here is how Lamentations 3:22-24 affected author Thomas Chisholm.

Story Song: “My Prayer”

It’s not exactly a Christian worship song. In fact, it’s a popular R&B tune from the 1950s. However, as with many old songs I grew up listening to, listening through the filter of God’s ear gives a worshipful interpretation in the proper context.

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Hurrah for the Mid-Terms

(This essay was original published November 4, 2014 in another medium. It hasn’t been touched since, We came across it by accident today and still found virtually every word  as relevant as four years ago. Though the atmosphere of the last two years may make some points less accurate, like anticipated voter turnout, only two updates have been made: one, to indicate that November 11 is on a different day of the week; two, to reflect that the United States has a different President. Otherwise, the state of the union is pretty much the same. So are these sentiments.)

I am truly excited this is Election Day.

True, it’s a mid-term, so it’s not as sexy and evocative as the Presidential elections.  True, there’s a general malaise about the candidates, and no one ever knows anything about the judges.  There are bond issues at stake, depending on the community, thus there may be some enthusiasm.  In general, there’s not a lot of enthusiasm about this election.  Voter turnout is expected to be low.

So, why am I SO looking forward to this election?

Because tomorrow I get my mailbox back.  And I can answer my phone.  Or, if I don’t answer my phone, I won’t still hear a prerecorded voice talking into my prerecorded voice asking my prerecorded voice to answer a prerecorded poll by pressing a number that I can’t reach because I’m across the room…and if I were closer to the prerecorded voice, it would not be a NUMBER I would punch.

Political postcards.
Political postcards in my mailbox: The Horror! The Horror!

 

I am looking forward to this Election Day because tomorrow, the bloody thing will be over.  And when I say bloody, I don’t necessarily mean it in the British lexicon.  I mean “bloody” as in that’s what our candidates pursue.  I am struck by the timing of this election coming so close to Halloween.

I am looking forward to this Election Day because, difficult as it will be, I will vote.  Not, however, because I am thrilled by the roster of candidates or have hope and enthusiasm about their policies.  I don’t.   As much as I try being informed via the countless postcards cluttering my table, op-ed pieces I read, voter registration guides I peruse, editorial endorsements I check, I have little comfort in any people running for offices.  BECAUSE of what I’ve seen, I don’t WANT to vote for any of these people  because I don’t WANT any of them leading me.  Because they have not proven themselves leaders.  LOUDERS, but not leaders.

Why We Vote

  • I will vote because next week our nation will honor men and women who for centuries have served and died in order that I have the right to enter a polling booth without a gun to my head, or a gun to greet me afterward.
  • I will vote because of the men and women, ancestors, who suffered through the poll tax, literacy tests, voter ID cards; who marched, sat-in, picketed; who were shot, lynched or burned so that I could walk into a polling booth and even vote for a jerk.
  • I will vote because I have friends and acquaintances in other countries who do not have the rights – the freedoms – we have in this nation that we so cavalierly take for granted.

A non-vote is not a protest.  A non-vote is lazy.  A non-vote is…un-American. I will vote because it’s my God-commanded responsibility.  (Be wary of your reaction just now.  “God-commanded” in an essay about voting has the potential of sending thoughts someplace else.  So, just follow what I’m saying, not what you think I’m saying.  It’s a quirk of our electoral process.)

Married couple voting
Done with our duty!

It’s an odd paradox that we talk a lot about the separation of church and state when, in our nation, it’s hard to have one without the other.  Despite fears and pontifications of whatever cable news commentators you absorb, we are not in the midst of a religious coup de grace. If the House or Senate has more of one party than the other, and if that party is in opposition to the man in the White House, it’s not because one or the other party has a better pipeline to God…no matter what the candidates may imply. The proof they don’t have the better pipeline is in the style of campaigns run.  For if the candidates were as God-fearing as many claim, and no doubt are in many cases, we – the public – would not have to endure the unsolicited political pornography that comes into our mailboxes and televisions.  We would learn how each man or woman plans to LEAD us…even if they have opposing policies.  Test every spirit, John tells us.

Test every spirit

Responsibility of Voting Christians

When I say “God-commanded responsibility,” here are a couple of my reference points, both by the apostle Paul.

To the Roman church, Paul wrote,

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. “ (My italics; explaining shortly.) (Romans 13:1)

To his protégé Timothy, Paul later explained,

“…I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. “ (1 Timothy 2:1)

I Timothy Thanks NLTThe point of these verses is clear that an individual who claims to be a Christ-follower (or a ‘cultural’ Christian) has a responsibility to pray for, encourage and give thanks to people in positions of authority – appointed or elected – because for whatever His reasons, God has allowed those individuals to be in positions of authority.  The individuals in the position of authority – elected officials, candidates for office – have an equal, God-commanded responsibility to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

 (If you’re not a Believer in God, or Christ, please just understand the principle here.)

So, when a postcard of distorted images, or commercials with inflammatory, denigrating statements enters my home – whether approved by the candidate or the candidates “supporters” – I must ask, “Is this dignified?” And, do I want an undignified person “representing” me in Congress?  No, I want someone in Congress – on the Hill — and at 1600 whom I believe has a modicum of civility.  I don’t need to totally agree, and I don’t need to have all MY needs met.  I DO want someone who is aware of people before party.

A President by Any Other Name

When I earlier italicized Scripture passages, I was reflecting on the last six years of our nation.  Again, for those who claim the Christian perspective (in and out of government), it’s necessary to accept that God allowed Mr. Obama to be elected.  (Editor’s Update 2018: Substitute “Mr. Trump.”) Perhaps to reveal something to us as a nation, or to each person individually.  What has this Presidency revealed to you about yourself?  If Paul reminds Timothy, and us, to pray, intercede and give thanksgiving for those “in high places,” you must ask, “Do I pray for the President…the Governor…the alderperson?  Do I pray, or do I complain?”

1 Timothy 2:1-2 Verse
How easy is this to do when the people in office are not of the political party which you prefer? What might change by doing this?

I guess that’s the bottom line of the rant here, and the frustration of SO many people waiting for this blood-letting to end.  The people in office JUST DON’T GET IT, and it’s frustrating that there seems to be no way to get it through their thick skulls.  The filth and negativity may get you elected, but it doesn’t make me trust you, like you or WANT ME TO VOTE FOR YOU! Worse, I do not respect you.

I’m no neophyte politically.  I know the impact of negative campaigning.  I DON’T know that the candidates do, as evidenced one afternoon when a 20-something canvasser came to the door and surreptitiously tried swaying me to his position, without saying, “Hi, I’m from the ______ campaign.”

In the course of the conversation, his goal was to convince me to NOT vote for the other candidate.  “Did you know that….?”  So, here is my Reader’s Digest outline that I pray comes through to someone by our next election:

  • When you send me mail with photos and big headlines about the other person, I remember the OTHER PERSON not YOU!  Guess for whom I’m more likely to vote?
  • When you spend thousands of dollars on postage, video editing, buying TV and radio spots – most of which belittle someone else – I see WASTED MONEY.  Does this encourage me to trust your fiscal plans for the state budget? (Imagine how many social needs could be met if the same candidates used the funds to, say, buy some medication for seniors…goodness knows the costs are about the same.)
  • When the debates and interviews lapse into insincere fawning, you are one step above the teen drama, “Pretty Little Liars,” and not as attractive.
  • When the election is over and the votes counted, when you give your concession speech and let say how much you respect the other candidate and anticipate strong representation in government, how am I to trust your assessment?

An Elder Way of Voting

What our nation wants – and NEEDS – more than ever now is a sense of hope and guidance.  This is NOT an opinion about our President.  (The problem with the President’s “popularity,” as it was with his predecessors and will be with his successors, is that as a nation we put too much hope and faith in an individual.  We then are disappointed to discover our hope and faith is in a mere human.) This is about our LEADERSHIP regardless of the office, regardless of the community.

Titus 1: 6-9
What might a nation be like if these were guidelines for political candidates?

Earlier this year, our congregation conducted a study about changing our church organization to an elder form of leadership.  As we reviewed the Scriptural qualifications to be an elder – a church leader – I thought deeply about how our government may be truly effective if our political process took these qualifications into account – and the people held the leaders accountable.  Here are qualifications Paul outlined to another protégé, Titus (substitute your favorite political officer for ‘elder,’ you’ll catch my drift):

 “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” (Titus 1: 6-8)

So, where does this leave us?

Politcal postcards again.
Too many postcards.

Well, I’m going to go vote.  In some cases, I know for whom I will vote.  Others…well, I’m going to sort the postcards that I’ve been collecting, count the negative messages, and whoever sent the fewer nasty notes I’m likely to punch.   That’s part of the fun.  Then tomorrow, when the tallies are counted, I’m going to resume praying for those who have been elected – including our President — whether I like them, or agree with them or not.  God says do so.  I am thankful I live in a nation where I can.  It is one of His blessings on America.

— Featured photo by Photo by Mirah Curzer on Unsplash