As Was His Custom

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’  And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And… he rose from prayer.” Luke 22:39-45

Jesus knew His life-assignment to die for the sins of the world was imminent, but knowledge did not remove dread. Facing the tormenting climax of His earthly life, He had a well-practiced habit that would supply the strength He needed to see through His daunting mission. He came out from their supper; He went to “the place” in Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives, where He often gathered with His disciples; He withdrew to be alone with His Father; He knelt; He prayed, pleading that the cup of suffering might pass; He surrendered His will to God. And an angel came to minister to Him, enabling Him with resolve to leave His agony in His merciful Father’s hands.

Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

I can do the same when facing a foreboding diagnosis or encounter or future, when fear of the unknown or what might be grips me and won’t let go, when I observe a loved one on a path that seems headed in the wrong direction. Have I established the custom? I am more apt to fly to my Father and leave all with Him if this is my daily habit, my regular routine, and while it may be difficult, it is never too late to develop this practice. It requires the resolve we see in Jesus, removing self and getting away, humbling ourselves before Almighty God with unclenched hands, maybe tears, and always persistence. And we can trust He will come through with His comforting presence and strength to endure, to “rise from prayer” and face what He has before us, in His victory.

Lord, only You know all that is to come; in mercy You reveal what I need to know and when. Keep me keeping on with You, practicing the custom of constant communion and trust, that whatever comes, I can leave it with You and face it with serene and bold confidence. Your will be done, amen.

On the Watchtower

I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.'” Habakkuk 2:1-3

Habakkuk, dismayed over Israel’s unfaithfulness, was even more distressed that God would use an unholy nation like Babylon to bring judgment on her. God had said, “Wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told,” and the earnest prophet was astounded, and was not believing it, so he brought his question before his holy Sovereign. Then he took his place “on the tower” to wait for God’s answer, to see with God’s eyes and understand His heart. Leaving the lowlands of human reasoning and the pull of feelings is the only way we can gain God’s perspective.

I remember about 25 years ago meeting my father in New York for the day, walking the city congested with bustle, noise, humanity, and grime, and after dinner, going up to Windows on the World to view the city at night night. From the inside quiet, gazing at the lit buildings and headlights of smoothly-moving vehicles, buffered from odors and horns and crowds, we saw the city in a whole different way, as if we’d changed our glasses. We’d ascended the ramparts and taken on a new perspective. That’s how it works when we climb upward with God to gain His view on all that concerns us here and now, all that twists our wants, diminishes the gleam of our dreams, hurts us from the inside out, distorts our plan of how things should be. He beckons us up above our complaints and circumstances to watch, to listen, to believe that He never delays but will fulfill every promise (even when, like distant separated mountains, their realization seems slow in coming), to wonder at His work because it is His. Do I resolutely take the stand?

Lord on High and in control, station me alongside you moment by moment so I can learn deeper trust, deeper astonishment at Your marvelous, oft invisible, but always good and perfect ways. Teach me patience and joy in the waiting, and always, always, greater love for You Who are working all together for good. (Romans 8:28)

Uncontainable

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands. Solomon had made a bronze platform…, and he stood on it. Then he knelt on his knees in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven, and he said, ‘O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart, who have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day…. Will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!'” 2 Chronicles 6:12-15,18

Have you ever had too much for a container– groceries in a shopping bag, clothes in a suitcase, leftovers in a bag or jar– and tried to fit it all in anyway, only to be inefficient and frustrated? In our finite minds, we can imagine many ‘uncontainables,’ but kneeling before heaven and contemplating Almighty God brings a deeper and wider grasp of what His measureless infinity means.

At the completion of God’s temple, Solomon is obsessed not with its intricate beauties and grandeur, but with the magnificence of the God Who called him to reign and to build it, the God Who was to dwell there. Humbling himself on a platform above all the people, he is overwhelmed by God’s uniqueness, sufficiency, covenant-keeping integrity, and steadfast love. How could this great God be contained in a temple if even the highest heavens were too limited to hold Him?

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What is my measure for God? Do I, even subconsciously, fit Him neatly into my box of expectations, trim Him to conform to my desires and adjust Him for my agenda? If so, my focus is on the ‘me’ and ‘my,’ not the ‘Him.’ Do I stand before God and expect Him to tag along and bless, while bowing to lesser gods who demand my attention, energy, time, resources? In what plans and activities do I need a higher view of God today? When and where will I take time to kneel before His uncontainable love and holy greatness?

“Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade; to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry; nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.” ~ Frederick M. Lehman (1917)

Lord, it is a mystery that You Who cannot be contained could fill your people, but I believe since You are limitless and all-sufficient, it is possible. So I ask this day for you to fill every part of me to overflow, that I go about in Your power and love and wisdom and others see only You. (Ephesians 5:18; Colossians 1:9)

For This Very Reason

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:3-8

We have been granted all things!! All things that pertain to life and godliness! We have been given knowledge of Jesus (Amen!), Who has called us to His glory and excellence (and His call is powerful and effective!), and has granted us very great and precious promises (Amen!) so we can partake of the divine nature (Amazing!)! We have been given escape from corruption, and destruction… is this not enough to make us shout in exclamation-marked-praise?!? And because of all this, because we have been granted, by God’s divine power and love and generosity and numberless mercies, all things to live for Him, we can, and should! It is for this very reason, because of what He supplies, that we are to add to our faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and on and on, increasingly, building the blocks of a fruitful life that makes a difference here on earth.

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In a very simplistic way, I think of a LEGO set our grandson is thrilled to receive, a sealed box filled with directions and every piece and sticker needed to complete a vehicle. He, in this one container, has received all things needed to build a clever moving machine that will fulfill its intended purpose when complete; and so he opens it and builds, connecting each piece in order, adding ‘quality upon quality’ to complete the object, to make it useful. Why do not we utilize all God has given us, build on every quality He imparts, claim each very great promise, and continually increase in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, brotherly affection, and love? We can, by practice and perseverance–God has said so. Let’s get on with it!

Oh Lord, I am overwhelmed at all You have granted, and thank You for Your bounty to me. Thank You also for Your call to godliness and a life bound up with Yours. Pull me ever closer to You, and push me to add and build and bear glorious fruit for Thee. (Ephesians 1:3-4;2:10; Acts 17:28; John 15:16)

Filling the House

“The priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim… And when the priests came out of the Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves, without regard to their divisions,  and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,’ the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.” 2 Chronicles 5:7,11-14

Does the great and personal God by His Spirit fill my house? Does praise befitting this worthy King fill my moments, His light fill my countenance and view? If so, then His glory will fill and shine and be so obvious none can see me without seeing Him.

The temple was complete, and Solomon assembled the eager, consecrated priests to transport and place the ark of the Lord in its designated Most Holy Place. He went before them making sacrifices, leading a royal procession of all Israel’s congregation. We can imagine the beauty of the voices in joyful unison, accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, harps and lyres, filling this magnificent new temple, then the cloud of glory beginning– seeping, rising– to fill the lofty space.

Sunset, December

What a picture we have here of God, transforming our life spaces. When I am on the altar and He in His rightful place, His might and glory are reflected everywhere. His power and peace cloud over concerns and fears, His compassion and lovingkindness encompass regrets and deep pain, His palpable comfort and hope replace sorrows and despair. When we fill our vision with Him, His wisdom shines in our confusion and need; when we praise and thank Him, His beauty overtakes all we see as broken because He sees it as redeemed.

O God, captivate my attention and every affection and fill me with You! Bring the cloud of Your presence to consume each thought, offering, and word with praise and thanksgiving to You alone. Make my life Your resplendent dwelling place, where worship defines my activity, and where, in unison with others, I reflect Your glory in Your church, and outsiders take note of You.

Purposing to Build

“Now Solomon purposed to build a temple for the name of the LORD. And Solomon sent word to Hiram the king of Tyre: ‘Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the LORD my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the regular arrangement of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the LORD our God, as ordained forever for Israel. The house that I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods. But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him? So now send me a man skilled to work in gold, silver, bronze, and iron, and in purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, trained also in engraving, to be with the skilled workers who are with me in Judah and Jerusalem, whom David my father provided. Send me also cedar, cypress, and algum timber from Lebanon, for I know that your servants know how to cut timber in Lebanon. And my servants will be with your servants, to prepare timber for me in abundance, for the house I am to build will be great and wonderful.'” 2 Chronicles 2:1,3-9

Solomon was one gifted, wise man, and as new regent could have made the kingdom all about him, but he started off well and purposed to build for the name of the LORD. He was consumed with a holy drive to construct the temple, prepared for by his father, for the ministries and glory of Israel’s God, and he kept this mission at the fore. He took pause to ponder this God’s greatness, as though reminding himself that every ingredient, every article, every building piece had a glorious purpose. His was a divine undertaking, and God’s name would be exalted. He was only God’s subject, His servant.

Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden

Is my purpose the same? What exactly am I building with how I spend my time? Are my efforts spent with holy ambition, an eye for God’s higher and broader glory than the temporal doings of man, of me? Are my prayers consumed with my agenda and wants, or with praise to High God, seeking His ways and exaltation, and surrender to Him? Do I plan my days and go about my tasks in humble service to my King, endeavoring to build His kingdom and make His name great and known? In my relationships and conversations, am I actively seeking to upbuild His body with truth, love, and encouragement? How am I adorning the temple of His Spirit, my own body–for the notice of others, or to reflect His goodness and joy? Do I choose to construct carefully and generously with what is costly and precious to me, or selfishly and haphazardly with lesser things and cheap effort? (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 3:10-17; 14:3,12)

Father, I know all building is in vain unless You are at the helm and are the aim. In whatever position You place me, at whatever duty- at home, at work, in the church- remind me that You are the object of my efforts, Your greatness my motive, Your glory my mission. Then may I put hands and heart to the task, and work with all my might. (Psalm 127:1; Colossians 3:23)

Out in the Light, Down in the Sea

“As for me, I will look to the LordI will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication… Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness and steadfast love… as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. Micah 7:7-9,18-20

I have been stricken by ugly, despicable sin attitudes that rage in my heart. I know mine is a wrestling not against flesh and blood, but against an enemy whose goal is to steal, kill and destroy– my communion with Jesus, my joy, peace, loving relationships, any fruit  of the Spirit or fruit for Him–, and I praise God He is greater in me than this wily one in the world, His Holy Spirit convicts, and Jesus my Advocate sets me free! There is no God like this Who pled my cause and bore judgment for my sin on the cross, Who brings me into the light because He is light, Whose compassion and amazing love drown my iniquity in the depths of the sea! I see the waves, rolling over and over in constant, beautiful rhythm, reminding me that His deep deep love washes and renews and refreshes and regenerates, again and again, and that my forgiven sin will no more rise. (Ephesians 6:12; John 8:12;10:10; 1 John 1:5;2:1-2;4:4)

Waves, New Zealand coast

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.” Lamentations 3:22-23

Great God, temptations come, but You are the shield round about me and the lifter of my head. I cry to You for Your merciful pardon and casting of my sin into the depth of the sea, and You answer. Please keep me in the light, and at the first hint of darkness, coming into Your light. May I ever rejoice in Your faithfulness and love, showing the same grace to others You show repeatedly to me. (Psalm 3:3-4)