Postures of Prayer

In the first year of Darius’s reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, ‘O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws. O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem because for our sins. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.’

“While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, ‘O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.’” Daniel 9:1-5,7-10,16-23

There are several things that strike me about Daniel’s postures of prayer in this exquisite passage. When he, knowing the calendar, thoughtfully contemplates God’s specific promises to Israel, he brings his plea directly to the Lord. No picking up his phone, no gathering of friends, no “Who should I tell or discuss this with?”— his posture was always to pray. God was his closest confidante as well as the Sovereign over time and times, the One Who was personal and merciful and would hear his plea.

And when he turns to prayer, his posture is humility before his exalted King of kings, appealing to His grace and benevolence. Daniel does not appear at his Benefactor’s throne as a rightful beneficiary with a list of requests, but as one who gratefully, humbly understands even his access to Him is a merciful gift. He confesses personal and national sin (though no sin of his is ever recorded), acknowledging that his plea is based solely on God’s merciful kindness. What beauty in the statement, “While he was praying…”! It is in the very posture of worship and dependence, pleading and waiting, that God is at work answering!

Cross, Christchurch, NZ

How often do I approach God in my haste and swagger, with my agenda and timeline, and dictate how I think He should answer? Is it my posture to stand, tapping my foot, ready to grasp with my hands, rather than to humbly bow in repentance, and be still before my holy Lord? It is clear that Daniel’s life posture was worship and surrender, and his prayer unleashed great power for God’s people.

God Almighty, may prayer to You be my first action and reaction in every situation. Give me wisdom to understand the times, spiritual eyes to detect every impulse of sin, and the to bow before You in honor and full dependence. (1 Chronicles 12:32; 2 Timothy 3:1)

Ruler of Rulers

“The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men… You shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Daniel 4:17,25,32

God had divine intent for the great Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and for all who would read his story. God is God and he was, and we are, not. The King of kings so orchestrated the events in Nebuchadnezzar’s life and reign that He would show him Who was really in control, Who really ruled the kingdoms of men and owned all—“that he/we would know,” is an ongoing theme through scripture that should startle us all awake and to heed. Through visions and using Daniel as interpreter, God revealed to this prideful regent, who saw his kingdom as “the great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty,” that he would be humbled to know only the Most High ruled. And God always fulfills His word.

Redwood, Christchurch Botanical Gardens, NZ

“Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” Daniel 4:33-35

Whatever a ruler’s domain and decisions, they are determined by The King of kings. However great his power, it is endowed by Almighty God. Whatever my plans, God directs my way. Whatever I have has merely been entrusted to me from the great Provider; He owns all and rules all; He raises up and brings low. (Job 12:23; 41:11; Proverbs 21:1,30; 16:1; James 1:17; 1 Chronicles 29:11-12)

Lord of all, order the intricacies of my life to remind me, as much as I need reminding, that You are the Most High God Who rules the kingdom of men. I am not. Your will is good, Your ways can be trusted. I gladly bow before Your dominion, my King.

An Enviable Rhythm

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lordlives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know it; keep quiet.’ Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they came to Jericho.  The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I know it; keep quiet.’ Then Elijah said to him, ‘Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on. Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.’ And Elisha said, ‘Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.’” 2 Kings 2:1-6, 8-9

This chapter is poignant to me: Elisha following Elijah his final days, then succeeding him after he is taken to heaven. Elijah, prophet sent by the LORD, journeys to Bethel- place of meeting with God, to Jericho- place of battle and victory against strongholds, to the Jordan- place of crossing to new life, the blessed life, with death to the old self. And Elisha walks the route with him, mulling over (and being repeatedly reminded) that this great mentor will be leaving him soon, revisiting the places of life-altering encounters with God. Then, when dear Elijah asks him to name whatever he wants, he asks for a double portion of his spirit before Elijah’s death. What a touching look into a man of God’s final days, and into the heart of one who would take up the mantle after him. It is the intimate moments with God that have made, and will make, the difference.

Pathway, W Coast NZ

This passage offers a rhythm of life for us: meet with God, in worship and dependence; triumph against strongholds and temptations at God’s leading and in His supernatural power; and continually dying to self and proceeding in faith to take possession of His land and life and intentions for us, all adorned and endowed richly with His Spirit.

Lord, may this be my daily pattern, in prayer and planning, at home and work. I am Yours, You are my Prophet, Priest and King. You ordain for me every Bethel, Jericho, and Jordan. May I walk with You, and whether seeing You or not, be cloaked with Your power and countenance for each new step. Amen.

Affliction’s Reward, or, The Making of Sand

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life.” 
Psalm 119:50,67-68,71,92-93

Receiving and being thankful for comfort in affliction is one thing, but being thankful for the affliction itself is quite another, and the psalmist learned the secret. It was borne of a focus not on the affliction itself, but on God’s unfailing word. It was God’s promise that gave him life, redirection, hope, and comfort. He chose, rather than to squirm and chafe in his pain, injustice, taunting, persecution, grief, loneliness, to delight in God’s law, His abiding and true word. Through it he learned, by experience and trust, that its Author was good, and does good, that the God Who gives comfort is Comfort Himself. The afflictions had buffeted him, but through their crashing power had molded him, shaped him to rest and rejoice in his loving God. It is God Who makes useful and beautiful His people through affliction.

Watching powerful waves stir and roar on the rocky coast imprints a good picture of affliction’s reward. Jagged rocks along the coast are softened to smaller round ones, and through the constant friction of tumbling in rough waves, those are ground into soft sand, shaped by the water’s force and wear. Once granular, the sand can be made into something beautiful, as in remarkable ‘blooms’ made by some mollusk at work. What a marvelous God!

Lord, may I welcome afflictions as Your instruments of refinement and learning of You. Turn my vision to what You would teach, what You promise and fulfill. Keep me delighting in Your Word made flesh, my great Redeemer Jesus, and bring forth from every affliction what will bring You glory.

 

Whatever the Season

You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.” Psalm 65:9-13

We drove yesterday through lush agricultural land blanketed with grasses, dotted with sheep and cattle against the backdrop of the majestic snow-peaked “Southern Alps,” then sueded softer peaks, some splashed with gold. Vineyards and orchards spread like ordered tablecloths in the foothills, vines carefully pruned for a new year of growth and young trees adorned with crepey blossoms announcing upcoming fruit. Early spring has brought rhododendron blooms, glorious forsythia, and cheery bulbs, yet the river beds are still dry. The land is on tiptoe awaiting the full extravagance of summer’s bounty.

Whatever the season, my divine Farmer is at work, pruning, nurturing in seeming dormancy, pushing out and testing early growth, or bringing to full fruit through soaking rains and warm sun. He provides all that is needed however the climate in life changes, through waiting, sorrow, expansion of responsibility, test of faculties and virtues. He tends carefully to His own that we may be strong in His might and bear much fruit. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples… You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” (Ephesians 6:10; John 15:8,16)

Lord, let me welcome the seasons, put down deep roots of faith, and submit well to Your visits and honing. Overflow Your abundance through me. I am Yours to bear fruit that will last and bring You glory.

Beneath The Surface

And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’ So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” “Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.” Genesis 1:20-21; Psalm 104:24-25

It is true that in snorkeling, the slower I go and the longer I look, the more I see….and marvel. I never want it to end. The Great Barrier Reef is indescribably magnificent, its coral variety endless: large mounds patterned like brains and mazes and Greek key designs and sometimes blanketed with royal blue or purple, fan-like shelves, wavy tulips, sueded and chenille ruffles, orangey spikes, antlers white-tipped with ‘blossoms,’ salmony mounds with fingers, pink mounds with blooms, reddish smooth ‘shields’ with raised ‘hieroglyphics,’ domes that seem armored with scales, tubes with deep purple-blue centers, all sizes and shapes, from seemingly centuries-old to fresh new growth like pale green buds and sprays on a tree. Zig-zagged clam shells partly opened, nestled into the coral in all stages of age, are painted with fluorescent purple or yellow flecks on black. Ah, Lord, in wisdom You have made them all! This underworld, unseen by all but a few, is filled with splendid beauty, form and color beyond compare!

And the fish! Long narrow goldish trumpet fish with noses like blunt butter knives, black and white striped “sugarlips” with bright yellow mini-wings and thick yellow lips like clown paint, wispy yellow black and white designer-dressed angel fish that swim in pairs, swarms of skinny green pointed ovals, orange and white clown fish, schools of neon blue damselfish with a single black dot, elegant fluorescent yellow-with-red-stripes butterfly fish, greenish blue parrotfish with pink ‘beaks’ that chew loudly on coral, electric blue and black surgeonfish with yellow tails, lumbering humphead blue-green Wrasse with thick lips, sneaky dark barracuda, plodding heavy grey-camoflauged grouper, coral pink trout with blue dots, sand-colored rays with periwinkle painted spots, and bright blue feathery worms with silver and white antennae that bore into coral…. Majestic hues, movement, glory beyond description! Indeed, manifold and good are God’s works!

So in life, much is missed when we hurry and drive and skim the surface. Slowing down, diving deep in the Word, stopping to contemplate, watch, and listen is what brings the greatest insight into God’s character and ways. He has prepared a feast for our senses and soul; we need partake.

Mighty and marvelous Creator, drive me deep beneath the surface of life, away from the madding world, to plumb the depths of You and Your will. Pace me to linger with You, to gaze, to ponder, to meditate on facets of You I would otherwise overlook. You are worth my attention, and my praise.

Deep and Deeper

“Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, ‘Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes… And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’” Ezekiel 47:1,3-5,9,12

Issuing from God’s throne, His very presence, is living water for all. The Lord leads us there, and offers abundance. We can stand on the shore and survey the options for how far we want (and don’t want) to go, or we can get in with Him and start to walk.

River, Blue Pools, Mt Aspiring Natl Park, NZ

Why is it that I get complacent to hang around the shore and consider what my commitment might be, and miss out on tasting divine refreshment? Or am I content to wade in the shallows? They are lovely, and refreshing, and rather easy to enjoy- get a little wet and cool, but nothing uncomfortable, nothing to make me shiver, nothing extreme. Ezekiel’s vision from God here urges us to go deep, and deeper, with Him. It is there we really know the force of the water, there we are cleansed, there we are saturated. In the deeps we are forced to exercise strength, resistance, balance; after going in deep we have to adjust, change clothes, have a whole new appreciation for what a good soak can mean for our perspective, our faith muscles, our outlook. Full immersion brings lasting satisfaction. (Ephesians 5:26)

When I go to my God each morning, I dip my feet by opening the Word. Superficial skimming of a verse or passage is like barely getting our feet wet- check the box, dip the toe, maybe grab a pithy mantra for the day, and move on. But when we stay to read, reread, listen, digest, we go deeper, and the washing of the word begins to take effect. We are bid deeper: what does this reveal or magnify in my Lord? How am I to think differently and behave in response? The more time and attention I spend, the deeper I can go; the water begins to identify sin habits, open opportunities, change desires, and slough away terse reactions, impatience, selfishness, pride.

Oh God, thank You for bringing me to Your temple; lead me on to the river. Keep me going deep, and deeper with You. Have full sway with me, that my fruit be consistently used of You for feeding, blessing, and healing.