Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reading List 2014

I like tracking on my blog what I've been reading throughout the year. It encourages me because I'm such a slow reader that I can be tempted to think that I accomplish very little in my reading. Well I certainly don't read voraciously, but when I look back and see that I managed to average more than one book a month, it's quite encouraging! In fact, I've read 15 books a year for all three of the years in which I've tracked my reading on my blog (here's my 2010 reading list and my 2011 reading list, in the order I completed them).

A few trends seemed to stand out this year. Three of the books were about Everest. I love mountain climbing books, and find that books about it are so much better than films that I keep reading more and more of them (20 so far)! And three of the books I read this year were re-reads of excellent devotional books I'd read long ago but wanted to read again. Very helpful books. But most of all, the theme of the nations dominated this year. The nations or regions profiled in the books I read in 2014 included the U.K., China, the Middle East, Nepal, Japan, America's deep south, small town Canada, India, and central and east Africa. I feel very well traveled now.

Apart from all the books listed here, I also read the Bible throughout the year. I believe the Bible is God's inspired Word to us, and of all the things I read, I see the Bible as the most valuable and the most essential for me to be feeding on.

So here's what I read in 2014. Perhaps there's a book listed here that you'd enjoy reading. And please feel free to leave a comment if there's a book you'd like to recommend that I read in 2015. Just please be patient with me, as I already have a great many books on my shelf waiting to be read!

  1. Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis. This book is a fascinating look at the context in which climbing the highest mountain in the world was first attempted. Each man involved had been deeply impacted by the horrors of the Great War, and for each of them, Mount Everest was a symbol of something other that allowed them to put the war behind them. I have never been provided with a more revealing glimpse into what the soldiers of WWI went through.
  2. Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson. The emphasis in the title should be on "in Arabia" because this book is more about several key participants in the Middle Eastern theater of WWI than about T.E. Lawrence himself. And in these present days of never-ending conflict in the Middle East, this book highlights the political intrigue behind how the borders were drawn after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
  3. The Mountain: My Time on Everest by Ed Viesturs. Yes, another book about Everest. It was a gift! But it was given to me because I've read everything Ed Viesturs has written, and this was his latest book. Ed Viesturs is a climber who has climbed all of the earth's 8,000-meter peaks without use of supplemental oxygen, but he has done so, incredibly, with such a conservative approach to risk-taking on his climbs that he doesn't fit the reckless stereotype of big-mountain climbers. And he has summitted Everest more than any other peak. This book mingles Ed's experiences with the history of others who have climbed Everest.
  4. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. This book was also given to me as a gift, and really surprised me. It's not only amazing that the main character in this book survived the crash in the Pacific and being captured by the Japanese, but it's also amazing how his life turned around once he returned home after the war. If I had just 10% of the resilience and determination this man had, I would be a stronger person. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie based on this book that came out recently, but I certainly hope they make it clear how much Jesus made a difference in this man's life.
  5. Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman who Bound Them Together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. Another gift and another surprise! This book left me struggling a bit due to the sad outcome for one of the people mentioned in the sub-title. But it also stirred and inspired me due to the spiritual transformations and the Christ-centered lives reflected by all three characters featured in this true story.
  6. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock. A Canadian classic that I picked up in a used bookstore during my summer holiday. I laughed out loud again and again as I kicked back and read this tale about any-small-1930s-town in Canada. The sinking of the Mariposa Belle is worth the time it took to read it all! 
  7. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katharine Boo. A vivid snapshot of the slums of Mumbai. I didn't know what to expect from this book, but bought it because I thought it might help me to better understand the plight of these poorest of the poor in a slum that I have flown over and stared at from the safe armchair of a 737. It's a non-fiction account written in the form of a story rather than as a documentary, and pulls no punches. It's gritty and it's painful, but it beautifully personalizes a part of the world that we tend to more often merely tabulate and analyze.
  8. Sit, Walk, Stand by Watchman Nee. A book I've read before but felt compelled to read again. I know few writers who can challenge me while encouraging me better than Watchman Nee does! His writings continually point me to Christ and always leave me with a greater assurance of His love. This book is no exception as Nee examines three important postures we must take -- in the right order -- as followers of Christ.
  9. Poverty of Spirit by Johannes B Metz. This is the third time I've read this little book, the previous time being in 2011 (as per the link above). It was due to what I've felt God has been speaking to me about lately that I decided to read it again. After all, given how typically self-reliant I can tend to be, I knew it would do me no harm to be reminded of the importance of poverty of spirit. Though there's much in this book that I still don't fully grasp, I was particularly stirred by the author's description of our propensity to resist poverty of spirit. But Metz makes a clear case for the value of embracing it!
  10. George Muller: Man of Faith and Miracles by Basil Miller. This is an inspiring biography about a man who set out to live his life so as to show the world that the living God is living still! By trusting God to provide food, clothes and shelter for over 2,000 orphans in his care, with a policy of never mentioning his needs to anyone but to God alone, George Muller's life illustrated that God hears and answers the prayers of those who put their trust in Him. George Muller's humility and simple approach to prayer has boosted my own confidence in prayer as illustration after illustration from this book testified to the love and faithfulness of God.
  11. Abraham: or, The Obedience of Faith by F. B. Meyer. This book is a treasure. I thoroughly enjoyed reading an old hardcover first edition, printed in 1894, that I found in a used book store some years ago. F.B. Meyer's nineteenth century writing style is downright poetic at times as he waxes on using metaphors and imagery that enliven the reader's imagination. And each brief chapter was written with such a practical approach that one can't avoid seeing how relevant Abraham's story is to us today.
  12. BIG GOD: What Happens when we Trust Him by Britt Merrick. This book looks one by one at the ordinary and yet extraordinary people mentioned in the great Hall of Faith chapter in Hebrews (ch. 11) to unpack why God included them as examples of faith for us. Each chapter is rich with revelation and application (so much so that this book can be exhausting at times, though this may partly be due to a somewhat repetitive writing style), and the focus is consistently God-centered and God-glorifying. By the end of the book, I truly did feel inspired by how BIG my God is!
  13. High Adventure: Our Ascent of Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary. My third book on Everest this year (and my tenth overall!), but this one written by the first man to have climbed it. I'm always fascinated by mountain climbing books, but this book stands out among the rest. Hillary's expressive writing style is so engaging that I could feel his fears and his thrills as he described each obstacle and each accomplishment from the icefall to the summit to the descent. Hillary truly seems to want his readers to gain a very real sense (albeit an obviously slight sense compared to true realities!) of the immensity and the scale of his and Tenzing's historic achievement.
  14. Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure by Tim Jeal. Ever since I read The White Nile by Alan Moorehead in 1987 I've been fascinated by the stories of those who explored the sources of the Nile and of how they interacted with the local people of that region in those times (in the mid to late nineteenth century). This book is more thoroughly researched than Moorehead's book, though it remains just as readable. Tim Jeal also does an excellent job of honouring the porters, guides and translators, without whom, there wouldn't have been much exploring going on. But most of all, I appreciated Jeal's section on the unforeseen consequences of the white man's initial incursions into these regions of central and east Africa. One example is how so much of the suffering in South Sudan is attributable to decisions made while searching for the source of the White Nile.
  15. Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin's Path to God by Brennan Manning. Though I had read this book once before, I felt that I needed to read it again. In his straight-shooting style, Manning goes right for the heart of what holds us back from trusting God more fully, attacks it without mercy, and then lovingly offers a new way of living: the way of ruthless trust that dares to believe that God loves us no matter what the circumstances. Aside from a couple chapters near the end in which Manning waxes a bit too philosophical for me, I find this to be an amazing book.

Friday, December 12, 2014

But we see Jesus...

This time of year, there's so much to see. There are giant inflatable Santas waving at me from people's yards, incandescent deer grazing on snow-covered lawns, and entire houses plastered with blinking, multi-coloured LED lights. It feels like there's just way too much of what doesn't really matter to catch the eye and symbolize the season.

But that's not all. I've found that the one thing I see that really distracts me from what's important at Christmas is my own self! From self-absorbed worries about what people might think of me at a Christmas production to selfish fixations that keep me from preferring others' interests above my own, my very self is sometimes what I spend way too much time looking at and getting discouraged about.

Perhaps that's why Hebrews 2:9 felt so incredibly appealing when I read it recently. In the New King James Version of the Bible it begins with, "But we see Jesus..." Simple as that. The writer to the Hebrews had just acknowledged the fact that not everything is in subjection to Jesus (which is also true today), and that's when he adds that "But..." -- "But we see Jesus." We see Jesus who as a baby in a manger was "a little lower than the angels (2:9b). And we see Jesus who is now in heaven "crowned with glory and honour" after tasting death for us all (2:9c,d).

That means that amidst all the glitter and lights and ornaments, and despite the distraction of that imperfect reflection in the mirror, the same option is available to me. As I live in a world that's clearly not in subjection to Jesus -- and when I'm so perpetually prone to fixating on that imperfect self in me that also isn't entirely subjected to Jesus -- I want to respond by saying, "But I see Jesus! I see the One who is so beautiful in both His humility and His glory!" That is the key to me having a joyful Christmas, because I know that He will make all the difference. 

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Monday, November 24, 2014

How much love is that?!

There are times when I'm reading the Bible and a word catches my eye, and I just can't move on. I'm stuck, staring at a word, wondering at its implications, distracted by its scale. It happened to me yesterday.

There I am, breezily reading a familiar and encouraging psalm, and whammo -- I'm suddenly taken aback. I reach a word that feels so bursting with significance, I can't continue. It was Psalm 103, which begins with a long list of wonderful promises. Promises to forgive all our iniquity, heal all our diseases, redeem our life from the pit, crown us with steadfast love and mercy, and satisfy us with good things! Promises of God working righteousness and justice for the oppressed, making known His acts to His people, and of being merciful and gracious toward us! And then it says, "...and abounding in steadfast love" (ESV).

It was the word abounding that got me. That's a word not often used these days. (When did you last use it in a conversation?) As I read that word in Psalm 103:8, I couldn't help but wonder, how much love is that? 

In my imagination, the word abounding speaks of a mountain stream teeming with salmon, layer upon layer of them, all eagerly and aggressively leaping and squeezing around each other ever onward toward their goal; it speaks of a bountiful harvest pouring out of every vessel, none large enough to contain the vast heaps of grain collected; it speaks of a lavish banquet with table after table in room after room stacked with abundant supplies of delicious foods of every imaginable variety! The very definition of abounding is so completely full that it overflows!

And when the word is used to describe God's love, it speaks of numerous and extravagant promises that are all yes and amen in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20), of life-changing, kingdom-advancing miracles that are beyond what we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), and of awe-inspiring closeness to the living God according to the riches of His grace which He joyfully lavishes upon us (Eph. 1:3-8)! 

Quite honestly, finite words fail to convey the infinite reality of God's love. My mind can't fully absorb how vast it truly is. But as I read Psalm 103 yesterday, the simple word abounding was enough to capture my imagination and leave me in wonder at how bountifully BIG God's love is for any who reach out to Him! Go ahead, ask Him to show you how big it is.

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Getting in on the Resurrection Story

I don't know how many times I've read it, and yet I still find myself on the edge of my seat (so to speak) when I read the story of the resurrection of Jesus. I just read John 20-21 yesterday, and I felt drawn in by the obvious emotions of all the people involved in the story. I'm left open mouthed, somewhat awestruck by it all.

Go ahead, read it like you're there, like you're watching it happen. Read it slowly so you can imagine all that John describes as the story unfolds.

There's Mary, and it seems some other women, approaching the tomb in the early morning darkness, and as they get closer, something doesn't look right. Something's wrong.The stone has been rolled away! How? Why? Where's Jesus? Has someone desecrated His body? They run away, frightened at the thought of who else might be watching them in the darkness, and they find Peter and John and tell them what they saw. What could be happening after all the horrors of what happened on Friday?

Then there's Peter and John running to the tomb, with Mary desperately trying to keep up, running through the thinning darkness as dawn gradually approaches. They find the stone moved away just as Mary said, and inside are the linen cloths lying on the slab, with the facecloth folded there by itself. Who did this? And where is Jesus' body? Peter and John stumble home utterly confused and unsure what will come of what they've seen.

Mary is left standing outside the tomb, weeping now. Weeping because this has all been far too much these past few days, and all she wanted to do was to take care of Jesus' body so that He could have a proper burial. And now someone has deprived Him of even that.

Before we read on, it's worth pausing to ask if we ever feel the way Mary, Peter and John must have felt. Do we ever ask ourselves or ask God, "What's going on? This doesn't make sense! I want to find You, Lord. I feel so alone."

That's how Mary felt. I'm sure it's how Peter and John felt too. So when Mary suddenly saw a man she thought to be the gardener, she asked him if he could help her find Jesus amidst all her confusion. Then that gentle man said to her, "Mary!" and her eyes were opened! It was Jesus! There's Jesus! Alive! Standing right in front of me, speaking to me! So she fell at His feet and clung to Him with tears of joy! But Jesus told her she must go and tell the disciples that He was alive.

Again, we've got to stop and ask if it's possible that Jesus is standing right in front of us and we haven't even recognized Him. All He needs to do is say our name  and how thrilling it is when we hear Him say our name  and we see Him standing there! We see Him where we couldn't see Him before and our alarm and despair dissipate, just as the darkness does as the sun begins to rise. We still may not understand what's going on, but it's enough to see Him standing before us, speaking to us softly and lovingly. A Light has come and we find such comfort in His light.

There's so much more we could explore from this story  a story I never get tired of imagining. Wouldn't it have been something to personally witness the resurrection? But perhaps in a way, we can, right here and now. 

I believe God wants us to experience the excitement of that morning every time we discover the risen Christ amidst confusing and troubling circumstances of our own life. He's there even when we don't recognize Him. But to make sure we do, He speaks to us in a voice we can't mistake  a voice that provides all the comfort we need! And though He may not answer a single question we have, it feels enough to know that Jesus is indeed alive, loves us, and still remains our glorious Lo
rd and Saviour!

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Grace piled upon Grace!

Let's be clear about one thing: God has piles of grace available. Piles of it. Make no mistake -- there's no risk of Him running short of it. The Apostle John wrote, "And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace" (John 1:16). That last phrase could be translated literally as, we have received "grace piled upon grace"!

This thread runs throughout the New Testament -- a great theme emphasizing a great gift of which we are all utterly undeserving, but which God lavishes on His children without calculation! 

Paul wrote that "where sin abounded, grace abounded much more" (Romans 5:20)! 

Paul wrote of receiving an "abundance of grace" (Rom. 5:17), of redemption "according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7), and of being granted "the glory of His grace" (Ephesians 1:6)! 

We are "justified by His grace" (Titus 3:7), given "good hope by grace" (2 Thess. 2:16) and can "come boldly to the throne of grace" to "find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16)!

Abounding and abundant riches of grace revealing God's glory and justifying sinners, and providing hope and help to us all! Grace piled upon grace for all of us to enjoy!

But may we never become so enamoured with the warm sunshine of God's grace that we fail to marvel at the glorious Star of Heaven that is its source. Those piles and piles of grace were poured out from the absolute fullness of Jesus, of which John reminds us we have all received and can enjoy -- each and every day, no matter what our circumstances!

So if grace is all about God's favour being available to us regardless of our merits, and it's available to us in such extravagant abundance -- literally piled into our laps and lives -- why would we ever again doubt the love of Jesus, the infinite source of infinite grace? 

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Thursday, September 25, 2014

No Other Option

What do you do when a big-time need gets worse and worse as you pray for years and years? Is there ever a time to stop asking God about it? Is it possible that God wants the fact that He hasn't answered "Yes" to such prayers to be understood as a "No" and that we should should stop asking Him further about it?

My short answer to that is: there sometimes are such times, but each person needs the Holy Spirit to make that very clear to them.

My longer answer is: the only verses in the Bible that I can think of in which someone is told to stop praying is God telling Jeremiah not to pray for a people whom God had already decided to judge for their sins (Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14). In those cases, God knew that His fatherly discipline was what was clearly needed in the situation and there was no point praying for an alternative approach. God made that very clear to Jeremiah (see short answer above).

But it's a big Bible, and I can't see that happening anywhere else in Scripture. What I see more of is God's call to keep on praying and to not give up!

I see Samuel saying, "As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you" (1 Samuel 12:23).

I see David saying, "As for me, I will call upon God... Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice" (Psalm 55:16-17).

I see Jesus saying, "Keep on asking for something to be given and it shall be given to you" (Matthew 7:7, Kenneth Wuest's "Expanded Translation").

I see Paul saying, "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). And I see Paul giving us a wonderful glimpse in Colossians of his convictions regarding persistent prayer.

The overwhelming message of the Bible is that we must not give up asking, even if an answer is slow in coming. In fact, Jesus went out of His way to make sure that we knew what to do when answers didn't come quickly. Luke tells us that "He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1) and then proceeded to tell them a story about a widow who had to persist in prayer because an answer was slow in coming. Jesus was basically warning us, as if to say, "This happens sometimes, so don't give up when it does."

So until I get a clear word from God telling me otherwise, I've got to persist! No matter how I feel about the delays or the circumstances, I've got no other option except to pray and keep on praying when answers don't come. Giving up is not an option.

"And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him?" (Luke 18:7). That's something we can count on.

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Learning When to Look

You've probably heard of the silly portrayal of how dogs are so easily distracted by things they see -- a portrayal often imitated when people are making fun of someone who can't focus?

I can be like that. And sometimes it's not so funny. Like when I see things that aren't wholesome to look at, or that cause my heart to covet, or that cause me to lose heart because I end up focused on something sad.

There are two instances about two inches apart on a page in my Bible in which people lift their eyes and look at something. And in one case it's a good thing, and in the other case it turns out not so good. And only today did I appreciate a lesson to be learned from the contrast.

In Genesis 13:10 it says, "And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar." Then four verses later, it says, "And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: 'Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are -- northward, southward, eastward, and westward'" (13:14). 

I'm intrigued by the fact that Lot may have looked at things prematurely -- before looking to the LORD -- to identify what would be best for him from his own limited perspective. But Abraham seems to have waited until the Lord spoke to him before he looked closely at what was around him.

F.B. Meyer writes, "Abraham lifted up his eyes, not to discern what would best make for his material interests, but to behold what God had prepared for him. How much better it is to keep the eye steadfastly fastened on God till He says to us! -- 'Lift up now thine eyes, and look...'"

I'm so easily distracted from the great big God I love to follow, that I'm like that dog, except that I'm more likely to suddenly say "Trouble!" instead of "Squirrel!" But now I hear God telling me to look at Him before I look at things around me. He wants me to first gaze at Him, waiting until He tells me to lift my eyes and look, because He knows I'll find it difficult seeing some of the things around me without His help.

And then when I lift my eyes and look, I'll see with the eyes of faith that come when one has been given divine perspective. I'll see things with hope and trust, because what I see will be combined with what God has spoken to me when my gaze was fixed on Him.

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Walking blind. It's good for me.

When we get out of bed each day, we really don't have a clue, do we? We may think we do, but when we really think about it, how sure can we be of what's going to happen each day? Yeah, we've got plans, but do we really know all that's going to come our way between waking up and hitting the hay? But even though certainty in circumstances is an illusion, we can walk each day with confidence when we know that God is leading the way. I think of this as walking blind. I don't know what's coming, but God does, and He has me by the hand.

Abraham understood this when God told him to get up and go to an unknown land that God would show him (Genesis 12:1). I love F.B. Meyer's almost poetic description of Abraham's response: "Whither he went, he knew not; it was enough for him to know that he went with God. He leant not so much upon the promise as upon the Promiser: he looked not on the difficulties of his lot -- but on the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God; who had deigned to appoint his course, and would certainly vindicate Himself."

Every morning, God calls us to get up and enter an unknown day. Where today will take me I don't know for sure, but it's enough to know that God is with me, that He loves me and has everything under control. It's enough to know that God is good and wants to guide me through each day. I just need to let Him as I pay attention to Him in every room I enter and on every road I travel. 

Walking blind takes faith, but if we choose to do so, God will lead us to yet unknown destinations we will only reach by trusting Him; exciting God-destinations that we will only get to with God leading the way. "Ah, glorious faith!" writes F.B. Meyer, "this is thy work, these are thy possibilities!  contentment to sail with sealed orders, because of unwavering confidence in the love and wisdom of the Lord High Admiral"!

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Blessed Assurance!

There is a little verse in Colossians that I have found to be one of the most reassuring verses in the entire Bible -- partly because of what Paul wrote and partly because of the order in which he wrote it. It's a verse that provides me with immense hope regarding my unchangeable standing before a loving God.

Paul wrote, "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Colossians 3:12, NIV).

The first reason I'm so encouraged by this verse is because of what it doesn't say. It does NOT say, "Therefore, so that you may be God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with..." We weren't "chosen" because we met some heavenly criteria. We're not called "holy" because we lived sinlessly for some kind of test-period. We're not "dearly loved" by God because we somehow impressed Him with our sanctity. We are all those things Paul mentions before we've done a single thing for God (other than turning to Him, which we needed His help to do anyway)!

This verse makes it abundantly clear that chosen, holy and dearly loved are not our goals, but are the starting point in our life with God -- and for each and every day we live for God.

Then it gets even more encouraging when we realize that every one of the things God asks us to clothe ourselves with -- "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" -- describe who God is. That not only makes it clear how wonderful God is, but it means that as we stumble inconsistently along on our journey of growing in these virtues, God graciously treats us in the very same ways He calls us to live.

But there's more! We know that because Jesus is the embodiment of each of these qualities, that it's Him we're to seek, rather than the traits themselves, in order to grow in them. We grow in compassion by seeking Jesus who is Compassion, and likewise for each. By seeing it this way, we put nothing before Christ and seek nothing more than Him. After all, isn't Jesus all we need?

Our life with God couldn't be described more wonderfully. As we begin with God, and as we begin each day we live for Him, He declares us chosen, holy and loved. Then as we continue living for Him, He simply asks us to seek Jesus, and only Jesus, that we may grow to be more and more like Him!

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Thursday, August 21, 2014

When weak prayers are strong

You pray and pray and pray, and then what? People encourage you to persevere. Knock and keep on knocking, they say. You wonder if they could possibly know how weak your prayers feel after all these years? But you keep praying, though the passion in your prayers feels a shadow of what it once was. You wonder if God is even listening as your prayers seem to have lost their potency, and you're no longer even sure what to pray.

And then God speaks: "...the Spirit helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).

What a relief that God sent a Helper to come alongside us (John 14:16)! My prayers may be weak, but He can make them strong. However weak you may feel your prayers have become as they dribble off your lips after uncounted repetitions, be encouraged that the Spirit has been sent to lift our feeble prayers to greater heights, ensuring that they reach God's ears with groanings that echo our anguish and with a clarity that contradicts our confusion.

That word "helps" is a big word with even bigger implications. The Greek word originally used is sunantilambano, and literally "speaks of the action of a person coming to another's aid by taking hold over against that person, of the load he is carrying. The person helping does not take the entire load, but helps the person in his endeavor" (source, vol. 1). 

In fact, I would dare to suggest that such Spirit-assisted prayers are potentially more effective than the lofty prayers of some who may be so confident that they utter their prayers without relying on the Spirit for His help. That is why God has no difficulty hearing what we consider "weak" prayers. Because by the time they reach His ears through His Spirit's intercession, there is nothing weak about them!

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Multitude of Pauses

What's your view on waiting? Do you enjoy it? Do you look forward to it? Yesiree, I can't wait to wait! Not. People generally don't like waiting. Just the idea of having to wait can prevent us from going somewhere good. We don't want to wait in line, we don't want to waste our time. 

Yet waiting is a core piece of the Christian life, and always leads to something good when God is who we're waiting for. And though He knows we get tired of waiting for Him, His antidote for tiredness is to wait! "Those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31).

This practice of waiting for God is meant to be an encouraging constant in our lives. The word "wait" in the Hebrew language means more than our anemic North American idea of waiting. It means to look forward to something eagerly and expectantly. It means "enduring patiently in confident hope that God will decisively act" on behalf of His people (source).

But what makes waiting so unattractive is when it goes on and on and on! And that's often the kind of waiting the Bible speaks about as His people waited decades for deliverance from Babylon, or for centuries for deliverance from Egypt, or even for millenia for the Messiah to come. Like Abraham, I've waited 25 years for a promise to be fulfilled.

And it's because waiting so long can just feel impossible that I make it my aim to wait for God in smaller doses. I can do this by stopping regularly - repeatedly - in the midst of my routines to wait, and to lean in and listen, all with a focus on a gracious God who loves me. All I need to do is to pause...  ...pause in my pursuits and look up, asking God for wisdom, patience or strength. The more I learn to practice such pauses, the more strength I gain, the more wisdom I glean and the more I sense God's presence.

All these minor pauses add up to a lifestyle of waiting for God that makes a long wait seem less wearisome as we repeatedly draw on the strength God supplies every time we stop to lean on Him. So if waiting for God is growing tiring, break it up a bit, and do it many times a day. You'll gain "new strength" every time.

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Go ahead. Take it easy.

What would you say to a weary saint who simply longed for life to be easy? It almost seems like that's a bad word among serious Christians! After all, Jesus worked so hard, and the apostle Paul worked so hard. There must be something wrong with the idea of "easy." And with phrases like "count the cost" and "carry your cross," we obviously don't associate the Christian life with the word "easy." We speak of endurance amidst warfare and of labourers in the harvest fields. Easy?! No Christian should settle for easy!

And yet, Jesus said that "My yoke is easy" and to "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me" (Matthew 11:28-30). Did Jesus actually use the word "easy"? Yes, and He also called Himself "the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11) knowing that King David had already declared that "The LORD is my shepherd" and that "He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul" (Psalm 23:1-3a).

You want easy? Come to Jesus. (There's something you don't hear too often!) And Jesus tells us that the key to the yoke that's "easy" is that it is only possible as we "learn from" Him. This means being in the yoke with Him, spending time with Him, and I suggest that it also means that Jesus is inviting us to have a seat with Him where He is seated! Jesus is saying to each of us, "C'mon up here and sit and stay awhile! Have a seat with Me."

When Paul wrote that God "raised us up with Him [Jesus], and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6), he fully expected us to embrace the posture of one who is personally seated together with Jesus in heaven. And from that posture, we learn from Jesus how to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called" (Eph. 4:1) and how to "stand firm against the schemes of the devil" (Eph. 6:11). But it all begins with the wondrous ease of being seated with Jesus. 

Watchman Nee, in his wonderful book "Sit, Walk, Stand", wrote that "There is no limit to the grace God is willing to bestow upon us. He will give us everything, but we can receive none of it except as we rest in Him. 'Sitting' is an attitude of rest." Nee marvels at the paradox that the only way to advance as a Christian is to sit down!

In other words, the Kingdom of God is such that we don't work hard so that we can sit and rest, but we are seated so that we can accomplish more. "For Christianity begins not with a big DO, but with a big DONE... we are invited at the very outset to sit down and enjoy what God has done for us" (Nee).

So in answer to my initial question above, I'd be inclined to say, "No problem! There's a beautiful comfy chair waiting for you right here beside Jesus. Please: sit down with Him, and take it easy."

© 2014 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Stay there. You are surrounded.

Once you know how good God is, you want His presence in your life more than anything. And there are loads of verses in the Bible that promise that God is "in" those who follow Jesus and that He is always "with" us. But I came across a word that tells me that He's also got us surrounded!

There's a word in Titus 2:14 that's translated "peculiar" in the King James Version: "who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people" (Greek: periousios). We might think at first glance that that means we must be a bit strange or unusual or odd (and perhaps some of us are). But modern translations don't mention that. The NASB translates the same word as "a people for His own possession" and the NIV translates it as "a people that are his very own". That's because the word periousios is derived from two other words that mean "around" (as in, a circle), and "to be." As Kenneth Wuest points out in his wonderful book, Golden Nuggets from his Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, this word can be visualized as a dot within a circle.

We are the dot, Jesus is the circle, and Jesus has encircled us. We are completely surrounded by an infinitely loving and all-powerful God, because we are much more than simply a dot to Him! That's why the NASB and NIV choose to translate Titus 2:14 as they do: God has His people all to Himself just as "the circle monopolizes the dot" (Wuest). God brings us in close, surrounds us and protects us, and only allows anything outside that circle to come in if it's His will for it to do so. And then He keeps us surrounded to help us to deal with the tests or trials He allows in. 

That's right. So stay there. He's got you surrounded.

© 2014 by Ken Peters