Trust Issues

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19).

The old word for it is “avarice.”

We know it best as greed. Sometime near the fourth century a list was developed that identified the most morally threatening sins. Numbering seven, they came to be called the “seven deadly sins.”

That avarice, or greed, made the list should hardly surprise us. We are infected with a bacterial greed. We learned some hard lessons years ago when the economy went south in 2008. Some of you will remember the stories well: Bernie Madoff and Goldman Sachs, executive bonuses, congressional hearings, government bailouts. Economists analyze, lawmakers criticize, and the accused rationalize. Yes, greed is alive and well among us.

But there is a greater and more insidious threat posed by greed than the threat of economic meltdown. The danger for many of us is that we’ll begin to associate greed with the very rich. This kind of thinking is dangerous because it assumes that greed is all about money. This kind of thinking says that the greedy are those who already have much and want even more. It assumes a kind of immunity for “average” people and “low income” people.

Greed, however, has very little to do with money. The problem goes much deeper.

When we listen to the words of Jesus we are forced to recognize that the real problem is a heart problem. For most people greed is not about money. It is about fear. And everyone, regardless of their income, knows about fear.

Fear explains both our tendency to clutch what we have, and our reluctance to be generous givers. And there’s nothing new about this.

Satisfied with ‘Daily Bread’

In Egypt the work was hard, but the food was abundant. The taskmasters were brutal, but at the end of the day the slaves knew where home was, and they knew when it was time to eat. At least that’s how they remembered it.

Now, having walked far into the desert, the conditions back in Egypt looked better than ever. Where would food come from in this desolate place? Why had Moses led them out there to die? The people complained. Moses prayed. God heard both the complaining and the praying and answered with bread from heaven. It covered the ground, flake like, every morning.

Only one thing: they were to take enough only for one day. If the people tried to store away an extra day’s supply of bread, it would rot. Moses explained all of this – but as is so often the case, there were those who refused to listen. At night they couldn’t sleep for worrying, afraid that when morning light came the ground would be bare and their children would be hungry.

They took more, more than they needed, and they did so because they were afraid. Lack of trust is at the heart of greed. (Exodus 16:16-20).

The Invitation

Jesus’ words about treasure in heaven are placed between his instruction to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11) and his counsel that “each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). What Jesus says about treasure is a commentary on what it means to live every day trusting God. It is an invitation to a life at rest in the faithful care of God. We can say with the Psalmist, “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).

Don’t place the weight of your life on something that can decay or be stolen. Place your life in God’s hands. Trust God to give what you need.

Why do you think our treasures make it hard for us to learn a life of trust?


In uncertain times, O God, we strive for certainty and we try to secure the future the best way we know how. So often we do this with material things: we increase our possessions and we save what we acquire. Grant us the gift of a trusting heart that we might live boldly – ready to give, ready to risk, knowing that our times are in your hand. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Watch Your Words

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths . . . (Ephesians 4:29)

John Francis is a man of varied identities. He is an environmentalist. An author and speaker, he presented a TED talk in 2008. He is a scholar, having earned a Ph.D. in land management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One thing John Francis certainly is not is a monk.

But for 17 years John Francis did not speak. A vow of silence intended to be binding for one day became a 17 year stretch of quiet. Here’s how that happened.

In 1971 Francis witnessed the collision of two oil tankers in the San Francisco Bay. As a result, he made a commitment to stop using motorized transportation. This decision was not understood by many who knew him. Francis found himself constantly arguing, defending and explaining what he was doing and why.

After a couple of years of that he decided he’d had enough. He needed to quit arguing, explaining, talking. So in 1973 John Francis decided that for one full day he would not speak. One day of silence became two. And so it continued for 17 years.

I Wish I Hadn’t Said That

Let me just get this out there: there’s no way I could do that. There’s no way I would even attempt it. And trust me, I like quiet. I don’t mind solitude. But I make my living largely with words and talking. A day of silence might be possible, but I can’t imagine holding my tongue for seventeen silent years.

That being said, I know that talking can be a problem. I’ve uttered words I wish I could get back. I’ve said one thing but managed to convey something else. With my words I have been careless, thoughtless, and heartless. I’ve spoken when I should have kept my mouth shut. I’ve sat mute when I should have had the courage to speak up.

Simply put, I’ve said things I regret.

Not just years ago, and not just at some point way back when before I was ordained for ‘full-time-Christian-ministry.’ No, I could tell you a specific story (but I won’t) of when I wished I had kept my mouth shut within the past week.

So there we have two extremes when it comes to our words and the things we say. On one hand, you could be like John Francis and simply decide to stop talking. Period. On the other hand, you can throw your words around without really thinking about their impact, and then you can live your days feeling embarrassed about what you said.

Or maybe there’s a better way – a way that truly reflects why our speaking God created us to be speaking beings.

Some Guidelines for Talkers

Our words are the single most effective way we can give encouragement to other people.

That’s not the only way, of course. Sometimes people can be encouraged by your example. They watch the way you live, see the way you handle yourself and handle what life throws at you, and they are encouraged by what they see. Your example shows them what’s possible. It gives them hope.

But there’s an immediate impact, a game-changing power hidden within our words. Words allow you to provide encouragement by direct deposit. The things you say can go straight to another person’s soul. The words you use can build them up, or just as easily tear them down.

In a single verse of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we get a few simple guidelines for using our words in a way that will encourage others. We don’t hide this gift by taking a vow of silence; we don’t squander the gift by speaking without a filter. The guidelines are simple and straight forward.

First, determine to build others up. Say something that will leave a person better off than they were before they encountered you. You don’t have to be profound, just be positive.

Second, speak words that a fitting to where that person is and what they’re dealing with in their life. Speak according to their needs. It’s nice to tell someone that ‘everything will be ok’ – but there may be times when they can’t hear that. So say what fits the moment.

Finally, let your words be beneficial to any who might hear them. Sometimes your words are not just heard, they are overheard. Make sure being overheard isn’t a source of regret for you.

Good for Someone’s Soul

The writer of Ecclesiastes was exactly right when he wrote that ‘there is a time to keep silence and a time to speak’ (3:7). Silence can be good for your soul but speaking can be good for someone else’s soul.

Giving encouragement is at the heart of Christian community – and the best way to do this is with your words. How will you use words to encourage and build up someone today?


Lord, let my words be filled with your grace today. Help me to speak in such a way that those who hear are encouraged, and those who overhear are glad they did. I ask you to be at work in someone else’s life through things that I say, speaking life into others just as Jesus did, the one through whom we pray. Amen.

Someone Near You Needs Encouragement (and you can give it)

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains (2 Timothy 1:16-18 NIV).

Years ago, on the day my son turned seven, we were in a large sporting goods store getting gear for his soon to start baseball season.

At the back of this particular store was a large rock-climbing wall, a wall that spans the entire two-story height of the building. John wanted to climb it, so I paid for the climb and one of the store staffers helped John into a harness.

Once he had finished with his climb and had been lowered back to the floor, my five-year-old daughter announced that it was her turn. At about the half-way point of the climb she decided she had had enough. “I want to come down now,” she said in a matter of fact tone.

I kept coaching, urging her to reach for this or that knob, giving her the benefit of my superior vantage point on the floor. Turns out my coaching was futile. My little girl had had enough. Anna responded to my exhortations and made her intentions clear by simply letting go of the wall.

And there she dangled.

She was finished, slowly spinning and flopping around like a marionette – but held firmly in place by someone on the floor with a strong grip on the rope. Thank God for a good belay.

When we can’t hold on, it’s good to know that someone else is close by; someone else has a hold on us.

Everybody Needs It, Anybody Can Give It

There’s a good chance that someone near you today is discouraged. Maybe they’re walking around lugging the heaviness that life has thrust upon them in some way. Things could be worse than that. Maybe they’re barley hanging on. Someone near you needs the gift of encouragement, the slightest word or deed that could strengthen their grip and renew their resolve.

Keep this simple truth in mind as you go through this day: Encouragement is something that everybody needs, and anybody can give.

Our need for encouragement is not something that we’re consciously aware of from day to day. We may go long stretches without a specific word of affirmation or act of support from others. But eventually we’ll find ourselves up against something that we can’t manage by ourselves. Even when it’s something that no one else can do for us, we know we can’t make it alone.

When a person is grieving, no one else can do that for them. But no grieving person can endure the season of grief in isolation. They may not want others trying to relieve them of their grief, but they will surely accept a word or gesture of encouragement, some simple assurance that they are not alone, not forgotten.

The power of encouragement is seen in the experience of the apostle Paul. The mighty missionary-preacher-church planter spoke tender words of blessing for a man barely known or mentioned in the New Testament. What Paul reports to us is not a spectacular deed, but ordinary friendship.

“May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains” (2 Timothy 1:16-18 NIV).

The Chains We Carry

When Paul was in a Roman prison he received encouragement from a man about whom we know almost nothing. Onesiphorus was not ashamed of Paul’s chains. He was not at all hesitant to associate himself with the prisoner or the prisoner’s faith. He refreshed Paul. He sought him out diligently in Rome. He rendered service to Paul in Ephesus. Even the powerful Paul needed encouragement, and the no-name Onesiphorus was the one who gave it.

Sadly, we are too often put off by someone else’s “chains.” Those chains are forged from different things – but almost always it is some kind of trouble, affliction, or heartache. We step back. We say that we want to ‘give them space.’ Maybe we have no idea what to say. Or maybe, we just don’t want to deal with it, whatever ‘it’ might be.

If you’ll pay attention, there is surely someone around you today who needs encouragement. You may have to look or listen closely, for those who need it may go to great lengths to disguise the need. They hide their chains. Still, they are there, carrying the weight of some chain or another.

This is true wherever you are during the week, and it’s also true on Sundays. Sadly, even in church among others who follow Jesus, we work hard at hiding our chains.

“He was not ashamed of my chains,” said Paul. For those who carry them, chains will reveal who their friends truly are. And for those who have the courage simply to show up, that simple act of encouragement can transform the weight of burden to a bond of friendship.

How will you show up and give the gift of encouragement today?


By the guiding presence of your Spirit, O God, help me to show up today when it matters most. Show me who, where and how. Work through me to bring encouragement to someone else, lifting the weight of whatever the carry by the simple act of being present. By your Holy Spirit be present through me, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Making a Quick Exit

And all who believed were together and had all things in common (Acts 2:44)

In any given church on any given Sunday, there are a good number of people who have mastered the art of the quick exit. You may be one of them.

I don’t say this with the slightest tone of judgment. I’m not pointing fingers or making accusations. What you’re reading here is not offered as a pastoral rebuke. I’m simply noting that get-in-and-get-out is a common strategy for Sunday church attendance. Honestly, that’s better than not showing up at all.

This quick exit strategy might be summarized as follows: find the bet parking spot closest to the building entrance that provides easy access to the worship area or sanctuary (or school auditorium as the case may be). Likewise, find a seat that’s close to a door that will allow you to draw as little attention as possible when you decide it’s time to bolt.

Some practitioners of the quick exit can be aggressive, making a move for the doors during the pastor’s closing prayer, perhaps hoping that the bowed heads and closed eyes provide just the right moment to slip out. Others are more patient, enduring to the final word of the benediction but never hanging around long enough to risk a traffic jam at the doors.

If you’re thinking I sound very well acquainted with the quick exit, you’re right. There have been seasons in my own life when I was pretty good at it.

Check the Box

I developed my quick exit skills during my student days, both in college and even in seminary (gasp). I look back on those days and as best I can recall there were two things driving my run for the parking lot.

I’ll call my college years the ‘check-the-box’ years. The point of church in those years was largely about saying that I had done it. I liked being able to report to my parents that I had been to church. Going also made me feel good about myself. So I’d get to the service right on time, get parked, get seated, and then (usually after the benediction) get going.

Years later when I moved to Texas to study theology and prepare for a ministry vocation, I had grown enough in my faith that church was no longer about checking the box. But in these years as I searched for a church to join, I was ‘checking things out.’ I had gotten to place in my life where I had opinions about sermons and music and church buildings. As a guest in these churches I was perfectly happy to be anonymous and evaluate what was going on.

Those twos periods of my life were different – but the way I related to church and church attendance was very similar. The common denominator is that church was an ‘event’ and not a community. It was a weekly thing that I did, something to attend, or a production to observe.

When church is an event, the quick exit is typical. When all you want to do check the box or see the show, showing up and then disappearing works just fine.

But that’s not at all what church is supposed to be.

Stay A While

When we read the New Testament and listen to the way it speaks of the earliest churches, we don’t see much about church as ‘event.’ The language around church has more to do with community, words that speak of followers of Jesus as family. The early church was a growing body of people who shared life together. They didn’t just sit a room together for an hour or so.

Admittedly, we are not like the early church in many respects. Ours is a very different world. But the life of faith is not lived well as an individual endeavor. We need a community, people who know more about us than our name. People who have more to say to us than ‘Hello.’

As long as we’re making the quick exit, that will never happen.

This does not mean that your best friends must be church friends. This does not mean that your only friends are church friends. But something is wrong if we can show up at a church week after week, and no one has a clue about us beyond our names. Our lives remain hidden.

This week we’ll be thinking about life-giving relationships, what it means for us to live the ‘one another’ commands of the scriptures: pray for one another, encourage one another, bear one another’s burdens.

Have you mastered the art of the quick exit? It can be hard habit to break. Maybe a place to begin is simply to stay a while. Next time you’re at church, slow your pace on the way out. Linger a moment or two and look for the community, not just the event.


Lord Jesus, your call from the very beginning was to follow you. You never invited people to simply attend an event, check the box, or watch the show. Teach us that following you will mean connecting with others who are on the same journey. Open our hearts to life giving community with your people, and forgive the ways we have avoided that, we ask in your name. Amen.

A Sabbath Heart

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work, so come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” (Luke 13:14).

In his book on Sabbath keeping, The Rest of God, author and Pastor Mark Buchanan begins by asking a basic question: How does one define Sabbath? Buchanan rightly observes that our answers typically gravitate toward the calendar.

The Sabbath Day: Is it the first or seventh day of the week? Buchanan deftly guides our thinking away from the calendar to something deeper. Sabbath keeping is about an inner posture, a disposition of spirit. Apart from a Sabbath heart we will never keep the Sabbath day, no matter what day that is.

The same idea shows up in John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping. Ortberg explores the difference between being busy and being hurried. Busy-ness is about my schedule and my activities. It is an outward reality that can be physically demanding. Being hurried is different. When I’m hurried, I’m preoccupied and I’m not truly present to those near me or to the activity I’m engaged in. Hurry is an inward reality that is spiritually draining. Hurry is a condition of soul.

Jesus was constantly busy. He was never hurried. He truly possessed a sabbath heart, even though he didn’t seem very careful about the sabbath laws.


In Luke 13 we have a story about a very conscientious synagogue ruler who loved the Sabbath day. He spent six days of every week thinking about the one – the Sabbath. He anticipated the gathering God’s people, the reading of the Scriptures, the Rabbi’s thoughtful exposition of what was read. Simply put, he lived for the Sabbath, guarding it, hovering over it. He had a zero-tolerance policy for slack Sabbath keepers. So on the day when Jesus touched and healed the bent-over woman, the synagogue ruler was indignant.

Our indignation reveals much about us. Interestingly, one of the seven occurrences of this word in the New Testament speaks to Jesus’ own sense of indignation, a reaction provoked when the disciples tried to prevent children from coming to him (Mark 10:13-16). For the synagogue ruler, indignation flared when a Sabbath violation was detected.

“You have six days for work. Come and be healed on one of those days, not the Sabbath.” Indignant people find it hard to celebrate. Somehow the Sabbath-loving synagogue ruler missed that a woman who had been afflicted for eighteen years had been healed, set free from her infirmity. How is it possible that he didn’t see this?

A Heart Free and Filled

When the Sabbath is imposed from the outside there will be order and decorum, there will be dignified religion and decent behavior. What will be missing is joy.

When the Sabbath becomes something forced and enforced, a system of dos and don’ts rather than something that flows from within us, we quickly lose the joy and celebration that God intended for this Holy day. Sabbath is a matter of the heart – a heart that is both free and filled.

A free heart: Free from the drive to prove something to the world, free from hurry, free from the fear that things will fall apart without your constant attention, free from the need to be indispensable to everyone with regard to everything.

And a filled heart: Filled with peace, filled with confidence in the power of God to govern the world, filled with trust that this powerful God can handle what concerns you.

God cares less about your calendar than he does your heart. Designating one day out of seven as the Sabbath day is indeed important. Cultivating a Sabbath heart is absolutely necessary.


Gracious God, I don’t want to miss the joy of Sabbath keeping. By the work of your Spirit, begin this day to cultivate a right spirit within me – a heart that is both free from fear and filled with trust. Let this coming Sabbath day be lived from the inside out, delighting in your works and resting in your grace. Amen

The Importance of Standing Around Doing Nothing

. . . so on the seventh day he rested from all his work (Genesis 2:2).

The drums that thundered during football season fell strangely silent in mid-November.

Upbeat arrangements of popular songs were replaced by slower pieces featuring lyrical woodwinds and sounding like something you’d hear on public radio. As seasons changed the music changed with them.

In September and October drummers stood up all the time, constantly pounding the daylights out of anything we could hit with a stick. In November, when the music changed, drummers became “percussionists” and took a seat. Those high-brow arrangements seemed to provide plenty of work for drummers who could navigate the keys of the xylophone or hear pitch and tune the timpani mid-piece. That wasn’t me.

Counting Rests

Most often I found myself waiting on the occasional line that called for snare drum. And from time to time my sole contribution was to wait for one note – a singular moment when the music would crescendo, culminating in the crash of cymbals. Then back to my seat.

According to Psalm 150 God is well praised with the sound of crashing cymbals. I believe that. I love the sound of the cymbals. What I’ve never loved quite as much was counting measure after resting measure so that I’d know when to let loose with the climactic crash. Praise is sweeter when the cymbals crash at the right time and on the right beat.

In other words, knowing when and how to contribute and enhance the music means giving careful attention to bar after bar of rests. The rests require just as much intentionality as the moment of sound. What looks and feels like standing around doing nothing is in fact disciplined musicianship.

Counting rests, resting well, is critical for knowing when and how to stand up and do your job.

An Intentional Sabbath

As with percussionists and concert band, just so with you and the Sabbath. Sabbath keeping requires intentionality. Effort. Sabbath does not happen simply because the weekend rolls around. We jokingly speak of our work week as a welcomed respite from the exhausting demands of our weekend. Quite often, we’re not joking.

Within few days you’ll be facing another weekend. Chances are you’ve already made some plans. Now might be a good time to ask what it will mean for you to keep the Sabbath. Does your weekend allow you plenty of margin for rest? If it is indeed a holy day, the Lord’s Day, it is worthy of some focused energy. What things would be life-giving and restorative on your Sabbath? What things have you planned to do that can wait?

Dallas Willard has said that “grace is the opposite of earning; it is not the opposite of effort.” This is true of the Sabbath. Sabbath keeping is rooted in grace, not rules. But like a good musician, we must be attentive and intentional about the resting. Those who rest well will play and work well.

Likewise, our failure to be intentional about rest (our refusal to rest) can lead to a mess. An ill-timed crash of cymbals ruins the piece. And our neglect of rest can make a mess of our bodies, our thoughts, our relationships, and our daily work.

This might be worth pondering today: do you ever plan to rest? Do you invest some effort and actually work at your resting? And what would that look like? How do you define rest? Maybe resting has less to do with the movements of your body than it does with the posture of your heart. We’ll take a closer look at that next time.


Your call on our lives, O God, invites us to both work and rest. You give us work to do and ask us to participate in your work in this world. And you also invite us to rest, knowing that our work is never ultimate. Grant that we might be as intentional in our rest as we are in our labor, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Those Old-Fashioned Sundays

So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it Go rested from all his works . . . (Genesis 2:1-3).

I learned at an early age that Sunday was a special day. Somehow, it was different. “Sunday” was far more than a day of the week. It was a modifier used to denote an entire way of life.

I had Sunday clothes – usually uncomfortable, stiff, and scratchy. The shirts choked me. The fabric of the slacks mysteriously inhibited me like iron shackles. Nothing remotely fun would ever happen in those clothes. What I especially disliked were my hard-soled, shiny Sunday shoes.

We had Sunday dinner. Now this part I usually liked. To this day there are certain foods that evoke within me a sense of ‘Sunday.’ Pot roast is a Sunday food, as is that timeless delicacy fried chicken. If Southern Baptists had such a thing as a kosher diet, pot roast and chicken would be on it. On certain occasions we went the cafeteria after morning worship where Sunday foods included some kind of pie. And Sunday nights will forever be connected in my mind to grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell’s tomato soup.

And then of course there was church. Sunday was church day and this was not simply true in the morning. My church laid claim to the entire day. We had Sunday school and church in the morning, followed by the mandatory nap, and then we went back to church for ‘training union’ and another evening worship service. That’s a strong dose of church (and I haven’t even mentioned the Wednesday night activities).

Throughout my young life I learned that Sunday was different, and for that I can honestly say I am thankful. But for all that I learned about Sunday, I didn’t truly learn about the Sabbath.

A Gift We Threw Away

You’ve probably caught on by now that our reflections this week will deal with the Sabbath day and what it means to keep it. We’ll consider God’s rest after six days of creating and ask what it means for us and the rhythm of our lives. The path God has invited us to walk is best traveled if we regularly sit down to rest. But before we go any further I want to say very clearly we will not spend the week pining for a bygone era.

The ‘blue laws’ are not coming back – and when we had them we were just as prone to violate the Sabbath as we are right now. Sunday night church is probably a thing of the past, even in traditions where it was once strong. The Sunday ball games and practices are not going to stop, and if your child is on a team you will very likely play on Sunday at some point.

But here’s the truth of the matter: in freeing ourselves from the old restrictions of Sunday we threw away the gift of Sabbath. And what we lost is far more precious than what we think we gained.

Blessing, not Burden

Even for the devout, with the exception of one hour in church, our Sundays look exactly like our Saturdays. We go to church, preferably getting out well before noon and then anxiously using the remainder of the day to ‘get things done.’ We don’t know much about keeping the Sabbath.

God intends the Sabbath as a blessing, not a burden. It is a gift given to you. It was never meant to take something from you. Maybe, by God’s grace, we can rediscover that gift and reclaim what we inadvertently threw away with those ‘narrow’ habits of our ancestors. Let’s pray so.

For today: What does your current “Sabbath keeping” practice look like?


Lead us, O God, back to the good gift of the Sabbath. Grant us grace to slow down, to rest, and to trust you with our lives, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.


And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

Several years ago, my kids went on a summer mission trip to Romania. The date of their return flight fell right at the start of our planned week in Sea Island, Georgia. After the long flight that took them from Romania to Atlanta, we had booked an additional short flight down to Jacksonville, Florida where we would pick them up.

At that time, they were flying as ‘unaccompanied minors’ and we had received a letter from Delta Airlines that would allow us to go to their gate and meet them as they came off the plane – a once common practice now forbidden since the 911 attacks.

Their arrival in Jacksonville was late at night and when I arrived to get them, I was surprised to find the Jacksonville airport nearly deserted. It’s a much smaller airport that I expected, and the security points that allow access to the gates were entirely shut down.

Intent on getting to their gate, I made my way to a large concourse manned by a solitary TSA agent. In large letters above the concourse, all caps, was written NO ENTRY AT THIS POINT.

I approached the concourse marked ‘no entry.’ The agent spotted me.

The closer I got to the concourse the agent moved closer to me, finally stopping me with a blunt ‘can I help you?’ It was a cordial encounter. I think I looked harmless enough.

“The security lines are all closed, and I need to get to the gate to meet my kids. They’re unaccompanied minors and I have this letter from Delta that lets me meet them there.”

Remaining cordial, the agent answered without a moment’s hesitation. No head-scratching-what-to-do brainstorming on my situation. “No – you can’t do that. You can stand just over there, and they’ll walk out once they arrive.”

And thus ends the story. Hardly a thriller.

An Amazing Promise

While the story isn’t a very exciting one, it regularly comes to my mind when I read the words of Philippians 4:7. Paul has been giving counsel on how a deliberate discipline of prayer can counter our anxieties. He provides direct instruction on offering prayers and petitions with thanksgiving, and then he makes an amazing promise.

As we turn our worries into grateful prayers, God’s peace will be actively at work within us. This peace that goes beyond anything we can naturally understand will “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

The Greek word that Paul uses for “guard” is a military term. New Testament scholar Fred Craddock commented on the word by saying that God’s peace “will stand sentry watch” over your hearts and minds. Similarly, J.A. Motyer says that Paul’s language here pictures our mind as a besieged citadel, but “its sentries never sleep at their post.”

As we turn our worries into prayer, the peace of God takes its post and stands there faithfully when those worries try to breach our thoughts and our feelings. God’s peace stands at its post and says ‘no’ to every anxious thought and every anxious emotion. Our heart and mind are well guarded.

Not as the World Gives

Paul doesn’t pull this promise out of the air, or out of his own best hopes for us. Paul is teaching the Christians in Philippi (and he’s teaching us) what Jesus intends for us. Consider the following words, straight from Jesus himself:

John 14:27 . . .  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)

John 16:33 . . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)

Listen carefully and here’s what we hear: First, there is a kind of peace that the world gives. It’s the kind of peace we experience when we have a great job and plenty of money, when everyone in the family gets along and the car runs well. But we know that any of these things can be lost at any moment. And when that happens, we forfeit our peace.

Second, we hear that Jesus gives us a different kind of peace. This peace is unlike the peace the world gives. Paul called this a peace that surpasses or transcends all understanding. We might say it’s a kind of peace that really doesn’t make sense.

This peace will guard your heart and mind . . . your emotions and your thoughts.

When you turn your worries into prayer and make your requests known to God, will you get exactly what you’ve requested? You might, but you might not. But what you are promised is the gift of his peace that guards your heart and mind.

Maybe the place to begin today is simply to ask for that peace. Ask boldly, knowing that Jesus wants to give it.


We spend so much time, O God, chasing the peace that the world offers us. Even when we find it, it can be so easily lost. Grant to us a peace unlike anything this world can give us – the peace that transcends all understanding. May that peace stand watch over us, guarding heart and mind, through Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Thankful No Matter What

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6).

“Don’t thank me yet.”

Ever had someone say that to you? Maybe you’ve said those words to somebody else. Those four words are an oft-used phrase that we throw around when a couple of circumstances are true. First, we’ve offered some kind of help, or we’ve promised to do some kind of favor. Second, the outcomes of what we have promised or what we intend to do are uncertain. Things might go well, or maybe not. Our promise might be carried out to completion, or maybe not.

“Don’t thank me yet” is basically another way of saying, “Let’s see what happens.”

Whenever we say that, we’re saying that thankfulness is directly connected to outcomes. Things go well, according to plan, and we’re thankful. Things go south, our plans get trashed, and our gratitude gets trashed as well.

As Paul coaches us on how to fight against our anxieties with prayer, he urges something different. He tells us to pray, making our requests known to God with thanksgiving. What exactly is Paul telling us to do?

A Typical Prayer Pattern

For many of us, a typical prayer pattern tends to leave a gap between the request we present to God, and the gratitude that we express to God. Here’s what this looks like in my own life.

I begin with a desire or a worry that gets offered to God as a request. Let’s say I’m interviewing for a job and I’m excited and hopeful and even anxious about what this could mean for my future and my family. I deliberately practice the words of Philippians 4:6 and let the worry become a prayer. “God, please help me to do well in this interview and please open this door of opportunity.”

And then I wait. I might wait for days or weeks before the scheduled interview, sometimes getting anxious about it but constantly turning that anxiety into more prayer, expressing my desire and presenting my requests to God. I will then wait for a while after the interview to hear whether I’ll be moving forward, or if I’m being offered the position.

Then, once the waiting is over, I give thanks – and the prayer of thanksgiving comes far easier if the outcome is what I wanted. If the outcome isn’t what I requested, I may manage to grumble a pious sounding prayer of gratitude for God’s perfect timing or something like that. But either way, the thanksgiving was tied to the outcome.

Don’t Wait

When Paul urges us to offer prayer and petitions with thanksgiving, he may simply be saying that prayers of thankfulness should be placed alongside our requests. Asking and gratitude should get equal billing. Sometimes we ask for things. But then at other times we also give thanks.

I’d like to suggest that Paul is saying something slightly different.

I believe Paul is telling us that thankfulness should be spoken to God in our prayers and petitions. In other words, don’t wait. Don’t wait to see what happens. Don’t tie your gratitude to outcomes. Even as you make your requests known to God, speak your words of thankfulness to God in that very moment, even that same breath.

When we do this we are saying to God, “God I don’t know what you will do, but I know you will do something, and I believe that whatever that something is will be good – even if it’s not what I want.”

Such a prayer is a deeply trusting prayer. And trust is the opposite of worry. Such a prayer is even a bold and courageous prayer. And boldness is the enemy of fear. Our thankfulness is not rooted in our circumstances or in our feelings. Rather, thankfulness is rooted in the character of God, affirming that God is good and worthy of our trust.

If you’re living in a period of uncertainty – a lack of clarity about some aspect of your life that continually baits you to anxious thoughts – then take a moment right now and pray. Say what you desire. Make your requests known to God.

And give thanks. Don’t wait. Live this day in the confidence that we can be thankful no matter what.


Far too often, O God, we are stingy with our gratitude. We know what we desire, and we are specific in our requests – but our gratitude gets delayed until an answer is clear. Forgive us for the thankfulness we withhold. Make us bold in our prayers that we might come to you as your children who freely ask and then humbly trust, knowing that you are at work for our good. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Don’t Let Your Wants Feed Your Worries

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6).

Marnie and I had lived in our home here in Bethlehem for more than two years, and there were still boxes sitting in the house that hadn’t been touched since the day they came off the moving truck.

You have to ask: if a box has been sitting the house for two years and you haven’t bothered to open it, is there anything in it that you really need? Good question. Perhaps in an effort to answer that question, or (more likely) because she had grown weary of looking at them, my wife plowed into several of those boxes on a mission to get rid of the clutter.

In one of those boxes we found a Christmas wish list. For years we took our kids to the same place for the annual visit to Santa, and as you waited you could write out your wish-list. I don’t know if that was simply a strategy for passing time as you stood line, or if it was meant to expedite the conversation with Santa, or possibly both. Somehow, we had managed to keep a list from years ago, letters printed large and crooked in my son’s young handwriting.

Typically, our wants and wishes are connected to Christmas. Just as often, we assume that children are the ones who are most aware of those wants and wishes. And yet, we all know that our wants and wishes don’t go away as we grow older. They may change, but they never disappear.

I can only speak for myself, but here’s something I know to be true about my grown-up wish list. The things that I’d put on it can’t be bought with money or found in a mall or ordered on Amazon. And what’s more, I sense my wants and wishes more at the beginning of a new year than I do at Christmas.

Wish List for 2020

At the start of a new year, we are inclined to set goals and make plans or ‘resolutions.’ This isn’t a bad practice. There’s definitely value in being specific about what you’d like to see happen in your life in the year to come, whether that be in your career, your health and fitness, or your family life.

But if we’ll look closer, all our goals and resolutions are rooted in something deeper. These things reflect a yearning of soul – our hopes and dreams and desires for the year to come. That leads to a question. Right now, in the early days of 2020, what do you want? What would your best life look like?

Maybe you want your kids to be happy and thrive. You might want to find work that you love, or you want to be appropriately recognized for the work that you’re doing now. You might want to be married, or you might want the marriage you’re in to be better. Maybe you want to be well, or your praying for someone you love to be well.

Again, maybe this is just me, but far too often I find that my wants feed my worries. It might be because I see that what I want isn’t happening, or I’m thinking it won’t happen, and then what if this or what if that, and so on. You know how it goes.

We worry about the kids. Seems they never outgrow our parental skills in worrying about them.

We worry about work or the lack of work, and then all the money issues connected to those worries.

And that might lead to worries about retirement.

We worry about health – staying healthy, or getting healthy, or seeing a doctor and then hearing what the doctor might tell us.

Somehow our deep yearnings can end up stoking our anxieties. But the God who created us and loves us never intended that we live as anxious people.

Anything and Everything

This brings us to a basic spiritual practice, something I’d like to invite you to work on in the coming year. We’ll spend a few days this week listening to the apostle Paul’s very wise and practical counsel on how to wage war against our worries.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). I don’t remember ever intentionally memorizing this verse of scripture – but I know it well and I’ve spoken it often, usually to myself.

The challenge of course, as with all scripture, is getting what we know in our head to move into our heart and shape the way we actually live our life. That’s what I’d like to work on this week and in the weeks to come.

As we get started let’s focus on two words from the text: anything and everything.

First, anything. This word is placed in the sentence in such a way that all things are off limits for our anxious worrying minds. The Bible doesn’t allow us to reserve one or two big-ticket items for worry. We don’t trust God with all the little things but set aside the major things to fret over and gnaw on with our thoughts. For those who follow Jesus and live daily in fellowship with God, worry is always out of place with regard to all things.

Second, everything. This word is placed in the sentence to tell us that nothing is off limits when it comes to prayer. Pray about everything. No matter how small, no matter how big, no mater how trivial, no matter how significant. Everything that finds its way to your mind should eventually find its way to your prayers.

Don’t be anxious about anything. Pray about everything. And then – notice what is promised. God’s peace pervades your life, both thoughts and feelings.

As you face the coming year, what is your deep yearning? And what is your nagging worry? Start today and offer the worry as a prayer. We’ll explore further how to do this tomorrow.


Gracious God, at the beginning of this year we want to trade our worries for your peace. But our anxious habits are deeply engrained, and our thoughts so easily drift to shadow places. Grant us grace to practice prayer as a daily weapon against worry. Help us to do that with everything, knowing that you can be trusted with anything. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.