"I don't feel strong. I don't feel courageous. And it doesn't help if you tell me that I ought to be."
This week's 'awkward text' comes from Joshua 1, where Joshua is told to be strong and very courageous. It becomes awkward when we feel scared and we can't do what it says, or maybe we don't want to.
So let's get one thought out of the way quickly: these words were spoken to Joshua when he had a specific job to do and when God had promised him success. It requires a different sort of bravery when we don't know know how things will turn out. And that's the bravery that is usually required of us.
It takes a different sort of bravery to be like Jesus the son of Mary rather than Joshua the son of Nun.
Christian bravery is always about strength in weakness. It is about finding God's strength when we have none of our own. It is about following the one who was crucified in weakness and raised in power. It's about courage to announce a gospel of peace, not the Joshua-like news of warfare.
More on Sunday ...
"You say the Lord heals the broken-hearted, but he doesn't seem to be healing me."
This week's 'awkward text' (Psalm 147:3) seems to put God in the dock. Does God really live up to this amazing claim? What does this text say to those whose heart is broken?
Many of us can tell stories of times when we were broken hearted but slowly, gradually, God comforted us and restored us. Some will say that they are now in a better and deeper place than they were when everything went wrong. We need to hear these valuable stories.
This Psalm does not tell us to believe so that our hearts will not break; it tells us that God is there when it all goes wrong. It tells us to look up and to look out. It says that God lives and dwells in his creation. He dwells in outer space, in weather systems, in the food chain, in the growth of plants and animals. He lives in things we think are unclean.* He is there when our hearts break.
This Psalm says that God has ultimate understanding. A city, once crushed, is being rebuilt. This is part of God's plan to put everything right. This is the bigger story that the Bible tells us, which we believe.
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* That may be the point of verse 9, as ravens were considered unclean according to the Law of Moses.
"Is it really possible to pray continually?"
I once went to an event where the (well-known) preacher urged pastors that they should commit to praying a minimum of one hour a day. It was a passionate address and I was caught up in the emotion. When he asked for responses I, along with many others, stood. A few days letter I told the Lord that he was going to have to let me off. I wanted to pray, but one hour a day seven days a week was not going to happen.
I think most of us could improve our prayer lives. If you want some resources I suggest you check out www.24-7prayer.com/prayer where there are many useful ideas. But this week's 'awkward text' seems to suggest that we should be praying all the time, and that seems beyond many of us.
Let's be encouraged. 'Pray continually' doesn't mean that we should stop doing everything else. The same letter tells us to work so that our daily life will win the respect of outsiders and so we won't be dependent on anybody*. It means that we should be committed to prayer and that we should not give up. It means that we do what Jesus said, that we take time to pray on our own without worrying about whether or not we've done 'enough.' Jesus warned us that God will not hear us because our prayers are long.
Here's what I think: if we learn to pray on our own we may find that our prayer becomes more continual than we thought it would. If the resources help, great. But maybe the best starting place is to go somewhere on your own for a while and start talking to your Father in heaven. Tell him what's on your mind. Don't hold back. Jesus says your Father in heaven will reward you.
* And since that could also be an 'awkward text,' let me point out that it refers to those who are able to work.
"It's ok for you to say that we walk by faith, but it's hard when I have so many doubts."
This Sunday we look at our next 'awkward text,' that we walk by faith and not by sight. It's awkward because our faith can fail, and texts like this can make us feel like we are failures.
But faith has never been straight forward. Think of Peter, one moment walking on the water and the next sinking. Or Thomas, who just can't believe the crazy story that Jesus is alive.
God doesn't expect us to have perfect faith straight away. If Peter and Thomas struggled, so will we. There will be many times when, like them we could have done better. This is normal, not a mark of failure. Like children we have to learn to walk.
Sometimes our faith hits an unexpected crisis. Sometimes we come out with a stronger but very different faith.
Faith is about seeking God, it's not the end of our search.
More on Sunday ...