I read a devotion from Charles Spurgeon recently that I can’t get out of my mind. It’s a meditation on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Here’s the text: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
Spurgeon makes this comment based on that text, and it’s the one I’ve been thinking about: “When joy and prayer are married, their firstborn child is gratitude.” He also says this about the marrying of joy and prayer: “Prayer gives a channel to the pent-up sorrows of the soul; they flow away; and in their stead streams of sacred delight pour into the heart.”
I think he’s saying that the way to a joyful heart is to pray continually. So when our heart isn’t joyful, it’s probably an indication of prayerlessness – the result of being consumed by our circumstances, rather than looking up.
I’ve found this to be true. I don’t know about your levels of joy right now, especially given your current condition, but if it is lacking, pray simple prayers throughout the day. Ask God for physical help. Ask him for spiritual help. Ask him for opportunities to tell others about the saving work of Christ. And thank God continually.
I don’t think any of us has received everything we wanted or expected in this life. I know I haven’t. And at times, I get overwhelmed with my current physical limitations and I vent that frustration to people, rather than taking it to God in prayer. After being a Christian for so long, I ought to know better.
I shared all of this recently in a letter to an ailing friend. I have no idea if it meant anything to him. But it helped me process the truth of these three key verses. Maybe it’ll do the same for you.
I’m a thru-hiking video junkie.
I love to watch the journey people take from one end of a trail to the other. The Appalachian Trail (more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine) is the one I’ve watched people hike the most, but at first, I was confused by some of the lingo thru-hikers used.
A couple of such phrases were “white” and “blue” blazes. Eventually, I figured out that the white blazes are just marks (usually on trees) to keep hikers on the trail. Blue blazes are marks that take hikers down side trails, usually to spectacular views, a water source, a campground or any number of other interesting features.
Blue blazes require extra work. A hiker might be pulled from the main trail by a mile or more, which means his or her overall mileage for that day is going to take a hit, but almost always, the hiker who follows blue blazes is happy because the payoff at the end of the side trail is worth it.
It makes me think about the rat race we are all prone to run in ordinary life and how intentional we must be to look for the blue blazes.
For me, blue blazes include veering from working overtime to read, or skipping television to hit a local walking trail, or making time to meet friends for coffee — even when I’m pressed for time.
I tend to stick with the white blazes — to keep working, to put my feet up at the end of the workday and watch TV, or to check off the next thing on my to-do list. There’s a place for all that, but I have a feeling that when I look back, I’ll be happy that I intentionally stepped away once in a while to explore the blue blazes of life.
The elderly Salvation Army Santa sat hunched over on a chair outside of Walmart this past Christmas season. He rang a bell, beckoning customers to leave an offering in the red kettle. Between rings, he pulled his mask down and puffed on a cigarette.
A phrase my dad used to repeat ran through my mind as I took all this in.
“Never pass a red kettle.”
He’s been gone for twenty-two years, yet he’s still speaking to me. I try to make a habit of dropping something into the kettle but I rarely carry cash these days – something he hadn’t accounted for all those years ago. But he was a technology guy, so I’m guessing he’d tell me to ask the smoking Santa if he accepts Venmo.
Either way, the sentiment remains. If you can help someone, do it.
I’m probably more suspicious of people than Dad was, and I wish that weren’t true. I’ve been approached in too many parking lots by too many people telling me the same story they did the last time I visited that store, so I’m jaded.
On top of that, throw in a dash of threatened violence. An intoxicated man approached me in a Walgreens parking lot one day, asking for money. I declined his request.
“You gonna do me like that, man?”
“I’m not afraid of you, big man.”
“I’m not afraid of you either.”
He raised his booted foot to kick my car. I was ready to spring into action, thinking I was getting more than I bargained for when I exited the store with some cold medicine. He stumbled backward when he lifted his leg and nearly fell on his backside. Rather than trying again, he cursed at me as he walked away.
Even with my bad experiences, Dad would probably remind me that he used to own two bars and saw his share of scams over the years, yet somehow, he wasn’t jaded. Well, I don’t think that’s true. He was probably the right amount of jaded.
Never pass a red kettle.
Okay, Dad. I hear you.
My dentist rubbed some red goop on my gums and told me to lie back.
“Do you see the pink sharks?” she asked.
They swam before my eyes from right to left, about the size of a Flintstones vitamin. In fact, I’m pretty sure Flintstones vitamins were the inspiration for my reference point.
The room started to spin, and I grabbed the table I was lying on so I didn’t fall off. By the way, why was I on a table and not in a chair? I have no idea.
When I woke up from my dream, I still felt the effects of the red goop – or so it seemed.
A few minutes later, I sent a text to my walking accountability partner, explaining my dream. “That means I can’t walk today. I’m under the influence of red goop.”
“You didn’t even go to the dentist!”
“I did in my dream.”
I ended up putting in more steps than my daily goal, but it was a fun start to the day. Most people know me as a serious person, but once I get to know you well, you’ll see my goofy side. And being able to share such silliness makes me feel connected to people.
In recent years, city life has overwhelmed my senses. Too much traffic. Too much noise. Too much crime. Too much ... everything.
I don’t know why I feel this way after fifty-plus years of city life, other than I’ve always found a way to withdraw from the noise in the past. I’m finding that more difficult now as a caregiver. So anytime I can chuckle with a friend – even about pink sharks – it helps.
Silliness isn’t the antidote to noise for me – not necessarily anyway. But feeling close enough to someone who accepts my silliness makes the noise less noticeable. And I’m thankful for that.
Taylor Swift wrote a song that contemplates beginning again on a Wednesday in a cafe.
That’s how beginning again often starts. In a booth, on an ordinary day, when everyone else is busy with the ordinary. But for some reason, an epiphany strikes and we know things are about to change.
This happens to me far more often than say, the flipping of the calendar to a new year might dictate.
In August of last year, I was sitting in a booth across from a friend, when he asked me how many times I’d read through the entire Bible.
“Six, I think. The last few years I’ve been focusing on certain books.”
He nodded and told me how many times he’d read through it. “And Gene (a man who had been there before I arrived) has read through it more than twenty times.”
I had stopped reading the Bible all the way through a few years ago because it often felt like I was skimming the surface of the truth contained in its pages. I felt like I needed to go deeper.
For example, I journaled through the Psalms over the last half of 2021. Before that, I outlined the book of Leviticus. And before that, I camped out in the Pauline letters for an extended period.
On that August day, I felt like I should return to reading the Bible all the way through for my next season of devotions, so I jumped in the next day. My solution for avoiding the feeling like I’m skimming the top of the water, so to speak, was to read slower, more intentionally.
Some days I read two chapters. Other days I read one. I found that I retained the truth of the Scriptures better. Later in the day, I’m often reminded of something I read that morning. Or during a conversation, a certain truth I read seems to apply and I can easily share it with someone.
None of this is one-size-fits-all. After I’m done reading the Bible for the seventh time, I don’t know if I’ll start over again right away. I’m not wired to think in such structured ways. But I have a feeling that I’ll be sitting in a coffee shop or diner when inspiration will strike at the perfect time.