All posts by Paul Merrill

About Paul Merrill

Observing the shiny bits of life since I can remember.

Like a kid

Miguel lives more than a day’s drive away. We don’t get to see each other very often. We’re good friends from way back. So we try to catch up every once in a while via Skype.

About six months ago, life wasn’t treating him very well. Business was down and it was really discouraging. I said I’d pray – you know, like friends do. But to make it happen, I put a daily reminder in my phone. Every day at 11 am, I get a little reminder that says, “Pray for Miguel.” So I did.

Some days, I’d pray for a minute. Some days, for a few seconds. Some days, I’d think, “Oh yeah,” and continue doing whatever it was I was wrapped up in.

We checked back in a few weeks ago, and Miguel’s mood and business were both better.

After we finished our call, I remembered Jesus saying, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I was asking God to help Miguel, like a kid would. I had less faith than a kid – I knew that such things are big and difficult, but I also knew that God is bigger than Miguel’s problems – and my problems.

A few days later, I remembered that God had answered several other recent prayers. A buddy in North Carolina got a job really quick, after he asked for prayers. (I said I’d pray, so I checked back to see how things were – that’s when I found out.) We got a renter for our basement apartment, after another one fell through. Friends in their 50s bought a house for the first time. I didn’t pray about that one, though I knew they were praying.

Prayer is not a magic bullet. God doesn’t always fix every problem we bring to Him.

My grandmother prayed for her alcoholic son till the day he died. She wore out her knees, praying so much. For almost 20 years, I’ve been praying for a situation that hasn’t changed. Yet.

I don’t know why God answer some prayers so clearly and others not. Either way should drive me to trust Him.

Like a kid.

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.

Old gloves

old glove being repairedI have this pair of old gloves. My parents gave them to me when I was in high school. They were not top-quality back then, but they still work fine. However, I’ve had to stitch up the seams about a million times – even this week.

Our culture functions around the concept of planned obsolescence. When a part of something is broken, it’s cheaper to get a whole new something than to fix it. God doesn’t work that way. I’m thankful for that! If I were worthless when part of me was broken, I wouldn’t be here – a thousand times over. But God loves me and as a result, He fixes me over and over. He lets me keep serving Him, even after I mess up.

Here are a few encouraging verses from the Bible about how God has a very different set of values than the world that surrounds us:

Job 34:19: He doesn’t care how great a person may be, and he pays no more attention to the rich than to the poor. He made them all.

Matthew 10:29-31: What is the price of two sparrows – one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

Isaiah 55:8: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”

2 Peter 3:8: But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.

Thanks to the God who is not bound by our little realities.

And happy new year.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

A feast for the wrong reasons

Deception is never the best place to start, when you want something good to happen.

She wanted something good so badly that she would do whatever it took. The prospect of a huge family rift was not enough to stop her. (Maybe she wanted it so much that she didn’t even think of that.)

Rebekah knew that her son Jacob was second. He wouldn’t get the inheritance his older brother was due, unless she fooled her husband. So she convinced Jacob to let her cook a delicious feast, after which her old nearly-blind and probably hard-of-hearing husband would bless her son – a blessing meant for his older brother Esau. (You can read the story in Genesis 27.)

Esau was a hunter and knew how to cook an incredibly tasty dish. Jacob had other talents, not of the outdoor variety.

Think about the conversations that may have resulted between husband and wife, father and son, and the twins. “Tension” is a mild description of what happened in each tent and around the campfires. The rift from that meal fed anticipation for someone to bring peace.

God blessed Jacob anyway. He built a nation in spite of that deception. I am not saying that deception is good, but rather that God can do great things in spite of how we don’t do everything perfectly. The weight of striving for perfection can be heavy. But understanding that God can do amazing things out of the ashes of our mistakes can take away a lot of worry. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (Romans 8:28).

So let’s love God and live in His freedom.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

Words matter

When I was a kid, this was a popular saying: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” (It dates back to 1862, but I am not that old.)

But words do hurt. I recently heard a talk where the leader asked everyone to remember either words that hurt them or words that encouraged them. (Thankfully, I remembered encouraging words. But it is very easy to think of harmful words from deep in my past.) Most of the people with sad memories remembered an event from their childhoods.

Every day, we have the ability to cause devastating harm or wonderful blessing. One little phrase can cause someone to lose their job and/or make them famous. “But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire” (from James 3).

As you go through your day today, choose your words carefully, at least a few times. Think of ways you can build up the friend you share a coffee break with. Or consider a way to encourage your boss or your team member.

Everyone has different abilities to control their tongues. A dear friend of mine has a son with absolutely no filters. His inability to prevent his harmful thoughts from spilling has caused a great deal of damage. And you know people who never say anything because their filters are so strong. James also mentions in chapter 3 that “no one can tame the tongue.” He does touch on the cure – seeking wisdom from God.

I’m praying this: God, please give me wisdom as I converse with people today. Keep me from being too quick to say things that might harm – and help me to be fast to give praise.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

Swimming in grey

Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a clue. My two oldest kids are both in college now. They ask some really hard questions about life. Answers to those questions are harder to find than they used to be. So many things seem grey compared to what life was like during my younger days. Answers used to be so clear and distinct—so black and white.

One verse that gives me hope is what Paul said in Ephesians 1:18—“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.” God wants our hearts to be flooded with light.

In 1 John 1:5, John says, “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.” The grey that bothers me is not part of who God is nor of how God wants us to experience life. When I am swimming in grey, I need more of God. One simple way to get that is to read the Bible more often: “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). Another way is to spend time with those who believe in God. They can encourage us to move closer to the light-filled life of seeking more of God’s presence. They can also help us to think about the grey areas we’re struggling with in a new light. (I had to use that word again.)

Finally, if you’re just feeling a lot of darkness and can’t seem to get away from it, ask Jesus to fill you with more light. “…the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus is the light of the world.

(Paul Merrill usually writes here every first Friday of the month, but this month, he’s writing on the second Friday. Sometimes change is good.)