An old new song.

(First published October 15, 2012.)

I’ve never talked with you about Psalm 121. It’s a song that strengthens me. When my heart sings it, I am encouraged. It has been shaping me for several decades but I’ve never talked with you about it.

IMG_2172.JPG“The sun will not smite me by day, nor the moon by night.” That’s not exactly how the NIV reads, but it is how Bernstein included this Psalm in “A Simple Song“. I started singing those words, the phrases from Psalm 121 in college. Not out loud; for to me to sing outside my head encourages no one. But the musical blend of dissonance and resolve in this piece reflects the lyrical dissonance and resolve in the Psalm itself. Somehow, singing the lines strengthens me.

When Eugene Peterson writes about that passage (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction), he asks, “How can the moon smite you?”, then talks about the struggles we have in the dark, the doubts that creep, the questions that rob us of sleep. Peterson’s explanation of the lyricist’s imagery makes sense. And comforts.

I realized why I haven’t talked about this song. It’s easy to treat it as an assertion and to offer counterexamples. When the psalmist says, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life,” it is possible to say, “But what about the time that evil hurt my friend, my daughter, me?” When the psalmist says, “He will not let your foot be moved”, we say, “But what about the time my friend did slip?”

And so, to avoid the argument, I’ve not mentioned the song. In the process, I’ve not pointed you to this pilgrim song, sung for generations on their way to Jerusalem. I apologize. We need anthems that teach large truths even while we sort out specific events.

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I’m sharing this again because I just heard the song, song by a high school member of the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir. And as I listened, I remembered my friend Chris Gattis who read this post and worked to get the song into his church choir. And now he’s singing it. Or something better.

The eyes of your heart.

I haven’t read the first chapter of Ephesians for a long time. Or maybe I’ve focused so much on one part that I don’t remember another part.

Paul sent a letter to a group of people that he knew and loved and wasn’t with. He talked about what he was saying to God about them. Where we might pray that someone would have good health or peace with their enemies, Paul was praying for insight.

He wanted God to open the eyes of their hearts.

Paul understood something about eyes that didn’t work. His introduction to Jesus ended with his physical eyes being clouded. He had to be led around for a few days. But during those days, I think that the eyes of his heart were opened. He was able to see, as in understand, the story that God had been telling with the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

IMG_2254.JPGHe got it. It made sense to him. During the time that he couldn’t see, he found the vision for his life-a vision of building up the body of Christ, the people who come together in community. While he couldn’t see, he found the hope to hang onto. While he couldn’t see, he understood the power that had raised Jesus from the dead.

And when his physical eyes were open, he lived out that vision, hope, and power.

Which is what he then starts praying for his friends in Ephesus. He wanted their hearts to understand what his does.

But it takes insight. As Paul knew, it wasn’t just about sound reasoning. It’s about the moments where you are reflecting on something from the Bible that you haven’t ever seen and you suddenly understand. You see the connection between Paul’s biography and his prayer for others.

Just like this post.

Needing wisdom

“I just don’t know what to think,” she said.

The diagnosis hadn’t even been a diagnosis. It was a report that a scan had seen an object where there shouldn’t be an object. She wasn’t originally here for the scan, but someone noticed something amiss. Someone ordered a scan. And now she knew about an object that no one in the world could describe for her with certainty.

The news landed in her lap on a Sunday morning with all the weight of a Sunday paper and none of the comics or entertainment or sports. She was going to have to tell the rest of her family. She was going to have to tell herself.

But now, first, she was telling the chaplain.

Before I left I said, “I’m sorry. I understand that Paul says that suffering can bring perseverance, and perseverance can bring character, and character can bring hope. But at this moment, that’s not encouraging at all, and so I want to tell you that I’m sorry.”

She smiled and said, “I know. Thank you.”

IMG_1054.JPGBut that was before I left. We had already spent a long time talking, and listening, and praying. I learned parts of her story that were hard. I offered encouragement. I reminded her that other people could fill some of the caregiving roles she filled. I offered her the possibility of being willing to receive help from some people who loved her.

She told me about a family member who knows most of the answers to most of the situations that the family faces. The kind of person who is willing to offer those answers, sometimes even without being asked.

I told her about something James said about God. “If you lack wisdom,” James said, “Ask God, who gives generously without finding fault.”

I laughed. “If you asked your family member for advice,” I said, “I bet that you’d hear, ‘it’s about time you asked. Here’s what to do.'”

She smiled. “I think you are right.”

“That’s not what God does,” I said. “In this situation, when you don’t know what to think, you can ask for wisdom. You’ll never hear, ‘it’s about time.’ Because the one person in the world who knows exactly the nature of that object in your body loves you. He’ll give you wisdom about what to think.”

We spent some time asking for that wisdom. I’m confident it will come. But that doesn’t make it easy to wait. And wonder. And breathe.

 

Go ahead.

It’s a sentence I hear often. It starts, “I know I should” and then it goes on to describe something that the person believes will help them grow spiritually. Or that they believe that someone else believes will help them.

I’m guessing that you may say that sentence as well.

I sometimes argue with the person, trying to help them not fall into other people’s expectations. But today, I want to suggest that you think a little differently.

What’s the one small change that you know you could make that would help you grow more healthy in your spiritual life? That’s the part of you that is built to connect outside you. The part that is build to connect with God.

morning run.I could offer examples. But I don’t think you need them. I think that you know, and God knows, the thing he’s inviting you to do. To start. To stop. To continue. To do. 

And here’s my counsel and my permission and my blessing and my prayer. For you today. For you this weekend. For you right now.

Go ahead. 

The Self-Aware Leader

Terry Linhart is a friend and mentor and teaching and consulting colleague. With a couple other friends, we’ve helped a school get more focused on spiritual formation. We’ve developed a couple of college courses. I’ve learned a lot from Terry.

The other day his new book, The Self-Aware Leader was released. The subtitle tells the story: “Discovering your blind spots to reach your ministry potential.”  His metaphor comes from driving: if we don’t figure out how to know what’s in our blind spot, we can end up in the ditch. Dealing with people injured in accidents as a chaplain, I really want to keep that from happening, in cars and in life.

The book is like a paperback seminar. Each chapter unpacks the concept and then gives some tools for self-assessment and growth. The topics are:

Seeing the race before us.
Seeing your self.
Seeing your past.
Seeing your temptations.
Seeing your emotions.
Seeing your pressures.
Seeing your conflicts.
Seeing your margins.

I had a chance to read the book in a late draft stage. After I got the final copy I started reading it again. I kept having to say, “How am I doing with that? How can clean that up? How can I be more effective with that?” It’s a tool that can keep sharpening our leadership.

Terry and April Diaz and Joan McLendon and I spent a day talking about each of the concepts in the book. For the next few weeks, Terry has these conversations on his podcast, 37 the podcast. I listened to the first one the other day while running. It kept me moving. I’d encourage you to listen, too.

I work in lots of ways to help people grow. If I didn’t point you toward this book, I wouldn’t be doing my job.