May 13, 2017

Quiet

On the day before the Lord’s Day, find some time for silence. 
It is not easy and it will certainly not happened by accident.  There is a kind of ancient silence that we find hard to achieve today.  With all the blessings of the industrial revolution in 19th Century and the information revolution of the 20th Century, a drawback has been the proliferation of noise.  We have learned to live with a “silence” that actually rumbles with low pitch machine noises and sizzles with high pitch whirrs and whistles.  We have to retreat far from traffic and industry and find the deep woods or the restless sea for a silence filled only with the sounds of God’s creation. For our Saturday purposes, let’s call “silence” the absence of sound and “quiet” the absence of any artificial sounds.

What is the benefit of quiet?  The Bible uses several terms to describe being quiet before the Lord:

  • be still,
  • be silent, and
  • Wait patiently for the Lord.

Stillness, the cessation of activity, is for some of us a difficult thing to achieve.
Modern life is sometimes a thing of inertia. Some of us are at rest and we tend to stay that way while others of us are in constant motion.  The Bible says, “Be still and know…”  There are things we cannot know, truths we cannot learn, concepts we cannot grasp if we are distracted by ceaseless motion.  Stillness before God requires discipline.   It is more than a physical stillness; we must also follow the words of the old hymn, “Be still my soul.”  Some achieve this spiritual stillness by quoting memorized scriptures or concentrating on the person of Jesus.  The reward for being still before the Lord is promised in the verse: “Be still and know that I am God and I will be exalted in all the earth.”

Silence before the Lord is a response to the belief that “the Lord is in His holy temple.” 
This stillness, this silence in the throne room of God, stands in contrast to the majestic sounds recorded in the scriptural accounts of that location.  In these the atmosphere is filled with sound, voices singing, instruments playing, and elders calling out, an accumulation of sound that is powerful enough to shake the door posts of heaven.  The command of the prophet Haggai is given to the earth, not the worshipers around the throne of God.  The writer’s setting is the silence of the earth before God rises in judgment of Babylon. For us, we should fall silent in honor of the Lord upon His throne.  Surely He is about to speak.  Surely we need to hear what He has to say to us.

Waiting patiently for Lord is another way of being quiet before Him.
Most people have a limited supply of patience.  It is natural for us to want to hurry into the day, to fill the minutes and hours of the day with productive action.  It seems the clock and the calendar have taken control of our lives and we are dancing to their tunes.  It is important to cease from activity, to refrain from work, to find a comfortable position for waiting while at the same time we command our souls to be still, adding patience to our lack of action.  Part of that patience is expressed in listening.  When we retreat from the noise of modern life and force our minds to concentrate on the reality of God’s creation around us, we can hear “the music of the spheres,” as another old hymn says.

There are things we cannot know until we are still.  In reverence before the Lord, let us be silent.  In deliberate postures of rest let us be quiet today.

Scriptures:
Ecclesiastes 3:7
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to be silent and a time to speak…
Mark 6:31
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Psalm 37:7
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Psalm 46:10
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Habakkuk 2:20
But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”
Isaiah 40:28-31 NKJV
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary,They shall walk and not faint.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I quiet my spirit before You. I will lay my questions aside. I will refrain from singing. I will be still before You, even in my restless mind. In stillness and in silence I will wait and as I do my strength will be renewed. My ceaseless mind will stop in its tracks for awhile. I will listen for Your voice. Speak, Lord. Your servant listens. Amen.

Song:
The Solitude of Silence
Words: Stephen Phifer; Music by Angela Danadio

1. In the silence of my soul, Lord, I will seek You.
In the stillness of my spirit I must stay.
I will flee from all the rush and noise around me.
In the solitude of silence I will wait.

Refrain:
For Your voice cannot be heard above the clamor.
You presence does not rest upon our haste.
In the silence of my spirit I will find you.
In the solitude of silence I will wait.

2. I will ask the singing winds to serenade me.
I will let the sunlight dance upon my fears,
Thinking back to those who listened here before me—
Silent laughter, silent prayers, and silent tears.

Refrain

3. In the pages of the Book Your heart is calling
As the ancient words fall soft upon my ear.
Like an early season snowfall, cool and healing,
Heaven’s peace, a glist’ning blanket, quells my fear.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 25, 2017

Delay

Delay has more to do with life than with death.
Death stops the clock; delay winds it. Death and delay are not even casual acquaintances, much less intimate friends.

However, delay can feel like death and disaster, calamity and crisis. When the answer to prayer is delayed in its arrival, we feel the need to pace, to panic, and to pursue “Plan B.” We must fill the deep hole delay digs in our schedule—we have to do something!

Something, but not just anything.

A great temptation is to worry.
Worry requires the same mental skills as faith:

  • Constant rehearsal of the problem, in words with wringing hands during the day and in coded imagery in the night,
  • Relentless planning for contingencies that might occur, and
  • Repeated visualizations of the disaster looming before us.

While the answer is on the way, we can employ these imaginations in a positive way:

  • Constant rehearsals of the promises of God, in prayer during the day and in safety through the night,
  • Relentless rest, listening for the still, small voice of the Spirit giving comfort and direction for what will occur, and,
  • Joyous visualizations of the moment of release, of victory, of the moment when we realize the pain is gone.

Delay can make us stronger if we let it.

Meanwhile, a different drama is playing out on a stage we cannot see.
In the spirit world things beyond our imagination are happening while we are waiting out the delay. The Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts of those who are part of the answer. When they are ready, the answer will come. Angels are on assignment to guard us and restrain the opposition to our progress. We can’t see them but we know they are stationed nearby with flaming swords and binding chains.

With unseen hearts prepared and opposing forces restrained and rebuked, soon the waiting will be over. Delay will become delight. Disaster itself will be destroyed. Provisions will arrive in packages of grace.

Until then we will sing with the Psalmist, “Why so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God.”

Scriptures:
Psalm 42:11 NIV
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Psalm 70:1-72:1
Hasten, O God, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me. May those who seek my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace. May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!” turn back because of their shame. But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, “Let God be exalted!” Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay.
Psalm 71 NIV
In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of evil and cruel men. For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you….Be not far from me, O God; come quickly, O my God, to help me. .. Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come. … My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you — whom you have redeemed. My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, hope rises in me even as the clock keeps ticking and Your answer to the cry of my heart lingers just out of reach. I will hope in You. I will confess Your promises. I will rehearse the revelation of Your faithfulness. Your very name, Lord Jesus, is “Faithful and True.” I will not fear what man can do to me. Use this time of delay, O Lord, to make me stronger. When the answer comes, I will rejoice even if it is not the answer I hope for. That is simply another way to trust You. I will say to my soul, “Why be downcast? Put your hope in God. Amen.

Song:
Who So Downcast, O My Soul
Words and Music: Marty Nystrom

Why so downcast, oh my soul?
Put your hope in God Put your hope in God
Put your hope in God
Oh, why so downcast, oh my soul?
Put your hope in God
And bless the Lord, oh my soul.

Bless the Lord–He’s the lifer of my countenance.
Bless the Lord–He’s the lifter of my head;
Bless the Lord–He’s the lifter of my countenance
I will never be ashamed.

Why so downcast, oh my soul?
Put your hope in God Put your hope in God
Put your hope in God
Oh, why so downcast, oh my soul?
Put your hope in God
And bless the Lord, oh my soul.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 30

Diversion

Just as we have been called to work for the Lord, we have been called to rest before Him, to rest and be refreshed in body, soul, and spirit. Refreshing the body requires a cessation of physical activity. To refresh the spirit is to drink deeply from the Word of God and to breathe deeply in the atmosphere of Heaven, the holy Presence of God.

How do we refresh the mind?
Often we do it with a pleasant diversion. A mental diversion is not the same as a distraction. A diversion is like a temporary detour on the road we are traveling. It will lead to pleasant or interesting surprises and will eventually bring us back to the road to our destination. A distraction is more like a wrong turn that takes us nowhere, shows us nothing, and leads us far from our destination. A diversion is time well spent. A distraction is time wasted.

Why? Because God made our minds to never stop running. Awake or asleep, our busy brains never stop processing information, (How else can an unfamiliar noise in the house wake us from a deep sleep?) dealing with our fears, and processing our plans. The only way to give the mind rest from all the heavy lifting it must constantly do is to divert it toward something that is equally fascinating but absolutely inconsequential.

Gone Fishing!
When someone goes fishing, the mind is diverted from crucial the daily tasks and is

  • occupied with the business of fishing,
  • absorbed in the beauty of the water and sky, and
  • fully engaged in the demands of landing the limit.

Whether we catch fish or not is not the point. The family will not starve if we return home empty handed. The same can be said for hunting, golf, tennis, hiking, camping, or vegging out in the recliner watching a sporting event or a great classic film. The mind is engaged so it is happy to

  • buzz along doing the math,
  • supervise the movement of hands and feet, legs and arms,
  • remember the lyrics of the songs,
  • measure and admire the ironies of the story,
  • hit that little white ball better than you did last time,
  • climb that next rise on the mountain path, or
  • contemplate the vastness of the sea stretching before us to the horizon.

This mental activity is untroubled by the life and death issues we face all week, so that part of the soul—the worry part, the obsessive part, the responsible part—gets a break, a much needed break.

Another Gift from God
Because we work hard all week, the Lord is pleased to give us interests that ease the emotional strain of the responsibility we carry while letting our ceaseless minds continue to chug along. In the process we are refreshed. When we follow this little detour back to the road God has given us, we bring our whole, refreshed humanity to the tasks before us. Rest is a part of the work He has called us to do. We pray for the anointing of His Spirit so that the work of the Kingdom, and our part in it, gets done.

Scriptures:
1 Thessalonians 5:23
KJV
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Psalm23:1-3
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
Isaiah 40:28-31
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your lovingkindness is, indeed, better than life. Thank You for making rest such a noble and necessary thing. Let Your call to rest drown out the fleshly call to busy-ness. Protect us from any hint of a Messiah complex that would lead us to believe that if we leave the frontlines even for a day, the war is lost. What nonsense! You and You alone, Lord Jesus, are Messiah. We are simply Your servants, called to work passionately and thoroughly but not tirelessly. Weariness of the flesh is not sin; it is simply a part of the ordained rhythm of life: work-rest; work-rest. As we rest before You today, letting our active minds explore paths of fun and amusement, we know that You are renewing our strength and soon we will soar again on eagle’s wings. Thank You, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Near to the Heart of God

Words and Music: Cleland B. McAfee

1. There is a place of quiet rest Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest, Neart to the heart of God.

Refrain:
O Jesus, blest Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us who wait before Thee Near to the heart of God.

2. There is a place of comfort sweet, Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Savior meet, Near to the heart of God.

Refrain

3. There is a place of full release Near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace, Near to the heart of God.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved