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Fleeing the Headlines and Finding My Faith

Faith is a disorienting paradox.

On the one hand, I see evidence of God’s love in my life. I feel His grace, and I believe that He cares for me.

On the other hand, I see the evils continuing to happen in this world every day, I look at the faces of those He hasn’t protected, and wonder if God is really there at all.

I’m asked to believe that terrible events and a loving God can co-exist, and it leaves me feeling like doubt is easier than faith.

In these times, what grounds me better than almost anything else is to leave. To flee the news headlines, escape the noise of the city, and make my way into nature.

Among the many things that are easy to lose in the modern age is our connection to the earth. When I find that connection, I often discover God waiting patiently right behind it.

When I take a nighttime swim in a lake whose only light comes from a breadth of stars beyond what can be absorbed in a single glance, I recognize my own smallness. It begins to feel right that a God who could create all this would be beyond my ability to comprehend.

When I pause to observe the features of the forget-me-nots dotting the shoreline, their tiny blossoms painted with the deep indigo petals and bright yellow center seemingly deserved only by a flower twenty times their size, I understand that not even the smallest detail goes unnoticed by our Creator.

psalm 104

The paradox of a God who both sees the small and lives in the large begins to feel comfortable when I look at the creation that reveals His character.

And while it doesn’t erase my questions of what sovereignty really means or why God seems to care so much about some circumstances and seemingly neglect others, the grounding of God’s creation allows me to feel okay with those questions. I can see that somehow God is in the world and beyond our cosmos, caring for the least and working outside our comprehension, all at the same time.

I can swirl with doubt while remaining firmly planted in the faith that God is here with us.


That was my reflection on Psalm 104. Link up with your own thoughts below. And stop back next week when Psalms Journey heads to Psalm 105.

How Authenticity Falls Short

Authenticity is a gigantic buzzword these days.

We are all trying to be authentic all the time, and we are all judging everyone else for how well they are doing at it. For some of us, authenticity comes naturally. For others, it is a learned skill, and one that we struggle to put into practice.

It is a worthwhile pursuit. Authenticity holds hands with vulnerability and walks us down the path towards our true selves.

But I wonder if it is enough.

We treat authenticity like we are pirates on a quest for treasure. Like the pursuit of finding it and spending it is ultimate purpose of our personhood.

I am coming to believe that authenticity is only one a portion of our longing. It is not the treasure, but the map. It is the thing that can lead us to what we are really searching for, deep down in the pit of our souls.

Intimacy.

There’s an important distinction between authenticity and intimacy. Authenticity is about me. Intimacy is about us.

authenticity and intimacy

They are connected, to be sure. True intimacy cannot come without authenticity. But intimacy also requires more than that.

Intimacy asks not only that I trust you with my authentic self, but that I provide space for you to trust me with your authentic self. Which means I will sometimes be the one put my stuff out for you to see, and other times, I will put out empty hands so I can hold onto your offering.

Intimacy requires not only authenticity, but also humility, love, and sacrifice.

Intimacy does not come easily. It is cultivated by energy over a long period of time. It involves failures and frustration as we engage in the messiness of life together.

Yet isn’t intimacy what love looks like? To know and be known? To lay down our lives for each other? To push away fear with compassion? To be truly with one another? To trust and forgive and encourage, over and over and over again?

People will fail us and we will get hurt. The cultivation of intimacy will not be easy. But let’s have the courage to try.

How can we bless God?

What does it mean to praise God?

“Praise” is a common word in the church world. At this point in my life, it is a word heavy with the baggage of the last fifteen years of my experiences.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name. – Psalm 103:1 (NIV)

On some days, it enters my mind with pleasant memories of mountaintop worship experiences. Other days it comes in quietly, unnoticed in its ordinariness. Still other days, it crashes through with questions about what kind of egotistical God demands adoration from His people.

psalm 103

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name! – Psalm 103:1 (ESV)

What does it mean to bless God?

For me, “bless” is a lighter word than “praise.” One of the main things it comes with is a question: how can we bless God? Isn’t it He who blesses us?

I was in a yoga session recently that ended with a blessing. We were lying on our backs, breathing deeply, when the instructor came to each of us and tenderly rubbed oil on our foreheads. It was personal, and the perfect close to our time together.

The first time the word “bless” appears in the Scriptures is in the creation narrative of Genesis. After forming humans, God looks at his beloveds, and blesses them. It is an intimate and holy moment.

Praise can sound like it’s more about the receiver than the giver. As if it doesn’t matter who is in the room, or what is going on with them, because the focus is on the worthiness of the Recipient to garner worship.

But a blessing, now that is personal.

A blessing says, “based on what I know of you, and what I have to offer, here’s how I want to show my love and affection.”  In order to bless someone, we have to notice him. Notice what he is good at, notice what he has done for us, notice the beauty of our relationship. Blessings can happen in a group, but their significance is intimately attached to the heart of each individual who is present.

So what does it mean to bless God? Many times, the Bible points to something pretty simple: to remember Him.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits, – Psalm 103:2

To remember God is to stay connected to Him throughout our days and throughout our lives. To notice the way He is with us, to see the way He has blessed us, to understand the goodness of His character being displayed over and over and over again. To bless God is to share these noticings with Him. Not because God is a narcissistic power-monger, looking for His people to tell Him why He is so awesome, but because recounting our gifts is the kind of intimate blessing we can offer to a God we love.

And over, and over, and over, and over again, what the Story of God calls us to remember and recount most often is this:

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. –Psalm 103:8

That when God passed in front of Moses to proclaim who He was, that this is how our God chose to describe Himself.

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, - Exodus 34:6

We bless God when we notice the ways He shows this description of Himself to be true in our lives. Maybe that’s also what it really means to praise Him.

MATT REDMAN – TEN THOUSAND REASONS (BLESS THE LORD) – OFFICIAL VIDEO HD from Yodo Creative on Vimeo.


That was my reflection on Psalm 103. Link up with your own reflection below. Stop back next week when the Psalms Journey heads to Psalm 104.

Do people of faith struggle with pain?

Does faith in God’s sovereignty produce perpetual happiness?

That seems to be the sometimes spoken and often implied belief of Christianity.

“Rejoice in the Lord always!”
“In all things, God works for good!”
“God has a plan!”

We push away struggles with platitudes, portraying and either/or kind of faith. You either struggle with pain OR are content in the midst of all circumstances. You either question the direction of your life OR have faith God is at work.

These are implied to be mutually exclusive categories in a life of faith.

The Psalms tell a different story. The Psalms are the prayers of people with a both/and kind of faith. They both tell the struggles of their life AND maintain faith in a God who acts on their behalf. They display both honesty about the depth of their pain AND praise for a God who is present with them.

It is a complicated faith that can sometimes make the Psalms difficult to read. But isn’t it more true to life?

For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.

In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones. – Psalm 102:3-5

AND

Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:
“The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.” –Psalm 102:18-20

I am prone to pushing away my struggles because I know I shouldn’t feel this way or that. There are others who have much bigger difficulties; I “shouldn’t” be struggling with something like this. I know that God is bigger than all this; I “shouldn’t” be so consumed with something like this.

It is never God who asks me to downplay my pain.

Psalm 102

God wants us. He desires us to come to Him with our true selves. Which means our Father welcomes the prayers of our honest, complicated, and sometimes contradictory hearts. 

God invites the both/and sentiments of a people who both praise Him and don’t understand Him, who both love Him and are angry with Him, who both ache with pain and find contentment in His love.

I believe God is always good. And I believe life can be really hard.

It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.


That was my reflection on Psalm 102. Link up with your own thoughts below. Stop back next week when Psalms Journey moves on to Psalm 103.

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