If… then I know nothing of Calvary Love

Crucifix by Mariya Pavelko

If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast  perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting “Who made you to differ? And what have you that you have not received?” then I know nothing of Calvary love…

So begins Amy Carmichael’s poem prayer, “If”. Along the way she exposes inner conflicts that reveal to herself, her own lack of integration of what she calls Calvary love.

If I do not feel far more for the grieved Saviour than for my worried self when troublesome things occur, then I know nothing of Calvary love…

If I dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve round myself, if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have “a heart at leisure from itself,” then I know nothing of Calvary love…

If I cannot in honest happiness take second place (or the twentieth); if I cannot take the first without making a fuss about my unworthiness, then I know nothing of Calvary love…

If I slip into the place that can be filled by Christ alone, making myself the first necessity to a soul instead of leading it to fasten upon Him, then I know nothing of Calvary love…

And then she says this:

If I feel bitter toward those who condemn me, as it seems to be, unjustly, forgetting if they knew me as I know myself they would….

How would you end the sentence?

It is likely we’d end the sentence with – “if they knew me as I know myself they would love me” – reflecting our propensity to self-referenced love.

Carmichael instead writes this:

If I feel bitter toward those who condemn me, as it seems to be, unjustly, forgetting if they knew me as I know myself they would condemn me much more, then I know nothing of Calvary love…

Some might be horrified at such self-condemnation, but she is merely aware that Calvary love is not forgetful of our need for it.  Therefore may we be mindful of the log in our eye in order to prevent us from looking for splinters in another person’s eye; may we be mindful to not let bitterness corrupt the beauty and restoration of Calvary love:

If I covet any place on earth but the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

That which I know not, teach Thou me, O Lord, my God.

Excerpt taken from “Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.”

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The Fiery Invocation to Pray

Rolling Stone reported: “In 2014, Kesha sued producer Dr. Luke, seeking to void all their contracts because of how, the suit claimed, Dr. Luke “sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused [Kesha] to the point where [she] nearly lost her life.” With such fuel, it was inevitable that her fiery eruption would explode with yet another improbable prophetic echo of the eternity God has set in our hearts.

Praying by Kesha

Well, you almost had me fooled
Told me that I was nothing without you
Oh, but after everything you’ve done
I can thank you for how strong I have become

‘Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is “I wish you farewell”

I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

I’m proud of who I am
No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come

‘Cause I can make it on my own, oh
And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known
I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain, oh
When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name

You brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is “I wish you farewell”

I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

Ah sometimes, I pray for you at night, oh
Someday, maybe you’ll see the light
Whoa oh oh oh, some say, in life, you’re gonna get what you give
But some things only God can forgive

Yeah! (I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’)
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

Songwriters: Kesha Rose Sebert / Ben Abraham / Ryan Lewis / Andrew Joslyn
Praying lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

For more on the Kesha’s story, see “Kesha and Dr. Luke” or “Kesha’s ‘Praying’ is Grammy’s #MeToo Moment.”

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Joining All Creation in Worship

We were created to join all creation in worship of our Creator.  When we are most who we are to be – most ourselves – every cell in us will resonate with the beauty of the One who made us for Himself.

The spiritual journey becomes the process of increasing awareness of the God of Creation.  As He reveals Himself, we find dendritic pathways of discovery and labyrinthine journeys of joy – revealing the worthiness of praising the One whose own holiness compels us to worship.

Thus the Psalmists sings:

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord…

In response to this, songwriters Joel Houston, Benjamin Hastings, and Michael Fatkin sing, “if the stars were made to worship you… So Will I.”  (Listen also to the interview with the authors at the end of this clip):

God of creation
There at the start
Before the beginning of time
With no point of reference
You spoke to the dark
And fleshed out the wonder of light
And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star
A signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I
God of Your promise
You don’t speak in vain
No syllable empty or void
For once You have spoken
All nature and science
Follow the sound of Your voice
And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If it all reveals Your nature so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You say
Every painted sky
A canvas of Your grace
If creation still obeys You so will I
So will I
So will I
If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy
Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times
God of salvation
You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride
On a hill You created
The light of the world
Abandoned in darkness to die
And as You speak
A hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done
Every part designed in a work of art called love
If You gladly chose surrender so will I
I can see Your heart
Eight billion different ways
Every precious one
A child You died to save
If You gave Your life to love them so will I
Like You would again a hundred billion times
But what measure could amount to Your desire
You’re the One who never leaves the one behind

Songwriters: Joel Houston / Benjamin Hastings / Michael Fatkin
So Will I lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

If we never make connection to the transcendent One, we have only the immanent self to worship.  If we never come to the revelation of God, we may be doomed to the self obsession/worship of this age obscuring His beauty and holiness.
In what ways do you worship? What is the focus of your praise?
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Prayer: Reversed Thunder

Sound waves of Thunder

Prayer (I) by George Herbert

Prayer the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;

Engine against th’ Almighty, sinners’ tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world-transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;

Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood
The land of spices; something understood.

In his book entitled Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Tim Keller offers an excellent exposition of Herbert’s poem:

Prayer is “Gods breath in man returning to his birth.” Many who are otherwise skeptical or nonreligious are shocked to find themselves praying despite not even formally believing in God. Herbert gives us his explanation for that phenomenon. The Hebrew word for “Spirit” and “breath” is the same, and so, Herbert says, there is something in us from God that knows we are not alone in the universe, and that we were not meant to go it alone. Prayer is a natural human instinct…

Prayer is not all quiet, peace, and fellowship. It is also an “engine against th’ Almightie,” a startling phrase that clearly refers to the siege engines filled with archers that were used in Herbert’s day to storm a city. The Bible contains laments and petitions and pleadings, for prayer is rebellion against the evil status quo of the world—and they are not in vain, for they are as “church-bels beyond the stars heard” and indeed are “reversed thunder.” Thunder is an expression of the awesome power of God, but prayer somehow harnesses that power so that our petitions are not heard in heaven as whispers but as crack, boom, and roar. Prayer changes things.

With credit to, and for more, go to “Reformissio” by Jonathan Kleis.

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Weapon of Thunder

Ancient solid gold pendant of “Thor’s Hammer.”

Mjölnir 1  by Burke Sperling

The devine Mjölnir – weapon of thunder –
The most powerful of tools –
Is nothing more than a
   in the hands of a fool –
      a bull whip in the hands of
         a child.

Remembering the
Blows of my words as I
Bumble through another
China Shop of feelings –
   the delicate tea cups,
   the precious crystal refracting a rainbow of colors.

I’m blind to the carnage each
Swing of this grindstone unleashes –
   Except for the understanding I pursue…
      Blind to the shards
      Of precious glass that
      Fall under foot as each
      Blow shatters all in its path.

Only a fool
Uses a sledgehammer to be understood ~

Once thrown,
my words cannot be brought back,
for Mjölnir always hits its target.

After the dust has settled and
I finally see the
Slaughter before me,
   The pain in her eyes
   The slivers of glass
   That slice my very soul…
My heart breaks and
I in vain
      throw Mjölnir into the depths
   but it always returns
      to the hand of its owner.

1 Mjölnir, (thunder weapon or grindstone) – Thor’s hammer is one of Norse mythology’s most fearsome and powerful weapons capable of leveling mountains. It was said that Thor might smite as hard as he desired, whatsoever lay before him, and the hammer would not fail; and if he threw it at anything, it would never miss, and never fly so far as not to return to his hand.

Jesus says, “By faith you will be saved” (Luke 7:50, 18:42). It is only by a foundational trust in the midst of suffering, some ability to bear darkness and uncertainty, and learning to be comfortable with paradox and mystery, that you move from the first half of life to the second half.

Novelist Robertson Davies wrote, “One always learns one’s mystery at the price of one’s innocence.”  The word innocent comes from the Latin for unwounded or not harmed. The innocent one hasn’t yet learned from his or her wounds, and therefore doesn’t know his or her full reality yet. Human life only develops in the shadowlands, never inside of pure light or total darkness.

When you’ve stumbled—and the guilt, loneliness, and fear come to assault you—if you don’t have at least one good friend, or if you have not developed a prayer life where you know how to find yourself in God instead of in your own feelings, you will simply retrench and reassert your correctness. You’ll learn nothing and remain in the first half of life, maintaining your container and supposed identity. If you only move from success to success, or you never live in solidarity with the suffering of others, you normally know very little about your own soul.

Written by Burke Sperling: father, friend, teacher, mentor, poet and more than meets the eye.

Next week see “Reversed Thunder” – a reference to George Herbert’s poem on Prayer.

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Prayer: One Year Later

One year ago, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. If people weren’t praying before, they might be tempted to pray now. Prayer is needed for anyone in authority (I Timothy 2:1-4).

Here is the transcript of a field recording of John Piper’s unscripted prayer, delivered with no intention of being made public. It is in the tone of wisdom, grace, and gravity. It is prayer that recognizes the sovereignty of God, and desires the honour of God over all else; the president gets no blank cheque of endorsement, or uncritical approval.

I thought we would do well to remember this, and to pray:

Prayer for the President, by John Piper:

Father in heaven, we ask now that your name would be hallowed in this moment, in this room, and in this ministry; that your name would be hallowed in Washington, and hallowed by Donald Trump and his family, his cabinet, the congress; that your kingdom would come, that your will would be done there.

To that end Lord, we ask that you would bring Donald Trump out of darkness and into light. Give him a spirit of brokenness and humility. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). I pray that you would break his heart, give him humility, show him what it feels like to be penitent and to admit he’s done wrong — to confess he was wrong, ask forgiveness from you, and ask for forgiveness from the people that he’s wounded or people that he’s set a bad example for. He needs to be given the gift of faith and humility and repentance, and I pray that you would give it to him.

We’re not eager to have him as an adversary. We would like him as a brother. That will not be an easy transition for him. He’s a very wealthy man, and it hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23–24). But Lord, you are able. The disciples threw up their hands in dismay saying, “Who then can be saved?” You didn’t say, “Well, that’s a stupid question.” You said, “With man this is impossible.” Then, you entered the glorious news, “But with God all things are possible” — including our conversion and Donald Trump’s conversion (Matthew 19:25–26). That’s our big, overarching prayer: for the advance of your kingdom and salvation there and throughout this land.

Until that day Lord, in your wonderful providence, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). So, guard him from folly. Guard him from stupid decisions that would damage people, damage America, damage the church. Guard him. Superintend him and the congress in such a way that, beyond their explanation, things turn in a direction that makes for the kind of good that, even though it may not have faith in it, would have the form of faith in justice and love.

We’re asking for that kind of miracle, Lord: that you would surprise even him at what is able to be brought about. Protect him from the deceptions of the Evil One at the level of this providential governance of your way in the world, in America now. So God, I ask that the church would not rely on government and would not rely on a Trump presidency. I pray for evangelical leaders not to celebrate Donald Trump’s presidency with no apparent qualification, no tears, no brokenness, no sadness that he set such an awful example for this land.

Open the eyes, I pray, of evangelical leaders who seem so triumphalist in this moment as to think their way has been brought about and now good things are coming because we can lean on the arm of the flesh the way so many seem to give the indication. Grant that there would be a rising tide leaning upon the Holy Spirit, leaning upon the word of God; that there would be a countercultural dependence upon prayer, rather than the dependence of a power in high places.

Grant that there would be a burden for spiritual awakening, a burden for sharing the gospel, a burden for building healthy, strong, biblical churches in the land, a burden for taking the gospel to the nations of the world. Lord, don’t let us exhaust our energies fretting about the little molehill of this presidency when we have a Himalayan Mountain range of blessings in Christ Jesus. Grant that we would operate out of the fullness of Christ in doing many good deeds in this land. Grant that the church would be purified, and all the corruption and all the worldliness would be removed so that the world would stand up and say, “That’s a strange people. That’s a different people. That’s a godly, humble, servant-like, sacrificial, loving people,” rather than just, “That’s just Republican. That’s just what the world is.”

So God, work a great work of renewal in your church, I pray. May we live for the sake of the salvation of the world, O God. May this land not be our land, but heaven be our land, and the gathering of your people from all the peoples in every tribe of the world be our passion and our burden. Put America down in our priority list, and put the kingdom of God up, and the name of God up, and the church of God up, and the reaching of the nations up. Grant, I pray, that here at Desiring God, we would have a significant part to play in that. O, give us wisdom.

Give wisdom to the content team here, and great skill and wisdom to the technological team here so that together we might make the greatest possible impact to spread a passion for your supremacy, not American supremacy or Trump supremacy or Republican or Democratic supremacy. May it always feel like a heavenly orientation rather than an earthly orientation.

Make us willing, O God, to submit ourselves to the lordship of Jesus, not the lordship to any man who leads. We ask for your help. We humble ourselves under your mighty hand. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

What have you been praying in this last year?

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The Caged Bird Sings

Caged Bird, by Kurisuten-tan


I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
    When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;   
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,   
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
    When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,   
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats his wing
    Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;   
For he must fly back to his perch and cling   
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
    And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars   
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
    When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
    But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,   
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!
Source: Twentieth-Century American Poetry (2004)

To learn more about the author, Paul Laurence Dunbar, go to Poetryfoundation.org:

“One of his most popular poems, in “Sympathy“… he expresses, in somber tone, the dismal plight of blacks in American society.”

In honour of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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