When God Burns Down Your House

Tragedy is a part of living in a broken world. More than a part, it’s inevitable. When tragedy strikes, our first question is, Why? Whether or not we get an answer, we quickly must ask a second, and perhaps even more important question, How do I deal with this?

Think of a tragedy in your life recently. How did you deal with it?

Perhaps you dismissed it, chalked it up to bad luck, stuffed your feelings, or even blamed someone (maybe yourself). Maybe you blamed God. And got angry with him.

Anne Bradstreet’s poem Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666 teaches us how to deal with tragedy and why we experience it. Shockingly, she puts responsibility of the event solely on God. Yet she does so without blaming him or attributing sin to him, much the way Job does in the first two chapters of his story.

Bradstreet can do this because she has the eyes to see two vital realities. First,  Bradstreet sees that all her goods belonged to God anyway and that he could do with them whatever he pleased. In taking away her home and possessions, God did Bradstreet and her family no wrong.

Second, she sees that this tragedy was for a divine purpose: God wanted her to treasure God above everything. Even the comfort and safety of a home. Thus, her poetic prayer is reminiscent of an ancient Scriptural one: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).

Consider this a prayer of lament. Watch what Bradstreet does, let it teach you, and let it shape the way you respond to tragedy when it comes your way.

Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666

Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning 
of Our house, July 10th. 1666. Copied Out of 
a Loose Paper.

In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “fire” and “fire,”
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To straighten me in my Distress
And not to leave me succourless.
Then, coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
It was his own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine;
He might of all justly bereft
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate and long did lie.
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle e’er shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom‘s voice e’er heard shall be.
In silence ever shalt thou lie,
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity.
Then straight I ‘gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mould’ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
Thou hast a house on high erect
Framed by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It‘s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.
A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store.
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.


Reading the Bible in 2016: Knowing How to Read

As 2016 gets underway, many of us are starting a new Bible reading plan (and you can even start today though it’s January 7!). What is essential to making your Bible reading worthwhile this year? There’s a lot we could say, but let me boil it down to three things we must do: we must read successively, thoughtfully, and prayerfully.

First, read successively. By this I mean read whole books of the Bible at a time. The Bible is a collection of 66 books with unique genres, and specific themes, tones, and purposes in mind. Each book was written by unique people who had their own personalities and perspectives. If we are to honor this reality and mine the entire Bible for all its riches, reading books from start to finish is necessary. Otherwise, the Bible will become a grab-bag of fortune cookie sayings. You’ll end up abusing God’s word rather than honoring and obeying it.

This does not mean that you need to read the entire Bible from start to finish, though you may do that. But if you to start this year in Romans, for example, then begin at verse one and read to the end—rather than just your favorite parts. This forces you to deal with the everything in the text (even the controversial or difficult portions) and deal with everything in context. Reading in context reminds you that nothing is stand-alone. No one verse says it all. And no one book says it all. Each passage is a part of the whole book, and each book is a part of the whole Bible.

Second, read thoughtfully. By this I mean meditate as you read. Ponder what you are reading! This is not casual or flippant reading. On the other hand, it’s not deep study. I do not recommend that every time (or most of the time) you sit down to the Bible you do deep study. There are times for that—but the preponderance of your time in Scripture should simply be ingesting the Story. As Eugene Peterson writes, “There will be time enough for study later on. But first, it is important simply to read, leisurely and thoughtfully. We need to get a feel for the way these stories and songs, these prayers and conversations, these sermons and visions, invite us into this large, large world in which the invisible God is behind and involved in everything visible and illuminates what it means to live here.”

So jot down notes, make observations and connections, and consider why it matters. But keep the Greek and Hebrew dictionary on the shelf. Enter the world of Scripture and get lost there. And relish it.

Third, read prayerfully. If you divorce Bible reading from prayer, it will all be for naught. The Bible is not a book for you to read to acquire information. It’s a book of transformation because it reveals God and what he is up to. Therefore, you find out, pretty soon after reading it, that it is actually reading you. It exposes you. It brings you face-to-face with God. When this reality sinks in, your thoughts and words are suddenly caught up in conversation with the God who comes to you through ordinary words on a page (or a screen!). Take what you have thoughtfully read and turn it into prayer. Interact with the text. Interact with God. He is very real and he is very much there with you. Look at who God is and what he is doing and praise him for it. See your sin in light of his holiness and confess to him. Marvel at God’s work of redemption, culminating in his Son and thank him. Ask and trust him to fill you with his Spirit so that this text comes to life in you today.

Read the Bible successively, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. If we do this, I think we’ll see God move in and through us, because of his word, in ways we could never have imagined.

Life Theology

Psalm 88: A Paraphrase

This Sunday I’m preaching from Psalm 88. Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase of that chapter inspired me to take a deeper look and draw out some of the obscurities of this ancient Hebrew song. Here is my best Petersonian effort at my own paraphrase.

Psalm 88

O Yahweh, you are my savior;
   All day and night I’m praying to you.
Please listen to me;
   Don’t plug your ears!
My life is a wreck,
   And I’m standing in my grave.
I might as well be in hell;
   I am weak and helpless,
like one freed to play on a dead-man’s playground,
   like a rotting corpse in a trash pile,
like those you’ve forgotten,
   because you’ve cut them off like an orphaned child.
You’ve put me in a dungeon,
   in a black hole with no exit.
And it’s because you’re angry with me,
   You’re waterboarding me and I can’t breathe.
You’ve made my friends leave me;
   I make them want to vomit.
I’m like a prisoner in my own body;
   I’m blinded by my tears.
I’m not giving up praying, O Yahweh;
   My hands are pleading with you to answer.
Do dead people marvel at your miracles?
   Do dead people sing your praises?
Is the sound of your never-ending love heard 6-feet under,
   or your faithfulness in the land of doom?
Can people see your works when it’s dark,
   or your perfections in the land of no memory?
But I’m not giving up praying, O Yahweh,
   Every morning I’m confronting you.
Yahweh—why are you pushing me away?
   Why are you hiding from me? Is this a game to you?
My life has been a wreck since I was a kid;
   I’m suffering from your beatings; I can’t stop them.
Your hot anger rips me to shreds like a tornado;
   You’re bomb blitzes are destroying me.
They are drowning me in a raging river all day long;
    I can’t look anywhere without seeing them.
And on top of all this you’ve made my lover and my friends run away from me;
    Darkness is now my only friend.

Making the Most of the Mealtime Prayer

In our home, spiritual formation and instruction happens “along the way.” We have a three-and-a-half year old and a 20-month old. Our oldest is not quite old enough for a formal “family worship” time. Yet she is old enough to comprehend some spiritual disciplines, particularly prayer. Our youngest even sometimes has the awareness to stop what she is doing to pray with us. In our home, we pray all the time. We pray spontaneously for needs that arise in our family or in others. We pray on our way to worship with God’s people. We pray at bedtime. We pray when there are meltdowns. But one of the most advantageous times to form and instruct our children in prayer is, of course, at meals.

Most mealtime prayers for Christians, I would guess, are simply rote prayers, offering up our “duty” to God. We say the same thing over and over because we are either really hungry or, if we are honest, we don’t really know what to say when people are around–especially squirmy, chatty children.

Parents (especially dads), I want you to rethink your mealtime prayers. Dads, I especially want to challenge you here: this is prime opportunity to lead quietly, humbly, and simply in the mundane moments–before a meal. Mealtime prayers can lead our family to feast on the goodness and beauty of the Triune God, not the food on the table. These prayers do not have to be long. In fact, your kids (and maybe your spouse) will probably resent you if they are. A short prayer can be just as formative and powerful as a long one. (Let’s not forget: the Lord’s prayer is pretty short!)

So, let me suggest a few simple mealtime prayers to say with your family:

Father in heaven, thank you for another day of your mercy. You did not have to sustain us until now, but you have and any more moments we have together will be because of your sovereign grace. We praise you for your providence in giving us food to eat. Help us glorify you in our eating and drinking by remembering this food comes from you. Remind us as good as this food is, your Son is our true soul food. Only he can satisfy us and make us whole. No amount of meat, bread, milk, or even ice cream can do that. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Father, you are glorious and good. This food reminds us that we are dependent on you, but you are dependent on no one. We must eat and drink to have energy, but your energy is self-contained and you never get tired. May we never forget our need for your constant help, whether we feel tired or not. We live ultimately not on food alone, but on every word that comes from your mouth. We are thankful for Jesus, your ultimate Word, who died and rose from the dead to redeem us so that we might live through him. In his name I pray. Amen. 

Father, there is no one like you. Before we eat this great meal, we want to recognize that you have created every flavor, designed each smell, and assigned certain textures for this food and drink. Help us enjoy our meal and remember that you have kindly given it to us because you are good. Most importantly, would we remember that your Son Jesus became a part of creation and took on texture, flesh and blood, so that he might do for us what we could not do for ourselves. May we feast on him today. In his name, I pray. Amen.

It’s not important to use these exact words. But for the joy and progress of your family, we parents need to exalt Jesus and his good news, and do it often–even before feasting on macaroni and cheese.


A Simple Way to Pray

I’ve been writing a bit lately on prayer (see here and here), with more to come. In between posts I wanted to provide you with a resource for your prayer life. It is a short booklet by Martin Luther called A Simple Way to Prayer. You may already be familiar with it, and even if you are it’s worth another read.

In this booklet, Luther helps Peter Beskendorf, his barber, understand how to pray. One might be inclined to think that Luther, a theological giant in church history, would complicate prayer, making it difficult for non-theological giants like us. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Luther was an academic, yes; but he was primarily a pastor. Luther wanted the church to recover the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers—the truth that believers had access to God through Christ, and therefore, all believers could learn to pray.

So this booklet is not an doctrinal treatise on prayer. It’s a how-to manual. It’s a field guide. And it comes from a man who prayed—fervently and often. A Simple Way to Pray focuses on meditating on Scripture and turning those meditations into conversation with God. He comments on praying the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Creed.

So sit and learn how to pray from Martin Luther. Here’s a few ways to get the book:

I’d go with the free option if I were you (the paperback book is 64 pages, so the price per page is pretty steep). Free help for your prayer life from Martin Luther. How you can pass that up?