Praying God’s promises sounds something like this.
(1) Speak the promise to God. “Lord you say that you are near to the brokenhearted.”
(2) Find yourself in the promise. “Lord, I am brokenhearted . . .”
(3) Apply the promise: This means that you have promised to be near to me.
(4) Give thanks: “Lord, thank you for being near me.”
(5) Get honest: “Lord, I don’t feel your nearness. Lord will you make your promise felt to me?”
(6) Take hold: “I wait for you Lord. I take heart that what I do not feel is true nonetheless. You are mine and I am yours. You are near me! I am not alone.”
(7) Testify: When someone asks, how are you doing? You include, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted. I’m counting on that!”
(1) Speak the promise to God. “Lord, you say that you will supply my every need”
(2) Find your loved-one in the promise. “My daughter can’t find a job Lord.”
(3) Apply the promise: “You say that her every need is in your care.”
(4) Give thanks: “Lord, thank you that our daily bread matters to you.”
(5) Get honest: “I feel emboldened and freed,” Or “I can’t see it, but I look to you”
(6) Take hold: “I trust you. Lord supply her every need. We wait for you. We count on you.”
(7) Testify: When someone asks who your daughter is doing, you include, “The Lord has pledged to supply our every need. I’m waiting on that”
What happens when you cannot find yourself in the promise? For example, imagine that you’ve found the promise about
God who loved the world. He gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life. You look to the
promise but cannot find yourself there. You have not yet believed in Jesus or the God who sent him. This means that this promise is not yet yours. At this moment:
The promise of assurance for the Christian turns into a promise of invitation to the one who isn’t a Christian.
This promise can become yours! All you need do is look to Jesus in faith as the One whom God sent out of love for
you. Then, the pledge of God is yours. As his own dear child in Jesus, all the benefits of this promise belong to you. Death comes
knocking at your door. It seeks to conquer you forever. But you put on the playlist. You begin to sing the promise. Death shrinks
back. The promise giver makes good on the promise made. Death must let you go. Death must die as it relates to you. Life with the
God who so loved you and gave his son for you, awaits!
Another reason, we may not find ourselves in the promise is because the promise was made to a particular person for a unique purpose. God promised Abraham and Sarah children and this for a very specific purpose. We do not receive this same promise. What do we do? At this moment, the promise of assurance for them turns into a promise of exploration and praise for us. We explore the context of the promise. We learn about the character of the One who made the promise and praise Him. Though the specific promise is not for us. The God who made the promise is. The same Being they leaned upon, remains available for us to lean upon too.
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Cor. 1:20, NIV)
For more, see my Small Group Study Guide and Audio message entitled, “Getting Started with the Promises of God”
“You are trying too hard.” My African American friend said this for my benefit. His eyes conveyed his love me as he spoke the words.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I meant the question. I was surprised by his words and wanted to hear what he thought.
“You don’t need to serve on all of these committees in this community,” he answered. “You don’t have to go to all of these racial meetings and planning sessions and events,” he continued.
Admittedly, I was puzzled. I sat there in Wendy’s and took a bite of my chicken sandwich.
“You can if you want to. Sometimes some good things can come of it. But to be truthful, I think you are trying too hard. I’m trying to say that you don’t have to do these committee things. There is an easier way.”
“Ok,” I said. “What is the easier way?”
Finding the Easier Way
“Let me ask you a question,” he responded. “Your church offices were recently moved into a neighborhood that is mostly Black, right?”
“Right,” I nodded.
“And your office is situated in a little shopping center next door to some Black business owners, right?”
“Yeah,”I said. “So?”
“So, how long would it take you to walk from your office to get to one of these businesses next door to you?”
I paused. I’m sure that I stopped chewing too. I could see that a sense of conviction was about to say hello to me. I sat back in the chair. Put the sandwich down and shook my head with a smiling realization. He repeated his good question. He was smiling now too and gentle.
“How long does it take you to walk from your office to one of these businesses next door to you?”
“About three seconds,” I answered.
“That’s what I’m getting at,” he said. “You are trying too hard. Speeding around at all of these meetings. Instead, why don’t you do the easy thing? Walk the three seconds, peek your head in the door and just say, ‘hello.'” “If no one says ‘hello’ back, try it again next week. If they say ‘hello’ back, just talk like a human being about human stuff.”
Walking the Three Seconds
I sat there thinking about what he said. I admitted out loud what I was feeling inside.
“Walking the three seconds seems harder. Why is that?” I asked.
He didn’t answer. He didn’t need to. We both lingered with the thought and ate a couple of french fries.
Looking back on that conversation, I realize that I’ve been attending, leading and planning meetings and events for a year and a half, now. There have been wonderful moments. But, I’m sad to say that it took me a month after my friend’s advice, before I attempted the easy thing. Yesterday, finally, I walked the three seconds. I said “hello.” A Black man said, “hello” back to me. He paused and so did I. I don’t know how, but we ended up talking about the crazy Saint Louis weather and the storms predicted for that night. Somehow we even got to talking about how the bones in the body sometimes predict the weather better than the news and we laughed. Then, after a bit, we both paused, and said, something like “have a good one” to each other. Then, I walked the three seconds back to my office. On Monday, I’m thinking maybe I’ll try that again. After all, my next committee meeting isn’t for another couple of weeks.
I hurt my friend. I did not mean to. I would not have known it without his help.
He is black. I am white. We are men. Both of us are husbands and fathers. His brown eyes and my blue eyes both require the aid that glasses provide.
Our community, mine and his, possesses a rich history of African American life here on this side of the tracks where Kirkham avenue companions alongside of Shady Creek for a while. Crossing back and forth across these railroad tracks has required multiple efforts over the years. Memories of pains and hopes and even blessings are the results of such attempts at this kind of travel.
Crossing the Tracks Together
Over the last two years this man and I have become friends along with others. School administrators, police force representatives, local university persons, civic and business participants and a few clergy have met together and facilitated forums designed to aid us in our attempts to talk, heal and change amid what unites us and separates us racially.
On this occasion, a team of people asked us as leaders what five words we would use if we wanted to describe what we are about and to get the word out to the broader community. My friend offered three words.
I entered the exercise earnestly and suggested that those words might not make sense to the community and I would lean toward other descriptors. Other folks joined in and led us quickly off of my friend’s three words onto other “more understandable words.” I thought nothing of it.
After the meeting I asked my friend how his week was going. His thoughts though remained fixed upon this day in which we presently stood and still on the exercise with words we had just completed. He was hurting. This was new for us.
Light Pouring In
As we talked I realized that not only is my friend black and that I am white. I learned also that he has been at this a long while and that I am new to the table. Apparently groups like this one have come and gone over the long years. White folks who start but fade. What for me is my first real attempt at racial neighbor love in a community like this is for him his fourth or fifth or sixth try. “You can’t see” he said to me. “I want to,” I answered. “Please help me to see. What has hurt you today?”
He then gently risked with me. He asked me a simple question. “Remember when you said to the group that people will not understand the words I offered?” “Yes,” I answered. “What people did you mean?” he asked. “What people will not understand my words?”
He paused and looked earnestly and sensitively into my eyes. All of a sudden, there in the long pause, I felt like a flare went off in my soul and lit up the night sky of my thoughts. His question searchlighted my hidden assumptions and brought them into plain view.
Conviction tenderly earthquaked my inner being. I saw in the pause of his presence that I had people like me in mind when I said that “the community” will not understand–white people like me. Because obviously, the words offered by my friend who has lived and served for this community long before I ever arrived here, come out of the history, experience and local knowledge of this community. I realized that I had done at least four blind things.
1. I did not listen or inquire to find out the meaning of these words to my friend or to his part of this community.
2. I quickly implied to him that he will have to surrender the language he offered to the language that my part of this community will provide for him. (as i look back I realize that almost everyone else who agreed with me and dismissed the language my friend offered was also white–they too offered “better” words)
3. At the end of the day who knows what words we would have landed on. The words weren’t the point. Ironic isn’t it? We were developing words to aid us in our attempts to create racial understanding in our community by doing the very thing that hinders it in the first place.
4. I realized in my friend’s eyes that his hurt did not rise because the others that he didn’t know so quickly dismissed his point of view. It is that I had. We were friends. Friendship means that I am no longer, just a white man sitting with a black man. He thought I’d know as a friend; that I’d try to listen further to why he might use the words he had chosen. After all, we’ve been doing life together and that’s what friends do–they listen to each other.
And when friends fail to listen to each other and they hurt one another, they ask each other’s forgiveness. They wait amid long pauses with each other, for each other. They learn together and they go get a sandwich at Wendy’s. Trust deepens.
I’m looking forward to lunch today.
I get to eat french fries and learn from a friend.
I rested my hope on the drive through dinner.
Trying to Fit it all in
It was Wednesday night. The perfect storm of activity formed and swirled through our evening schedule. Youth groups pulled up into our driveway to the barn on our rented property. Friends in ministry training were set to arrive an hour from now for our living room. All the while five Eswines presently diverged and scattered into the differing directions of after school activity and community volunteering. “Somehow we have to fit in food” I remembered. The solution emerged! “On my way to here while taking children and teens there,” I thought, “while my wife does this in the midst of our other young adult doing that, and before our guests arrive, we can eat on the way!” We drove on time and just in time for the drive through to produce a meal that we could handle within our twenty minute car ride in order to arrive at the meetings we were to attend.
There was no room for error.
The Hardest Four Words
I pull up with haste, impatient to place my order and abrupt in tone. “Welcome to Drive through food” the chipper voice sings. “Please wait just a moment.”
(When was it that those four words, “wait just a moment” became so hard to handle?)
Then it happened. I noticed the menu screen. It normally reflects what a consumer orders. (Those two words in connection, impress their meaning upon me as I write, “consumer,” “orders.” Consumers are those who make a life out of declaring orders to their neighbors. Have I embrace such a life?).
Back to the screen. A green background hosted a series of words like “test” and “pass.” Passing tests! Ha! How ironic! The pace quickens in my being as the slow-down I am about to endure dawns on me. It is 5:30pm. In the midst of the dinner hour and within this long line of consumers impatient to thump their car horns, the drive-through-solution for my over-activity, is rebooting its computers. There is no time to leave if we want food. No other drive-through enablers will line the street between where we are and where we have to get to.
Being Given What I don’t Want
Ten minutes later we drive and eat.
I ordered a small coke. I received a medium Doctor Pepper.
I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich. I received a spicy fried chicken sandwich with sauce.
I ordered a side salad. I received fries.
We arrived at our destinations, late and grumpy! (Grumpy Eswines? Never! Right?)
A Life that Can’t Wait
I want to blame the drive-through. But I am the one who scheduled my Wednesday in such a way that the follies of haste, food as a last consideration, impatience and error-free living were required to make the evening work. If I relied on patience, on waiting, on organizing an evening around fundamental necessities and on giving room for mistakes to happen, would I miss out?
I want to never go that drive-through again. But over the last four years of visiting that local drive through maybe thirty times, this is the first and only time that I’ve been asked to wait. Does being a consumer teach me that others have to prove themselves to me every time, that I look at others through their worst rather than their best moments, that one mistake means that a relationship ends?
I hated my dinner. When did it happen that I learned to complain when I have food to eat?
I wanted to get mad at the people behind the screen. Do I treat others like this? Demanding performance without seeing an ordinary human life like me trying to do his or her job in the midst of frustrating computer crashes (and who knows what other frustrations might exist in the stories behind their eyes as I order them what to do and what to provide for me).
Grace for the Unwaiting Life
Today is Thursday. I’m sorry and humbled. I give thanks for food to eat. I give thanks people who work. I give thanks for the freedom not to order others to change so that I can maintain my impatient pace. I give thanks for a grace way of life that intrudes into my own and beckons me to a healing reorientation on how to do a day as a family. I give thanks for forgiveness. I give thanks that I am not viewed through the lenses of my worst moments, not in Jesus anyway. I give thanks that in Jesus my neighbors too can receive this same marvelous dignity. I give thanks for that patience is a fruit of God’s Spirit, a quality of love. I give thanks that impatient consumers can find grace in the patient and waiting One. I give thanks that in Christ, performance based human beings get to be reviewed on the basis of Jesus’ performance not theirs, and that our dignity and humanity has more to measure it than our performances. I give thanks for Jesus’ error free life. I give thanks that he doesn’t put us into an error free requirement with no way out. The life, the cross, the empty tomb of the waiting One saves us, even those of us with our drive-through ways of doing life.
“Them’s Small potatoes,” my people used to say, by which they meant to impress upon me that the thing I was making a commotion about wasn’t worth all of the fuss. The saying holds true. Sometimes the thing that overwhelms has no more matter to it than a bag of small potatoes–lightly weighted and easily disposed of.
But sometimes a sack of small potatoes added to our load can prove just enough weight to put us over the edge if we aren’t careful. For example, all in all, most would agree that sweet potatoes weigh very little individually. But bundle eight or ten of those deformed old feet of orange yams together and they can rib-kick you!
Ambitions and Realities
Jessica and I discovered the unexpected burden that “small potatoes” can bring to us by means of an ambitious bike ride. I hadn’t ridden a bike for five years or more. We planned to ride from Kirkham, up Rock Hill, over the tracks, east down Lockwood into Old Orchard toward a small Vegetable stand. Three hills awaited us. Back packed and helmeted we pedaled onto these sloped taunters with vigor. But, somewhere along that long unfolding incline just past Summit Avenue, my legs quit! My legs quit with my backpack empty and another mile to go (Reminds me of moments in my life!)
Jessica waited for me. It is good to have a friend who waits for us when we’ve lost the strength to pedal! It is humbling though. Embarrassed, I tried to hurry Jessica on. I didn’t want everyone to see me needing help. “No one who is passing by can hear us babe,” she said gently. “It’s just you and me!” Seeing that I wasn’t comforted she added, “I’ll ride on ahead and meet you there!”
Proud how I expected to ride with empty pack over hill and mile even though my leg muscles possessed only the memory of bicycle riding.
Vain that I wanted no one to discover my bike empty legs as they drove past.
Grace to have a friend who is not embarrassed by my limits, but ready to linger alongside of them with me.
Finally, and in time, we arrived! Now all that was required was that we purchase the vegetables and ride for home. It was there, in that moment of imagined homecoming with only half-the-pedaling done, that I met the small potatoes. These were bundled, put into my pack and draped across my back. Small potatoes rest light in the hands of a fully rested man. But when you are two miles ride from home on cycle barren thighs and calves, even the weight of small potatoes can discourage and lean heavy into you.
Grace for the ride, the walk
We took the back way home–fewer hills and nothing to prove.
Jessica led on ahead with periodic stops to wait and let me know that she was looking back for me–a friend further up the road but present and mindful of our steps gives us vision.
Half-way home I walked my bike and potatoes–a slower pace still gets us home. A humbled posture travels steadier.
We made our last push up our long incline of a driveway–sometimes the last leg is the hardest.
At the top of the drive we high-fived and cheered! –making it through to the other side often kisses us with gratitude and story-telling.
We cooked and enjoyed our small potatoes that night! –tasty nourishment sometimes rises from our untimely little burdens.
I’m looking forward to our next ride to the vegetable stand! –stamina grows as we pedal the hills together. Even here in Webster Groves . . .
What if I don’t see God because I wouldn’t know how to recognize him if I did?
Visitations in the Humdrum
We play “Where is Waldo” sometimes. Waldo hides in his red and white striped cap and shirt on book pages crowded with other noisy characters, busy scenes, and distracting colors. The goal is to locate Waldo amid all of the activity. What you know when you open the page is that Waldo is already there. Often by the time you locate him he is sitting in a car seat or standing on a street corner. He’s right in front of us the whole time. We just don’t see him. Our eyes have to adjust. We have to learn to locate his identifying marks.
I think that maybe God gave us the book of Ruth for the “in-between.” In between mighty deeds of epic reformation in the times of the judges, it teaches us that when God visits, when he draws near to bring aid to our need, he often does so in a quiet and earthy way. His mighty visits are humdrum.
For she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. (Ruth 1:6)
I Spy with My Little Eyes
I long for a visit from God. But my eyes have been trained in such a way that I am prone to overlook His comings and goings. When I play “I Spy” with my kids and we say, “I Spy with my little eye something green,” my eyes have something to work with. I know to search the living room for something not red or blue or black and that resides within the sightlines of toddler eyes. But for some reason, when it comes to seeing God, I assume that God is too important to put himself within view of what little eyes can see. God is for Big Eyed preachers and Large Orbed people. So, I am prone to do my theology as one who overlooks humdrum and everyday smallness.
I camp out with my telescope, ignore the ground, stare up into space, and wait for a once-in-a-generation-star-moment from God. The waiting is hard though.
Don’t get me wrong. Miracle moments and epic visitations from God are worth waiting and praying for. When they come we marvel with sweet joy. Tastes of His kingdom vindicate, satisfy and rekindle our sense that His promises fulfilled are not far off. But, what about mighty visits from God that are small?
If I’m standing there looking out into space for a masterful display I wouldn’t even notice that God had come and gone.
The evidence that God has visited his people is that they have bread on their tables for food. It makes me think that when I try to pray what Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread,” I don’t really know what I’m saying. For Jesus, a mighty act of God would mean that I have food to give my children tonight. And grief-stricken Naomi, she has lost her husband and her two sons, she is bitter with God’s absence and grief’s presence. But she has a true friend in Ruth. How rare. She also has a community that welcomes her, misses her and bears with her in her grief. How unusual.
For Ruth and Naomi and the other farmers and widows, God visited them. He was right in front of them. But God’s grand visit was to provide bread, the authentic friendship of a marginalized young woman and a community of genuine care on the outskirts and unnoticeable for newsworthy headlines. Among the food and the friendship, there was also a farm with fields. There, the story tells us, a redeemer waited.
And all the while I imagine myself looking up into space waiting for God’s sky-dazzling visit missing the whole show!
Look at the cupboards, the faces and the place in which you live today. What do you spy with your little eyes?