Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

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A Prayer for the New Year

Almost every day this past year I’ve been praying a borrowed prayer. It is a prayer first prayed by a suffering man, a desperate man, a man utterly at the end of himself. It is a prayer first prayed by Jeremiah.

Most days this past year I’ve concluded my morning time of prayer with Jeremiah’s cry to God, because it has become my cry as well. Might this become your prayer as well?

 “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. Correct me, O LORD, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.” (Jeremiah 10:23-24)

Jeremiah prays of something he knows and he asks for something he needs.

There is something each of us must know. I, you, we, must know that “the way of man is not in himself.” By “man” Jeremiah intends not only males, but “man” as in humanity, mankind. What Jeremiah prays applies to every one of us.

When Jeremiah speaks of “the way” he uses a word that shows up often in the Proverbs. Proverbs speaks variously of “the way” of the violent man (3:31), the wicked (4:14), the adulteress (7:25), the fool (12:15), the treacherous (13:15), the lazy (15:19), and so forth. But it also speaks of “the way” of good men (2:20), of wisdom, of uprightness (4:11), of life (6:23), and of understanding (9:6). All of these latter ways are simply individual lanes that make up “the way of the Lord” (10:29). It is “the way” we ought to go, “the way” we are morally obligated to proceed in, “the way” that makes for life, rather than death.

Jeremiah similarly speaks of “the way of the wicked” (12:1) and “the way of the nations” (10:2), in contrast to “the way of the Lord” (5:4, 5). He announces: “Thus says the LORD: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.” (21:8).

So “the way” that is not in me, is the way I should go. I can’t live before God as I ought.

Jeremiah prays on … “it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.”

Whereas the first line confesses the way I ought to go, this line emphasizes way I want to go. Every day, all day long, you and I are taking steps … the moments pass, things happen, words are spoken, encounters with others take place. Life just keeps moving! You and I can’t help but “walk” through this passage of time. But it is not in us to “direct” our “steps” aright while doing so. If I “direct [my] steps” … I’ll do it according to my desires, whims, wisdom. And if I do that, I will inevitably go astray! Again, Proverbs agrees: “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (16:25).

When it comes to the battle between what I ought to be and what I want to do, each of us must know and admit this: I can’t do this!

But there is more here than simply a reminder of what we must know. What I know ushers me to the necessity of what I must ask. There is something every one of us must request. We need this, desperately: “Correct me, O Lord”! This is the admission, “Lord, I’m going to mess this up if you don’t guide me!”

The word translated “correct” describes correction that is aimed at educating a person toward a better course. It is always motivated by love and is always an evidence of sonship (Prov. 3:11-12; cf. Heb. 12:5-6). A variety of methods may be involved, but it is never merely punitive, but always instructional. The goal is not merely to shape ethical behavior, but to capture the heart for the Lord (Prov. 1:7).

“Correct me, O Lord” is a dangerous prayer. Are you willing to pray it, regularly?

“Yes,” but I quickly add: “But be gentle with me, Lord!” Correct me … “but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing” (24b). I have to admit, this part of the prayer bothered me for a while. Even as I prayed this prayer over and over, this part just didn’t sit right with me. I wondered, “Why justice rather than grace or mercy or patience?” I would much prefer grace and mercy to “justice”!

But then I studied the word that is translated “justice.” It woodenly means “judgment,” but covers the entire gamut of governance. It is not merely a judicial word, but a relational word. So that the prayer actually means something like, “Rule me, Lord!” “Correct me as the one to whom I bow as my Sovereign, my King, my Lord … not simply as a Judge!”

I came to realize that this prayer enables me to humble myself and pray, as I so desperately need to, “Correct me, Lord, but gently, graciously, lovingly, strongly!” It is perhaps the most basic prayer of a disciple, a learner after Christ. It is my lifeline to Him who alone has all I need and who is all I really want.

Entertaining Thoughts

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30, emphasis added)

“The finest art has always offered transcendence – inviting us to stand outside ourselves and gain perspective. Artistic images, music, and stories engage our rational faculties, which mediate and critique our emotional and visceral responses. Entertainment makes an end run around the intellect, stimulating the nervous system in much the same way as drugs do.” (Lael Arrignton, A Faith and Culture Devotional, 54).

Planning for the Future

Retirement planning is big business these days. And the market is ripe. Baby boomers currently enter retirement at a rate of 10,000 per day. And estimate 33 million more will join the ranks of the retired over the next seven years!

Heading into 2017 there was a surge of confidence in people’s sense of preparedness to enter retirement. In 2011 only 24% felt such confidence; today the percentage has risen to 41%.[1] Whether that confidence is well-founded is, of course, yet to be seen. But it seems people are giving more and more attention to preparing for their retirement future.

Those in their 20’s are being urged to begin now to store away for their retirement years. The magic powers of compounding interest are paraded before their eyes with dollar signs dancing through their dreams of a better tomorrow, free of work and the stress it brings.

Anyone in their 30’s is warned that the window of opportunity is fast passing them by. Left feeling like dullards they are shamed into obtaining professional help and getting a “plan” together.

If you’re in your 40’s the time for warning is past and embarrassment is the tool of choice. If you are in your fifth decade of life and haven’t been working a wise investment plan you are not just foolish, but destining those around you to a life of taking care of you.

And, heaven forbid, you are in your 50’s … well, we have funeral services for you. Survival in retirement years is simply (ahem!) unrealistic.

Am I counseling not being intentional about preparing for retirement? Not at all. Of course there is some wisdom in this. It’s just that a related, but significantly different thought ran through my head the other day. I want to start asking people:

  • What are your post-retirement plans?
  • What are you doing to be ready for that transition?
  • How long have you been concerned and preparing for your post-retirement future?
  • How comfortable are you with your preparations for your post-retirement period?

In fact, the next time someone asks me what I do, I think I may just answer: “I am a post-retirement counselor”!

Jesus—the ultimate post-retirement counselor—advised, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). Peter counseled us to make certain of “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). Solomon counseled, “However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all. But let them remember the days of darkness, for there will be many” (Ecclesiastes 11:8, NIV).

As we prepare for 2017 year to give way to 2018, as we enter the gift-buying, gift-giving season, as all the while we all move toward our post-retirement existence … let’s take steps to make certain that we’re ready for our post-retirement experience, by the mercies and grace of God through Jesus.


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“To me …  grace was given, to preach … the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8)

“There is no language, ancient or modern, like that of the gospel of the grace of God, pronounced by the Holy Ghost to one’s heart, and of heaven-born souls to God under his influence; no history like that of Jesus Christ, redemption through blood, and effectual application of his grace; no science like that of beholding the ‘Word made flesh,’ and beholding the infinite perfections of JEHOVAH in him, and through him, in every creature,—as from eternity manifested, and to be for ever manifested in our inconceivable happiness, ‘to the praise of the glory of his grace;’ no pleasure like that of ‘fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ,’ and all that joy and peace with which the ‘God of hope’ fills men in believing,—that joy which is ‘unspeakable, and full of glory.’” –John Brown (1722-1787) The Life of John Brown, pp.67-68.

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