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Why I Pray about Little Things, even Dirty Dishes

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Answered little-thing prayer.

Should we bother to pray about the little things? You know, for lost cats and clear skies and skinned knees?

Why should we pray for things that don’t seem to have a tight connection to spiritual growth, which we know is our greatest goal. Because, after all, great praying saints like Paul prayed far more for big things like inner strength than for relief from little circumstantial things.

So why would we pray for little things like broken dishwashers and dirty dishes?

Dirty Dishes

The party was over, the guests had gone home. The table was cleared and the counters were clean. And the dishwasher was filled to the gill with table service for 13.

But then, at 10:45 Friday night, with a rinse barely long enough to loosen shreds of beef and traces of greens, it stopped. A red OE showed up and it did its little dingy thing and five minutes into the cycle it quit. Barely into its fourth run, our brand new dishwasher was done.

What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

Well, I read the owner’s manual. OE, it said, means “Not Draining Error.” So I opened the door and, sure enough, gray water surrounded the drain.

What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

Troubleshooting

Rinse the filter was the obvious first step. But the stagnant pool remained. So it wouldn’t wash because it it wouldn’t drain.

What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

I read the next steps: Clean the disposal or air gap. Inspect the drain hoses for kinks. I sighed. We have no disposal and where’s the air gap? And how would an out-of-sight hose suddenly kink?

Still, I turned the kitchen sink faucet off and on and on and off and swished the dirty dishwasher for good measure. Then I closed the door and pressed start, again. It didn’t.

What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

Hon? I called to Jim, The dishwasher won’t drain. I know you can fix it. Will you please try? By now it was after 11. I trusted my handyman husband, and I went to bed.

Still Dirty

Morning broke bright but the dishes were still dirty and gray water was still undrained.

What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

I hurried out for my jog before a track meet that would mean a full day away. When we got home, I beelined to the dishwasher. But I knew- the nose knows- even before I opened the door that Jim couldn’t fix it.

What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

He got home and after we ate, I unleashed my best pep talk: You can fix anything, Hon. You’re so good at figuring these things out. Can you please try again?

What’s a Girl to Do?

But Jim was weary- he had a lot on his plate. More, in fact, than those ripening in the dishwasher: a broken kitchen sink faucet he’d already replaced twice this month, an air conditioner that wouldn’t cool, and plugged gutters to boot.

He sighed and opened the manual, again. Then he took out the filter, again. And sighed, again- and walked away. I did those dinner dishes by hand.

After all, what’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)

The smell of the that load filled the kitchen each time the door was opened. And I knew these greasy old dishes were truly small potatoes. But it sure would be a gift this new dishwasher of ours could make them clean.

Then I knew- what a girl’s to do when the dishwasher won’t wash.

I Called

Pray.

Jim was sitting at the table sorting through his mail and the boys were already in bed when I walked over. Hon, I announced, I think we need to pray.

So pray we did. Father God, would you please help Jim figure this out? Would you please give him insight to drain that water so the dishes can get washed? Please open his eyes to see what’s wrong. And we’ll give you all the thanks and all the glory. Amen.

Then I went to bed with a broken dishwasher full of dirty, stinking dishes.

He Answered

I started the coffee Sunday morning, then walked three steps to the dishwasher. I winced as I pulled open the dishwasher.

The dishes were clean. The water was drained. God had fixed the dishwasher. And I had never been happier to unload a dishwasher.

How the Dishes got Washed

So that’s how the dishes got washed. I prayed, God answered. In a way the details don’t matter, but in a way they do. God fixed it. But he did so by answering my prayer, by giving Jim insight late Saturday night.

Turns out that the drain stop in the kitchen sink needs to be lifted to run this new dishwasher. If it’s down, the water won’t drain and in seconds the dishwasher quits. Jim was just poking around and, on a lark, pulled up the drain stop in the little sink. And that was the fix.

But, would God have done it anyway? I mean, if I hadn’t prayed on Saturday night, would Jim have had the insight to lift the drain in the little left side sink? Maybe. Or would we have paid a repairman to tell us to lift the drain stop sinks full of dishes later? We’ll never know.

But I do know I’m glad I prayed for this little thing.

Steering Wheel Or Spare Tire?

I do know that, once again, I called, he answered, and my strength of soul he increased (Psalm 138:3). I do know that I called to him in the night of trouble, and he delivered me(Psalm 51:15). And I know I will cast my cares on him because he really does care for me (1 Peter 5:7).

So now I ask again: Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire? I mean, are your hands on it always- even in little broken dishwasher troubles- or only when you’re stuck with a flat on the side of the road?

Can you think of anything that is big to God?

So why again, do I pray for little things?

A woman once approached the British preacher G. Campbell Morgan and asked, “Do you think we should pray for even the little things in our lives, or just the big things?” He answered, “Madam, can you think of anything in your life that is big to God?”

That’s answer #1. Because really is there any truly “big” thing with God? With the God who spoke and the worlds came to be, for whom the nations are like a drop in the bucket, who enabled a virgin to conceive?

Now here are reasons #2 and #3- We pray for “even the little things” because it opens us up to a double grace. God gets the glory and thanks, because the giver gets the glory. And, we get the joy of feeling as if we had a role in it. God instituted prayer, Pascal said, in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.

(Not) Impossible, So Pray

God gets us into impossible situations- situations we can’t fix by ourselves- take Abraham and Sarah, or the Exodus from Egypt, or Elisha surrounded by the enemy, even little things like dishwashers that won’t drain- to display his power and goodness. In other words, to reveal his glory.

So pray. Pray, pray, pray, pray. For big things and little things, pray. For his glory. And because our God cares about little things.

Because just maybe, to Him, all things are little things. And because He is able.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

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For Pity’s Sake: 4 Pitfalls Of Pity

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You have the rare ability to see both sides at once. The glass is half empty and half full to you, lauded Mr. Baughn. You see shades of gray.

Mark Twain quipped that he could live off a good compliment for two months. That’s a gross underestimate in my case. Because those words from Mr. Baughn- senior year, English Lit- go back 25 years.

The reason I mention them now isn’t (mainly) to hail the power of praise or to encourage shades of gray. I bring them up, because they help explain why this pity thing keeps surfacing.

The Good Side Of Pity

Sympathy is good and it’s bad. In fact, if you don’t have pity at the right times, not to overstate, but you might be a cold-blooded psychopath. And the Bible commands us to have sympathy (1 Peter 3:8).

Rightly placed pity is godlike and divine. Jesus Christ had pity (Matt. 9:36, 20:34, Luke 7:12-15). We are to be like Christ. We are to have pity.

The Pitfalls Of Pity

But the glass is also half-empty. While we are to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15b)- we are to express our pity with discretion.

Being overly empathic, leading with our hearts not our heads- as when we don’t consider the long term and get lost in emotion- can hurt us and those close to us. Too much pity- or what this post is about, pity misapplied- might actually be harmful. Like when we know that our disappointment is clearly God’s appointment. Or if you always cave when your five-year old cries at bedtime, and decide he can stay up.

Pity is good. Like many good gifts it can be misapplied. And lately I’ve seen a lot of misdirected pity.

Here are four ways I think our pity may get misdirected.

1. Pity is misdirected when it is self-focused.

Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for his purpose in the world. –Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest

Self-pity– the kind defined as a self-indulgent dwelling on one’s own sorrows or misfortunes- would land squarely in the first category.

I’ve written about this again and again. I suppose it’s because I’m too sensitive- that sensitive – and self-pity is one of my besetting sins. Time and time again this line from C.S. Lewis rings in my head: Indeed what is commonly called “sensitiveness” is the most powerful engine of domestic tyranny. How we should deal with it in others I am not sure; but we should be merciless to its first appearance in ourselves.

Merciless. Like we were to the carpenter ants that bored their way through the ceiling and dropped onto our living room floor. They were destructive. We showed them no mercy.

Be intolerant of your own self-pity. Strike it at its roots. Distract yourself if you must-write a letter or wash the floor like I did Sunday afternoon.

But show no mercy to pity directed toward yourself.

2. Pity is misdirected when it is used to hold joy captive.

I’ve been re-reading The Great Divorce. It’s C.S. Lewis’ imaginative, instructive tale of a bus ride through heaven and hell. Near the end, we meet Sarah Smith in heaven where she’s reunited with her (shrinking) husband Frank, fresh off the tourbus from Hell.

In this scene, Frank is bemoaning the fact that her joy- both on earth and now in heaven-is not contingent on his.

You who can be happy without me, forgetting me! You don’t want even to hear of my sufferings. Don’t, you say. Don’t make you unhappy. And this is the reward–

Stop it at once, she said.

Stop what?

Using pity, other people’s pity, in the wrong way. We have all done it a bit on earth, you know. Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see I know now. Even as a child, you did it. Instead of saying you were sorry, you went and sulked in the attic. Because you knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, “I can’t bear to think of him sitting up there alone, crying.” You used their pity to blackmail them, and they gave in in the end.


Those who choose to focus on their own misery will not be allowed “to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy.”

Pity must never be directed so as to hold joy- ours or others’- captive.

3. Pity is misdirected if it never spurs us on to action.

Let us not love in word or tongue but in action and with truth. –John the Apostle

So there’s pity and there’s pity. And we must distinguish between the two. Because only the pure, active one will endure.

Continuing from The Great Divorce,

The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of Pity, the Pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth… that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.

‘And what is the other kind- the action?’

It’s a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good.

 

Pity in this “passion” sense is not necessarily noble. It might just be a knee-jerk response or a veiled way of rejoicing that I am exempt from that particular suffering. That I am healthy, my husband has a job, my boys get decent grades. My pity may simply be an expression of my joy in not suffering that way.

Clearly the, “add-a-sad-emoji-and-be-glad-it’s-not-me” expression of pity is not a crowning virtue. This “pity” demands nothing from us and may just be an expression of underlying selfishness. It is certainly not heroic.

To add a sad emoji can be a kindness. But if out pity always stops there and doesn’t leap to bring healing and joy, it’s merely sentimental.

But if it’s never action and truth, it’s not enough.

4. Pity is misdirected if it doesn’t reflect God’s just mercy.

Virtuous pity, or what Thomas Aquinas calls ‘misercordia’, is married to justice, regulated by reason, and structured by doctrine. –Joshua Hren, “The Problem of Pity”

Joshua Hren’s Touchstone magazine article is super insightful. In it, he draws from Dante’s Inferno to explain why we must discriminate among pities, and “learn to measure our mercy against the just mercy of God.”

Hren cites a scene in Canto V, where in the circle of the carnal, Dante meets Pauolo and Francesca. As a result of their illicit affair, “these lovers glide through Hell’s whirl like grotesque mating doves.”

When Francesca sees Dante, she recognizes his pity- and, Hren writes, “pounces on it, telling her own ‘piteous tale.'” As she explains her sob story of “how love had led them there,” Paolo stands beside her as both of them weep. Seeing them, Dante felt, “my sense reel / and faint away with anguish.”

With that, he begins his descent into the Inferno, prepared “to face the double war / of the journey and pity.” In other words, Dante realized, misplaced pity is, in a certain sense, the enemy.

Hren, and Dante long before him, recognize that many (wrongly) think that pity should be indiscriminately expressed toward the other, whether that person has cancer or a married friend confides that keeping a secret life is so trying.

Hren concludes, “we ought not to pity the sinner to the point that we try to rearrange the architecture of Hell.”

Jesus Hurt Peter

The germ for this post came on Easter Sunday as I sat reading just past our pastor’s sermon text.

My eyes stopped at John 21:15. It’s in the context of the conversation that Jesus had with Peter after the bread and fish breakfast on the beach.

Here’s the part that arrested me:

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Knowing all things, Jesus could have said, “I’m sorry Bud, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” But our Lord, who was moved with compassion at times, didn’t pull his punches. He said, for the third time, “Feed my sheep.”

But there’s more: Jesus’ next words to Peter explained how he would die a martyr’s death. No mention of pity here.

But we know Peter loved Jesus. And Jesus loved Peter.

Therefore, pity must not equal love.

Break My Heart For What Breaks Yours

For the record, midway through the writing of this post, my husband loved me without showing an ounce of pity. Jim knows the tell-tale signs of my self-pity and they were starting to ooze Sunday afternoon. So, in love, he showed no mercy. Don’t go there, he simply said.

Sometimes pity’s a beautiful thing. Other times it’s ugly. And I only know one way to determine which it is: Break my heart for what breaks yours, is how the song goes.

But maybe the flip side is, don’t let my heart break for what does not break yours. Or at least, don’t hold back from speaking truth in love even if it hurts. Like Jesus did to Peter.

By the way, only an abounding, discerning love can do this. With so many shades of gray, that kind of love is the only way to avoid the pitfalls of pity.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

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The Solution to Pollution is Dilution

When good speakers prepare, they anticipate the questions their listeners might ask. Last weekend I was blessed to speak at a women’s retreat.

And there was one question I was not ready for.   

Perfectionism, Stagnation, or Growth?

I’ll tell you about the question that stopped my cold in a minute. But let me start here where I started with the group: growth. I don’t take for granted that we all embrace a growth mindset.

But keeping growth as the goal guards against two life-choking dangers: perfectionism and stagnation. Perfectionism says I can’t believe I messed up. How could I have done that? It won’t bend. It demands 100% in ourselves or others- now. And when failure inevitably comes perfectionism crumbles in defeat.

But stagnation is equally stifling. It wallows and argues that change is simply impossible. That’s just the way I am, it reasons, I can’t help it. John Piper calls it spiritual fatalism and says it’s when we feel that genetic forces and family forces and the forces of past experiences and present circumstances are just too strong to allow us to change. 

A focus on growth prevents both perfectionism and spiritual fatalism. To say that we can amend the soil is to embrace growth.

How’s your soil?

“Amending the Soil” was the theme- it was all about how we can change the “pH of our hearts” for greater fruitfulness, productivity and growth.

With that growth groundwork laid, we moved to a list of “faith fertilizers,” found in 2 Peter 1:5-7. Add-ins like patience and love and self-control that change our heart soil so good things- or more good things- can grow. 

Then we landed on verse 8: For if these qualities are yours and are increasingnote: increasing and growing, not perfected and arrived at- they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Adding these qualities changes our “soil” for good. 

Now I asked the ladies to describe the current state of their heart soil. Was it muddy, weedy, rocky, or clay? Exhausted, high-yield, wild, or dry? 

The responses were what you expect from hard-working women on a weekend retreat: plenty of exhausted souls, two weedy women and one wild woman. Sharing time was going swimmingly.

Until Shelly chimed in with the question that stopped me cold.

What about contaminated soil?

What about contaminated soil? I’m surrounded by toxic relationships at work and at home. How am I supposed to change those? 

Alrighty then. Easy for me to talk about growth and change and growing in grace. But I was not prepared for this. 

Back to the garden metaphor for a minute. My dad adds coffee grounds to the soil around his blueberries to help the plants grow. But what if there’s a can of paint buried next to the blueberry plants seeping its poisons into the roots? 

What about polluting influences and toxic people we can’t escape? How does growth come then?

The Solution to Pollution? Dilution.

Thankfully, my friend Susanne came to my rescue: The solution to pollution is dilution, she said with a grin.

Susanne’s a nurse and she knows. You can’t always remove toxins from the blood, but you can dilute them. You can insert an IV and dilute with fluids.

To go back to the garden metaphor, it means if you dilute a pollutant enough, the resultant intensity of the pollution is reduced; therefore adding clean material to a contaminated product will reduce the toxicity of the resultant mix…diluting the intensity will reduce the potency of a problematic pollutant with dilution.

Shelly was right. We can’t remove all the corruption around us. Workplaces, families of origin, debilitating diseases- all be out of our control.

But we can “reduce the potency of the problematic pollutant.” We can do that.

Change what you can change.

We can’t always change our circumstances. Our world is polluted. It is contaminated and polluted and we feel it. Little ones get infected and we weep. As much as we’d like to insulate ourselves and those we love from contamination, we just can’t.

But we can change what we can change. We can dilute the toxic influences in our soil with good influences.

We are not spiritual fatalists, so toxic relationships” need not hinder growth. We can phone a friend and say, Help me please or text a group, Please pray. We can open the Bible and let its pure words cleanse our contaminated souls.

It won’t be easy. It will take God’s power energizing our effort to “reduce the potency” of the pollution we can’t escape. But we can–we must- dilute.

But there will come a day. 

But there will come a day when we won’t have to deal with toxic people and debilitating diseases, with polluted water and contaminated land. All mysterious will be bright at last.

All will be healed and clean. There will be no toxins seeping or wounded weeping then. And there will be abundant fruit. 

But while we await that glorious day, the best solution to pollution might just be dilution. 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face…

Revelation 22:1-4a

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Redeemed: How Milky the Cat came Back

The day the cat came back.

It’s a strange feeling that comes when you must pay for what is already yours; when you must buy back to keep what you own.

There’s a story about that with a boy and boat. But I’m going to tell a different one, about how Milky the cat came back.

Losing Milky

I admit: it was my brainiac idea to take Milky and Oreo back to their barn of origin while our family vacationed in Florida. So a month ago, we carted the cats back to the farm, to Mom and Dad’s.

Mom thought crating them a day or two in the barn would be good. They could re-acclimate to their former home that way.

I didn’t think that’d be necessary. Milky and Oreo wouldn’t need that. They’d remember their old kitten haunts and the smell of the sheep and the hay and their cousins.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Stray Cat Dirge

The second the boys left the van, was the second the cats exploded in a mad dash from their hands. Milky south through the corn field, Oreo north through the garden. Like spooked cheetah cubs escaping a lion, they ran.

Gabe raced after Milky a few steps, but in the dusky light they were instantly out of sight. And as he burst into tears, Sam shook his head.

It’s all your fault Mom. You ruined vacation.

I miss my cats. They’ll never come back.

Those were the words to the song. The dirge that Sam and Gabe sang as I packed the van for a sunny spring break away.

They sang them again ten nights later, upon our catless return.

Fast forward 20 days from the day the cats escaped.

Redeeming Milky

Your cat has been found. Please contact Lakeland Animal Shelter at 262-741-1000.

I did.

That was on the answering machine after work. So I called.

A trucker found the cat at a rest stop [10 miles from Mom and Dad’s] and picked him up. He felt convicted that it might be someone’s pet so he took him to a shelter in Milwaukee. They read his chip and called us and the trucker brought him back down. So your cat is here.

And just so you know, it’ll be a $20 handling fee and a $25 repeat occurrence fee when you pick him up. (Yes, repeat. But I’ll save that story for another time.)

Worth The Fee

Jim redeemed Milky from the shelter an hour later at a cost of $45. Our “free barn cat” was worth much more now than he was when the boys found him behind between bales in the haymow last fall.

Milky was our cat. But he had strayed. Milky needed to be redeemed. And the cost to buy him back was infinitely- any amount is infinite from zero- more than the cost to own.

But now he was ours. Because we loved him. Milky was worth it.

And you, Christian, you are worth it too. The way you’ve been redeemed is proof.

Redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb

The Greek word for redeemed in Titus 2:14 and 1 Peter 1:18 is “lutroo.” It means “free by paying a ransom, redeem…set free…rescue.”

Titus 2:14 shows Jesus’ death has rescued us from a life of slavery to sin: “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from lawlessness and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good work.”

The same word is used in 1 Peter 1, “knowing that you were redeemed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things such as silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without spot or blemish” (1:18-19).

We redeemed Milky with an infinitetesimally smaller price. Jesus gave himself for us. Himself. As a lamb without spot or blemish. He gave himself.

We only gave 45 perishable, measly little dollars for Milky the cat.

We’ve been redeemed by the blood of the lamb.

More Sinful Than You Know, More Loved Than You Imagine

Do you now this: that the only thing you contributed to your salvation was the sin from which you had to be saved? God redeemed you from that.

Which means that you are at once,

more sinful than you know and more loved than than you imagine.

Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

That is the Gospel.

It’s the priceless key to both true humility and truly feeling valued. You- we are more sinful than we know and more loved than we imagine.

After all, it took the precious blood of Christ to redeem us.

And our Lord Jesus Christ did do that.

He Who Knew No Sin Become Sin

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). The perfect lamb, who is also the Good Shepherd, laid down his life for you. Who redeemed us by his blood.

Which also means nothing in the life of the redeemed soul is wasted: no trial (they make us mature), no wait (God works for those who wait for him), not even sin (who is forgiven much loves much). God can even redeem the years the locust have eaten, the lost years, someone said.

And when he does that, just what are the redeemed to do?

What The Redeemed Do

Well, Milky lapped up two bowls of milk then purred loud and long in Gabe’s arms. But Milky’s only a cat.

Just what is the redeemed soul to do? The Psalmist wrote, Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.

Or sing so:Let the redeemed washed by his blood come and rejoice in his great love.

O praise Him!

Alleluia!

Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.

Isaiah 43:4

P.S. -As of 4/20/19, Oreo the cat is still on the lam.