WMBI Commentaries

July 30, 2003

Monday: Putting the Letters Together

Someone clipped a comic strip called “One Big Happy” and left it on my desk. The first panel shows a little girl kneeling by her bed getting ready to say her prayers. It must have been a long day for her because she begins this way: “I’m so very tired tonight that I can’t even remember the words to my prayers.” In the next panel she folds her arms on the bed and adds, “But since you already know what I’m going to say …” She then begins to say the letters of the alphabet: “A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z.” In the final panel she looks plaintively toward heaven and says, “Maybe you could put the letters together in the right way. Thanks and Amen.”

I thought about that comic strip after returning from my mother’s funeral service several months ago. After I received word that my mother had died, we hastily rounded up our three sons and made a quick trip to Alabama. The whole thing is a blur in my mind. One moment you’re home, and your life seems to be running smoothly, then suddenly you are hundreds of miles away greeting old family friends you haven’t seen for decades. It was a true “wrinkle in time” for me where the past, the present and the future all seemed to come together for a fleeting moment. Then just as suddenly, you’re back home again trying to get on with the demands of life.

I do remember that I had trouble praying during the trip to Alabama. Perhaps “trouble” isn’t precisely the right word. Perhaps I mean that for those few days I felt distracted and unable to concentrate. It was emotion plus weariness plus being a bit under the weather plus seeing so many old friends so suddenly. But for whatever reason, prayer was difficult and came in spurts, when it came at all.

And it is precisely at this point that I take comfort from the little girl’s prayer. Paul reminds us in Romans 8:26 that very often we do not know how to pray. We don’t know the words, we aren’t sure what to say, our minds can’t focus, and the strength simply is not there. In those moments we have the consolation that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we can’t pray for ourselves. He speaks to the Father with groans that cannot be expressed in human words. This means that we need not feel guilty when we cannot pray. The Holy Spirit “puts the letters together” when we can’t find the words to say.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Tuesday: Sharon’s Law

It happened like this. I was sitting by myself in the airport because my flight had been delayed when a woman named Sharon took the seat next to me. I know her name because she introduced herself and started chatting with me. When she found out I was flying to New York to teach Galatians, she said that she had been in a Bible study of the book of James with some women from her neighborhood.

She and her husband are farmers from western Illinois. She was traveling east to visit her son. At this point the story gets a bit complicated. If I got it right (and I think I did but I’m not certain), she and her husband have two sons, both of them raised in the Christian faith but neither son attends church at this point. The son out East lives in a house with a woman he used to date years ago. The woman was never married but has a child by someone else. The son and the woman he once dated are still good friends. The woman’s child is six years old and Sharon loves her as if she were her own granddaughter. Plus there is another man who lives in the same house. I guess he’s a friend of the son and of the woman. The son and the woman he once dated are not “living together” in the usual sense of that phrase. So I said, trying to piece it all together, it’s sort of like the TV show Three’s Company, only with two guys and a girl. Yes, sort of, Sharon said with a smile. Her son and the woman don’t plan to get married but the son says neither one of them is likely to marry anyone else given their current housing arrangements. And to be precise, Sharon was flying to Baltimore to take care of the “granddaughter” because the mother (her son’s former girl friend, now a regular friend, I guess you’d say, and also a housemate) works for the government and was flying to Iceland for some sort of high-level conference. I think that about covers it. I told Sharon that I barely understood it all and didn’t think I could diagram it on paper.

When all is said and done, Sharon’s greatest desire is to see her son rededicate his life to the Lord. She had wrestled with all of the other details and complicating circumstances until one day the Lord told her, “Sharon, you just love him. I’ll change him.” And that’s what she decided to do. Since then, everything has gone much better. “I just love him, and I let the Lord take care of everything else,” she said with a smile. That’s Sharon’s Law, and it sounds just right to me.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Wednesday: His Eye is On the Sparrow

It has been well said that God’s omniscience is a comfort to believers and a terror to unbelievers. The comfort is easy to see. If he truly knows all things and if he ordains all things, then everything that happens to me or to those I love must happen as part of his plan. F. B Meyer has written, “It is in proportion as we see God’s will in the various events of life and surrender ourselves either to bear it or do it, that we shall find earth’s bitter circumstances becoming sweet and its hard things easy.”

I received a message from someone who had never written me before. Suffice it to say that this person’s family is going through a terribly difficult time and there is no end in sight. The trial may continue for some time to come. This is what she wrote: “I have known the truth of Romans 8:28 in my head for many years, but only over the last month have the words had a meaning for my heart. I am convinced that this whole situation has a purpose, but I am still struggling with the “What.” Without the promises of God, I am sure that I would be unable to carry on, going to work and supporting my kids. If this letter sounds disjointed, it is just how my thoughts have been over the past several weeks. But I have continued to hold on to this truth… Don’t worry about 2 or 3 weeks from now, because God has already been there. I know that he continues to hold our entire family in the palm of His hand and that He is directing this to its own end and to His glory. I know that since He cares for the sparrows, He surely is caring for us.”

That’s a wonderful statement by a believer who, though struggling to understand her own situation, has rested her faith on the fact of God’s sovereignty over the details of life. Somewhere I ran across a wonderful statement of what sovereignty really means. God’s sovereignty means “He knows what he is doing, and he is doing it.” That sums it up, doesn’t it?

During a low period in the life of noted author Andrew Murray, he wrote the following words: “He brought me here. He will keep me here. He will make this trial a blessing. He will bring me out again. Therefore, I am here by God’s appointment, in His keeping, under His training, for His time.” It is often said that “disappointment is his appointment.” We don’t see that in advance, only in reverse. Be encouraged. God knows what he is doing even when we don’t have a clue.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Thursday—Forever Grateful

The letter came from a friend whose husband is slowly dying. Both husband and wife know the Lord and both of them know what is ahead. She writes to say that her husband has good days and bad days, but “he is still strong, and he and the Lord have some more time for him to be on the earth.” She has been thinking lately about how many days he may have left, and wondering how her prayers fit into God’s plan. Would it be better for her to know the day when her husband is going to die? In some ways, she thinks the answer is yes, because that way she could be fully prepared. But is that a selfish way to pray? Is this just a “control” issue? In her heart she knows the answer. “I absolutely want the Lord’s timing and know that he will prepare me and be with me through all of everything.” Then she adds these inspiring words: “I am sooooo grateful, Pastor Ray. Just to know that, whatever happens, how and when and where, God has it planned and blueprinted!!! What a God!”

There is a great deal of good theology behind those words (and even those fervent exclamation points). While surfing the Internet this week, I came across a sermon by David Coffin, pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church, in Fairfax, Virginia. In his sermon “Our Times are in His Hands,” he comments that there are in fact terrors all around us. “There are forces all around us that can dash our hopes in an instant.” Sickness is one such force, and death perhaps is the ultimate example. “But God has a purpose for so ordering the world. It is in such a cauldron that He refines His people. It is precisely here that God purifies that which is good and cuts away the rest. It causes us to cling to Him, to the one unchanging certainty in our universe.” Pastor Coffin comes to exactly the right conclusion when he says, “The only remedy for calming our minds is to rest on the God of providence. We are under the governance of God. The storms of the world will continue to rage, but God has overcome the world.” I like that phrase-“the governance of God.” He’s always in control.

My friend has come to that same triumphant certainty: “So Pastor Ray, God is still as Big as ever, still in control, and loving and holding us all close and will remain always … in however we need him. I’m forever grateful … just as the song says.” This is not wishful thinking, but the conclusion of a believer who has trusted in the Lord. Solid doctrine leads to grateful living even in life’s hardest hour.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Friday—Waiting and Enduring

A friend wanted some advice. After long years of study, he finally had graduated with excellent grades, many awards, and a ranking near the top of his class. He had only to pass an exam and then the doors of opportunity would be open to him. For various reasons, there were problems with the exam and he did not pass. And despite his excellent record, he didn’t receive an invitation to further study in his chosen field. And since he did not pass the exam, he could not take the excellent job offers he had received. Now he has no job, he has to take the exam again, and he finds himself with a huge school debt that he cannot pay. These are his words: “Lately I have been really asking God to show me why he has done this. It seems like the things that my wife and I pray for the hardest are the things that God is not answering in our prayers. Lately I have been praying and praying more than I ever have, but I don’t feel like I’m any closer to God and that scares me. I am doing my best to put my faith and trust in the Lord, but it’s hard because I feel I want to blame Him and I know that is not right. I’ve asked him to forgive me for this and show me where he wants me to go.”

I appreciate the honesty of his words. What is God saying through these difficulties? Perhaps it is a kind of “wake-up” call. One problem we all face is that it’s easy to fall into a pattern of thinking, “If things work out, I must be in God’s will and if they don’t, I must have missed it somehow.” The problem there is one of perspective. We need to think of knowing God as a relationship that grows over time. No relationship can grow deep if it is based on one person getting his own way all the time. My wife and I would both say that it is the hard times that brought us closer together. It didn’t seem that way at the time, but looking back we can see it clearly.

One of God’s goals, his tools to develop us, is to put us in situations where we must wait and must endure and must persevere. Those are rich spiritual qualities that can’t be developed except in hard times. What do we do while we wait and endure? Keep on trusting, keep on praying, and keep on waiting. Take a deep breath, smile, do what needs to be done, find some joy in each day. Soon you’ll be moving on to the next chapter in life–and you will look back and say, “My Father led me all the way.”

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?

WMBI Commentaries

January 16, 2003

Monday: Safer Than a Known Way

Not long ago I went to see a church member who is dying of cancer. She looked so frail but her husband said that she perked right up when she heard by voice outside her door. It’s clear to me that she is down to her last few days. Speaking is difficult so I held her hand and recited the great promises of God about heaven. I told her that I wasn’t an expert on death but I knew someone who was. I told her I knew someone who had died and come back from the dead. His name is Jesus. He holds the keys of death and Hades in his hand. I held her hand and said, “When the moment comes, don’t be afraid. Just call out the name Jesus and he will come for you.” I don’t know much about death by personal experience but I know who stands at the door to make sure we make it safely through to the other side. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me… . Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Someone in the room started to sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” We all joined in and I heard the woman singing with. She is at death’s door but she’s holding on to Jesus.

On Christmas Day 1939, King George VI of England gave a radio address to his troubled nation. England was already at war with Germany. Soon all of Europe would be plunged in the horrors of World War II. The king offered words of encouragement as the storm clouds gathered overhead. He ended his remarks by quoting a poem by Louise Haskins, “The Gate of Year.”

“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’”

What a word that is for us today. No one but God knows what the future holds. Let us do as the poet suggested and place our hands into the hand of Almighty God. And let us go out into the unknown future with confidence, knowing that if God go with us, we need not fear the future. To walk with the Lord is the greatest of all joys, and it is indeed safer than a known way.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Tuesday: The God of Tiny Details

Last October I spent a week speaking at Dallas Seminary. On my last day there, the president, Mark Bailey, took us out for lunch. While we were driving along North Central Expressway, I commented to Dr. Bailey about the brand-new, ten-story apartment building that had just been completed. The seminary plans to use the building for married students and also for single women students. When I asked about the $14 million dollars it cost to build, Dr. Bailey said that the money had come in in an unusual way. They received a multimillion dollar gift from some people who had never before given to the seminary. But they needed even more money. At one point, the situation looked bleak until one of the board members, a man of great faith, said that they should stop worrying and start praying for God’s guidance. Soon after that, the money came flowing in.

We pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant just as Dr. Bailey was finishing that story. It was very crowded so Dr. Bailey said, “We need a parking spot, Lord.” And just at that very moment, a car pulled out from a parking space right in front of the main entrance. “Thank you, Lord,” Dr. Bailey said. As I thought about that later, I hesitated to mention it to anyone else because it might seem too trivial. Who knows? Maybe that kind of thing only happens to seminary presidents. But then I ran across this sentence from Charles Spurgeon: “Blessed is that man who seeth God in trifles!” What a positive insight that is. We tend to look at the million-dollar answer to prayer and say, “What a mighty God we serve.” But the God of the large is also the God of the small. The God who hung the stars in space is also the God who numbers the hairs on your head. Why should it surprise us that God arranges parking spaces when we need them? After I mentioned this to my congregation, a woman came up and told me she always prays for parking spaces, especially when she is taking her children to visit the doctor. Later I received a note from someone who heard the story and attended a potluck dinner after the service. They are fairly new to our church and don’t know many people. One of our longtime couples sat with them to welcome them and encourage them. “You know, Pastor Ray, I had prayed that the we would share time with someone at the potluck, and as our Heavenly Father cares about the smallest detail, he came through.” Then she added: “I pray that he blesses your week, especially in the “minutiae” of Providence.” With that happy thought, I wish all our listeners a very good day.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Wednesday: How Long Should I Pray?

A few weeks ago I had an hour-long interview with a radio station in Philadelphia. A listener called in with a heart-searching question. He had come to Christ from a Jewish background and has a burden to see his family saved. After years of prayer for them, and many hours of discussion, he feels like he is getting nowhere. His grandmother is old and near death and he does not want her to go out into eternity without knowing the Lord. His father gives him a hard time about his Christianity and they argue about the Old Testament passages that predict the coming of the Messiah. The man fought back tears as he shared his heavy burden. “How long do I have to pray? When should I

finally give up?”

A day later I received a forwarded e-mail asking for prayer for a husband to be saved. His wife says, “He’s getting close … I’m feeling compelled to ’push’ in this way. It’s not my ’choice’ or idea.” The friend who forwarded the e-mail added, “Thank you for praying for him to accept Jesus Christ and be filled with His grace.” I especially like that last phrase. Salvation is nothing more or less than a dynamic encounter with the grace of God. Conversion is a miracle of God. It cannot be forced on others against their will, which is why we will never argue anyone in to the Kingdom of God. God does not work that way. Grace is a gift that must be received individually.

Good theology helps us immensely as we think about the salvation of those we love. We know that no one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). We also know that the lost are spiritually dead, blind, helpless and hopeless. They are without understanding, are captive to Satan, and they are condemned already (John 3:36). Their only hope is to experience “the life-changing power of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” If the lost are truly lost, if they are totally separated from God, if they are truly dead and truly blind, then it should not surprise us that they are sometimes indifferent and sometimes hostile when we share the gospel with them.

This is where prayer comes in. As we pray earnestly, fervently, repeatedly, believingly, little by little the citadels of unbelief are torn down by the Spirit. And while we pray, we share Christ every chance we get. If we do our part, God cannot fail to do his. So how long should we pray? As long as it takes for the eyes of the lost to be opened. As long as it takes for the heart to believe. As long as it takes, that’s how long we should pray for the lost to be saved.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Thursday—Saved in the Nick of Time

Recently I heard about a man in his 80s who came to Christ shortly before he died. It happened like this. For nearly his entire life, the man had lived without any conscious dependence on God. He wasn’t an atheist or an agnostic and he wasn’t an evangelist for his unbelief. He simply didn’t need God in his life and seemed to be doing just fine without any help from the Almighty. His neighbors knew him as an honest, hardworking man who worked long hours on his farm. He and his wife raised a large family and had the satisfaction of watching their children grow up and establish families of their own. In a sense, he was a typical American success story. He prospered through hard work and a resiliency born of many decades of making a living from the soil. It would also be fair to say he was a tough customer given to salty language. Those who knew him might have called him a crusty personality.

The day came when he and his wife moved into a nursing home. After his wife died several years ago, his children and grandchildren and other members of the family paid him regular visits. One of his nephews was a minister who, whenever he dropped by to say hello, always asked the old man if he could pray for him. He always said no. Prayer was fine for other folks but he had gotten through life on his own and he intended to make the final lap without asking God for assistance. That’s how it was, week by week, as his nephew came by. Always glad to see him, some chit-chat about this and that, and always the same “No, thanks” to the offer of prayer.

But God has his people in many places. There was a nurse at the rest home who kept telling the old man that he needed Jesus. She told him many times and he repeatedly dismissed her words. One day she said, “Why don’t you go ahead and pray the prayer? It can’t hurt you.” So he did, and in the prayer he opened his heart to the Lord. The proof of his changed life came the next time his nephew paid a visit. The nephew later said he nearly fell over when the old man agreed (for the first time!) to let him pray for him. And always after that, they ended each visit with prayer.

The old man died two months ago. After a lifetime of living without God, at the last moment he came to Christ. One of his nieces told me the story and she couldn’t stop smiling. It was God’s grace that saved him, with the help of a nephew and a nurse who wouldn’t give up.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Friday—The Only Way to Get Better

It happened during the second-half of a high school football game. It was cold and our guys were getting beat and we were all hanging on, hoping the game would end soon. Someone nearby said, “Pastor Ray! Pastor Ray!” I turned and saw a friend who motioned me to come over. When I did, she started talking about a sermon series I was preaching at that moment that dealt with some of the common problems of life, such as insecurity, self-importance, discontentment, fear of the future, and so on. My friend wanted me to know that she could provide material for all ten sermons if I needed it. I laughed because I knew it was true. She told me that she is in a 12-step program and that her life is getting better. That was obvious just from listening to her.

Then she shared a powerful insight with me. “Pastor Ray, I used to think that the issue was food or alcohol or drugs or sex or money. I thought the way to get better was just to get rid of whatever was bothering me. I thought if food was my problem, then not eating would solve my problem. It took me years to figure out that it’s not about food or alcohol or drugs or sex or money. Those things are symptoms; the real cause is the void in my heart. I’ve discovered that until I fill the void with God, removing those symptoms will never make me a better person and it won’t really solve my problems either. I’ve learned that I need God at the center of my life, and once he’s there, I can start to get better.” She was smiling as she spoke to me. “What you said last Sunday about surrendering to the Lord was so important. For a long time, I didn’t want to do that. But that’s the whole thing. You have to stop running your own life and you have to surrender it to the Lord. It took me a long time to discover that.” But she has, and her life is not what it used to be.

No one likes being told what to do. We all would rather be in charge of our own affairs, and that’s why the whole notion of surrendering our ego and our pride to the Lord sounds strange at first. But there is no other way to get better. There is no other way to be healed. There is no other way to be forgiven. There is no other way to find a new life.

We can fight the Lord or we can surrender everything to his control. When we fight, we lose. When we surrender, we win. Blessed are they who stop fighting the Lord for they shall win in the end.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?

WMBI Commentaries

February 7, 2002

Monday: The Bulldog and the Skunk

A few years ago a friend told me that not all hills are worth dying on. Sometimes we fight over things that don’t really matter and end up wasting lots of time and emotional energy with very little to show for it. One of the secrets to a successful life is learning over time which hills matter and which ones don’t. Every great general knows that you have to pick your battles carefully. You can’t fight over every hill or you’ll end up winning the battle but losing the war.

I suppose there is no way to learn this lesson easily. When we are young, everything seems important, vital, crucial, and non-negotiable. As we get older, we learn that many things that once occupied our time don’t seem to matter much in the long run. Perhaps it is a blessing that comes with the aging process. At a certain point in life, you simply don’t have the time or strength or energy to get involved in every little squabble. So you decide what matters and what doesn’t, and if you are like most people, you end up with a relatively short list of things that matter and a much longer list of things that don’t.

This week a friend passed along a saying that seems very much on point. “A bulldog can beat a skunk, but is it worth the fight?” If we’re laying down bets, I’ll put my money on the bulldog every time. But he’ll end up smelling like a skunk even if he wins.

My mind is drawn to the words of David in Psalm 37:7, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” “Fret” is an old English word that speaks of an unsettled heart. The fretful believer is tossed and turned by circumstances he cannot control. God’s solution is simple: 1) Be still before the Lord. That means what it says. Don’t take matters into your own hands. 2) Wait patiently for him. Give God time to work. Chuck Swindoll says that waiting is the hardest discipline of the Christian life. I agree wholeheartedly. We live in a “can-do” society where the people who get ahead are those who “make it happen” no matter what it takes.

Here’s a simple application. When you are churning on the inside about things you can’t control, don’t give in to the temptation to take matters in your own hands. Get alone with God and do nothing. That’s right. Just do nothing. Wait on him.

Or you can be like a bulldog and jump into the fray. But even if you win the battle, you may end up smelling like a skunk.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Tuesday: Plan B Living

Here’s a piece of wisdom overheard on a family vacation: “The key to success in life is how well you adapt to Plan B.” There is a world of truth in that simple sentence. So many of us go through life frustrated because we’re still working on Plan A. That’s the one where everything works out, where your marriage lasts forever, where your children grow up without any problems, where you climb to the top of the career ladder, where everyone loves you and no one hates you, where all your dreams come true and you live happily ever after. Plan A is life the way we all thought it would be. It’s life with a happy ending.

Unfortunately, Plan A rarely pans out. Life isn’t that simple, or that easy. When the children of Israel left Egypt, God did not lead them by the shorter coastal route to the Promised Land. Instead, he led them south into the wilderness. No doubt there was some grumbling and murmuring. Why go the long way? Why not take the road that goes along the seashore? Answer: The Philistines lived along the coast and God wanted to spare the Jews from having to fight them and be tempted to return to Egypt. What seemed like a detour turned out to be for their benefit. In this case, Plan B was better.

Meanwhile the people who are frustrated by the failure of Plan A are overtaken by the folks who have decided to make Plan B work instead. What’s Plan B? It’s the reality that your divorce is final and your marriage is over. It’s the reality that your first career choice was a mistake and now it’s time to start over. It’s the reality that you don’t have the money to buy the bigger house you want. It’s the truth that you have cancer and your future is uncertain. It’s the understanding that some people who seemed to be close friends aren’t going to be there for you when you really need them. It’s the reality that you lost the election even through you were clearly the better candidate.

Born in poverty and educated at home, he failed in his first business venture, ran for office the next year and was defeated, failed in yet another business, had a nervous breakdown, and was defeated in five more elections. But he never gave up, and in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected president.

Plan A not working out for you? Don’t despair. Plan A rarely works out. Your success in life is largely determined by how well you adapt to Plan B. Just ask Honest Abe, the greatest Plan B president in American history.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Wednesday: What We Saw in Chuck Colson’s Office

During a recent trip to Washington, DC, a team from our church spent the night at Prison Fellowship headquarters in Reston, Virginia. The next morning we were given a tour of the facilities, including a brief visit to Chuck Colson’s office. Since he was out of town, we were invited to go in and look around. One of us spotted a sign on the wall right above his desk. It was placed at eye-level so Mr. Colson would be sure to see it when he was sitting down. The sign contained just three words: “Faithfulness Not Success.”

From somewhere in the back of my mind, I recalled a bit of the story. Early in his Christian life, a friend had given him that sign as a reminder about a Christian’s ultimate priorities. Before his conversion, Mr. Colson gained his fame by serving as Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man.” At one point, he was supposed to have declared that he would run over his own grandmother if it would help re-elect Mr. Nixon. I am sure his grandmother was relieved when Mr. Nixon won by a landslide. The anecdote illustrates something about the competitive nature of modern politics and of modern life in general. Most of us are trained to believe that Al Davis (owner of the Oakland Raiders) was right when he said, “Just win, Baby!”

But in God’s economy the values of the world are turned upside down. If you want to save your life, you have to lose it. If you want to become great, first be a servant. If you want true success, first learn to be faithful where you are. Years ago someone gave me a little sign that read, “Bloom where you are planted.” That’s good advice, isn’t it? It’s always easy to daydream about how wonderful life would be if only you lived in another state, or had another husband, or didn’t have so many children, or had another job, or more money, or better health, or a house with a bigger yard, or no yard at all. Living in the “if onlys” eventually breeds unhappiness and can lead to a “root of bitterness” against God and the people closest to you.

When we stand before the Lord, we may be surprised to know that our bottom line and his aren’t quite the same. He won’t ask how much money we made or lost or how many cars we owned or whether or not we climbed to the top of our profession. His question on that day will be much simpler: “Were you faithful in doing the task I gave you to do?” If we can answer yes, our time on earth will have been well-spent. Chuck Colson got it exactly right: It’s faithfulness not success that matters most to God.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Thursday—The Changing Seasons of Life

A few months ago I received a letter from a friend who detailed some of the challenges facing her family right now. The specifics are personal and private but it can be said that the trials are real and not likely to go away any time soon. She added this PS to her letter:

“I was listening to Moody radio and Tony Evans’ wife was talking about things and situations that God allows us to go through. She suggested that we just rest in God and let him take us through ’our Season.’ This is Fall Season, my favorite time of the year … ironic, with all that I am going through … but I know I’ll be fine, because God is taking me through the ’Season’ that he has prepared for me. Praise him.”

The seasons of the year are first mentioned in Genesis 1:14 as part of the Creation Week. Psalm 104:19 reminds us that the sun and the moon help us mark the passage of time: “The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.” Birds of the air have a God-given ability to change with the times: “Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration” (Jeremiah 8:7). Daniel confidently proclaimed God’s sovereignty over time and circumstance when he declared, “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them” (Daniel 2:20-21). And Acts 14:17 reminds us that the changing seasons are a gift from above: “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons.”

Lois Evans was right. Just as there are seasons of the year, there are also God-ordained seasons of life. We know the obvious ones–birth, childhood, youth, young adulthood, the middle years, the later years, and the final years. And there is grade school, high school, college and beyond, singleness, marriage, children, the empty nest, grandchildren, and for some there is singleness a second time. There are jobs and careers, new homes and moves to distant places. Often there is success, sometimes there is failure. Friendships formed, nurtured, treasured, and sometimes broken, sometimes restored. There are seasons of health and seasons of sickness, seasons of certainty and seasons of doubt. There are happy days and long, lonely nights.

If you live long enough, you will experience most of these and much more. Solomon reminded us of this truth in his famous passage about “a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Happy are they who find joy in every season of life. God knows where you are today and he knows where you will be tomorrow.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Friday—The Jesus Prayer

Recently I read Elisabeth Elliott’s fine book, Keep a Quiet Heart. One of her chapters describes the “Jesus Prayer.” It is a prayer that arose in the Orthodox tradition over 1,000 years ago. Though the prayer appears in various wordings, its most basic form goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Ten short words, all of them simple and easy to understand. Sometimes the phrase “a sinner” is added to emphasize the petitioner’s deep personal need. When praying together, the word “us” is substituted for “me.” Orthodox Christians have used this little prayer as a central part of their devotional life for centuries.

It is easy to see why this prayer has endured. In a sense, it covers everything that we might pray for. It is a prayer addressed to the right Person—”Lord Jesus Christ,” in the right Position–”Son of God.” And its one request summarizes all that we might ask from the Lord–”Have mercy on me.” Since we are truly sinners before the Lord, anything he does for us must be an act of mercy. We have no claim on anything the Lord has, and if we approach God thinking that he owes us something, our prayers will bounce off the ceiling and hit us on the head. Do we need health or wisdom or guidance or strength or hope or do we petition the Lord on behalf of our children, our friends, or our neighbors? Whatever it is we need, no matter what words we use, it is mercy, the pure, shining mercy of God that we seek.

But did not Jesus warn us against vain repetition? Yes he did, and it is “vain” repetition that he condemns. Any prayer can be “vain” if uttered carelessly or from a heart of unbelief. That includes the “Jesus Prayer” and “the Lord’s Prayer,” and our prayers around the dinner table. And any prayer–though said a thousand times–can be a true prayer to God if it comes from a heart that seeks him. Elisabeth Elliott notes that when her husband Addison Leitch was dying of cancer, they often prayed the “Jesus Prayer” together when they seemed to have “used up” all the other prayers. She concludes by saying, “I recommend it to you.”

And I do, too. During a recent sickness, I found myself in bed fighting a sharp pain that would not go away. As I tried to pray, the words of the “Jesus Prayer” came to mind. I can tell you that although the pain did not depart instantly, I discovered that those simple, ancient words brought peace to my soul. When you need the Lord, the “Jesus Prayer” is a good place to begin.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?

WMBI Commentaries

August 23, 2001

Monday: Tiny Steps

All of us are faced with thousands of small choices every single day, and each one moves us in one direction or another. In a sense each small decision is a temptation, a testing if you will, a moment when we decide whether we will walk in the light of God or go back to the darkness. Either you give in or you stand your ground. Each time you give in—even a little bit—you grow weaker, and each time you resist—even a little bit—you grow stronger.

A friend came to see me with news that after many years of struggle she had finally turned the corner in her battle against a debilitating addiction. I shared with her an illustration that has been very helpful to me. Every day we make thousands of decisions—most of them very small, such what to wear, which way to drive to work, when to go to lunch, which phone call to return first. Each decision we make is either a step into the darkness or a step into the light. I told my friend that each day she would be faced with a thousand tiny decisions and each one would either lead her back into the darkness or toward the light of life. I also reminded her that she didn’t get where she was overnight. It took thousands of tiny decisions to get there and it would take thousands of tiny decisions to get out. But each day as she took tiny steps toward the light, she would move slowly toward a brand new life. And I promised her that one day after thousands of tiny steps in the right direction she would wake up surrounded by the light of God on every side. Months later she wrote me a wonderful note telling me how marvelously her life has changed in the last ten months. She lives and walks in the light of God’s love every day. It is nothing short of a miracle.

Sometimes we make spiritual growth more difficult than it really is. If you want to make progress, you’ve got to start taking tiny steps in a new direction. You have to say no to sin and yes to God. And you have to do it hundreds and even thousands of times each day. Most of us won’t get hit with the proverbial lightning bolt that radically changes us overnight. But by God’s grace we can be changed little by little, by God’s grace, as we move forward, in simple faith taking one tiny step at a time. And before we know it, the sunlight will come flooding in as we wake up to discover that we are walking with Jesus Christ, in the light of his love, and he is walking beside us.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Tuesday: Year of the Stump

Oswald Chambers said that “faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.” Not long ago I preached on the story of Nebuchadnezzar losing his mind and becoming like a beast of the field for seven years (Daniel 4). It all started when the king had a dream of a vast tree with branches stretching out in all directions and birds of every kind coming to nest in the branches. Suddenly the tree was cut down and the stump was bound with iron and bronze. The good part comes at the end when the king’s sanity is restored, his reign is increased, and he openly gives God glory for all that had happened. The whole story teaches us how God deals with his children. Sometimes he “shakes our tree” in order to get our attention and sometimes he cuts the tree down, but he never does it to hurt us but only to strip away our excessive self-confidence and bring us closer to him.

A few days later a friend sent me this note: “I want to thank you for your prayers and for the sermon. I found it most applicable! Now I have an image to work with-last year was definitely the tree shaking time and now I am little more than a stump-that’s exactly how I feel. But how encouraging to know that from here, through the awesomeness of God, He will raise me up to be a tree again. And I pray a wholly submissive one! It helps to know that God does not cut us down to destroy us but to make us better. My sister said something cool that she kept reminding herself last year when going through a difficult time: It’s okay to be the queen who reigns in the Land of Uncertainty for a time, because you know that your Father is the King of the Land of All-Knowing. I don’t know where she came up with that, but it fits. Well, it will be an interesting year and probably a tough one, but with God in control, an awesome one.”

You may feel more like a “stump” than mighty tree right now. The road ahead may seem difficult and the path unclear. Perhaps you are weary of the pruning and long to see the fruit of something new and positive in your life. Be of good cheer. Faith believes when it cannot see and trusts God when nothing seems to make sense. If your tree is shaking, or if you hear “Timber!” in the distance, don’t despair. God loves to turn stumps into beautiful trees once again.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Wednesday: Blessed Peacemakers

“You don’t make peace with your friends, only with your enemies.” Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin uttered those words soon after Israel signed an historic peace treaty with the PLO in 1993. Within two years he would pay with his life for his commitment to peace. Whatever else we may say about Mr. Rabin, we must acknowledge the truth of his words. Peacemaking is a risky, difficult business. It’s much easier to start a war than to end one. Recently I ran across some startling statistics: In the last 3500 years some 8000 peace treaties have been signed. The average time they remained in force was only two years. In that same period, there have been only 286 years in which the world has been entirely at peace. That’s a ratio of 8% peace versus 92% war. According to that same source, since 1919 the nations of Europe have signed over 200 peace treaties, nearly all of which were broken more easily than they were consummated. Peace never just happens. You have to go of your way to make peace. That is why Jesus said, “Blessed as the peacemakers”—not the peacewishers or the peacehopers. In a world torn by strife and fueled by hatred, we need Christians who will step into the breach as true peacemakers.

In the 1960s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked his followers to sign the following pledge:

1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus

2. Remember always that the movement seeks justice and reconciliation—not victory.

3. Walk and talk in the way of love, for God is love.

4. Pray daily to be used by God so that all men might be free

5. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy

6. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world

7. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue or heart.

Those principles strike me as wise and realistic. The world would be a better place if we all lived that way. Someone has to take the first step. –Will you be the one to pick up the phone? –Will you take the time to write a letter? –Will you stop making excuses? –Will you make the first move?

Jesus said, “Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). First he said it, then he showed us how to do it when he died on the Cross. Would you like to make peace with your enemies? You can, but it won’t be easy. If you would rather live in anger and bitterness, that option is always open to you. Or you can follow Jesus to the Cross and die there. The choice is yours.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Thursday—Too Short to Have a Bad Day

I happened to catch a few minutes of an interview Tim Russert did with Hamilton Jordan, Chief of Staff under President Jimmy Carter. He has written a book with the intriguing title, No Such Thing as a Bad Day. It’s his own story about being diagnosed with cancer on three separate occasions before the age of 50. “Where did the title come from?” asked Tim Russert. Hamilton Jordan said he called a friend with cancer who is also a father with several young children. After they chatted for a bit, Mr. Jordan asked him, “Are you having a bad day?” “When the doctors tell you that you have only three months to live, there is no such thing as a bad day,” the man replied.

What a world of truth lies in those simple words. If you know you’re only going to live for a few weeks, every day becomes precious and you simply don’t have time to have a “bad day.” You get up every morning, smell the roses, and drink deeply of the elixir called life. Even the moments of sadness are there to be savored and remembered because soon those moments will be gone.

I think Mr. Jordan’s point is that in some strange way what happened to that young father was a gift from God. Not the dying part because that is heartbreaking to contemplate. But the other part, the realization that since you won’t be here long, you simply don’t have time to dwell on the negative. You see the sand slipping from the hourglass and you choose and choose again to make every moment count.

How different this is from the way most of us live. We can afford to have “bad days” because we’re planning on living a long time. A “bad day” is a luxury we give ourselves because we figure with so many more years to go, we can pout or be miserable or have a pity party or feel sorry for ourselves today. The dying have no such luxury. Only the living dare to go into the corner and sulk. All the virtues and all the vices are choices we make. Happiness is a choice. So is anger. And gratitude. And kindness. And sloth. And patience. And doubt. And faith. We are the way we are because we choose to be that way. And we stay the way we are because we choose not to change.

Ecclesiastes 12:1 reminds us to “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘‘I find no pleasure in them” Don’t live seventy years and end up missing the whole point. Life is too short to have a bad day.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Friday—The First Law of Spiritual Progress

Do you feel stuck in your spiritual life? You need to get started again, you need a new direction in your spiritual life, you want to begin again, but you don’t know how and you don’t know where and you don’t know what to do. Maybe you’ve tried and failed so many times that you feel like giving up. Often it’s our guilt over the past that holds us back. Sometimes our frustration over unfair treatment in the past keeps us from striking out in a new direction. When Pete Peterson was named American ambassador to Vietnam, his appointment generated enormous publicity because he served six years as a prisoner of war in the dreaded Hanoi Hilton. Now he has returned to the land where he was held captive—not for revenge, but to represent the United States. When asked how he could do such a thing after years of starvation, torture, and inhuman brutality, he replied, “I’m not angry. I left that at the gates of the prison when I walked out in 1972. That may sound simplistic to some people, but it’s the truth. I just left it behind me and decided to move forward with my life.”

Several years ago I formulated this principle into a truth I call the First Law of Spiritual Progress. It goes like this:

I can’t go back

I can’t stay here

I must go forward

You can’t go back to the past—not to relive the good times or to seek revenge for the bad times. But you can’t stay where you are either. Life is like a river that flows endlessly onward. It matters not whether you are happy in your present situation or whether you seek to be delivered from it. You can’t stay where you are forever. The only way to go is forward.

A man whose wife suffered greatly at the hands of her enemies told me that she had taken a “vow of silence” regarding her critics. She decided that rather than lower herself to the level of her enemies, she would simply not reply at all. This is difficult, but at least it frees a person to move forward with God. God only has one direction for his people: Forward! He never leads us back into the past and he rarely lets us stay where we are very long. That’s why the first two letters of the gospel spell out our marching orders: Go!

When you tempted to get even with those who hurt you, remember that you can’t go back, you can’t stay where you are, but by God’s grace, you can move forward one step at a time.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?