A More Centered Life

This week, I am taking a break from the normal blog to write something different. When I did my Doctor of Ministry degree, I began with an interest in Spiritual Formation. However, just as I began my studies, I moved to Advent Presbyterian Church, where administrative and leadership skills were needed. Therefore, I entered a program known as, “The Beeson Leadership Program” at Asbury Theological Seminary and did a more generalized doctorate  on leadership. As a part of this program, our group was exposed to some of the finest and most successful pastors in America. I have never regretted being a part of the Beeson program.

Over the next several years, I was able to study some of the most successful pastors in America and in our local area. When it came time to write a dissertation, however, I returned to my earlier interest and wrote on the Spirituality of Christian Leadership. I used to joke that one could summarize my dissertation with the advice, “Just be like Jesus.” Actually, I think that this is pretty good advice for pastors and other leaders. Leadership is not necessarily about success (thought that helps!). it is about doing the right things for those one leads.

A couple of years after I completed my work, a denominational group with which our church was associated entered a period of crisis. I was a leader of one of the groups. One day,, after a bitter meeting, I went to a hidden bookshelf in my office to look for a book. I did not find that book. Instead, a copy of the Tao Te Ching, a book of ancient Chinese wisdom, fell at my feet. I began to read the book and found it helpful. I was reminded of the similarity between Christian and Taoist ethics. The Tao warned me that who I was and  who I was becoming was much more important than whatever success we had in the dispute at hand.

Centered Living imageI liked the Tao so much that, in my quiet time each morning, I began to paraphrase the book for Orthodox, Trinitarian Christians. It took a long time, but eventually I completed what I published under the title, Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love.

This work was a  labor of love. I wrote another book on wisdom after Centered Living/Centered Leading, a book on wisdom literature called Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ-Followers. Although I like and am proud of Path of Life, I continue to use Centered Living/Centered Leading in my daily quiet times, and especially during times of crisis, confusion, and conflict. It never ceases to caution, warn, and calm me in the midst of doubt, pressure, and indecision.

The underlying idea of the book is quite simple: We do not have the luxury as Christians of being one person at home, another at work, another in the church, etc. This leads to the fractured personality of the post-modern person. God wants us to be whole, to have integrity, to be wise, loving, and filled with the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ. In our hearts, we long for spiritual, mental, and moral wholeness. Therefore, we need to embody the wisdom and love of God both in our private and public lives. Put simply, we need to become more like Jesus.

This has implications for leaders: We cannot be one person when we are off-duty and another person when we are leading others without ending up spiritually wounded and sick.  Centered Living/Centered Living can help a reader acquire spiritual wholeness and health. It has helped me in that quest. (The search for spirtual wholeness is never quite over on earth. We have to just keep making progress.) One fundamental principle I find in the Tao and in the Christian tradition is the importance of meditation and prayer before making difficult decisions, especially when under pressure. It is a struggle for most people to take them to meditate and pray, but it is worth the effort.

coverThis year in my spare time I have been preparing a new edition of Centered Living/Centered Leading. I have tried to clarify a few things and eliminate some irritating typographical errors I am ashamed to find. It is my hope that Centered Living/Centered Leading can help others besides me. The other day I got an email  from a London cab driver who had managed to get a copy of the book and loved it. I cannot tell you how much that email meant to me!

It takes a little work to get into a more mystical, proverbial style of writing. It took me some time in the beginning as well. Nevertheless,  the time and effort are worth it. I hope some of the readers of this blog will take time to enjoy the quest for wholeness and wisdom through Centered Living/Centered Leading as well. Many of my friends wish that I had written a more didactic, teaching, Western-mind oriented book. Unfortunately, true wisdom cannot be learned with the mind alone. It is a matter of the heart. This is one reason for the mystic and sometimes indirect way in which wisdom literature works. One has to find the truth for oneself in one’s own heart under the leadership of the Spirit of God. A book can only act as a way of stimulating a relationship with God and deep spiritual change.

If you like this blog and especially if you purchase the book (It is available on Amazon), please recommend it to a friend or family member. I would love of people to forward this blog to friends.

Next week, I am returning to the general pattern of the blog and to the subject of the Holy Spirit!

Yours in Christ,


Walking in the Way of Christ

This year our theme has been, “What is Next?” Some people live in the present, and I think that these are, in many ways, the happiest people. Most people, however, wonder about the future. We wonder about the future of our world, of our nation, of our communities, of our families—we wonder most of all about our future. It is natural to ask the question, “What is Next?”

imgresKathy and I have never been fans of long driving trips. My Dad and Mom were of another generation. I have vivid memories of two week trips from Kansas City to San Francisco and back in a car without air-conditioning! We would go zipping down Route 66, stopping at tourist attraction after tourist attraction: Old Albuquerque, to Sante Fe, to Taos, to the Grand Canyon. (Until one is a parent, it is impossible to understand how irritating it is to be with two constantly fighting little boys in a Chevy station wagon for twelve hours a day!).

Of course, as kids as we got back into the car after each stop, we had two questions, “Where are we going next?” and “How long until we get there?” (All parents get these questions.) Life is a little bit like being on a driving trip. The two questions we most want to have answered are:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. How long will it take to get there?

Interestingly, for most of our lives most of us will not always understand the answer to those two questions! From time to time, we have no idea where we are going or how long it’s going to take to get there.

The Bible often uses the metaphor of a journey for life. In the Old Testament, and especially in wisdom literature, the Bible often describes human beings as on one of two paths:

  1. The Path of Wisdom or Life, which leads to blessings; and
  2. The Path of Foolishness or Evil, which leads to death.

The Caller who is Jesus Christ.

In the Gospels, the first major activity of Jesus is to call people to go on a journey with him. This morning, we’re  reading from the first chapter of Mark, the portion where Jesus calls his first disciples. Listen in this blog to the Word of God as it comes to us through the writing of John Mark:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him (Mark 1:14-18).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Lord of Life: Come now to call us into your presence. Allow us to hear in the depths of our hearts your voice saying: Come Follow Me. In Jesus Name, Amen.

imgres-1Almost everyone who reads this passage is struck by a singular fact: the disciples are going about their daily business, trying to make a living when they meet Jesus and immediately go with him. Peter, Andrew, James and John, were fishermen. In Jesus’s day, being a fisherman was a good profession. They made good money fishing.

In addition, James and John were from a prominent family. It’s possible that John’s father had a commission to sell fish to the priests in Jerusalem. [1] From the passage, we see that John’s father was at least wealthy enough to employ hired men in the family business. As they were fishing and preparing to fish, Jesus walked by. Perhaps he stopped and had a short conversation. We don’t know. What we do know is that Jesus said to them, “Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men” and they followed him. The same Jesus who called them calls us to follow him.

The Character of the Caller.

Why were Peter, Andrew James, and John willing to follow Jesus? There must have been something about Jesus that overcame their natural reluctance to leave their business, their family, their responsibilities, and follow Jesus. They must have seen something in Jesus that they desired.

We know from the Bible that not everyone followed Jesus. The Scribes saw nothing special in Jesus. The Pharisees saw nothing special in Jesus. The Sadducees saw nothing special in Jesus. The Priests saw nothing special in Jesus. In fact, most people saw nothing special in Jesus. What did the disciples see?

In the Old Testament, wisdom is often pictured as a woman urging the human race to leave the path of foolishness and follow the path of life. In the New Testament, John begins his Gospel with these words:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:1-13).

In other words, what Peter, Andrew, James, and John saw in Jesus was the very wisdom and power of God in human form.

John wrote his gospel as an old man. I don’t think that these words from the beginning of his Gospel sprang into John’s mind the first time he saw Jesus. However, I think he did see that there was something special about this man. In Matthew, Jesus compares himself to Solomon, saying that “one greater than Solomon” is present in Jesus (Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31). Paul says in First Corinthians that Jesus is the very wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:24).

imgres-2I think Peter, Andrew James, and John saw some glimmer of the majesty and wisdom of God in Jesus. They saw something of the love of God in Jesus. This is important for us. We will not follow Jesus unless we see something different in Jesus, something that we long for in the depths of our hearts. We will not follow Jesus unless we sense that we cannot find what we are looking for, we cannot arrive at the destination in life we are seeking, unless we follow him.

The Way of the Caller.

Jesus does not come to Peter, Andrew, James, and John asking them to come to his seminary, attended Sunday school class, participating his Bible study, or be in his school for living. He says, “Come and follow me.” There is nothing more important in the Christian life than hearing Jesus say to us, “Come and follow me.” More than anything else, Jesus was calling the disciples (and us) into a personal, one-on-one, three-on-one, twelve-on-one relationship.

As I mentioned a moment ago, in the Old Testament the way of wisdom was often called the “Path of Life.” Interestingly, one of the first names for Christians was “the People of the Way” (Acts 9:2). In Hebrews, the author writes to Jewish Christians that, “We enter through a new way that Jesus opened for us. It’s a living way that leads through the curtain—Jesus’ body” (Hebrews 10:20, Easy to Read English Version [emphasis added]).

There is a lot packed in to that single sentence! A path is something we follow to get somewhere. In Jesus, we have a new path to God and to abundant, eternal, life.  We have a new way to fellowship with God and a new way of living. This new way is not about forcing ourselves to obey the law. It’s not about a kind of works righteousness. That was the old way.

The way of Jesus, the new way, is a living way. It is a new path to wholeness and fellowship with God. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, and the sacrifice he made for us, we can have a close, personal, daily relationship with God and walk on the Path of Life with God in Christ.

So often, we contemporary American Christians think of discipleship as attending a Bible study, memorizing some Bible verses, being involved in some church program, or some other activity. Jesus wants us to be involved in some of these things; however, the call is to be in a personal one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three (you get the idea!) relationship with Jesus as we walk together with Jesus and our fellow disciples day by day.

The Power of the Caller.

images-2Our power for living and walking with Jesus will not come from ourselves, but from Jesus. The call to follow Jesus is a call to follow Jesus into a completely new way of life. When Peter, Andrew, James, and John heard Jesus say, “Follow me,” they probably thought they were going to follow Jesus in accordance with the laws and the prophets. Jesus went out of his way to tell them (and us) that his way is externally no different than the way of the law and the prophets. He did not come to change the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). His way is a New Way because it is a way of living from a center inside of God’s presence and power and of being gradually changed by the power of God’s love. In fact, when the disciples tried to walk with Jesus on their own power, they failed. For example, when Peter try to walk on water without Jesus, on his own power, he sank (Matthew 14:28-29).

Perhaps my favorite Bible verse is Second Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. Behold: The old has gone. The new has come.” In this verse, Paul, filled with excitement about the Gospel and in its power tells us that, if we are in Christ, the power of God will make of us a new creation. The old person with all of its failures, weaknesses, false selves, and sinfulness will go away. Instead of the old person, a new person will grow up in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Most of us (all of us) have hopes and dreams. If we are honest, we know in the depths of our hearts that we desire to be something that we are not. We hope to achieve a better character than the character we have. We hope to be more humble, more loving, more peaceful, more merciful, more courageous, than we are. Yet, most of us understand that, in reality, we are not going to change—we are not going to become better people—we are not going to arrive at the place we hoped to arrive—on our own power. We need the power of God.

As I mentioned earlier, I have lots of memories of cross-country car trips through the Great American Desert without air conditioning. If we had tried to walk those trips on our own power our family would never have made it. We would have died of thirst in the Great American Desert, as many pioneers did in the 19th Century.  It is only because we were driving a car, and the car was powered with gasoline, that we made it to our destination. In just the very same way, we cannot reach the kingdom of God our own power. We need the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of Christ, the power of God to reach our destination.

The Gifts of the Caller.

For the next several weeks, we are going to be talking about various gifts that we receive from the Holy Spirit. We are going to learn more about who the Holy Spirit is, what the Holy Spirit does, how the Holy Spirit operates, and how we can receive the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit. These gifts of the Spirit are the presence of the wisdom and love of God working in our lives in a new and powerful way.

A few weeks ago, we talked about prayers of thanksgiving. I mentioned that, for the next several weeks, we are going to spend a lot of time in First Corinthians. In First Corinthians, Paul gives the following teaching:

For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:5-7).

In this passage, Paul praises the Corinthians for all the gifts they have received from God, and for the next few weeks we are going to talking about the gifts we receive by the power of the Holy Spirit.

iconKathy loves to travel. I’m not as big a traveler, but I like to travel too. One of the things that we enjoy about traveling is the change it makes in your life. When you visit new places and see new things, you become a new person. As we travel, Kathy normally purchases gifts for our children, so that they can also be enriched by the journey we’ve taken. Sometimes, we buy gifts for friends, family members, coworkers, and others. Why? So that they can enjoy the journey as much as we did.

Jesus is here this morning asking each one of us to follow him. He’s not telling us exactly what we going to be doing or where were going to be going. He didn’t tell the disciples that, either. We can hear his call and, like many of his contemporaries, go about our business, rejecting him. Or, like disciples, we can look at his eyes and into the soul of the one revealed to us in the Gospels, see the very wisdom and power of God, and follow him. If we do, he promises we will not lack anything, for we will be filled with the presence of his Spirit and the power of love and wisdom the Spirit brings.

Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1]  See, John 18:15-16. In the Gospel of John, it appears that John was familiar with the household of the High Priest, as if he and his family had some familiarity with the home and its inhabitants. Some scholars speculate that John was from a prominent family and had delivered fish to the High Priest’s home. We cannot know for sure.


Lord, Teach Me to Pray: Prayers for Protection


imgres-3This blog is being published on the fifteen anniversary of that attacks of September 11 2001. At such a time, it is important to think about prayers of protection.

On September 11, 2001, fifteen years ago today, our nation was attacked by a group of terrorists. Several airplanes were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania. The plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was apparently trying to reach a target in Washington. Since that time, our nation has been engaged in the so-called “War on Terror.” At fifteen years and counting, this war is the longest war in our nation’s history. Kathy and I had the opportunity to visit the 9-11 Museum in New York City just as it opened. It was a sobering experience, especially to read the names of those killed when the Twin Towers collapsed.

This week I had lunch with a fellow pastor who served in the United States Navy into the Second Gulf War. He reminded me that history is filled with wars that lasted fifteen, twenty, thirty, 100 years, and longer. Such wars, like the War on Terror, are more than just conflicts over economics political power, or national borders. They are conflicts over different ways of life. The Second World War only lasted four years for we Americans, but it lasted much longer in Europe. It was a war to determine whether freedom would endure in Europe. World War II was what we might call an “existential war.”

Long wars are  clashes of civilizations. By their very nature, they involve periods of danger, periods of quiet, and many casualties. In wars that are clashes of civilizations, the result is less determined by initial military power and more determined by who has the deepest faith in their way of life. This kind of faith requires confidence in the future and in God’s protection during a long period of uncertainty.

We in the West are at the end of what we call the “Modern World” and at the beginning of what we currently call the “Post-Modern World.” [1] At such times in history there are often long, dangerous conflicts and economic and political dislocation. Such was the case when the ancient pre-Roman civilizations disintegrated, when the Greco-Roman civilization decayed, and at the end of the Middle Ages when the modern world began. We are now at another break in human history. It is very likely that the current period of danger and uncertainty will last for the rest of the lives of everyone now alive. We will need to pray a great deal over the next few years.

David Looks Back.

Our text for this meditation is from Psalms 18. [2] Psalm 18 is perhaps the most interesting Psalm. It appears verbatim in Second Samuel chapter 22. In Second Samuel, the song appears at the end of David’s life, inserted into the story as a kind of spiritual commentary on the meaning of his life and God’s blessing upon him. Here are selections from the first eighteen verses of the Psalm:

I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies. The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears (18:1-6).

The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils. 
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place;  he rescued me because he delighted in me (18: 13-19).

Today, O God, we come thanking you for the protection you have given our nation and for the special protection you have given us during the so-called “War on Terror.” Please give us faith in you and in your protection and a willingness to await your deliverance from this time of danger and distress. In Jesus Name, Amen.

 David: A Man In Need of Protection.

There was a time when every schoolboy knew the story of David by heart. David was the youngest son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, who was married to Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 4:21-22). As the youngest son, he had been given the lowliest of jobs: he was a shepherd of sheep. In his day, his oldest brother would have inherited most of the family wealth. His future was as a working man. He was also a musician and psalm writer, and he was quite good at using a slingshot (I Samuel 16).

Saul, the king of Israel, had not been obedient to the Lord (I Sam. 15). Therefore, Samuel, the prophet of God, was commissioned to go to the land of Judah, to the home of Jesse, and anoint one of his children as king. One by one, God rejected each of his older brothers. Finally, Samuel asked if there was anyone else at home. Jesse answered “Only my youngest son (1 Sam. 16:11). When David was brought before Samuel, God spoke to him and David was anointed to be the next king of Israel (see, I Sam.l 16:13).

In those days, Saul was fighting a battle against the Philistines. In the land of the Philistines there lived a group of giants, one of which was so large that he was called “Goliath.” One day, David was sent with some food for his brothers. He went to the battlefield and heard Goliath taunting the Jews. No one would go out and fight this huge monster. Not even Saul, who was a large man, was willing to do that. David, filled with the Holy Spirit, fought Goliath and won (I Sam. 17).

imgres-2David became one of the greatest Saul’s warriors. Unfortunately, as be became famous David became a threat to Saul, who constantly tried to have him killed (I Samuel 18). For many, many years, David’s life was in constant danger. Even after he became king, his life was often in danger from his enemies, and even from his own family. His own son, Absalom, rebelled against him. In those days, David often wrote prayers for protection, many of which we have recorded in Psalms (see for example, Psalms 3:1-2; 9:2; 6:4; 7:1-2;17:1-2). David knew what it was to cry out to God for protection.

Jesus: A Model of Hope.

As David looked back on his life, he could praise God for the protection God had given him over the years in times of danger. Jesus gives us another role model—a role model for what we might be like when we face danger and threats which do in fact occur and from which we are not delivered as we would wish.luke22v42-not-my-will-1280x960 Jesus prayed two prayers during the last hours of his life that are important. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed to God that the cup he was about to drink might be taken from him (Mark 14:36). At the very end of his life, he prayed, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). His first prayer for protection was not answered in the affirmative, but his faith in the goodness of the Father remained intact.

In the beginning of our prayer life, it is common for us to assume that all of our prayers in accordance with God’s perfect will be answered, “Yes.” As we grow older, and as our faith deepens, we learn that life and faith are more complex. Every soldier on the battlefield prays to be delivered. Unfortunately, some are and some are not. Our world is not a perfect world, and bad things do happen.

Jesus came to reveal to us a deep mystery: Sometimes the depth of human brokenness, evil, sin, violence, and pain require a sacrifice. It would be nice if every serious problem could be resolved without conflict. That is not always the case. It would be nice if our enemies in the War on Terror, who are clearly in the wrong, would see the error of their ways and peacefully stop. Unfortunately, that is not likely to be the case.

There are times when we will legitimately pray for protection and not receive the protection for which we prayed. This does not mean that God does not hear our prayers. God hears our prayers, just as God heard the prayer of Jesus in the Garden. Sometimes, our prayers simply cannot be answered as we might desire. It is then that a deeper faith is required. Faith continues to believe and hope even when a prayer is not answered as we would wish (see, Hebrews 11:1-2). The faith of Jesus “commends our spirits unto God” at such times.

A Story from the Greatest Generation.

I am dedicating this blog to one of my professors: Dr. James Luther Mays. Jim Mays was a well-known professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond Virginia. Just before I graduated, Dr. Mays published a commentary on Psalms. [3] Obviously, a professor in his last years of full-time teaching and a masters’ level student do not become best friends; however, we had a kind of mutual friendship and understanding based upon an incident that occurred one day in class.

imagesI was in the last Psalms seminar that Dr. Mays offered at Union Theological Seminary in 1994, just before his commentary was published. One afternoon, we were looking at some of the many psalms in which David prays to God for protection and victory over his enemies. Often, Psalms records these prayers in violent terms. Some of the younger students were complaining about David, the Psalms, and the God of the Old Testament in general.

After listening for a while, I made a comment. Basically, I observed that, until your life has been in physical danger because of a relentless enemy bent on destroying you, you can’t fully appreciate or understand these prayers. “In battle,” I observed, “men have always prayed such prayers and there’s nothing wrong with it.” The debate went on for a while, then Dr. Mays looked down the table at me and said in a quiet voice, “I think Chris is right.” We looked at each other straight in the eye, and in just an instant, we had a moment of deep mutual understanding.

Jim Mays was a birdwatcher, a gentle person, a fisherman, the author of commentaries on various Old Testament books, and regarded as one of the finest professors at the seminary.  No one could possibly have considered Jim Mays a man-of-war. Unlike some professors, he never raised his voice in class no matter how ill-prepared a student was or how off base his or her answer to a question might be. Jim Mays was a quiet, peaceful man.

imgres-1Years later, I picked up a book and looked at a picture. It was taken during the Second World War, and it looked exactly like Dr. Mays and the inscription “J. L. Mays” was on the picture. This week, I attempted to find that picture but could not. I did, however, read his obituary in the Richmond Times Dispatch. [4] It turns out that Dr. Mays served in the Second World War. He was one of the  unlucky individuals that served in both Europe and in the Pacific Theaters of that conflict. I always thought he must have fought in the war, because in the moment we shared looking into each other’s eyes I saw the eyes of a man who remembered what it had been like to be very young, very much in danger, and very, very scared. Such men know what it is like to be scared and to pray for protection.

Lessons for Us.

The deepest human instinct is to cry out to God, the supreme power of the universe, to protect us when no one else can. There is nothing wrong with such prayers. They represent our deepest instinct that the universe has a moral order, that God cares for us personally, that he hears our deepest needs, and desires to protect us from danger. This is a deep truth we all need to remember.

It is also true that God answers all of these prayers. I believe that he answers all of the prayers in the affirmative, despite the fact that some of these prayers will be answered in heaven and not on earth. The life of faith is largely a life of growth in trusting the Lord of the Universe, his goodness, his kindness, his power, and his love. This trust grows both when we receive that for which we ask as we have asked for it and when God gives an unexpected or unwelcome answer. The cross and resurrection are not what Jesus asked for in the Garden. They were better. They were more important. They changed the world.

In Christ, we see the fullness of God’s wisdom and the depths of his answers to our prayers for protection. His providence and his love extended beyond our imagination into eternity. This is a truth we need to remember, and we need to remember it as we pray for protection now and in the future.


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] It is not a part of this blog to talk about what constitutes the “Modern” and “Post Modern” world. The Modern World began with the development of modern science, technology, and critical thinking, roughly 300 years ago. Sometime in the middle of the 19th Century, or about 150 years ago, this era began to end. Confidence that human reason can create a perfect, harmonious world and solve all human problems began to dissipate. By the end of World War I clearly we had entered a new era. It remains unclear whether our current era is a new era or simply the decadent form of the modern era. I lean towards the view that we are currently in a decadent phase. Certainly in the West there has been a great loss of faith and confidence in human reason and its capacities to harmonize human life. At this point, one can only guess at the world that will emerge from our current period. My guess is that it will be less confident of human reason and goodness, more humble in the face of problems, more realistic about our human capacity to create a perfect world, and less materialistic than the Modern World has been.

[2] I have consulted many sources for this sermon, Dr. Mays commentary  “Psalms” in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994) and Arthur Weisner, The Psalms tr. Herbert Hartwell (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1962). Some commentators doubt that David wrote the Psalm, a conclusion with which I disagree, and in any case think unimportant to understanding. It was meant to be read in the context of David’s life.

[3] This is Dr. Mays, “Psalms” in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994) noted above. I have an autographed copy of the commentary given to those who participated in the seminars leading up to its publication. It is and always will be a treasured possession.

[4] James L. Mays, 1921-2015 in Richmond Times Dispatch, November 8, 2015 (downloaded September 7, 2016).

Teach Me to Pray: Thanksgiving

imgresThis is Labor Day weekend, a time when we remember and thank God for those who labor so that we might enjoy the blessings of life. It is appropriate, therefore, that this week’s blog is about Prayers of Thanksgiving.

We are nearing the end of our series on prayer. Our theme this week is on  Prayers of Thanksgiving. Thankfulness is a Christian virtue. Prayer involves thankfulness. As I mentioned this week in the meditation, “There can be no vital prayer life without thanksgiving. Eventually, a thankless prayer life will become no prayer life at all. To thank God is to remember his blessings, accept his judgments, and know that “in all things God is working together for the good for those who love him” (Romans 8:26), Jesus went to the cross after giving thanks. In the same way, we must learn to give thanks in all circumstances.” This is not always easy.

This week at our staff meetings, we read our text for the day and then we went around the room and everyone mentioned things they were thankful for. Interestingly enough, just as happens in my own personal prayer life, things began kind of slowly. The first person had to think for a moment and then gave an answer. After a while, all of us began to have an easy time thinking about all the things that we take for granted for which we should be thankful. We were thankful for spouses. We were thankful for our children. We were thankful for church. We were thankful for coworkers. We were thankful for the fall that is coming. We were thankful for a lot of things. When our time of prayer was over, we had a happy staff meeting. Why? Because we were now approaching the week’s work with thankful hearts.

Some people are naturally thankful. My wife is naturally thankful. Being Scottish, and a bit of a pessimist, thankfulness does not come as easy to me. It is like any other Christian virtue: some people find it easy, and some people find it hard. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, a thankless prayer life eventually becomes no prayer life at all. It is human nature to forget what God or other people have done for us in the past, and focus on today’s problems. When we do this, we stop praying because we forget that God really does answer our prayers!

Prayers of a Thankful Christian.

36618_all_062_01The apostle Paul was a thankful Christian. In his earliest letter to the Thessalonians, Paul expresses his thankfulness for the Thessalonian church (I Thess. 1:2). In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul is equally thankful (2 Thess. 3). When Paul was in prison and writing to the Philippians, he tells us he thanks God every time he remembers that church! (Phil. 1:3). In Paul’s last letter, Second Timothy, he thanks God for Timothy, his beloved son in the Lord, who he remembers day and night (2. Tim. 3).  Over many years of discipleship, Paul learned to be a thankful Christian.

Our text comes from one of his earlier letters, his First letter to the Corinthians. Here is how Paul begins:

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you (1 Cor. 1:1-6).

Let us pray: eternal God, who is given us everything, even life itself, come into our hearts this morning and allow us the gift of thankfulness. Help us to remember to thank you daily for all the blessings you have given to us. In Jesus Name Amen

 Paul: Thankfulness in Hard Times.

This morning, we are talking about learning to pray (and praying !) prayers of thanksgiving. If you are like me, it is easy to forget to thank God for answered prayers during good times. And, in bad times, it is easy to not thank God, because we don’t think we have anything to thank God for. Thankfulness, is not an easy virtue to develop or express.

Next month, we’re going to spend some time in the book of First Corinthians as we think about Spiritual Gifts. Today, we’re going to look at the first six verses of the letter, and especially the story that surrounds those verses, because Paul’s thankfulness towards the Corinthians, shows us a lot about how we ought to be thankful people.

Paul founded the Corinthian church around the year 50 A. D. When Paul arrived in Corinth, he had just experienced a difficult missionary experience in Athens. He might even have been a bit depressed about his ministry. images-2 Then, he met Priscilla and Aquila, two Jewish converts to Christianity who had been exiled from Rome. They were tentmakers just like Paul! Paul went into business with them, and began to disciple them and others (Acts 18:1-4). [1]

As was often the case, Paul began preaching in the synagogue. Pretty soon, however, there was trouble. Paul had to leave the synagogue. Nevertheless, his ministry in Corinth was successful. He stayed there eighteen months (18:5-11). After Paul left Corinth, other apostles and other Christians visited the church. Eventually, the church turned on Paul and turned on one another. They began to fight and argue with each other. They began to reject Paul’s teaching. They divided into camps (I Cor. 1:10-12).

When this happened, Paul was way across the Mediterranean Sea in Ephesus. Although we only have two letters to the Corinthians, scholars believe there were actually four letters from Paul about the problems of this church. In addition, there were almost certainly several lost letters from the Church; and probably, because of the active trade between Ephesus and Corinth, visits from people from Corinth informing Paul about the problems. In all of this, Paul was saddened and even driven to distraction by what was happening in Corinth.  If ever there were a situation in which Paul could not be blamed for forgetting to be thankful, the Corinthian church is that situation! Nevertheless, Paul continued to be thankful.

What can we learn from this? We can learn to be thankful. We can learn that our lives do not have to be blessed for us to be thankful. We do not have to be successful to be thankful. We do not have to be appreciated to be thankful. The only thing we need to be thankful is to realize that God is at work in the good and bad of life. So often we think that God is absent in the bad parts of life. He’s punishing us. He’s deserted us. He doesn’t love anymore. None of this is true. God is with us and discipling us in the good and in the bad times of life. Paul was able to be thankful even in very stressful circumstances, and we can also learn to be thankful in stressful times.

Contentment and Thankfulness.

imgres-1One reason all was able to be thankful in all circumstances is that Paul had learned to be content in all circumstances. In Philippians, Paul tells the church to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving make your requests known to God” (Phil. 4:6). Later, in chapter 4, Paul says the following:

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Phil. 4:10-13).

There is a lot in these verses. Paul was able to be thankful because Paul had learned to be content. There’s probably no Christian virtue we preach about less in our culture, or need more, then the virtue of contentment. Contentment requires that we live simply, and not be constantly desiring to have more things, to be better looking, to be heavier or thinner, to have a bigger house or smaller house, to have a better car, or even to have the latest iPhone (to be released next week!). When we are able to be content with what we have, we don’t worry as much because we have all we need already.

images-3If we are content with what we have, we may still desire certain things. We might be sick and desire to be healthy. We might be overweight and want to be skinnier. We might be slender and want to have more muscle. We might be having children want a better job. Being content does not mean that we do not legitimately want things we don’t have. It means we are content with what we do have even as we ask God for what it is we desire. If we trust our Heavenly Father to give us what we need, then we don’t have to be anxious about anything even though we are praying and asking God for things we don’t have. Being thankful means that, even as we ask God for what we don’t have, we are thankful for what we do have.

This may seem really difficult. I find it difficult. It is really hard when you feel that you deserve something or need something to be thankful for what you already have. However, I have noticed in my own life that, if I’m not thankful, my prayer life suffers. You might think the pastors are so spiritually mature that they never burn out. That’s not true. You might think the pastors are so close to God that they don’t become depressed when prayers that they believe are legitimate are not answered or when the answer is, “No”. That’s not true. You might think the pastors are so mature that they only pray for the things God wants to give them. That’s not true.

Simple Steps to Thankful Living.

Here’s some simple ways we can thank God for the simple pleasures of life:

  1. Prayers at Meals. First, we can say prayers and meals. I’m glad that I grew up in a family where Mom and Dad forced us to be together most of the time and say grace before meals. When I became a Christian, I started extending that grace to meals out. We can be thankful and teach our children to be thankful but remembering to say grace and meals.
  2. Regular Thanksgiving. Second, we can develop the habit of saying a Prayer of Thanksgiving to God at least once a day. One good habit is to say a prayer of Thanksgiving for the blessings of the day before you go to bed. I’ve been trying to do that recently. No matter how hard the day has been, thanking God forces us to think about the blessings we have received even in a bad day. Believe me, it doesn’t always work very well. But it’s worth trying.
  3. Special Thanksgiving. Have you ever prayed for something, received an answer to your prayer, and then sometimes later realize that you never thanked God for it? I have. When we have a special prayer, and our prayers are answered, we should immediately stop and thank God for the answer. I could be praying for a parking place at the hospital on a busy day. If God gives me a parking place, I should be thankful.
  4. Reflective Thanksgiving. Every so often, and perhaps especially on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day, we should take time out to reflect on the last year and take time to remember things for which we really should be thankful. I keep a prayer journal. Often, I don’t even notice when a prayers is answered. Every so often I go back and read my journal. It’s surprising how often my prayers are answered, perhaps a long time after I prayed them, perhaps in a different way than I prayed for; but they have been answered. Taking time to reflect on the blessings God has given us is important.

Thankfulness and the Cross.

imgresWe are told that, on the night Jesus was betrayed, right before he went out to be arrested, tried, flogged, and crucified, he had a meal with his friends. When he picked up the bread, he said a Prayer of Thanksgiving. Jesus was thankful to God even though the cup that he prayed be removed from him was not removed. Jesus was thankful even though his prayers are not answered as he would have wished. Jesus was thankful even though times were tough and going to get a lot tougher.

There are times in our lives when we have to bear a cross of one kind or another. When hard times come, and when we are tempted not to be thankful, it is helpful to remember that Jesus was thankful even on his way to a cross.

Part of learning to live wisely and well is learning to develop the habit of thankfulness and of thanking God. It is one of those Holy Habits that make us wise in the things of God.


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1]  The historical narrative is based on William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press. 1975) and Clarence t. Craig, “Introduction and Exegesis” The Interpreters Bible Vol. 10 “Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians” (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1953).