Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Out of Tune


In the years since I first sat on a piano bench in our living room and learned to play the brand new spinet piano my parents had purchased for me, I have had opportunity to play many pianos. Large ones and smaller ones. Brand new ones and older ones. Concert grands and small spinets.  

I have played in living rooms and practice rooms. In churches, large and small. In gardens and under tents. In grand concert halls and in much smaller venues. And even though I am no longer able to play as I once did, I am still aware that all these places and all these instruments have something in common. For a piano to sound its best, no matter who is playing it, it needs to be in tune.

When our younger son was about three years old, he began learning to play the violin. Although he has since abandoned the violin in favor of the guitar, I still have very vivid memories of those early days with his tiny violin. The first song he learned to play was Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, followed by five variations on that theme. From the beginning notes of Twinkle to the Bach minuets that came later, all of us within earshot of Brandon's violin learned early on the importance of an instrument that is in tune. In fact, I would venture to say that nothing sounds quite as bad as an out of tune violin!

Any musical instrument needs to be in tune to sound its best. The writer of the hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing used that analogy in this hymn line:

"Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy praise."*

For us to live life the way God intends, for us to praise Him as we should, for us to be reflecting Jesus and letting our light shine for Him (see Matthew 5:16), we need to be in tune. Even in this culture. Even when the world seems to have gone crazy. Even when we don’t feel like it. Perhaps especially in these days.

The reality of life is that sometimes we are out of sorts. Out of tune. It happens because life happens. We are tired or insecure or frustrated. Our feelings have been hurt. We've been offended. We're discouraged. We're lonely. We're angry. We're sad. We're jealous. There are any number of reasons or events or emotions that send us over the edge, and those differ from person to person. And our emotions haven't been put on hold because of a virus. Perhaps they have been enhanced. What sends me into an emotional puddle and puts my life out of tune is likely different from what would do the same to you. But I would venture to say that we are all dealing with a roller coaster of emotions in these stressful days.

Especially since my stroke a few years ago, I sometimes find myself a bit out of sorts. Out of tune. And it happens more often than I remember it used to. Perhaps it's all part of the natural course of things following such a major trauma. Perhaps it's the fatigue that is part of stroke recovery. Perhaps it's the frustration when I can't remember things or when I get words jumbled up or when I can't do what I was once able to do. Whatever. The reality is that sometimes I'm out of tune. And since cancer entered our world, it’s even more true.

You may find yourself out of tune as well. It may be because of never-ending viruses or cancer or for some other health issue. It may be an entirely different reason. The circumstances of my life are not the same as yours. You may be out of tune because of a personal relationship. Because of a different health concern. Or a financial difficulty. Maybe you lost your job or your spouse was laid off. Maybe there's an issue with one of your children or your grandchildren. Maybe you were falsely accused of something. Maybe someone you thought was your friend turned out not to be. Maybe your best friend is being anything but friendly. 

There are as many reasons for being out of tune as there are people. Perhaps more. We all have different life circumstances. We all respond differently. 

Whether we have a major meltdown or we are just a bit out of sorts, the reality of life is that from time to time each of us is a bit out of tune. When those times come, and they will, what are we to do?

1. Read and Remember.

I am a big advocate for writing things down. (I have always been a big believer in writing things down, but especially in this post-stroke season of my life when remembering is such a challenge.) Writing down your prayer list. Writing out your prayers. Keeping a gratitude journal and writing down all the reasons you have for being grateful. These out-of-tune-times prove the value of those lists. When you are out of tune, when you are discouraged, when you are frustrated, when you feel you've hit rock bottom.......these are the times you get your journal out, not so much for writing as for reading. In these out-of-tune-times you read back through your lists and you remember.

When you refresh your memory with all the good things about your life, with all the ways God has blessed you, and with all the good things that have happened to you, then you are encouraged.  Reading the list helps you remember God's goodness to you. When you remember how good God has been and remember all the ways He has blessed you, your focus is turned away from your negative circumstances.

"This I recall to my mind, and therefore I have hope.  The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.  Great is your faithfulness."  (Lamentation 3:21-22 NASB)

2. Change your focus.

Often we are out of tune because we are spending so much time thinking about everything that is wrong with life. Maybe we are spending too much time thinking about this virus! Or about politics. Or about the economy. This focus only causes us to be more out of tune. Turn your focus away from yourself and your circumstances, and toward God. This requires a deliberate act of your will. Choose to think differently. Choose to change your focus. Think about God, about His character and His ways. Think about the names by which He is called in Scripture. Make a deliberate effort to focus your attention toward Him and away from your circumstances.

"Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith."  (Hebrews 12:2 NASB)

3. Talk about it.

I don't mean talk about it to your friend or your neighbor or to the entire social media community.  Rather, I mean talk to the Lord about it. Tell Him exactly how you feel, and why. Pour out your heart to Him. In the words of the old hymn, "Are you weary, are you heavy-hearted?  Tell it to Jesus."**

Spending time in prayer, being honest with God, is the best way I know to get your heart back in tune.

"casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you."  (1 Peter 5:7 NASB)

4. Choose joy.

Make a deliberate choice, as an act of your will rather than your emotions, to choose to be joyful in spite of your circumstances. It may take a while for your circumstances to change. Just like a piano, the more out of tune your life is, the longer it will take to tune it. But no matter how long it takes for circumstances to change, and even if they never do, choose joy.

Make the choice. I've often heard Kay Arthur say we should "Philippians 4:8" everything. It's good advice.

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."  (Philippians 4:8, NASB)

Remembering and refocusing and talking to the Lord always helps get me back in tune. These are the things I'm doing today to get myself back in tune. If you're feeling a little out of tune today, I'm praying these suggestions will help get you back in tune, too.

"Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."  (Hebrews 4:16 NASB)

 * Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing:  words, Robert Robinson; music, John Wyeth
**Tell It to Jesus:  words and music, Edmund S. Lorenz

Thursday, March 21, 2024

I Want to Pray Like That


Have you spent any time lately in the Old Testament book of Daniel? It's powerful stuff! My Bible Study group has been spending time studying Daniel, and today’s lesson has us looking at chapters 6 and 9. You will probably be familiar with chapter 6. It’s the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. And how did Daniel respond? He prayed. That’s chapter 9.

Daniel has a lot to say to us. About things that have already taken place. And about things that are yet to take place. And Daniel has much to say to us about prayer. If you read the first part of Daniel 9, you'll find Daniel praying.

In his book The Handwriting on the Wall, Dr. David Jeremiah says, "[Daniel’s] prayer is an example of what praying ought to be."  

And I think to myself, I want to pray like that.

Daniel began his prayer by saying, "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments."  (Daniel 9:4 ESV)

Daniel began with praise. With adoration. With worship. Daniel knew His God. He acknowledged God as God. In notes from a previous study of Daniel, I found these words I had written in the margin:  Daniel prayed as if God is God.

I want to pray like that.

After Daniel acknowledges who God is, he goes on to the next section of his prayer, found in Daniel 9:5-15. Once he has acknowledged God, then he confesses sin, the sin of his people. He is very specific in his confession. This is a lot more than a quick "forgive us our sins" before rushing on to make a request. It's much more than a tag line at the end of a prayer: "forgive us our sins. Amen."

"We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.  We have not listened.....To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame.....because we have sinned against you."

As I read Daniel's prayer, I realize this is how I.......should be praying. As we pray for our cities and our states and our families. As we pray for our nation and our world.  

I want to pray like that.

What's wrong with our nation is not about me pointing fingers at what they have done......the politicians and the pagans and the perverts. It's not about who is or isn't President. It's about what we have done. About how we as a nation have sinned and turned aside from God's way. I'm part of the nation. You are part of the nation. We as a nation have sinned against God.

Daniel worships. Daniel confesses. Only after that does Daniel make a request.

I want to pray like that.

Daniel begs forgiveness for his people. "O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem.......O Lord, hear.  O Lord, forgive.  O Lord, pay attention and act."  (Daniel 9:16, 19 ESV)

I want to pray like that.

Daniel's prayer was not about Daniel. It was not Daniel-centered. Daniel was not a selfish pray-er.  The focus of Daniel's prayer was the Person and the character of God.

"For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy."  (Daniel 9:18 ESV)

I want to pray like that.

Daniel's prayer is a good example. It's a good model to follow. Especially when we're tempted to point fingers at others for all the problems we see around us. Or when we're focused on ourselves instead of on others. When we fall into the "life is all about me" trap.  

We're living in tough times. But so was Daniel. He and his people were in exile in a foreign land. Even so, his focus was not on circumstances, but on God. In spite of tough times, he continued to pray God-centered, rather than self-centered, prayers.

I want to pray like that.

"Lord, teach us to pray."  (Luke 11:1 ESV)

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Be Careful How You Walk

It was March, 2005. The day I took a wrong step. One wrong step. As a result of that one wrong step, I fell. The result of that fall was a dislocated foot and a shattered ankle. And life has never been the same.

Multiple ankle surgeries. Hours of physical torture. I mean therapy! Ankle fusion. An ankle that now has the ability to forecast the weather!

Life changed for me on that day.

I now walk differently. I understand pain differently. I wear different kinds of shoes than I did previously.  I'm different as a result of that one wrong step.  

March 29, 2005, started out wonderfully well, and it ended so differently. All because of one wrong step.

One wrong step can make a huge difference to us physically. But it can also make a huge difference in other ways as well. Emotionally. Mentally. Spiritually.

Our wrong steps are not always literal, physical steps that lead to landing in a heap on the ground with broken bones.

Sometimes our wrong steps are bad choices. Wrong thinking. Poor decisions. Sometimes our wrong steps are based on self-centeredness or short-sightedness. Sometimes our wrong steps are a result of not giving God His rightful place in our lives.

Perhaps it's these kinds of "wrong steps" that the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote these words in his letter to the church at Ephesus:

"Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil."  (Ephesians 5:15 NASB)

Think about that today. And be careful how you walk.

Friday, March 8, 2024

What Are You Doing

When I first began this blog, I posted regularly. Almost daily. I haven’t posted anything at all in several weeks, and my “regular posting” seems to be a thing of the past. Since cancer entered our world, all our routines have been tossed, and the only routine is that there isn’t one! I often find myself walking in circles through the house asking myself the question, “Susan, what are you doing?”. 

That question seems a good place to get back to this blog. So I ask you the same question I often ask myself. What are you doing?

If you watch the TV show Wheel of Fortune, you will recognize that question as one of the puzzle categories. Usually the answer is something like reading a book or sitting on the beach or watching a movie.

Today let's consider that question in a little different light.

It's Friday. Sunday's coming. What are you doing to get ready?

I'm not talking about being sure you have turned your clock forward one hour for Daylight Saving Time.  (And really, what time does it actually save??)  I'm not talking about deciding what you're going to wear to church. Or deciding where you'll go for lunch after church.

I'm talking about this: What are you doing to get ready for worship? What are you doing to prepare to meet with God? What are you doing to prepare your heart for Bible study? What are you doing to get ready?

Or are you planning to just show up and see what happens?

"I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the LORD!'" (Psalm 122:1 ESV)

Monday, February 12, 2024

With All My Heart


I heard there was a big football game yesterday. People yelling and screaming to express their love for their favorite team. In just a couple of days, people will be expressing their love for a favorite person. In both cases, a lot of money was and will be spent just to prove the point.

My earliest Valentine memories are of red construction paper hearts and white paper doilies and heart-shaped candies with messages like "Be Mine". Back in elementary school (way back in the 1950s!) we made our valentine "mailboxes" out of construction paper, or by decorating brown paper bags with construction paper hearts.

As I grew older, Valentine's Day came to be less about construction paper and more about flowers and chocolates that came in heart-shaped boxes.

Fast-forward to 1971, when I was a college student and was invited by a friend to attend a Valentine party at her church. There I met a young man who had just been discharged from his military service and had returned home. A little more than a year later, on a warm summer evening, I married that young man! We drove away from the church that evening singing along with Karen Carpenter......"We've only just begun....". For the more than fifty years we have been married, that has remained "our song".

But today, I have another song ringing in my heart. While all the world is thinking about hearts and flowers and chocolates and love, my thoughts have turned to what love is really all about. To that greatest expression of love. To the Savior who gave His life that I might have life eternal. Today, this is the song I'm singing......

With all my heart
I want to love you, Lord,
And live my life
Each day to know you more.
All that is in me
Is yours completely.
I'll serve you only
With all my heart.
(--Babbie Mason)

As we celebrate Valentine's Day this week, it is certainly true that I love my sweetheart for all these years......and I'm so grateful for that party invitation all those years ago. He really is my Knight in Shining Armor, my very own Prince Charming!

But even more than that, I am so very grateful for my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who loved me, not because I was worthy of His love, but even though I am not. Who loved me enough to die for me! That's the best Valentine ever!

"We love because He first loved us."  (1 John 4:19 NASB)

Listen to “With All My Heart” here:

Friday, February 2, 2024


It’s a beautiful afternoon here in the Upstate! Which makes this a day for anticipation. Anticipating the return of warmer weather. Anticipating even more sunshine. Anticipating Spring! 

As we look around our world, we often feel the weight of gloom. Politics, cancer, viruses, the threat of war, discontent, unemployment, inflation….the list could be quite lengthy. All these things could weigh heavily on us and lead to gloom and despair.

But just like gloomy weather, these things can also be cause for anticipation. Anticipation of a better day coming. Because a better day is ahead. 

“This world is passing away…..” (1 John 2:17).

This world, with its stress and gloom, is not all there is. For those who belong to Christ, there is a far better day coming. Let’s focus our attention there. Let’s anticipate!

“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13)

Friday, January 5, 2024

And Know

Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher of days gone by, said,  "Nearly all the ills of life spring from this simple source: that we are not able to sit still in a room."

God said, "Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)

When we read that verse, we tend to focus on the first phrase. Be still. And of course, that's an important part of the verse.

Be still. Or, as the NASB renders the verse, cease striving. The Amplified Bible puts it this way: Let be and be still.

But let's not forget the rest of the verse. Just being still, as important as that is, is not enough.  

Be still, and know that I am God.

Don't forget the "and know" part of the verse.

Again, let's look to the Amplified Bible for clarification. Let be and be still, and know (recognize and understand) that I am God.

Be still. That's important. Cease striving. Stop worrying. Be aware.

And know. Not just give mental assent to. Recognize and understand in the very core of your being.  Know. Know that you know that you know.  

Recognize and understand who God is.  

Certainly He is a loving God. He is also a just God. A righteous God. A providing God.  He is a Sovereign God.  

Be still and know that I am God.  

Whatever the circumstances of your life. Whatever decisions you are facing. Whatever emotional upheaval may encompass you today. Whatever. In every circumstance of life. In the big things and in the little things. Know this. He is God.

There is nothing facing you or me today that He can't handle. Because He is God.

Think about that today. Ponder that. Live in light of that. Be still. And know.

"Be still, and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations.  I will be exalted among the earth!"  (Psalm 46:10 ESV)