Praying Through the Beatitudes

The following is a series of prayers in preparation for my trip to Niger in September ’08, along with a few pics from the trip…

(Matthew 5:3-12)

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…
Jesus, help me to know this Scripture intimately while I am in Niger. Let this verse be on my mind and my heart as I observe, interact, and pray for those who don’t know the pride that excess and luxury bring.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…
God let me be a comforting hand and voice to those who are hurting and emotionally downtrodden. Let me mourn with them, and let my joy, jokes, happiness, and sarcasm not be an offense to them. I pray that I see that they are truly blessed, and that I have plenty to mourn over in my own life.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…
Oh sweet King, may I be meek! I pray you kill my pride and quiet my to ngue from wicked speech and my mind from wicked egotistical, ethnocentric thoughts. Let me be meek, let me be humble as you were. Let me not bring shame upon your name through overbearing, controlling, self-concern. And let those who are kind, humble, and meek be exalted in your Kingdom. Soften hearts, prepare the soil of mind and soul as we prepare for this trip. I pray you raise up a quiver of sons and daughters from this trip with which to share your glorious graceful bounty of inheritance.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied…
Jesus, I have known what it is to hunger and thirst for righteousness… I do now, and I know I will in the future, according to your sovereign will. We all groan with longings for your grace and mercy to fall on us… but would you satisfy? Will you show us and those that we will meet that there is satisfaction in you and you alone? I know you are drawing people to you, and that they long to be redeemed, sanctified, and sons in your kingdom. Will you answer that longing? Will you satisfy?

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy…
God, let our hosts be merciful to us and give us grace as we adjust to their culture, habits, and lifestyle. Let us be merciful as we go about your work in Niger. And God have mercy on us… let that be the fuel that drives our interactions with these people that we’ll be visiting. Let your grace and mercy pour outward from us as we work, tell stories, have meetings, and everything else that we’ll do. And let us not forget the mercy that has been extended us from the cross.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God…
Jesus may I be pure in heart! And let those who travel with me have purity in motives, vision, and purpose as we try to lay a foundation for ministry and evangelism in Niger. Let us see those whom you have purified, and let us encourage and challenge them to know you more deeply. And Christ let us see you at work here in us, there in the culture, and let us see you in Heaven. I pray we hear a ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ and enter into your rest. Let us be pure in heart and let us see you.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God…
Will you raise up men of peace in the villages we plan to visit? Let there be peacemakers that extend a hospitable hand and an open heart to us as we travel. I ask that you bring them to yourself and well up your Spirit in them and let them be drawn into your fold. Let them be called sons of God. And I pray that I bring peace rather than enmity, love rather than hatred. I pray I understand what you have given on my behalf that I can be known as a son of yours. Thank you for who you are and what you’ve given. I pray I keep that at the front of my mind as I travel.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness; sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…
These are tough words and tough prayers, but Jesus if we are persecuted, let us be persecuted for your sake. I pray this trip goes smoothly and that there are no complications, but if it is your will that we be beaten, imprisoned, killed, or otherwise persecuted, that it is on account of our faith in you, not skin color, nationality, actions, etc. And Jesus, please encourage and sustain those who are being persecuted for their faith in you. Let them not turn aside and denounce you, but rather withstand any opposition that you see fit to put in their path. And have mercy on those who persecute them… whether they know not what they do or whether they do it in full understanding… have mercy and give grace. Let them know who you are and bring them to yourself.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for you reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Let me be gracious and humble if I must face this temptation to slander and be bitter in return. Let my passion for truth not supercede my passion for you, and let me know your peace and life-giving grace even when I’m ridiculed and insulted. My spiritual heritage isn’t the most comfortable, and it’s not the well-trodden path of the world… rather it’s the narrow, steep-sided path that winds its way to the gates of heaven. Let me guard my steps carefully, and let me withstand whatever reviling that may be in store for us. I love you Jesus. Give your servant grace that is undeserved and that washes clean my sins.

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Future Past

The following post was a short thought written to myself on 10.5.08. As I’ve revisited it, I’ve been driven to meditate on God’s grace in a more realized way. I hope that you find encouragement in it, and that Paul’s words and God’s mercies impact you in some way – be it new or different.

Future Past
I think what I may need to begin understanding life and living it well (or at least better) is a redeemed perspective. Always before I’ve carried around this burden of my past – memories, experiences, guilt, pride, etc. This has played a large part in how I view the present, and also shapes how I view the future (I don’t want to repeat past mistakes, and think that the ‘good old days’ are the best that it can get). So I think I need to take a page out of Paul’s letter to the Philippians… ‘forgetting what lies behind…’ I need to learn from the past, to be sure… but it can’t dictate me and control how I perceive things. I must see the hand of God working in and among my life’s events, and trust that He knows that my path is straight, regardless how many roadblocks, potholes, and seemingly dead-ends there are. To live with joy, I think begins with redeeming the past and looking at the present as a ‘future past’… that is, to see that someday I’ll be looking back on this time and realize I missed opportunities, took chances, made good decisions, or screwed stuff up. It takes on a more heavenly view of things, rather than focusing on the mundane vanities under this sun.

If all goes well in this department, it seems as though the future will take a backseat for the time being, and in so doing will free me up to dream, respond to God in faithful obedience, and not be so anchored by the doubt, insecurity, and pride that has shackled me to the old man that I was. I look forward to what God may or may not teach me through this. I’m just along for the ride at this point.

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Another older writing from November 16, 2008…

– Shawn McDonald –

I’ve seen enough to say that I know
That this old world is not my home
From lustful eyes and tainted lies, pride to hide the way that I
The way that I feel inside

I am ready to go home
I’m packing my bags and I’m hitting the road
I am ready to go home
I’m packing my bags and I’m hitting the road

I’m packing my bags and I’m hitting the road
Yes, I’m gonna run, I’m gonna run for my home
To stand in the sight of the Living God
That’s where I’m longing to be

“But out citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…”
– Philippians 3:20 


“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
– 1 Corinthians 13:12

I’ve found during my 24 years on this earth that there is a hunger in my soul that longs for peace, comfort, and true happiness. From time to time I catch glimpses of what I’m looking for – like an image shimmering on the surface of water. A long dinner with close friends, a strong cup of coffee by a roaring fire in a log cabin, a mural of stars across a black African sky – they all echo a serenity that transcends this reality and moves my mind to dwell on things heavenly. But it is only an echo. It is not Home.

I long to be with my Creator. I long to drop the confusion, the loneliness, the sadness, and the vanity under this sun. I look forward to the freedom, the joy, the heavenly community that awaits my last breath.

There are good times, wonderful memories, and precious blessings under this sun, but they pale in comparison to my wildest ruminations. In the end, this world is fleeting, but it is my dwelling place for now – like a small tent on a camping trip. And though there are proverbial rocks under my sleeping bag, I’ll do my best to take some good pictures of this trip in hopes that my friends and I will be able to share stories one day.

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Raising the Dead

The following is something that I wrote a while back (12.1.08 to be precise), and I figured I’d post it here just to get things started…

Raising the Dead
I think one of the more profound things I’ve heard recently is actually a very simple truth. That is, God not only heals lepers and restores sight, but He raises the dead. This is where hope is to truly be found.

For so long – most of my life, actually – I have been listening for Jesus to say “Go and wash your eyes in the Pool of Siloam” (cf. John 9). I believed that my own sin, sadness, melancholy attitude, etc. were the result of genetics, upbringing, generational sin, or just my own fallen nature. I failed to realize that God made me who I am so that His good works might be manifested in me. Now that in no way makes God responsible for my sin – He only gave me my personality and knit me together… the sin is my own, the full flowering of my depravity.

So I have been looking for the scratch for my itch – a wife for my intimacy desires, a Christ-centered community for my loneliness, a sweet gig for my greed… the list goes on. And I’ve been listening for God to tell me, “Hey, I fixed this… all you have to do is go ‘wash yourself off’ and you’ll see that it’s been taken care of.” But this is woefully inadequate when it comes to truly dealing with the roots of sin, and it can’t be heard because God’s not saying it. My God is holy… and not the awesome vaulted-ceiling-cathedral kind of holy, but really holy. Like touch-the-Ark-of-the-Covenant-and-you’re-toast holy. Your-goat-touches-the-foot-of-the-mountain-that-God-has-enveloped-in-a-cloud-of-His-glory and it’s game over for him… that kind of holy. And I’m sinful. But not in the “I got frustrated at work” kind of sinful… I mean I’m the rebellious, prideful, self-aggrandizing seminary junkie expecting the world to cater to my needs sinful.

So I can’t downplay my sin and trivialize God’s holiness – I must accept them both at full-strength, like a stiff shot of whisky or a black cup of coffee. And this means that dealing with it isn’t just a cleanliness issue, it’s a death issue. I’m not just a kid with a dirty diaper, I’m a corpse in the morgue.

There’s no spit-shine miracle mud that can peel away the layers of prideful self-pity and the heart calloused by lust and lies. No, it takes more. It takes a miracle like making dead man live again. I’ve tried taking showers, and I’ve tried the various approaches to making amends with or accepting my junk… but none of them work. If I am to be free from the chains of my sin, I must die… be slain… expire… exhale that stirring death rattle. I must see myself as a flat-lined dead body in terms of sin. And not only that, but I must see that the same breath of life that was breathed into Adam has flooded into my lungs by the death, burial and resurrection of the Second Adam (see Romans 5), and the same Spirit that resurrected Christ in the tomb is at work in my heart. I must not only die to sin, but live, breathe, and walk by the Spirit.

I think this is the heart behind Romans 5-8 and Galatians 5… that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ. We must consider ourselves as cold decaying corpses to the wicked pursuits of the flesh, and vibrant, alive and joyfully responsive/submissive to the Spirit if we are to see victory, peace, and joy this side of heaven. Satan’s fate is sealed – death and hell await him. But our King Jesus is alive and well, sitting on his throne – or atop his white horse (Revelation 19:11ff), whichever suits your fancy.

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Obligatory First Post: The Inaugural

And so it begins…

First off, this blog will (hopefully) be my humble attempt at sharing thoughts and keeping a record of the goings-on in my life for my close friends, random acquaintances, and anyone else who would care to give me the time of day. Among other things, it will most likely contain thoughts on Scripture, books, music, humor, and anything else that strikes a chord in my mind.

As a word of self-introduction, my name is Nathan Johnson and I’m currently a 25 year-old seminary student who grew up in a decent-sized town in west Texas. The most incredible life-changing thing that’s ever happened to me occurred while I was still in elementary school… God worked in my life and, despite myself, gave me the faith – by His grace – to surrender my life to His will. I was baptized several years later as a senior in high school, which is when my true passion for Scripture and a life devoted to following Christ began. After graduating from high school I made my way down to College Station to attend Texas A&M University where I spent some of the most memorable and formative years of my life. I majored in Psychology and tacked on a History minor before graduating in May ’06 and making the move to Fort Worth to follow my calling into ministry. I am now at the tail-end of my seminary experience, and am excited to see what doors God will open and where He will lead me. I pray that at some point I will get the awesome responsibility and blessing of being a husband and father (in that order), and at some point use my gifts to both serve and edify the Church as a pastor, teacher, disciple-maker, and leader.

I do know that God will never leave me or forsake me, and that whatever happens to or around me – be it good or bad – will be for my good and His glory. It is in that hope and promise that I have put my faith. God has seen fit to give me a unique set of gifts to worship and glorify Him, and I pray that through them I bring Him honor and not shame.

Beyond that, I thoroughly enjoy reading, writing, long conversations over cups of coffee, traveling, steaks, hunting and fishing at my family’s ranch, cold weather, snowy mountains, deep Scriptures, and good theology (I’ve also been known to dabble in photography and guitar playing, but I’m an amateur at best in both fields).

I would appreciate any input that you would care to voice on anything that I post… feel free to say whatever is on your mind and we’ll get a discussion going.

The last thing that I would leave you with on this first post is a quote from one of my personal heroes, Martin Luther: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

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