Tuesday, February 24, 2015

God Shows His Love for Us...



God gives gifts in different measure. One of the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 is the gift of faith. It sure seems like we all need faith, right? But He gives an extra measure of faith to some of His children.

For those who have not been given that special helping of faith, doubt is occasionally, and sometimes often, a source of challenge. It is not like we can reach out our hands and touch God's face. We don't hear him audibly.

Yes, I know, His hand is everywhere, and He speaks to us through His Word. But when things are hard, we waver.

I think that lack of concreteness, combined with an endless stream of challenges this side of heaven, is what causes so many people to wonder if God cares about them.

Have you ever wondered, "Does God really love me? After all I have done?"

The answer, of course is yes. You and I can know this is true by what He has done for us. For broken, stumbling, still-making-mistakes you and me.

What has He done for us? Read more about God's Ultimate Demonstration of Love in my post today at Do Not Depart....

 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

God is Big Enough



My head is down. How can it not be? I am walking through brambles and every single step threatens my upright position. To fall would mean not only gashes but further entanglement. I keep my eyes on my feet.

There is no way out of this thorny brush except by going forward. Diligently I wrench each foot up, pulling free of the mess and setting it down ahead, only to be caught again as I wrestle the other foot up and out. 

The thorns dig into my ankles. The scratches itch and burn. When I look closely I see trickles of blood running into my socks.

Sometimes I stop. I stand still and just breathe. A single wet line trickles from my hair into the corner of my eye. The sweat burns. I wonder if my eyes are tearing from the pain or if I am crying. I am so exhausted I don’t know any more.

I look ahead. Nothing but the same. More and more brambles. No path. Impossible. Hope trembles. My resolve wavers and I think it might be time to just sit down in the thorns and give up. 

~~~

Sometimes into a life comes a big obstacle. And sometimes a full set.

Some obstacles are of our own making. Some are thrust upon us.

It doesn't really matter where they come from. What matters is what you do with them. What you do about them.

~~~

Last week I spent a few hours with a far-away friend I rarely see. You know how it is when you are in the presence of someone who just understands? Someone who loves the Lord like you do and is steadily abandoning her ideas of how life should be, to relax deeper and deeper into His will? 

My friend gets it. She has counted the cost. She understands that when you give your life over to His plan, it is not going to look how you expected. It does not mean life will get easy. It may even mean that suffering and sacrifice fall immediately on your head.

But she has lived the joy, has eaten the fruit of a life lived poured out. She has counted the cost and found it worthwhile

My friend has much joy in her life. And she also has an impossible situation. A deeply difficult and painful situation, over which she has little control.

On January 1 she picked up a bracelet and put it on her wrist. It says “God is Big Enough.” She is believing that and praying that over her impossible situation, every single day of 2015. 

When she shared this with me last week, the happy chatter and distraction of children prevented me from responding fully. Not that I could have, as I felt like my soul was gasping for breath. 

God is big enough.

God is big enough.

Even for my brambles.

~~~

My calculations say that we are sinking, sinking - drowning in a joblessness that is going to suck the very life from us.

But truth says God is big enough to provide.

My eyes see people constantly misunderstanding, seemingly determined to believe the worst of each other, the worst of me, no matter what I do or say.

But truth says God is big enough to restore.

My ears hear whispers of self-accusation: “If only you had…” If only you were more….” “You shouldn't…"

But truth says God is big enough for my failings.

My body is filled with pain, with solutions for each pain causing greater pain elsewhere.

But truth says God is big enough to heal.  

~~~

Why is suffering so intricately woven into the journey of faith? Great men and women of the ages have asked this and debated the answer. I don’t know. I just know that the result can go two ways.

I can suffer and harden.

Or I can suffer and be laid bare.

Because of Jesus, and only because of Him, suffering and being laid bare is where I journey. The pain strips me of myself. Drops me to my knees. I fall before Him, on Him. 

He is big enough to hold me up.

~~~

All the brambles of the earth shrivel before the thorny cross on my Savior’s brow. 

Sometimes He seems to take up holy pruning shears and just snips those wretched vines from my ankles. Makes a path straight out of the forest into the sunshine. He is a God of miracles. 

Other times He patiently holds my hand as I do the hard work of walking up and out. The slow hard work. He is a God Who is present and gives strength.

I have no idea how He will make a way out of this mess of messes. But I know He is big enough.

God is big enough.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Persevering in Prayer: The Example of Monica of Hippo

by Ary Scheffer, 1846

Have you ever prayed for someone for a long time? A really really long time?

Do you ever wonder if those prayers make a whit of difference?

John is pretty clear:

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. - 1 John 5:14-15

Scripture affirms that God hears and answers when we pray in His will. But wow, sometimes the answers are sooo long in coming. I find discouragement setting in. It can be hard to persevere.

Then I think of Monica of Hippo.

Monica was the poster child for praying without ceasing. Her heart burned for her husband and children to know God, and despite their paganism, their adultery, their tempers... she never gave up.

And the fruit of Monica's perseverance in prayer and quiet life of faith? You might be surprised just who it was she was praying for.

Read more about Monica of Hippo in my post at Do Not Depart.

Monday, December 29, 2014

When the Path is Steep, You Are Not Alone



In the economy of my life, words are the currency.

I am fascinated by language, find greatest internal clarity when I write, and am bolstered by encouraging words from others.

Yet it is my eyes that direct my words.

The eye is the lamp of the body. - Matthew 6:22

I am such a visual person that I can not think clearly when there is clutter around me (and if you know me well you now understand why I never think clearly!) My prayer life is filled with images.

I take visual snapshots - I still remember the first time I did this, a tender moment with my two dearest friends from college when I was about 20 years old. We lay on a futon on the floor talking about deep and precious things, and their gentle faces and tousled hair all mixed together was so beautiful I yearned to freeze the image forever. So I took a picture with my mind. I can see it still.

When I write, I am often simply describing what I see. Ideas have form and color and light in my mind. Analogies and allegories are commonplace. I don’t make this happen. It happens to me.

So perhaps you will understand when I tell you that the past four months, maybe longer, yes longer, I have been on an arduous trek through a most difficult mountain range. I have crossed parched deserts, dragging my feet in deep sand. Climbed and climbed and climbed steep summits. I have come out unexpectedly into glorious meadows filled with the most beautiful wildflowers, and been served by angels. I have rested by deep and clear lakes. My feet have been tangled in dark thorny weeds, and I have fallen and bled again and again.

I have been on a journey and I am bone weary.

In non-allegorical life? Financial stress, uncertainty, new businesses, deep relational challenges, a gloriously beautiful trip to China with my father, unidentified health problems, failure, success, failure and failure again. 

There are days when I feel like I am staring into the face of the lion that wants to devour me. Because I am. When life gets rough, when things become uncertain, don’t we begin to wonder? To doubt a little?… Did I have this all wrong? If I had done it all the world's way, would things be different?

Those are the waverings the enemy watches for. The opportunity he hopes to exploit.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. - 1 Peter 5:8

Hurts and fears and missteps pile up, and without solid ground to stand on, even the most faithful find it hard to stand firm. How wary we sons and daughters must be of stepping onto shifting sands! Only the Rock of our salvation gives true footing.

My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be shaken. 
- Psalm 62:5-6

We all come to crossroads in our lives. Indeed, most of us encounter such intersections more than once as we walk the path we have been given. Which way do I go? Do I go the way that seems easy, the wide road that everyone would tell me to follow? Or do I take this hard dirt path that my heart and His Word say to walk?

I always pray to take the Lord's way, but sometimes it is so painful. The way of service and love is the way of hard work. Not just hard work with my hands, but the hard work of allowing God to transform my heart and mind.

It is not in our nature to give and give. It is not in our nature to put others before ourselves. When people argue against Christianity I wonder if they understand what Jesus said and how He lived. Who would suggest that the best way to chart the course of your life is by giving everything up for others? This is not an idea formed in a human mind. Jesus’ way is completely upside down from the way we think the world should run. The first shall be last? It defies human logic! 

This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." - Jeremiah 6:16a

This year my family has chosen to walk differently. To take a leap into the unknown in many ways and try something that we know God has been calling us to. I wouldn’t change a thing. God’s plans are always the best plans. But they don’t always look the way we expect. Our leap did not produce glorious financial results, but it has borne the eternal fruit of deepened love and family ties upon which no price can be set. We have made difficult sacrifices in the name of relationships. We have faced painful challenges and done all we could to walk uprightly. We have wept. It has been a season of much feeling. 

As we have struggled, we have not been alone. We have been blessed with tangible assistance, real help with real needs. And the hands that have helped meet our physical needs have also been hands that have folded in prayer for us, hands that have lifted ours when we could not lift our own. (Exodus 17:11-12)

Gratitude is a paltry word to describe the swell of emotions just writing this brings. 

Two verse snippets have been my companions:

Hope does not disappoint
- Romans 5:5a

Love never fails
- 1 Corinthians 13:8a

There have been times when it has only been the dogged choice to hold onto and believe those verses that has kept me from drowning.

Sometimes it seems like hope is being disappointed and love is failing.

But it is all about perspective. When I train the microscope of my attention on a string of seeming losses and failures, there is nothing allowed in the picture but despair. Yet when I set the microscope down, take a deep breath, and stand back... stand way way back… I begin to allow an eternal perspective to gently filter into view.

I see people who are growing, sin that is being dealt with, something lasting and beautiful that is being built. 

The road is exhausting. The ups and the downs seem like they want to kill me some days. I long for the security of my warm soft bed… a place sometimes I would prefer to stay all day.

This is real life.

And Jesus is right in the middle of my real life. Because of His grace I can say, “I have failed” and not feel condemned. Because of His forgiveness, I can say to those I have wronged, “Please forgive me” and I will be freed from the burden of guilt.

I am still walking this hard road. It has real impact on my daily life and on my health and on my work. I am a writer who is struggling to write, and that is not a fun place for a writer to be. But because I am walking this road with the lover of my soul, I will survive the agonies and the exhilarations. And astonishingly, He will use them both to make me more like Himself. What an impossibly loving Lord He is.

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” - Isaiah 41:13

The road will level out, I know it will. It always does. And in these steep parts when I stumble, His strong hand holds me firm. I am still gasping for breath some days and my muscles tremble from the effort, but I am not alone.

Is your journey steep today? Hold tight to His holy hand. Take heart. There is purpose in your pain. And who knows? This might be just around the next bend...

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

- Psalm 23:2-3a
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This song from Christa Wells kept playing in my head as I wrote this post...

ON THE MOUNTAIN
I’ve been climbing my whole life
and I’m only at the bottom of the mountain,
at the bottom of the mountain 
Rising up from my feet
in the daylight
rising up into the clouds and out of my sight
is the height of that mountain 

Well my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it
but my soul is gonna get there one day
No, my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it 
but my soul is gonna get there one day

Lord, these shoes are gonna need some help
so we can make it to the top of the mountain 
to the top of your mountain
Many feet have gone before us
with a habit of faith and courage
they’ll meet us at the road’s end

Well my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it
but my soul is gonna get there one day
No, my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it 
but my soul is gonna get there one day

Yes, yes I think I will
Oh Yes I know we will
Yes yes I know we will
Oh yeah, I know we will

I’ve been climbing my whole life 
and I’m only at the bottom of the mountain
at the bottom of the mountain
All along this road
when it feels so
far to the top, you say, just hold on to the mountain 

Well my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it
but my soul is gonna get there one day
No, my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it 
but my soul is gonna get there one day
Well my soul (oh, my soul) is gonna get there one day

(press play below to hear the song)

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