Even When Trembling, Stand

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A friend is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. A family member lives day to day with a debilitating disease. A family we love is torn apart, a marriage marred. Across the nation and the world, news flows that brings a shadow on the soul.

Yet, through it all, I am reminded that this world is not our home and this generation is, as every generation before, in need of truth and hope.  That “truest true” – the one faithful, constant, factual hope that has stood and will stand is Jesus Christ and the power of His death and resurrection to free us from the penalty, power, and guilt of our sin but it is also is able to redeem our fear, our pain, and our limitations because He is more than able.  It is not always a physical freedom or a restoration of how we desire things to be, but it is life giving on earth and in eternity.

What causes the redeemed child of God to face sorrow without despair is the intimate knowledge of and our relationship to the One who tenderly and firmly holds all circumstances in His hands both now and forever and allows nothing that will not ultimately be for His greatest glory and our good.  Though it is not always “good” as we define the term and His “better ways” for us may not always be visible to us at first glance, it is so. For everything that touches us is sifted through His strong hands that hold us and His wise fingers that filter as only He can. He is the only one who well knows our frame (Psalm 103:14) and the number of our days (Psalm 90:12) and He is the Lover of our souls!

God’s Word upholds us because it is not just “nice little sayings” that can be framed and hung on a wall to make us lighthearted and at peace for the moment; it is not a crutch that allows us to hobble along.  It is rock solid truth on which we can “hang” our very lives and which causes us to walk steadfast, to stand and, when we have done all else, to continue standing firm, hidden in Christ…regardless.

From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2

We take in and hide the Word of God in our hearts because it is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) just for us and we choose to not only believe it but to live it out even when our steps are trembling. Our God who is mighty makes us secure, our footsteps steady, as He reminds us of His very great and precious promises.  (2 Peter 1:4)

Even when we are “in the presence of our enemies,” “in the shadow of death,” or any situation where “weeping lasts for a night,” we can trust and hold steady.

So evident was this in Martin and Gracia Burnham’s lives as she recounts their ordeal and God’s tender mercy to bring to mind what was written on their hearts.

Read and be encouraged for the days when life is “just as it should be” but also when “live spins out of control!”

How do we manage when life spins out of control in a single day? What do we do when all our plans and goals are put on hold, when everything we had intended to do and see and accomplish gets swept aside, and we don’t know if we’ll ever get back to familiar ground? How do we keep our sanity? How do we avoid slipping into a personal canyon of despair?

‘I remember a particularly frightening Thursday morning in the jungle, the day of Gun Battle Number 13. We endured seventeen of these altogether, where our little group would be spotted by the Philippine military, who were trying to rescue us hostages but were ill-trained to do so. While their intentions were good, their technique was altogether dangerous, not only for the terrorists but for us as well.

On this day Martin and I had just built a small fire to heat water for a cup of tea. Our recently washed clothes were strewn out on bushes to dry in the sun. Suddenly, gunfire erupted. We had to get out of that place immediately. Normally, we tried to keep our belongings fairly well consolidated for such emergencies. But in this moment, our stuff was everywhere. We were totally unprepared. We instantly hit the ground, of course. As bullets continued to whiz past our heads, Martin gingerly reached up to pull the cord that tied one end of our hammock to a tree. He then scooted along the ground to do the same to the opposite cord. We squashed the hammock into our backpack and then dashed for cover, abandoning nearly everything else—extra clothes, cooking utensils, my hairbrush, and other necessities.

Soon we found ourselves wading through a swamp that came up to our waists. We emerged on the other side and flopped down to rest. I looked at my husband with total exhaustion. In that desperate hour, my wonderful husband said, ‘Gracia, let’s remind ourselves of what we know is true.’

We had no Bible to consult; we could lean only on what we had stored in our memories. From that reserve, we began to recite: ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31). One of us said, ‘Where does it say in Scripture, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love?’ (It’s in the Old Testament, Jeremiah 31:3.) ‘And then what about that part at the beginning of Ephesians: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ?’ (Ephesians 1:3)

We went on sharing Scriptures such as these, trying to anchor ourselves in the truth we could trust, the truth that God is with us through the tunnel, through the valley, through the gun battle. He stands with us through the medical prognosis that terrorizes us, through every horrible thing that life throws our way. We don’t go through these things alone. We walk with our hands in the hand of the One who turns night into day.’

(***From “To Fly Again,” by Gracia Burnham who is also the author of “In the Presence of My Enemies,” the true story of Martin and Gracia Burnham who were kidnapped in the Philippians and held hostage in the jungle for over a year.  I would highly recommend both starting with the latter.)

“Therefore my trust is in the Lord,
And not in mine own merit;
On Him my soul shall rest, His word
Upholds my fainting spirit;
His promised mercy is my fort,
My comfort and my sweet support –

I wait for it with patience (Wait for it with patience);

I wait for it with patience (Wait for it with patience).

(Lyrics from Psalm 130 (From Depths of Woe)

Even When We Cannot See

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“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14

There are days when to be “Be still and know that HE is God!” (Psalm 46:10) is so easy.

In those times, my heart and my head agree with each other, and I almost dance with joy in experiencing both what I know and what I feel in tandem.

Certainly, I experience it when there is much to be celebrated. To lift my hands to the One from Whom all blessings flow is easy and immediate.

There are other times when what I “know” about our very good God, what I “feel,” and how I respond clash loudly! In those times, I, for all intents and purposes, choose not to be still. I don’t always ask “why” well and, I have to admit, my “why” is more like the rant of a petulant child.

But, to be in the midst of turmoil of my own or another that I love or to watch the world turn upside down in a variety of ways and yet to “be still” is not a reflection of my own strength. Rather, it is a supernatural gift of a gracious God who, in the middle of my pleading, of laying my heart bare before the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, lifts my eyes and my heart to “see” Him instead of the moment. He holds and steadies this child, tenderly, even when He chooses not to calm the storm. And, in those times, He is also in the process of refining my heart.

We often have a desired outcome, an expectation for our circumstances; a way we believe is best and right.  At times, it may deal with the externals and the “haves or have nots” to which God says, “There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12).  Yet, when it comes to physical illnesses, most would not argue that our requests are reasonable.  But, God’s ways, that sometimes “seem” difficult or mistaken to us, always lead to “life that is truly life” (I Timothy 6:19) because they are grounded in the firm foundation of His loving sovereignty that knows the end from the beginning and sees what we cannot. And, even when it doesn’t “feel” good, we can “know” it is.

All too often, I (and I think it is safe to say, “we”) “feel” – regardless of what we “know” – that for God to show His love, He must answer our requests exactly as we ask, fulfill our every desire, especially if they are “good” desires. Or, if He doesn’t, that He will immediately provide an explanation for us to see what He’s doing, not just with eyes of faith but with our physical eyes!

But it is not always the way of our Father. He says, “Trust me” even if it hurts. He says, “Trust me” even if it makes no sense. He says, “Trust me” and let me do “exceedingly and abundantly more” – not only more than we can think or ask but also more than what we can perceive with our eyes.

What the Israelites could “see” was a vast army heading in their direction to bring destruction. And yet, Moses told them to “be still” and watch God fight for them!  What? They had a clear view of the immediate danger, but they could not “see” what God had in store, how He would protect and defend them. Even so, indeed, as He did time and again, He delivered them.

The same is true for His children today; He calls us to “be still” and watch Him fight for us; even if His deliverance is, at times, hard. He calls us, often a forgetful people, to remember His faithfulness in the past so we will stand on that same promise of faithfulness in the present.

“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them…Not only may you see a tiny fraction of what God is doing in your life; the part you do see may make no sense to you.” (John Piper)

The other day, as my husband and I talked about and prayed for a situation that someone we love is facing, he reminded me of Joseph, sold as a slave by his brothers yet, in time, raised to a place of prominence to be an avenue of provision and protection. Could he “see” the faithfulness of God in that moment when he was taken away? Did he “feel” the love of God in that instant? Or did he cry out with an honest groan, “Why Lord?” And, yet, as we are given a view into his life, we are able to observe his faithful obedience to God. We watch his trust in the One he knew to be the sovereign Lover of his soul. We witness God honor that one who learned to “be still” and watch the Lord fight for him. And, through His Word across generations, we now get to see many of the “whys” to God’s ways; that He allowed Joseph’s hardships so he might be a place “for such a time.” God was doing “good” long before the “good” could be seen!

“But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Isaiah 52:12

Knowing that the Lord Himself is going before us and behind us is not a small thing nor is it a fanciful hope; it is the reality for those who are redeemed children of God, loved deeply by the One who doesn’t always give His demanding children just what we want but always gives just what we need and what will ultimately be for our good and a glory to Himself! And when what He gives is painful, He walks through the fire with us, He holds us close, and He says, “Be still and know (hold onto and experience) that I AM God.”

This side of heaven, we will not always do that well. But, by His grace, may we be found faithful, trusting, and “still” more with each day!

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Excerpt from “Even If” by Mercy Me   (Music and lyrics so often draw my heart in…as do these.  So thankful my son shared this song with me some weeks ago)!

 It’s easy to sing

When there’s nothing to bring me down

But what will I say

When I’m held to the flame

Like I am right now

 I know You’re able and I know You can

Save through the fire with Your mighty hand.

But even if You don’t.

My hope is You alone.

 …God, when You choose

To leave mountains unmovable

Give me the strength to be able to sing

It is well with my soul. 

I know You’re able and I know You can

Save through the fire with Your mighty hand

But even if You don’t

My hope is You alone.

I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt

Would all go away if You’d just say the word

But even if You don’t

My hope is You alone.

 You’ve been faithful, You’ve been good

All my days.

Jesus, I will cling to You

Come what may.

‘Cause I know You’re able

I know You can.

I know You’re able and I know You can

Save through the fire with Your mighty hand

But even if You don’t

My hope is You alone

I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt

Would all go away if You’d just say the word

But even if You don’t

My hope is You alone It is well with my soul

It is well, it is well with my soul.

 

 

Your Kingdom Come

IMG_4010   Circumstances. They bring joy or sorrow. They are fleeting or constant. They change and can threaten to undo us emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually. We can be laughing one minute; wringing our hands the next. We can feel peace and turmoil all within the same hour. We are told not to worry, but how do we steady ourselves?  How do we maintain our joy? I have often spent time in the Word of God, talking to Him and asking just those questions.

For God has indeed created us to “glorify Him and enjoy Him forever,” but He also created us to be relational people living between the “now and the not yet.”   And when, in the course of being human, pain comes either from a broken relationship, a frightening medical diagnosis, a wait that takes longer than we would choose, our own choices or choices of ones we love that cause heartache, or other scenarios that lead to sorrow, we often ask how we can glorify Him and enjoy Him in the midst. But it is in laying that hurt bare, unashamed before our God who sees, in total need of His grace, that we begin that journey to joy regardless of the circumstances.

At times, I am able to rest well in the arms of my Savior, to lay myself and the burdens and idols of my heart on the altar as a living sacrifice and say, “They are yours, Lord; I give them and my striving to ‘fix’ the situation up to You.” But there are other times I find myself either trying to “crawl off the altar,” as Pastor Randy Pope has said, or pull back those loved ones or circumstances I have given over to the King of my heart as if I can make something good happen in fashioning them according to my design!

No, there is only One who, by His grace, can make something beautiful of stifling situations or bone wearying loss and, it is when I find my joy in the hope of Christ in me, of Christ working “all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” that I can, once again, let it go into the hands of the One who can do immeasurably more than I can think or ask – each time a little longer than the last.

And that is growing in grace; when we rest a little better, strive a little less, and trust a little more with each situation.  We are growing more and more into the likeness of the Son! Scripture abounds!  While it is good and helpful to have the Word of God set before our eyes so we can commit it to your hearts, they are not simply nice little sayings to put on a Pinterest craft.  They are the very words of God “alive and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12), “ God breathed…useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

When I focus on the circumstances around me instead of focusing on the “joy set before me,” I tremble much; and fear and worry threaten to strangle my joy and hope in Christ! God doesn’t mind our wrestling, but He longs to hear His children humbly cry out our deepest longings, fears, and pain; for He knows our hearts better than we ourselves do.  He longs to hear us say, “I believe; help my unbelief, Lord.” (Mark 9:24)  He is not surprised by our humanness and our lack of “wholeness.” But, ultimately, He desires for us to grow in that wholeness, to grow in that holiness.  He desires to take us in His arms and bring comfort even when He chooses not to settle the storm that rages, when He calls us to wait and then wait a little longer, or when He allows things we don’t understand to continue or to find their conclusion in a way we would not have chosen.

God does not call us to deny that pain exists or to stuff our emotions.  But that pain and those emotions are often His way of driving us to our knees, breaking through our self reliance to send us before the throne of grace, humbly but also boldly because of the work of Christ on the cross and our relationship with Him!  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Hebrews 4:16)

Paul gives us the example of one who cared deeply, even agonized over the people he loved; and then He left them and the events swirlings around him in the hands of the One who alone can change hearts and circumstances. “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.  Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”  (Acts 20:31, 32) “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:4)

It’s often a matter of where I allow my heart to dwell – on my circumstances or on my Savior.  If I hear the promises of God yet continue to say,  “I get that, but…” I am never satisfied, which leads to a deeper heartache.  But if I keep reminding myself of the truth God has given me and made known time and again, I may not “get it,” but I can say with confidence, “I may not ‘feel’ your presence or understand your ways, but give me a heart of wisdom, a heart that trusts You more, Lord, even if I cannot ‘see’ what You are doing in the middle of it all.”

Richard Rohr says it well.  “To pray and actually mean ‘thy Kingdom come,’ we must also be able to say ‘my kingdoms go.’” My hands are open, Lord.  Help me let my kingdoms go so Yours can fully come.  I wait in expectation!

“But courage, child: we are all between the paws of the true Aslan.”   C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

From Wrestling to Rest

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Our God sees.

Our God knows.

Our God  reigns.

Our God never changes.

Our God is immovable.

Our God is the God of all comfort.

Our God is not surprised by our circumstances, our choices, or our wrestlings.

Our God upholds us with His powerful right hand!

Our God is a consuming fire and a quiet Peace!

Our God is our Rock and our Fortress!

Our God lifts us from the muck and mire of wounded hearts and broken spirits.

Our God devastates our little kingdoms to give us an inheritance in His greater kingdom.

Our God pursues us when we run and gently holds us until we are still, resting in His embrace.

Our God redeems.

Our God restores.

Be still.

When God Shouts, There Can Be Laughter and Joy!

Sometimes I listen well.

Sometimes God needs to get my attention.

Sometimes God shouts!

Today He shouted!

It wasn’t in anger.  It wasn’t in chastisement.  It was from the tender heart of my God Who sees, Who knows my weaknesses, Who knows my sometimes fearful heart but Who loves to pull me close, steady my heart, and remind me of Who He is and what is true.

In the wee hours of the morning, I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep.  Fear.  The things that were waging war on my mind are real, but they are not outside the hand of God; they are insurmountable only as I try to, in my mind and often actions, fix them or worry them into submission.  But in the hands of the Redeemer, they are just instruments to chip away at my control, my self sufficiency and point me back to the true King, the true Salvation, the true Peace!  He is doing HIS good work, not my own, in the each of them.

After what seemed like hours (and may have been), I asked  the Lord to help me stop “thinking” so I could sleep; I eventually drifted off.

The morning light came and with it was evidence upon evidence that God heard my cries in the night. He listened to my cries, and He has been shouting all morning long, “I love you!  I am not caught unaware!  I am still on my throne and I am still making all things new!  You may not see, but ‘Be still and know that I AM God!’”

Circumstances may not have changed in the world around me or in my world as I rose out of bed, but they are known and being sifted through the hands of our very good God  And, even as I write this, I laugh and I cry tears of joy that my God is faithful in all things and loves to point His children to the truth again and again as a reminder!

In preparation for getting everyone off to their day, I headed to the kitchen.  Before I had my first cup of coffee, God was already putting things in front of my eyes to strengthen my heart!

First, came a morning “tweet” over my phone from Kevin DeYoung, “To start the day without prayer is to suggest the devil is feeble, God is irrelevant, and we can handle things on our own.” After which God brought Psalm 5:3 to my mind, “In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”

And again He had me recall, “I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8

That first cup in hand and waiting for my son to come down for work, another friend “tweeted.” “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come … He will come to save you.’” Isaiah 35:4  I hurriedly grabbed my Bible and opened it to Isaiah 35 and read more.  And before that, verse 3: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way” and THEN, “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come!”

Feeling a little more refreshed and with a knowing smile on my face, I saw opened a devotion.  No surprise…I was beginning to expect God was having “fun” with me that morning!  Another grin.  “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.”  Exodus 14:13.  I read on and couldn’t help the tears of joy that fell as I realized the Lord was holding me in His arms and saying, “Keep listening child; I’m speaking to you!”

“These words contain God’s command to the believer when he is… brought into difficulties. He cannot retreat; he cannot go forward; he is shut up on the right hand and on the left; what is he now to do? The Master’s word to him is, ‘Stand still.’… Despair whispers, ‘Lie down and die; give it all up.’ But God would have us put on…courage, and even in our worst times, rejoice in His love and faithfulness… Precipitancy cries, ‘Do something. Stir yourself.  To stand still and wait, is sheer idleness.’  (It says) we must be doing something at once—we must do it so we think—instead of looking to the Lord, who will not only do something but will do everything….But Faith (in the One true God)…hears God say, ‘Stand still,’ and immovable as a rock, it stands. ‘Stand still’;—keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice; and it will not be long before God will say to you, as distinctly as Moses said it to the people of Israel, ‘Go forward.’” (Charles Spurgeon)

And, as if that were not enough, as I was pulling up that devotion to share in this blog, He continued to pour on the encouragement and challenge,

“So don’t lose heart. Have the same kind of confidence as the widow (in Luke 18). Pray with the confidence, not that precisely what you’re asking will be given, but that God will give what He knows is right. Perseverance is less about getting what we want, and more about believing that God hears us and will provide what we need — which is oftentimes something we have to grow into, especially when we ask, full of good intentions…God is never bothered when we pray by faith. Never. And perseverance is trusting this truth, as we keep asking for what’s right as far as we know, until God does what is right — either by giving us our desire or correcting it.” (Keep Praying that Prayer by Jonathan Parnell, Desiring God)

Coincidence?  No, you see God has said that His Word “will not return to (Him) empty, but will accomplish what (He) desires and achieve the purpose for which (He) sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)  He also said in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you wonderful things that you did not know!”  And He has promised that when we call out to Him, He hears and responds.  “I call on the Lord in my distress, and He answers me.”  (Psalm 120:1)

So He sent a variety of people who had no idea how what they shared was going to be used but who were faithful to do so.  Equally true, He has used the Word stored up in my heart that He alone can bring to my mind as I need it;  His words repeated back to me, to encourage, strengthen, equip, and calm His child!

I honestly laid it out to Him that I knew I wasn’t battling those fears well but that I needed to hear His voice.

And as I stand in awe that the God of the universe who loved me enough to redeem me through the work of His Son on the cross would also choose to speak to my heart and steady my “feeble arms and weak knees,” He reminds me yet again, “Be still and know that I AM God; I will be exalted among the nations.  I will be exalted in the earth.”  (Psalm 46:10) 

And He takes me back to another time long ago when concerns weighed on my husband and I as we talked while driving around town with our two children at the time.  From the back seat came a little voice.  I can still hear our then three year old daughter singing “I cast all my cares upon You; I lay all of my burdens down at your feet.  And any time I don’t know what to do, I will cast all my cares upon you.”  It was His voice through hers then and now, a child singing faithfully with steadfast, solid truth from I Peter 5:7.

My confidence is in the fact that “He who began a good work in you (and me), will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 1:6)  He is isn’t weary of my wrestling.  He isn’t shaking His head saying, “Do I have to remind you of My faithfulness again?”  No, He is carrying me to completion, gathering me in His arms, and reminding me in a myriad of ways that He is faithful, that He hears when we call to Him, and that He answers even if our fainting hearts sometimes cannot or do not hear.

So I “go forward” even as I am praying that I will continue to learn to just “be still” and rest in Him rather than look at circumstances beyond my control.

The conclusions to the “details” of  life that can cause my heart to tremble and grow weary may not be my timing or my ways, but my God is indeed making all things new, beautiful in His time and according to the riches of His grace;  amazingly writing my story, with its twists and turns, within the greater story of His redemption from creation to His return.

God is More Than Able

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be the glory…”  Ephesians 3:20-21

God is able.  We know that.  We don’t doubt it.  We want our lives to reflect a deep assurance in Jesus so that others will know the God in Whom we trust.  And yet, there are times we forget and allow our fears to overtake what we know and step off our firm foundation to a place of shifting sand.

It’s so easy to trust, when our eyes are fixed on Jesus and when we “feel” His presence.  But when the winds shift and the waves get wild, too often we shift our gaze inward to self or outward to circumstances and we falter.

Can’t we, at times, relate to Peter, the disciple who boldly declared his allegiance to the Savior, yet later ran in fear when asked if he knew Him?  It wasn’t his intention, but in the moment he hesitated.  He had moments of both trust and the lack thereof throughout his life.  In Matthew 14, he boldly declared his faith by looking intently at the Savior and, thus, was able to walk out to Him on the water when Jesus said, “Come.”  But when Peter began to focus on the raging storm around him, taking his eyes off Jesus and putting them on what he could see, he began to sink.  It was Jesus who had to save him when all he could do was cry out; just as He is faithful to do for us when we call in our weakness.

God lovingly commands His children to keep our eyes on Him – yes, because He is worthy and yes, because He is good!   But it is also because God knows that we are only steadfast, confident, and able to stand firm when our eyes are completely fixed on Him through His Word, the Bible, and our daily, even minute to minute, communication with Him through prayer.

These aren’t legalistic rituals or “spiritual” exercises to soothe the soul. Rather, it is time to climb into the lap of our Abba Father, our Savior, our Comforter and rest instead of wrestle; to put our confidence in the hope that is grounded in a Person not a “wish upon a star” philosophy devised by man.

It might be a designated time or an impromptu moment of praise, an outpouring of our pain or doubt, or a humble moment of repentance when His Spirit convicts our hearts and we must set our sin aside so we can again firmly walk in truth.  When we are in relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ, we can come at any moment – He desires it and beckons us to it.

God loves for us to bring Him praise, unburden our hearts, pour out our fears, and lay ourselves bare before the God who knows us intimately, even better than we know ourselves.  When we don’t understand the circumstances around us, we have a Father who is not afraid of our questions and who even allows us to ask “why.”  But then He tells us to trust in what we cannot see rather than demand that He change our situations or readjust His will and His ways to suit ours.  We are called, as children, to open hands; to a humility that says, “Not my will, but Yours, Lord.”

And, we are invited to a greater hope and purpose that says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)  Many cling to that verse as if it is quick fix – that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will do whatever we want Him to do.  But it is so much richer and more redeeming than this short-sighted view.  The paradox is that if we truly grow in our delight of the LORD – if we earnestly seek Him and know Him – our desires will be transformed to reflect His desires, our wills will be changed to want His will.  In so doing, we will receive the double satisfaction of having a heart after our Redeemer and He, in turn, will fulfill His renewed purposes and our redefined desires.  Through it all, He gets the glory and we receive the joy!

We see the chaos; He sees where He has said, “this far and no further.”  We often miss seeing the mercy and grace in situations, but make no mistake, everything that touches us is full of both, even when we don’t see or feel it.

Our covenant keeping God sees the full picture clearly from start to finish.  We see only where we stand in a moment’s time and even that imperfectly.  If we will trust the heart of the One who, in His great love for us sent His Son to redeem us and make us His own, we can rest, even give Him praise, in the middle of the moments that sometimes rock our world,  the daily grind of the ordinary, or the difficult life situations that are part of our everyday because we know that what He does and what He allows has a greater purpose now and in the future.

As Oswald Chambers writes, “We have the idea that God is going to do some exceptional thing, that He is preparing and fitting us for some extraordinary thing by and by, but as we go on in grace we find that God is glorifying Himself here and now, in the present minute.  If we have God’s say-so behind us, the most amazing strength comes, and we learn to sing in the ordinary days and ways!” 

And again, Oswald Chambers states it so clearly,“Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace.” (from Love: A Holy Command)

Yes, He is preparing to do exceptional things even as He is already, in the present.  Indeed, he is doing in and through us though we may not yet touch that reality and though we may, at times, hold up open hands through tears!  We know that because, as we look back, we can often say, “Now I see what God was doing all along and it was flawless!”  Though it all – past, present, and future – He gets the glory and that’s just how it should be because He is more than able; He is good!  And that is not dependent on His answer!

“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus…”  Hebrews 12:1-2

MAKE MY LIFE A PRAYER TO YOU  by Keith Green

Make my life a prayer to You, I want to do what You want me to,
No empty words and no white lies, no token prayers, no compromise.
I want to shine the light You gave, through Your Son, You sent to save us
From ourselves and our despair, It comforts me to know You’re really there.

Oh, I want to thank You now, for being patient with me,
Oh, it’s so hard to see, when my eyes are on me,
I guess I’ll have to trust and just believe what you say,
Oh, you’re coming again, coming to take me away,

I want to die, and let you give Your life to me, so I might live
And share the hope you gave to me, the love that set me free.
I want to tell the world out there You’re not some fable or fairy tale
That I made up inside my head –
You’re God, The Son, You’ve risen from the dead.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNww8F6G9U8

And When You Have Done All…Stand

Recently, I found something that I wrote several years ago in the midst of some very difficult situations facing our family at the time.  In light of heartache and loss in our family once again, the tragedies so rampant in the news this week, and pain within many dear friends’ families, I am reminded that this world is not our home and this generation is, as generations before, in need of truth and actual hope.  That one hope that has stood and will stand is Jesus Christ and the power of His death and resurrection to free us from the penalty of our sin but also from its power, our guilt, our fear, our pain, and our limitations.  It is not always a physical freedom, but it is life giving on earth and in eternity.

What has caused me to face sorrow without despair is the knowledge of and my relationship to the One who holds all circumstances in His hands both now and forever and allows nothing that will not ultimately be for His greatest glory and my good; not always “good” as we define it but as it is sifted through His strong hands that hold us and His wise fingers that sift as only He can.  For He is the only one who well knows our frame (Psalm 103:14) and the number of our days (Psalm 90:12) and He is the Lover of our souls!

His Word upholds me because it is not just “nice little sayings”  that can be framed and hung on a wall to make me feel good for the moment; it is not a crutch that allows me to hobble along.  It is rock solid truth on which I can “hang” my very life and which causes me to walk steadfast, to stand and, when I have done all else, to continue standing firm, hidden in Christ.

We take in and hide the Word of God in our hearts because it is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) just for us and, when our steps are trembling, our God Who is mighty makes us secure, our footsteps steady as He reminds us of His very good and precious promises.  (2 Peter 1:4)

Even when we are “in the presence of our enemies,” “in the shadow of death,” or any situation where “weeping that lasts for a night,” we can trust and hold steady as Gracia Burnham remembers and relates below:

How do we manage when life spins out of control in a single day? What do we do when all our plans and goals are put on hold, when everything we had intended to do and see and accomplish gets swept aside, and we don’t know if we’ll ever get back to familiar ground? How do we keep our sanity? How do we avoid slipping into a personal canyon of despair?

‘I remember a particularly frightening Thursday morning in the jungle, the day of Gun Battle Number 13. We endured seventeen of these altogether, where our little group would be spotted by the Philippine military, who were trying to rescue us hostages but were ill-trained to do so. While their intentions were good, their technique was altogether dangerous, not only for the terrorists but for us as well. “On this day Martin and I had just built a small fire to heat water for a cup of tea. Our recently washed clothes were strewn out on bushes to dry in the sun. Suddenly, gunfire erupted. We had to get out of that place immediately.“Normally, we tried to keep our belongings fairly well consolidated for such emergencies. But in this moment, our stuff was everywhere. We were totally unprepared. “We instantly hit the ground, of course. As bullets continued to whiz past our heads, Martin gingerly reached up to pull the cord that tied one end of our hammock to a tree. He then scooted along the ground to do the same to the opposite cord. We squashed the hammock into our backpack and then dashed for cover, abandoning nearly everything else—extra clothes, cooking utensils, my hairbrush, and other necessities.

Soon we found ourselves wading through a swamp that came up to our waists. We emerged on the other side and flopped down to rest. I looked at my husband with total exhaustion. In that desperate hour, my wonderful husband said, ‘Gracia, let’s remind ourselves of what we know is true.’

We had no Bible to consult; we could lean only on what we had stored in our memories. From that reserve, we began to recite: ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31).“One of us said, ‘Where does it say in Scripture, “I have loved you with an everlasting love”?’ (It’s in the Old Testament, Jeremiah 31:3.)“ ‘And then what about that part at the beginning of Ephesians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ”?’ (Ephesians 1:3)

We went on sharing Scriptures such as these, trying to anchor ourselves in the truth we could trust, the truth that God is with us through the tunnel, through the valley, through the gun battle. He stands with us through the medical prognosis that terrorizes us, through every horrible thing that life throws our way. We don’t go through these things alone. We walk with our hands in the hand of the One who turns night into day.’

(***From “To Fly Again,” by Gracia Burnham who is also the author of “In the Presence of My Enemies,” the true story of Martin and Gracia Burnham who were kidnapped in the Philippians and held hostage in the jungle for over a year.  I would highly recommend both starting with the latter.)

From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2

Delight and Desires

Longings.  Sometimes the intensity of them brings tears and great anxiety.  We long for their fulfillment, but most of all, we long for rest.

A hunger for relationship or the restoration of a broken one.  A desire to see physical healing.  A deep yearning to be parents or, as parents, to get past or at least hold on and thrive in the “grunge” moments; or at our deepest longing, to see our children “walking in the truth.”  Or it could be for a situation to be more comfortable, a new job, a different home, a move.  Sometimes our longings are for things temporal and sometimes for things eternal; each bring their own angst until we lay them down before our God Who sees.  He is not unaware of them; He knows us better than we know ourselves so we can honestly pour them out before the One who so loves us and takes vast joy in fulfilling our desires according to His good will for His glory and our greatest good!

Psalm 37:4 reminds us, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  So often I have heard and myself been tempted to shape that as a “gimme” promise – that if I will delight in the Lord, follow Him well, “do” for Him, and give Him great praise then He will meet my every need according to MY wishes!  Oh, even writing that makes my heart cringe because, in that line of thinking, I am demanding that God do what I ask and fulfill every desire of my heart regardless of His will or the consequences.  I am implying, in a sense, that my wisdom exceeds His.  As I look back on my life, how thankful I am that He withheld many of the then “desires of my heart” for a greater outcome I had not yet known!  His protection and His greater good for and deeper knowledge of me than I have of myself has time and again proven to be my true satisfaction!

Often we miss the nugget of truth within that verse.  For, if we truly delight ourselves in the Lord, we and our desires will be changed.  If we are growing in our knowledge and love for the Lord Jesus Christ, we will have His grace and peace and our greatest joy will be His desires for us.

No doubt there are times we humble ourselves before the Lord, we lay our requests before Him, and He says, “Yes, I will answer just as you ask; I will give you that desire exactly as you requested right now!”  At times, His answer may be almost identical to our longing; at other times, He fulfills it in a different way than we imagined and answers with a “Yes, but better!” or a “Wait, my child.”  And still other times, as we grow in our enjoyment of Him, He changes us and causes our wants to match His.  Indeed, there we find that our delight and our desires are one with His and we stand amazed at how He has given us His heart and brought us to rest in that!

And, yet there are situations that  require a submitted heart in the midst of circumstances that will never make sense this side of heaven.  We will have questions that are not answered and issues  that may remain burdensome.  It is at those times that we cry out for the Lord to give us a trusting heart in spite of what we see, feel, and experience.

Sometimes we will relax and never again strive for that which we once held so dear, but then there are other times we will have to lay it on the altar again and again, even daily, as a sacrifice of praise and allow Him to bring that peace that comes from delighting in His desires and timing for us.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 2 Peter 1:2

Cries of the Heart…part 2

In the past several days I have had conversations with several different people of various ages who are struggling with their own difficult situations.  They trust God for their lives but wrestle with the emotions – fear, anger, hurt.  The question of whether to squelch those emotions and not take them to the throne of grace or to lay their hearts before the God of all comforts asking Him to remind them of His presence and letting Him bring a supernatural peace was evident with each word.

At times, I think each of us have been there.  Our commitment to and love for Christ compels us to believe His best for us, but our emotions, often so raw, cry out with questions.

As I have written in another blog, there are times we feel like saying as the father of the young boy in Mark 9 said, “I believe; Lord, help my unbelief.”  But sometimes the enemy of our souls wants to make us think we cannot share that with God; we cannot let Him hear our heart’s cry.  How far from the truth that is!

Our reactions are not a surprise to God. He knows our needs, our frailties, and our fears.  And He longs for us to nestle in the arms of our Abba Father, our Daddy God, and be refreshed and renewed.  Because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, we can boldly go to Him with our pain, not in defiance, but in humility and in assurance.

Hebrews 4:16 reminds us, “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.”

When we read the Psalms, we find that often David fearlessly poured out his soul to God, and God calls him a man after His own heart.  He laid bare his fears, his sin, and his anger at circumstances and injustices, crying out to the Father to be heard and longing to hear, see, and experience His presence. David acknowledged his questions and what disturbed him; but, in the end, David gave God praise and trusted in His control.  He knew, as in Psalm 5:3, that he could approach the throne of grace with assurance that God would hear and respond, “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”

In Dr. Ralph Davis’ book, “The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life, Psalms 1-12” (a book which spoke volumes to me and which I highly recommend), he refers often to this pattern of David’s life: to acknowledge the cries of his heart and then give God praise, resting in the truth of who God is!

In Psalm 3, David cried out “Yahweh, how many are my foes!  How many are rising up against me!”  But as Dr. Davis points out,

      “In the middle of his mess, [David] is saying [in verse 3], ‘I know my God.’  In face of the threats and ruckus and theological opinions of his enemies, David turns his eyes to his protecting, sufficient, restoring, accessible God.  The God-centeredness of his gaze keeps him steady while his enemies try to decide what precise level of scum he is.”  Psalm 3:3 – “But You, Yahweh, are a shield around me, my glory and the One who lifts my head.”

 Again, in Psalm 6, David pours out the “agony he knows.”  In essence, David often says in the Psalms, either directly or indirectly, “How long, O Lord?”  Dr. Davis writes,

     “…the problem of time contributes to his agony.  This is one of our perennial problems with God’s ways.  We have our calendar. We have figured out how long we can hold out.  And somehow Yahweh allows our urgent deadlines to pass.  Why?  David’s ‘How long?’ means: How long will you allow this to go on?  Why don’t you intervene and give me relief?  Why does He wait?  Why does He hold off?  When we say God will intervene sooner or later, why does it always seem to be later?  Our troubles, it seems, are as much with God as with our circumstances.”

But then Dr. Davis reminds us that David settles his heart on the character of God.  David “is resting on Yahweh’s character, in the sort of God he has declared himself to be…[the God of covenant love, ‘hesed, the devoted love that pledges never to let go of us’].  Sometimes this is your only stay in trouble…”   And though nothing has changed in that one moment, he presses in on truth that sustains his hope, “For Yahweh has heard the sound of my weeping!  Yahweh has heard my plea for grace!  Yahweh will accept my prayer!” (vv 8-9)

As we acknowledge God’s sovereignty in our lives and grow in our love and knowledge of Him through His written word, the Bible, we also mature in our understanding of His heart and the freedom we have to lay bare all that we are before Him – even our cries.

God points us to the Psalms to remind us that it is what He allows, even desires of His children.  He knows our hearts even better than we do ourselves, but He delights when we ask and expect Him to respond, to draw near to us.  He is the God of all comforts and He delights in us drawing near to Him so that He, in turn, draws near, holding us close regardless of our circumstances and our questions.

Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Love this song by Josh Wilson –  A great reminder that when we can’t stand on our shifting sand, He carries us!

It’s A New Day

It seems that in recent days, there have been a lot of difficult circumstances for those I love.  And there have certainly been tragedies in the weather and by way of other’s actions that we hear daily.   A tornado in Hattiesburg, MS, a snow storm in the eastern part of the United States, political turmoil, a life taken in anger, an unborn life taken out of fear, bodies wearing down from disease or age, discouragement from life circumstances, lost jobs, consequences of our own choices, a broken heart from betrayal – all are evidence of a fallen world and of fallen people.

My heart has grieved with each story that has been brought to me and I have taken every one of them to the Lord.  I have been tempted to say, “I wish I could do more; I wish I could fix ‘it.’”  Last night was no exception.  But He gently reminds me that when I lay them before the throne of the Almighty God, it is not the “least” I can do but the very best.   For as Zechariah 4:6 says, “it is not by my might or my power but by His Spirit” that healing begins, continues, and finds its fullness.

I woke this morning and God, in His goodness, put a new song in my heart (Psalm 40:3)!  He pointed me back to the hope that I have in Christ!  Sometimes He changes circumstances and sometimes He chooses to allow the situations but changes us in the midst of them.  I am still to pray and where I can, put forth action; but, ultimately, true healing will be found for all who need it only in a relationship with the living God through the work of Jesus!

And, even in the midst of the “hard,” our God’s mercy is evident, His glory revealed!

***   ***   ***

“It’s a New Day,” has been in my head, on my heart, and welling in my soul this morning reminding me that, regardless of the circumstances, I am alive in Him and no circumstance can change that.  It is not only a future hope but a joyful celebration of the present certainty!

It’s A New Day by Kristian Stanfill

It’s a new day!

Everything  changed when Your love came into the darkness and You sent the light of the Son.
You sent the light of the Son.
Wake up, open your eyes, no longer dead, we are alive!
Rise up children of light. Open the doors. Go let it shine!
There is freedom in Your kingdom.
For You Jesus, we will be dancing, forever Your joy is our song.
Song for the broken – let it shine!  Into the shadows – let it shine!
Hope for the whole world – let it shine!

One Thing Remains by Kristian Stanfill

Higher than the mountains that I face

Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant in the trial and the change
One thing remains, one thing remains.

Your love never fails.  It never gives up. It never runs out on me.
Because on and on and on and on it goes.
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul.
And I never, ever, have to be afraid.
One thing remains, one thing remains.

Your love never fails.  It never gives up. It never runs out on me.
In death, in life, I’m confident and covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid; there’s nothing that can separate my heart from Your great love.
Your love never fails.  It never gives up. It never runs out on me.

Psalm 40:1-5

I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.

Many, Lord my God, are the wonders You have done, the things You planned for us. None can compare with You; were I to speak and tell of Your deeds, they would be too many to declare.

Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.