“Fear Not,” Said Daddy

The day was clear and the sun was shining; all seemed perfect for a family outing at the amusement park! To me, there was no better place in all the world to just enjoy being seven years old.

We quickly got our tickets and, with me way ahead of my brothers, sisters, and parents, we entered my “perfect world.” I ran first to the race cars, then the airplanes, the boats, the water flume – all the rides that were just my size. For one with so much enthusiasm for adventure, it was almost overload!

After about an hour, my parents led me to what they said would be the “most fun of all.” As I stared up at the monstrous creature before me, tears filled my eyes! My “perfect world” no longer seemed so perfect and my enthusiasm all but vanished.

“Come on, honey,” Daddy shouted, “You’ll love it!”

“I can’t, Daddy! I just can’t!” I cried, “It’s too big, too fast! I’m just a little girl!”

“You can do this…But I’ll let you make that choice; wait for us here while we go,” he said as they all ran excitedly up the ramp and towards the enormous roller coaster.

I sat on the bench with my head in my hands and cried, not only because I was having to wait alone and I wanted to not be afraid but also because I knew how disappointed Daddy would be in his little girl. He knew my love for trying new things so I’m sure he was surprised when I stood resolute. I’m also sure his heart broke a little when he saw my tears falling.

But my daddy knew this moment in time was bigger than what loomed before me; he knew it was an opportunity to teach and to train. And it was the way he raised us – taking those teachable moments wherever they arose.

So, when they all got off and were getting in line again, he tried once more to convince me. “You don’t have to be afraid; I’ll be right there beside you.” But I stayed firmly planted on the bench while everyone else ran back around for the second time with smiles and laughter.

As Daddy got in line for the third time, he felt a tug at his shirt.   Looking down, he saw me staring up at him with a cautious smile.

“I’ll go, Daddy, if you’ll sit beside me.” I barely got the words out when it was time to board the ride.

Eyes closed tightly, hands gripping the safety bar, I snuggled close to him as the ride started off with a jolt. We were sent soaring, higher and faster. Slowly my eyes opened a little at a time.  It was terrifying but so much fun.

This little girl who loved adventure, climbing, and proving she could do what the big kids could do and love it, was in her element. But first I had to face my fear.

Too soon it came to an end and we had to get off. I ran to the end of the line and, with great boldness, declared, “If you don’t mind, Daddy, I think I’ll ride alone this time!”

And sitting in the very first car all by myself, eyes wide open, and with a great big grin on my face, I was off on the first of many wild roller coaster rides without my daddy.

In fact, it was just the beginning of a lifetime of “facing my fears,” one of those life lessons my dad brought home to my heart over and over again.

Most of my life, if I said I was too unsure or afraid to do something, his immediate response would be, “Then you need to do it!”  And when I would tell him of an experience where I had to put that encouragement into action, I could see his smile and hear his joy through his words, “That a girl!”

In the moments when he was there at bedtime and we would be making up stories and talking about the day, in the opportunities when we would be driving in the car on a quick errand or a long trip, he would remind me that we face our fears – every time – because we don’t want fear to cast a shadow over our lives, we don’t want to miss opportunities, and we can know that, because we are His, God is with us, bigger than our fears.  He would remind me that I could face the impossible because He is bigger than the impossible. He would remind me that the scary things of life can be and should be faced knowing God can be trusted to walk with us and give us the courage to do or to endure.

The roller coaster was one of the first of many “face your fears” moments in my life. But it wasn’t the biggest nor the last.

Sometimes I have risen to the occasion and sometimes my fear has caused me to “stay firmly planted on the bench.” And always, I heard and still hear my daddy’s voice, “You can do this…I’ll be right here beside you.” And, while I know my dad has not been right beside me in each of those moments, I have known his encouragement and have always known that my Abba Father, God who is my tender heavenly Daddy, is indeed right here with me.

I hear the voice of my Heavenly Father say, “Fear not…”

I’m thankful that my dad began to instill this truth of God in my heart that day and, as I grew, he brought it back to Who gave him the courage to face his fears – though it was sometimes hard to imagine that the man who pushed the limits on adrenaline pumping experiences and new challenges had any fear. His confidence began with the One who walks us through adventures and valleys, thrills and incredibly stifling places, strong, healthy bodies and those broken and racked with evidence of the curse.

And, I’m thankful that, in some of his last days here on earth before he stepped into eternity where, for those redeemed by the work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection, fear is extinguished forever, before the God he loved and proclaimed, I was able to spend time by his side.

And I had the privilege and joy of speaking that truth to him, his once strong body and sound mind now frail, “You’ve told me all my life and I’m going to remind you now, Daddy: You don’t have to be afraid. I’m right here for now, holding your hand. But, most of all, Jesus is right here with you walking you through it all. Our God has told us, ‘Fear not…’ Hold on to and keep your eyes on Him!”

He looked at me through tired but still twinkling eyes, with that winsome, crooked smile that was uniquely my Dad’s and whispered, “It’s good to know I was heard; I guess I’m getting it back now. And that is good.”

Thank you for giving it in the first place, Daddy. Thank you for pushing me to step out beyond my fears as a little girl and also as a young woman, and, in the frightening moments not to look at the circumstances. Thank you for reminding me to look at Jesus.

You have no fear any longer, Daddy; I’ll see you when God calls me home and, in that moment and in the meantime, I’ll remember not to fear.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand!” Isaiah 41:10

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned…for I am the Lord your God…do not be afraid, for I am with you.” Isaiah 43

“…do what is right and do not fear anything that is frightening.” I Peter 3:6

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“You can grieve for me the week before I die, if I’m scared and hurting, but when I gasp that last fleeting breath and my immortal soul flees to heaven, I’m going to be jumping over fire hydrants down the golden streets, and my biggest concern, if I have any will be my wife back here grieving. When I die, I will be identified with Christ’s exaltation. But right now, I’m identified with His affliction.” RC Sproul

1998 Dad and Me

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.

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!

Lyrics:

I try to catch my breath
It hasn’t happened yet
I’m wide awake in the middle of the night scared to death
So I prayed God, would You make this stop
Father please hold on to me, You’re all I’ve got

Carry me, carry me, carry me now
From my sinking sand to Your solid ground
The only way I’m ever gonna make it out
Is if You carry me, carry me, carry me now
God carry me, carry me, carry me now

Jesus calm my heart
Come near me please
Lord don’t let these worries get the best of me
Oh I believe, that You’re still here with me
Cause You meant what You said when You said You’d never leave

So carry me, carry me, carry me now
From my sinking sand to Your solid ground
The only way I’m ever gonna make it out
Is if You carry me, carry me, carry me now
God carry me, carry me, carry me now

Carry me
God carry me
Carry me
God carry me

I’m at the end of myself
I know I’ve got nothing left
Feels like I’m stuck in the valley of the shadow of death
And I’ve been down here so long
I just can’t find my way out
Oh God I don’t stand a chance
Unless You carry me now
God carry me now

Carry me, carry me, carry me now
From my sinking sand to Your solid ground
The only way I’m ever gonna make it out
Is if You carry me, carry me, carry me now
God carry me, carry me, carry me now

Carry me now
Carry me now
Carry me now