Little things

Teach me to do your will for you are my God, Let your good spirit lead me on a level path. ~Psalm 143:10

“Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.” ~From Bread for the Journey by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Changes may come slow but while I wait for change to come I can celebrate the surprises that each day holds. As I shift my sights from what I am not yet, I can celebrate new spaces and places in my heart. I can anticipate new friends and opportunities yet unseen. God’s promise to me is that He will never leave me or forsake me and that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Heb. 13:5,8) In the midst of changes I can hold onto the fact that God never changes.

Heavenly Father, as the year is still so new and with the unknown looming so large, I ask that You walk with me and help me see the little things along the way. Amen.

To still hope

One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.” ~Luke 1:8-20 CEB)

Have you ever thought that it was a little harsh that Zachariah was told he would not be allowed to speak for the next 9-10 months? What great sin did he commit to receive such a punishment? It struck me today when discussing these verses with a group that Zachariah forgot, in all his obedience, to continue to expect a miracle. He had prayed for years for a child and over time came to accept that it was not meant to be and had begun to believe it was not going to happen. Maybe Zachariah continued to pray for a child but had somewhere in his waiting stopped believing that it could happen.

In times of waiting, we have to be careful to still be watching… to still believe in miracles. I have to admit it is difficult for me to accept my circumstance and yet still believe in a miracle. After 20 years of diligently praying I have come to accept my circumstances. I have been aware of this and struggle with how to come to terms with it. I have assumed that the long silence on this matter has meant that God’s answer to me is a “no”… and I have adjusted my life in such a way that I have moved on.

Is this what Zachariah is guilty of? Accepting his circumstances and going through the motions of obedience? Did he stop looking for the miracle? In his waiting did he forget to watch… to continue to hope?

My questions are how do I live expectantly while waiting and patiently obeying? How do I believe in the possibility of a miracle, still hope for it and yet go about my daily life? In trying to live above despair I have stopped looking for the miracle. I am sometimes afraid to still hope when each day starts again with disappointment.

Lord, help me to live expectantly and yet still have that “peace that passes all understanding.” Help me claim that Hope and that Peace while I still wait for a miracle. I am looking Lord. I am watching. I am expecting mighty things. Help me in my unbelief. Give me the strength to face each day… knowing that even though today wasn’t the day, there is always tomorrow. Amen.

Change

I will give them a single heart, and I will put a new spirit in them. I will remove the stony hearts from their bodies and give them hearts of flesh so that they may follow my regulations and carefully observe my case laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. ~Ezekiel 11:19-20 (CEB)

When my daughter was young she would worry ahead to things that were in the future. For instance she always worried about the time when she would be grown up and “have to live on her own.” She was nine at the time so I would tell her that she was supposed to want to live with me forever. That was where she was at that time in her life. I would also tell her that when it was time for her to live on her own God would have prepared her heart and she would be ready.

Today, I don’t think she remembers the conversations we had about her wanting to live with me forever and never leave me, but I do. I remember the conversations slowly changing from living with me forever… to buying the house next door where she could still be close by… to buying a farm when she grew up, naturally not next door since we live in a sub-division.

I like the book of Ezekiel because amidst the imagery found, I see God working on the hearts of his people. Among the promise of punishment for apostasy I see God preparing their hearts for their time of trial. Through the use of imagery God is showing His people that He is a mobile God not just found in the Temple but a God who can move anywhere in any direction. This was a new concept for the Israelites who felt that God lived and was to be found in His Temple. I also see that He was planting in their hearts even then the seeds that would one day help some of them accept Jesus as that promised Shepherd. That Shepherd who would gather them from among the scattered the nations and make them one nation again.

Change doesn’t come quickly. God must prepare our hearts, our minds and our circumstances for the change. God had promised that He would give the Israelites a new heart a heart of flesh with which they could live healthy and strong in His promises and be His children.

Sometimes in the waiting for my circumstances to change I forget that my heart and mind must be readied so that when new circumstances come I will be strengthened for the task. It is not that God has abandoned me in my trials, He is mending heart, mind and soul, those places unseen, so that I will be able to walk forward with my head held high into those Promises He has made me.

Heavenly Father, grant me patience for my circumstances, peace that although I don’t see changes happening that You are doing a good work on my heart mind and soul so that I may walk into Your Promises with the confidence of the daughter of a King. Amen.

Forgiving the church

If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other. ~1 Cor 12:26-27 (CEB)

I was once by my perception, hurt deeply by “the church” or rather by the people in the church. I was confused. I couldn’t understand how “Christian people” could act in such a way as they did. I was holding them up to my standard of perfection and not seeing them through God’s eyes… wounded and broken like me.

“When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it.   But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ.  When we say, ‘I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,’ we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too.  The challenge is to forgive the Church.  This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially.  But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness.

It is important to think about the Church not as ‘over there’ but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer.” ~From Bread for the Journey, by Henri Nouwen

Although I never officially left a church over my wounds I know I was guilty of losing Jesus while I held onto my hurt and anger. Even though I continued to grace the steps of the church that hurt me I was blinded by pain, thus unable to see Jesus and His Grace for me. As always, unforgiveness only injures me. In time I was able to see that we are all human and none of us perfect. Now I see that time period as a necessary part of my journey. Many life lessons were learned as I regained my sight of Jesus through that time of trial. Most important of all was the reminder that Jesus forgives me every day and I need to extend that same grace to others.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for the grace you give me every day. Help me to see others as needing your grace too. May I not let my past hurts blind me so deeply as to not feel Your love this day. Amen.

God’s hiddenesss

“Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge. “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.” ~Job 23:2-9 (NRSV)

Sometimes in the midst of my troubles I feel so alone.  I even feel abandoned by God.  Here is an example in the Bible of a righteous man who also felt abandoned by all and God seemed to be so far away.

Life can get really ugly sometimes. We don’t have to live it perfectly. We just have to make it through each day until we get to the other side of bad times. We can’t get to the other side without living through it. The Israelites are an example of this. To make it to the Promised Land they had to go through the desert. They didn’t do it perfectly. They even still had some kinks that needed to be worked out when they got to the new land. But God guided them through the desert and they eventually got there.

When it seems that God isn’t answering my prayers I have to remember that He is faithful. There are things that He is doing that I cannot see. All I am required to do is to live through each day, letting Him guide my steps. I don’t have to see where I am going. I just have to go.

 Guide my steps this day Lord, blind as I may be to the work you are doing. Strengthen my trust in You that all things will work out in the end for my good. I know that the only way to get through this desert is to just walk on through. Steady my steps when they falter, strengthen my heart when it is faint, give me faith when it seems all hope is lost. Amen.

Hills… and mountain tops

I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. At last the champion’s wreath that is awarded for righteousness is waiting for me. The Lord, who is the righteous judge, is going to give it to me on that day. He’s giving it not only to me but also to all those who have set their heart on waiting for his appearance. ~2Timothy 4:7-8 (CEB)

Recently I was talking with someone about a 5K I was interested in. She told me that the route would be fast because there were not really any hills in the course that had been mapped out. This is unusual for East Tennessee! I thought, well this is good news!

Today when I was out running it occurred to me that without going up a hill there is no “down hills” to glide through on the other side. Yes running up a hill is hard work, but there is such elation when you make to the top, then you have the reward of being carried away with momentum down the other side.

I have not always felt this way about hills. When I first began to run I really dreaded those hills. I was too busy gasping for air to notice where I had been, what I had accomplished or even appreciate the fact that now I had the downside of the hill to enjoy.

As Christians we often talk about “mountain top experiences”. Those awesome moments when we just know God loves us and can feel His presence. The only way we can have these mountainous moments with God is by trekking up the mountain to be with Him.

Often I have found that the mountain top moments with God come after having gone through a really difficult time. The mountain top moment is when I realize I have not only survived the struggle but now at the top of that mountain I have clarity of where I have been and a glimpse of where I am going. On top of the mountain I can see how God has loved me through the moments up that mountain sometimes walking with me, sometimes carrying me, and sometimes dragging me.

I have decided I want hills and mountains in my path. Oh, I don’t wish hard times on myself, but growth and strength are gained by heading up those hills and mountains. Life is a full contact effort. Running circles in the valleys do not lead us to God. We must always tackle those mountains remembering at the top of each mountain, we find God.

Heavenly Father, when times get tough and I find that another mountain looms in front of me, please give me the courage and strength to tackle that uphill climb. May I not find myself running circles, avoiding the hard work or fearing injury. Instead, help me remember that at the top of that mountain I will find You! Amen.

Simply living

Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. ~Luke 16:10 (CEB)

This came across my computer at a very timely moment. But that isn’t unusual when you go looking for answers to prayers. I have been struggling with the in-between times of things. I know that God has a purpose for me. I know that that purpose is in front of me but that purpose is not right now. I struggle with what I am to do in the waiting. Waiting for the moment I am to carry out what God wants me to do. Waiting is not one of my strengths:

“The largest part of Jesus’ life was hidden.  Jesus lived with his parents in Nazareth, “under their authority” (Luke 2:51), and there “increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and with people” (Luke 2:52).  When we think about Jesus we mostly think about his words and miracles, his passion, death, and resurrection, but we should never forget that before all of that Jesus lived a simple, hidden life in a small town, far away from all the great people, great cities, and great events.  Jesus’ hidden life is very important for our own spiritual journeys.  If we want to follow Jesus by words and deeds in the service of his Kingdom, we must first of all strive to follow Jesus in his simple, unspectacular, and very ordinary hidden life.” ~Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

Ok, I know this truth. Living my simple, ordinary unspectacular life is still in God’s will for my life. Being ready for the moments He calls me to service is important but even more important is just living everyday life to the best of my ability. My greatest claim to fame may be how I live my hidden life. It is those moments that only God sees that show our true character. So when we are faithful with the small hidden parts of our lives then He knows we are ready for something bigger.

Heavenly Father, Help me in my times of waiting. Help me in this in-between time of searching for Your will on my life. May I continue to grow in wisdom, stature, and favor with You. Amen.

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