A Child’s Expectation

 

56h

 “Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do. Expect unexpected things, above all that we ask or think. Each time, before you Intercede, be quiet first, and worship God in His glory. Think of what He can do, and how He delights to hear the prayers of His redeemed people. Think of your place and privilege in Christ, and expect great things!”

 – Andrew Murray –

Ann Voskamp says she likes to read a lot of books at once because “the books start talking to each other.”

Or in my case, a two books, a psychology course, a Bible study, and a friend all started having a conversation.

I am not typically a cynical person. I tend to see the bright lining of every cloud and the possibility hiding beneath a dusty surface. I dream and hope and generally think the best of almost everyone and everything.

But not too long ago, I found myself giving in. I’ve seen a lot of things in the past few years, and they started to get to me.

Driving around a curve in the Ozark Mountains, I mulled it over to myself. “Maybe God just doesn’t work in those ways in reality,” I started to believe. “Maybe this is growing up. Losing the naiveté that expects anything to happen.”

I started to loosen my grasp on expectation. Instead, I started to expect less out of grim situations. At the best, I saw the dreaded slowness of possible change. It was all very drab and slow and grim. But I felt a slight satisfaction. At least I was growing up.

That is, until I realized something.

What kind of crazy world is this, where I need to lose a little faith in order to measure up? What kind of game was I playing with myself, getting satisfaction out of dimmed hope? And what kind of strange, awful thing was it to stop expecting good things to happen?

I don’t want to be Pollyanna. I don’t want to be annoyingly buoyant.

I want to go back. I want to go forward. I just want the eyes to see the possible again.

I’ve been reading a book about how our minds work called Thinking Fast and Slowby Daniel Kahneman. He talks about something called the availability heuristic. This means that we humans tend to answer questions based on what we can quickly think of. If I asked you to estimate how many stray dogs live in your city, you would probably use the availability heuristic to answer me. First, you would stop and think of all the stray dogs you have seen recently. If you haven’t seen any, you would guess a number a lot lower than a person who has seen 3 this week in their own neighborhood.

We can do that with God too. “God, I really haven’t seen You do something like this lately. How am I supposed to know that You really do it at all?”

Fill in the blank. Does God save marriages on the brink? Does He drastically call and redeem lost people? Does He really give help to the ragged and torn? Does He really protect, deliver, heal?

If you haven’t seen it lately, maybe your availability heuristic is answering for you. “Nope, God’s not in that business anymore,” your mind tells you. “I can’t remember a time when that happened.”

But, see, there’s a problem with the availability heuristic: it’s inaccurate. Just like your neighborhood might be a bad sampling of how many strays are in your town, so your recent memory might be a pretty awful indicator of the power and plan of our Father.

Let’s talk probability. Is it more probable or less probably that God will make something beautiful out of your situation? Well, that’s pretty good odds, since He always 100% pulls through on that promise.

But what about that falling-to-pieces relationship, or that unsaved family member?

What kind of God do we serve? He’s not some powerless or uninspired Deity that sits back and watches. He’s involved in our lives. And last time I checked, a broken home, difficult person, or stubborn situation wasn’t a challenge for him.

So what’s the probability that He will do something in your situation? Well, 100%.

And what’s the probability that He will do something amazing and glorious?

I’d say it’s pretty good.

See, my cynicism isn’t about growing up after all. It’s about faith.

My friend Liz says that a car taking off into the air and flying is a perfectly reasonable expectation to a child. They aren’t so tied down by assumptions. Anything is possible. Today in Bible study, Liz and I read the account of Isaac’s birth… a totally miraculous impossibility. But it was possible…with God.

Do I expect the Lord to part the heavens and start sending me direct revelation? No. He’s already given me all the Word I need for living. But is it ridiculous for me to expect Him to be living and active in my life? Is it odd for me to have hope for the seemingly-impossible and hopelessly-broken situations around me?

Is it crazy, or naive, or Pollyanna-like to expect a limitless God to make amazing changes in lives?

If I stop believing that God works, I must stop believing His promises. And if I stop believing Him…not one speck of this life is worth living.

So, I am taking a step.

Not into natural optimism. Not into jaded cynicism.

Into faith that actually believes. Childlike belief in a God who still does impossible miracles every day in hearts and souls.

What am I, if I do not believe this?

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us. So, I believe.

I believe God is definitely, doubtlessly, undeniably up to something good. Whether I can see it coming or whether it blows me away.

And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.”

 – Mark 9:23, NASB –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s Joys

119h

“What gives moments meaning is not the moments themselves but the presence of Christ with us in the midst of them.”
― Emily P. FreemanSimply Tuesday ―

This week I have enjoyed the quiet company of old friends, the exuberant and spontaneous hospitality of strangers, an enormous rainbow emblazoned like a banner of love over my head, and the breeze ruffling my hair when I rode with the window down. I have felt the surge of looking-ahead, of wonderings and musings…and I keep trying to pull myself back.

“Thank you,” I whisper. “For this, right now.”

Why must I always compare this moment to something that was or something that will be?

It’s too easy to cling to the past seasons, or wistfully wait on what’s coming next…but it’s not very easy to just lay these things aside and embrace the fullness of Now. Today. This solitary, sacred moment. This is the only time I will have this moment in my grasp, and even as I possess it, it slips through my eager fingers like air.

More than just a sentimental connection with the moment, I want to grab hold of something. C.S. Lewis said that …”the Present is the point at which time touches eternity,” and I think it must be.

I have a tarnishing necklace with these words scrawled across the metal pendant: “Every day is a gift.” Maybe that is what I’m reaching for–to accept the gift of this day, the gift of this breath, with attention.

Have you ever seen a child bide his time, ripping open his many Christmas presents and tossing them aside as he waits for his parents to bring out the one gift he wants most. He may barely notice the other gifts as he unwraps them, because he isn’t really looking at them at all. He is really only thinking of one thing–and that one thing is something he does not yet hold in his hands.

I’m afraid I’m like that. I frantically unwrap seconds of my life, pile minutes into unnoticed heaps, stack hours on fast-filling shelves, file away days in the back of a drawer…and I forget to look at them twice as I fling the new-moment wrapping aside and plunge ahead to the “bigger gifts” I hope I can unwrap soon.

But lately…I’ve been trying to learn. My moments come and go faster than breaths, quieter than glances, but I reach out to accept more of them as they pass.

My bones chill with the temporary wonder of each breath. Joy breaks over me like laughter. Even pain invades my moments with something like joy itself–as if the love mixes with the pain to grow a heart larger and roomier than it was before. To make more room in it, perhaps, for more mingled laughter and tears.

I’m seeing the tiny wonders more clearly. People and relationships I often take for granted. The smallest of yellow flowers along the hiking trail. The tone of concern in a friend’s voice. The tears shed across tables and across miles. A rainbow that makes me laugh aloud, painted across the gray. The small graces of a Redeemer who seams my moments together with invisible, invincible thread.

I reach out for these small graces, because they are a way to lift up my face and smile thanks for another undeserved moment. They are a soundtrack for my worship. They are my cue to whisper praise.

So then, my lesson for today is joy.

Joy, in this very next gift of a breath.

Thank you.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

 – Matthew 7:11, ESV –

Doing Battle

tree-and-storm-2

I wrote this post a few months ago, but I found it recently and thought it was still so applicable to my life..and, I believe, to yours. When we embrace the Good News of an alive and present Savior, how can it not change the way we see everything? Yes, today we do battle…but do not fear. He has already overcome, and is overcoming, and will yet overcome.

“We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.”

 – Ephesians 6:12, CEB –

Have you ever been on your knees, doing battle?

Today, I was.

“Certain thoughts are prayers,” author Victor Hugo wrote. “There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.”

Although physically I was walking around the house, doing dishes, and trying to figure out the computer language HTML, my soul was truly on its knees.

Doing battle in your life means seeing how the present circumstances reach far beyond what you can see. Doing battle means taking everything to God. Doing battle means recognizing that you are not enough for what you face today. It means spiritual warfare, through prayer and Scripture reading.

Today, I was doing battle for a friend confronted with a difficult relationship. Some days, I am doing battle for my own heart, or for a situation close to my heart.

Over the past few years, God has brought several mentorship opportunities into my life, and I am completely in love with it. Mentorship teaches me something: Life just doesn’t work without Jesus.

I can encourage you, and you could walk away unchanged. But if God comes into the picture with His encouragement, neither one of us will walk away unchanged.

Christian mentorship–also known as discipleship–is like this. It is not enough for me to give someone a pep talk. Pep talks are powerless for real change. For habits to change, for hearts to heal, for attitudes to reorient, God has to step in.

 That’s what doing battle is all about. Real encouragement goes deeper than the surface, all the way down into the soul of things.

As we imitate Christ and bring His knowledge and love into situations, the tangled strings of life start to untangle. When your life is constructed around the framework and centrality of Jesus, the pieces fit together in a certain way. Life, although still hard, works. While not perfect or trouble-free by any stretch of the imagination, our God is so great that He is enough for even stormy seas. It’s not that the storms go away…but the vessel is equipped to sail on through the waves.

When a person’s life is built around anything other than Jesus Christ, life’s pieces don’t match up. Each person pieces together their own custom patchwork lens for viewing the world. There are holes between the pieces. There are inadequacies when storms hit. Just like the sand-foundation house in Jesus’s parable, their life system fails them, and “great is its fall” (Matthew 7:27).

When someone tells me about the way someone hurt them, or a friend shares about their hard day, I have a choice. I can skim the surface, or I can take their hand and point to Jesus.

Here is what I am learning:

The most vital part of Christian encouragement is doing battle.

When we acknowledge that life only works with Jesus at the helm, and we recognize that the people around us are shipwrecking their souls based on lies, there is only one remedy.

That remedy is Jesus.

Telling what our Jesus did, how He makes the pieces fit, is called the Gospel. Really, discipleship is just applying this Gospel to every aspect of our lives.

This is where the battle is. Gospel-sharing discipleship is a spiritual battlefield, because that’s where Satan attacks God’s glory.

Encouraging words can only go so far. They don’t have power to change souls–unless God’s own Word is part of our encouragement vocabulary. This is where mantras and  “girl power” speeches fall short. If inspiration’s power comes from you and me, people are in trouble. If we depend on humanity for the strength needed on the battlefield of life, we will fall. And great will be our fall.

There is power in the name of Jesus. And His name, His words, alone can break the chains of our past, our fears, our struggles, our failures, and our sins.

Do you want to encourage someone today?

Start on your knees.

And when you get up from your prayers for them, tell them about the Jesus who is both merciful Savior and conquering King.

It’s not just the lost who need the Gospel.

I need it. You need it. The Gospel is our lifeblood, and we should daily sing to each other the good news that Jesus saves us–not only at the moment we are made right with God, but He daily saves us and keeps us throughout eternity.

A pastor once asked his congregation how often they shared the Gospel with someone else. As we listened, my mom turned to me and whispered, “Does that count all the times we tell it to our people at home every day?”

Yes. Yes, it most certainly does.

You see, I don’t just want good news once, or once a week. I need Good News that covers every single breath of my life with light and hope.

So if you want to encourage someone, give them news that never stops being good: Jesus is alive. And His life can transform every minute of yours, without exception.

That’s where the battle is. This is where I stand my ground, in the transforming light of Christ.

Lift up your heads, my friends. Let’s do battle.

“Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free.”

 – John 8:36, CEB –

Earthquakes

straw-in-the-field-1318272103QII“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain –


Just when life is nice and normal, something rumbles through and knocks you off your feet.

That happened to me this week.

I really shouldn’t be surprised by anything these days. Yet, again and again, events shock me and bring me to my knees.

Life’s earthquakes feel something like a light blow to the stomach. Not necessarily a gut-wrenching pain, but a sense of lostness, breathlessness. Disorientation.

Sometimes I actually start feeling grown up…until another earthquake rolls in and reminds me just how small and unprepared I am for the rigors of adulthood.

I’ll be 23 this year. That’s an adult, right?

But still part of me wants to go crawling into my mother’s lap for a while. Hide from the problem, hide from the people waiting on me for a life-changing answer, hide from the fear of bungling an uncertain future. Hide from the responsibility to sort out a complicated swirl of desires, relationships, convictions.

I guess I like to have it all together, and earthquakes remind me that I don’t.

Not at all. Not even a little.

Today, my dad got a funny tone in his voice and I just had a hunch. I asked “Is it ____.” And it was. Oh boy. Why did I have to be right? Just when I thought things were settling in, now things get complicated instead.

You know, crises come and go. Today, my mind was in a whirl all day, processing the latest “earthquake.” Tomorrow, or maybe the next day, things will calm again. Sure, maybe my dilemma won’t disappear. I still have choices to make. But the earthquake passes and the aftershocks ripple with decreasing intensity each time they visit me again.

And, you know, as unprepared as I was for an earthquake this week, I’m really glad it came.

It reminds me how much I need God.

See, I often try to float along on my own. I figure I can hold it all together pretty well. Maybe I don’t consciously think it, but my actions show that I tend to forget God’s present help, and lean on my own understanding instead. 

Earthquakes send me rushing for the only security I have — the holy love of Christ.

So somehow — beneath drama and options and strange events — I have an anchor.

Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, 

Hebrew 6:17-20a, NKJV

Not only do I have a safe place to hide when life’s earthquakes try to bowl me over, but I also have the hope that all these interruptions, confusing choices, and complicated friendships will birth into something beautiful.

You never know when an earthquake might come rumbling in. When it does, where will you go?

Maybe you could join me, on my knees.

“My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.”

– James 1:2-4, CEB –

 

 

When God Doesn’t Show Up

weather-and-nature

“Our sorrows are all, like ourselves, mortal. There are no immortal sorrows for immortal souls. They come, but blessed be God, they also go. Like birds of the air, they fly over our heads. But they cannot make their abode in our souls. We suffer today, but we shall rejoice tomorrow.”
– Charles Spurgeon –

She didn’t have John 11 in her Bible.

And she didn’t understand.

Maybe, as the quiet, cold countryside air drifted through the house, she leaned against the wall and held her breath, waiting for her sick brother to inhale one more time.

A slow breath just beyond the thin wall.

She exhales, waiting for the next sound of air in fragile lungs.

It doesn’t come.

Her throat tightens. Hands go still where they’ve been digging a thin place in the hem of her skirt. Oh God, let him breathe.

It still doesn’t come.

A thin, reedy wail bubbles up from her chest, rising into deep sobs.

It didn’t come.

And neither had Jesus.

Other cries begin–her sister’s weary, husky choking, the softer wails of watching friends, a baby stirring on her cousin’s hip.

She closes her eyes and tastes the hot salt wetting her lips. “Why didn’t you come?” she whispers in the dark. “You could have stopped this.”


Have you seen a night that dark?

A death that tore out your heart. A friendship that melted away in the forge instead of being tempered by the flames. A dream that withered again and again.

We all ask this question, don’t we? “Why weren’t You there, Lord, when that happened? Where were You when I needed you?”

There’s the theological voice in our heads, telling us that God is omnipresent, that Jesus promised to never leave us, that He sent us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and be our Comforter.

But…honestly? You can’t always feel truth. That theological voice can tell me all it wants, but there’s no doubt that sometimes we cry and it seems like there is no reply. No comfort. No easing of the pain. Just silence.

I think that’s how Mary felt.

She sat, perhaps, in the dark and wept for her lost brother Lazarus, and wondered why, why on earth, did Jesus fail them.

He could have stopped this. He’d done it before–healed so many. Healed those that didn’t even follow Him, healed beggars on roadsides, healed servants of Gentiles long-distance.

But the man he loved, whose sisters he loved? He didn’t show up for him.

Don’t you know that Mary cried in the dark and couldn’t wrap her mind around the lostness. It was bad enough that her brother was dead.

But the ache of Jesus failing them…that must have been a thousand times worse.

She’d sat at his feet (Luke 10:39). She thrown her soul into following Him. She’d tossed everything aside as unimportant, secondary to knowing Him.

And yet He hadn’t come.

So Mary buried her brother, perhaps helping her sister Martha wrap him in spice-soaked cloths. So Mary cried until her eyes were red-rimmed and swollen, until her heart felt drained of tears, and then she kept crying.

It was another four days, four days after the tombstone was shoved across the cave’s mouth, when Jesus finally showed up.

Late. Too late to heal. Too late, even, for the funeral. Just too late.

The Bible records Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus’ illness this way:

” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was” (John 11:5-6, NKJV).

Wait…what? This seems like a bad joke.

He hears about Lazarus…and stays away?

So, when he comes four days after the funeral (John 11:17), I wonder if Mary had stopped looking for Him? The passage doesn’t say. It only records,

“Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house” (John 11:20). 

Did Mary hear? Why did she stay at the house? Perhaps she she was too swallowed by her grief. Maybe she didn’t know Jesus had arrived. Or maybe she had given up on Jesus, because He hadn’t been there when she needed Him most.

But Martha–strong, capable, warm–went running in her tears and met Jesus as He approached:

“Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).

But then, as Matthew Henry suggests in his commentary on the passage, she seems to regret her hasty, grieved words. Thought probably still asking “why” inside, she corrects herself:

“But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (John 11:22).

This is a grief-stricken, somewhat-shaken faith. “Lord, I don’t understand,” she seems to be saying. “I still believe in you. I still know you have power. But I don’t understand.”

Under Jesus’ gentle questioning, she affirms her conviction that He is the Messiah, even the Son of God.

Then he sends for Mary.

Remember, Mary hadn’t read John 11. She didn’t know what would happen. We who have the whole Bible, who have grown up with the narratives, become numb to it.

But this wasn’t a flannel graph, two-dimensional story for Mary. This was real.

Her brother was dead. Her Savior had abandoned her.

Then He called for her and she hurries to meet him.

“Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).

The same words as her sister–this same theme that resounds in our own hearts when God doesn’t show up in our pain.

“If you had been here, God…If only You had been here.”

And what does Jesus do? He had given Martha the theological answers. For Mary?

For Mary, He cries.

With Mary, He cries. Yes, God in flesh sees her tears, the tears of her sister, and He openly weeps (John 11:35).

What comes next?

A glorious rising. A heart-stopping, mind-blowing resurrection right on the fringes of Jerusalem. The world was shaken up that day.

Because Lazarus rose and walked out of that tomb!

But if we walk away from Mary’s story with the idea that Jesus will immediately come along and undo all our griefs, set it all right, make it not hurt anymore–then we’ve not learned our lesson.

You see, Mary didn’t know what Jesus was going to do. 

But, behind Mary’s grieving, Martha’s questioning, Lazarus’ dying–behind all this was a much larger Story at work:

The Story of God glorifying His Son in the world (John 17).

In fact, in the very next chapter, we see the results of Lazarus rising:

“Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus” (John 12:9-11).

The Bible never tells the end of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha’s story.

But that passage–rather than scaring me, or making me worry about Lazarus’ safety–reassures me.

See what God did?

The whole mess of grief and then wonder, death and then life–all of it was a master-design to point the world to Jesus. Lazarus was such a testimony to His God that the Jews wanted him dead just to get people to stop believing!

God doesn’t always ride in and fix our problems. He doesn’t always come and heal our loved ones, raise our dead dreams, or mend our broken relationships. (One day, yes, He will! He will make all things new!)

But Mary’s story teaches me to hope.

Because whatever God is doing in the pain–however silent He seems to be–I know two things.

I know He knows my sorrows and is moved by my pain.

And I know that He is up to something glorious.

Grief is hard.

Pain hurts terribly.

Prayers don’t always feel like they’re going through.

But whether my Lazarus rises or not, I know that “God’s absence”–when He decides not to intervene in my hurt–is part of plan that makes God look amazing.

When He doesn’t show up, I will cling to the knowledge of His love and presence. He won’t always tell me why I have to hurt. He doesn’t owe me an explanation.

But I will believe.

And then I will watch His beauty be put on display.


 “And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone

All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain but the breaking does not
The aching may remain but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God.”

– Andrew Peterson, “The Silence of God”  –

* All Scripture verses come from the New King James Version

 

To See Like You

Prayer-September 10, 20131

“Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together.  Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”

~ Charles Finney ~


In Part Three of my Practical Love Series today, I’m taking a closer peek at how to really love brothers in Christ. If you’re like me–and I’ve found out that most of us girls are more alike than we’d like to admit–this kind of love may just be one of the hardest to figure out.

How do we love as brothers and sisters, “with all purity”? (1 Timothy 5:2)

If you’re just now stepping into the series, you might want to go back and look at my other explorations of practical love in Part One: The Language She Knew By Heart and Part Two: Cedar-Lined Love.


Dear Father,

When you look at your sons, these joint heirs in Christ, what do You see?

I  wonder.

Because it’s really hard for me to see them like You do, to love them like you do. Your kind of love must, in fact, start with really seeing the person.

Of course, the difficulty of doing that starts here at home, with the best brother ever. But some days I chafe and wrestle and wonder if I’ll ever get this sister thing right. How to encourage. How to really, whole-heart love.

And not just biological brothers. Christ-brothers. Those set free with me. My family in Him. Blood brothers bought with more precious blood than that of earthly parents.

It’s hard to see them right. My glasses get colored rosy and it becomes about me, myself and I–all my dreams, goals, aspirations. And guys can so easily become only a means to an end, a way to fill up and be satisfied. Only it doesn’t work like that.

But then–how do I treat these soul-brothers right? How do I love like You love? How do I get past fleshly goals and get to the deep encouragement of hearts sold out to one Master?

I’ve begun to pray. I pray–and You’re letting me see. A peek. Just a vision.

But what a vision!

I look at one–wow, Lord. You’ve got Your hand on him for sure. I can see passion for You when he smiles. I can feel the pulling current, that pushing toward you, when he shares a struggle to the group, asks for prayer.

Another–God, You’re working in him too. So much energy, so much direction. I’ll pray for him–sure. And I as I do, I sense a deeper tie that only begins when brothers and sisters lift up one another before their Father. Surely this is Your kind of love, that makes me want the world for him. Wish I could pray it all down for him.

And yet another brother. When he shared in a few words the pain, what he’s come out of, I trembled inside. Trembled, because I sensed the power, the depth of Your working, how much You could do with him. I still pray, still long, that he will proclaim Your story. You have done–are doing–great things in that life.

What is it about this kind of brother-love? It’s so much like my yearning for my sisters, but different.

Different, because there’s so few good men.

Different, because there’s vision here. There’s passion here. There are lives being poured out for You.

And I hunger to see more of it, more fruit, more leadership, more You.

So I pray. And as I pray, the temporal fades.

My own future isn’t nearly as important as whether these guys are walking with You. My heart stops hungering so much for filling and starts longing that You would fill them. In praying, I learn that I don’t want nearly so much to get attention–I only want to see You get their attention.

And when You bring them to triumph, I want to be there and smile.

‘Cause these guys, they may never know I prayed.

But one day, maybe You’ll tell me that it made a difference?

That I prayed, and that day that one’s soul was encouraged?

That I prayed, and You saw fit to bless with that job, that one?

That You prompted me and I wondered, but prayed anyway for that guy I really didn’t know, but knew You must have a plan in spite of the wreck he’s made so far? And You worked in him.

This warrior thing–can I be strong for them when they fall? They’ll never know.

Never know that I saw the shadow fall over their face at those words.

Never know that somewhere a girl whose name they couldn’t quite recall knelt beside her bed or stared up at her room’s ceiling and felt an ache in her soul that a brother was hurting. Prayed a prayer for vision, for joy, for peace, for courage.

They’ll know that the victory came from God. But maybe they won’t know that part of the battle was fought on the knees of a sister who prayed.

I know, Father, that I can’t take any credit.

I know, that You are the one who grows.

But You do promise to work through prayer.

And there’s this joy that bubbles up when I get to work hand in hand with You in molding a life.

So all the Jake’s and Joshua’s and Peter’s and Paul’s and Luke’s and Lance’s that You have me pray for may not ever know.

But You, gracious Creator, are doing the work. And I get to tag along and watch the building.

I get to pray, and I get to rejoice at the results.

I like this job.

Thanks.


 

“May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time.

You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you’ve never seen him, you love him. Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. You are receiving the goal of your faith: your salvation.”

– 1 Peter 1:3-9, CEB –


Who does God want you to hold up in prayer? Pray for His kind of love to overflow in you.

Comment below and share what you’ve learned about being a true sister in Christ!


Thanks, Atalie, for a beautiful photo! Everyone, please check out Atalie’s hard work at Atalie Bale Photography!

Joy in the Desert

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“Listen to the birds sing…Do they ever sound alone?
Do they spread their wings and yet question their strength to fly?
I’m trying hard to trust You Lord, but it’s safer said than done
So won’t You feather my faith
With a love for the open sky?”

– Andrew Peterson, “If I Wanna Walk” –

 

I wake up in painful dryness.

I whisper a few words into the dark and they seem to echo back to me, unheard.

Where is He? He said He would meet me here.

Of course, I wonder what exactly I have done to cause Him to be so distant. I haven’t been reading my Bible enough, I haven’t been praying enough–surely I can muster up the spiritual strength and then He will return. What have I been doing wrong?

There’s a sandstorm in my eyes as I try to read. Every word seems purposely difficult and obscure.

My prayers turn repetitive and restless, a desert wind wailing in the night.

Where are you, God?

I want to be thirsty for Him, but I can hardly choke down Scriptures that in greener days were full of glory.

How long will the swirling sand hide You from me?

How do I seek Jesus when everything feels mechanical and forced and drained of power?

How do I find joy when all I can see are weathered boulders and shriveled grass and endless, endless sand?

I have been wrong. Joy is a very different thing that what I thought.

It is easy, when water and good moods and inspiring writers are present, to think that delighted tickle of understanding and wonder is Joy.

Joy is in it, yes.

But that is not Joy.

Joy can still happen when I stand on a hill in a barren wasteland.

Joy can still be found when I’m huddled in the dark chill of a desert night.

And Joy can be there still, when the morning slips over the purple shadows of the mountains and the hot sun begins once again to scorch.

Thirsty, I just want to know how. How do I meet with Jesus in this place that seems so empty? How do I thrive when the cloudless sky beats down without relief?

Working harder. Pleading for His presence. Trying to conjure up an emotional response to the Bible reading.

Sometimes, these things still leave me dry.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve slipped into thinking that when I can’t feel God, then He must not be around.

If His presence is not powerfully stirring me, then I feel abandoned.

But God never promised us a cartload of pleasant emotions. Jesus stated facts–beautiful, strong, unshaken facts: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

In the desert, Joy is an act of belief, not a dance of feelings.

So when I rise in the morning and open my Bible and stare at pages unfeeling, I can still smile and bow my head to my Maker. I can still pray for the fountains of His delight. I can still believe in His promises, whether I feel them to be true or not. They are–and they must be my anchoring places.

Some mornings, this act of Joy may feel forced. Jesus told us to rejoice. So I can look around and thank Him–perhaps without the leaps of my heart that I would like to accompany my gratitude–but I can still thank Him.

I cannot always control how I feel, but I can always choose my response.

Because of that, I can wake up to an empty, cold room and know that my sight deceives me. Jesus is there, even if I cannot sense His warmth.

I can toil up a desert hill, sand slipping back under my heels, and praise Him for His love.

It doesn’t really matter if I feel the love at that moment. He is Love. And He has chosen me. I will rejoice in that fact.

When Joy is a choice, nothing can shake it.

The desert sands will slip away someday and grass will spring up.

But while the sun still beats down and the sand still burns, I will keep walking.

I will read when I feel nothing. I will pray although I feel alone. I will sing when it seems that no one is listening. And He will be there all along.

My feelings lie to me all the time. But Jesus never has.

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5, NKJV

“The enemy can only bring defeat,
If he can somehow shake what we believe.
So our faith cannot be based upon
Only what we see or feel,
And the circumstances cannot change
What our hearts know to be real

So when doubts arise and cloud your mind
My friend, don’t be deceived
For with a knowledge of the Word of God
In our hearts we can believe

You can take God at his word
He is faithful kind and true
Not a prayer will go unanswered
In His time He’ll see you through

Keep believing in what you know is true
Keep believing, you know the Lord will see you through
When troubles rise in your life
and you don’t know what to do,

If you’re looking for answers and you can’t find your way
And the enemy tells you that there’s no need to pray
You just remember God is faithful and His word is true
Everything He’s promised is what He’s going to do
And you’ll be fine if you just keep believing.”

– “Keep Believing,” Gaither Vocal Band –

A big thanks to Public Domain Pictures and Marco Laython for this post’s photo.

Dash for the Throne

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“Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners), that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it].”

– Hebrews 4:15, Amplified Bible –

I am an Esther in a dash for the throne.

On her heart pressed life-and-death urgency, for thousands of her own.

On mine, the desperation to just get to the King.

She, forbidden to enter, still went.

I, invited–even bidden–hold back.

Her king–austere, vicious, insanely cruel–yet touched, moved by love and her pleading beauty.

And mine?

My King, of unlistable virtues, of perfectly-melded mercy and justice, so far removed from Esther’s lord that His love seems–almost equally yet oppositely–foolishly mad to spectators blinded by their own cataracts of insanity.

When I close my eyes and finally burst into the court–sometimes heedlessly, sometimes afraid to even lift my eyes from the floor–He is there, at the throne.

From the left of Him stirs the appearance of light. Somehow horrifyingly beautiful, yet teeming with hate. This shadow of a former light accuses me, with twistings of holy speech and quotations from the King’s own words.

I pant, hardly in the door before this attorney begins to present his case.

Charges fly.

A closer glance at my antagonist is like staring past a pond’s sheen into the silt beneath its water-film. This adversary’s beauty-cloak covers withered limbs and grotesque features. Bones sucked dry by a self-glorification, only glory’s fading shadow lingering after a failed, ancient coup for the King’s own throne.

But, for a liar, his charges are startlingly true. He trumpets–with a swagger–my secret deeds. Deeds, so nakedly abhorrent, that their vocalization makes me cover my flaming face in horror and guilt.

The greatest Liar does not even need a lie to bring me down.

The chief of false witnesses can rouse up a chorus of griefs in my accusation–and does not even need a false charge because of the abundance of true ones ready to rail against me.

Even from the prince of perjurers, Truth itself condemns me and I am undone.

The illusion of the adversary’s light and beauty again flickers–like a half-smothered candle–with a shaking of his finger in my direction. Sneering over his shoulder, he makes an appeal to the King. “Your own nature will not look over this sin. You cannot let this reprobate go free.”

But the King doesn’t seem to be listening. He stands, looking across the chamber as I shiver in my self-inflicted misery.

“Hello?” The accuser waves his hand to attract the Monarch’s notice. “Didn’t you hear what I said? Aren’t you paying attention?”

The King’s eyes turn from me. Sternness tinges the King’s gaze as he looks at the figure dwarfed beside him. “Do you know what she’s wearing?”

The swagger sort of drips off of the attorney. “Uh…” His eyes dart at me and his face drains bloodless. “Ah…” The court echoes with his frantic scurry for the exit.

Glory shines from the King’s smile then. He holds out his hand to me. “You’re wearing the Prince’s robe, I see.”

I look down and find my tattered-kneed jeans and mud-stained shirt replaced by a dress so white my eyes feel washed just by seeing it.

“I…” I finger the hem, not believing I’d been able to forget. “Yes, yes I am.”

His hand feels at once firm and ineffably tender on my shoulder. “Welcome, my child.”

I am an Esther, touching the scepter, finding favor in the eyes of her King.

It took the first Esther months of extravagant perfumes and oil treatments to be considered pure and lovely enough to step into the room of royalty.

For me, it took a white dress. One brilliantly white gift of a dress, that I had forgotten I was wearing.

One dress, and I was throne-ready. Ready for a dash that was no longer a thoughtless rush or a frantic throwing-open of the doors to get the frightening thing over with. Instead, I was covered in Princely clothes and treated as an heiress of the King.

“The dress,” I turn and see the Prince who had given it to me all those years ago. “I remember. Thank you.”

His extended hand, stabbed-through by my deeds, reminds me of the rags and filth He put on in order to put this white cloth on me.

He smiles and points at the streak of black lightning long fled from His presence. “Who can separate you from me, beloved one?”

“No one,” I whisper.

And so it is, that prayer becomes so much more than an obligatory whisper while half-asleep. So much greater than mere conversation to a celestial being or a hurried wish list recitation.

I, before my King, have a greater hope than Esther when I raise my face.

As long as my King rules, the white dress I so often forget gives me entrance to sit at His feet.

That is saying a lot, since His reign will always be.

The great thing in prayer is to feel that we are putting our supplications into the bosom of omnipotent love.

– Andrew Murray –

Before You Say Anything

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Some people rub me wrong, like stroking a cat’s fur against the grain.

I sit and bite my tongue and sort of smile to myself that someone can just be so aggravating.

I nod and smile and wonder how in the world these people can stir me up so much.

I’ve called myself laid-back. But at that moment, I feel about as easy-going as a coiled-up cobra.

So my eyes sort of roll back in my head and whether it is that person with the voice that grates or that one that sounds like Eeyore in the flesh, I start counting the minutes until I get to rush for the door.

But, the other day, stuck in the presence of a hair-raiser, a thought struck me.

That thought. It interrupted the on-repeat list of complaints rolling through my mind about the person sitting beside me.

That thought. If hearts had knees, the knees of mine buckled in that moment.

That thought. It pierced to that inner place that quivers at God’s thunder.

Before I let my mind ramble on, complaining about another’s inadequacy

Before I let the words tumble from my mouth, spreading around the discontent as soon as I can make my escape…

Before I start telling God about all the things I dislike about a person…

Have I prayed for that person?

Not a murmured complaint to the Creator, asking what in the world He was doing when he let loose this person to walk the earth.

Not a general “God bless so-and-so.”

A real prayer. A from-the-heart breaking that sees the inner person, sees that hurt behind the mask, sees the insecurity that surfaces as criticism.

Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something.

– H. Jackson Brown Jr. –

A prayer that understands the value of that person in the sight of God, that treats them as a precious jewel.

So, before you start the inner rant against that person that makes you bristle, what do you do?

Humble your heart and see that your complaints aren’t any holier than theirs just because you keep yours to yourself.

Marvel, because God gave you to that person in that moment, to build them up. Stop thinking about how depressed they are making you and start praying for wisdom. Pray for a gift to give.

In that moment, your Eeyore-like companion may just need a smile and an “I know you can do it.”

When the nails-on-the-chalkboard acquaintance starts to speak, maybe they need someone to really listen.

When eternity is weighed against that moment, the gift you could give that person matters so much more than how you feel.

So, pray.

Pray for wisdom to speak right words.

Pray for love for the one who makes you wonder how you could ever give back good for evil.

Pray for that person. Pray to really see, to understand the pain and the joys of another life. Pray for their spiritual growth. Pray that they would find satisfaction, fullest joy, in the Jesus who can make them whole.

Pray for yourself. For heart-change in the depths of you. For eyes to see past an exterior into a heart. For strength to give when all they do is take.

And, blogger Emily Freeman says maybe the way we give ourselves can make all the difference:

“What if the art we make – whether the work of our hands, the words of our mouth, the simple movement towards others in our ordinary days – what if these are the ways Jesus wants to show Himself to a weary world?

What if the art you make and live is a daily grace God has in mind for someone else?”

– Emily Freeman –

Don’t know quite how to pray, where to begin? The apostle Paul can give you a way to start:

“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He had delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

– Colossians 1:9-14, NKJV, emphasis mine –

Amen, and amen. So let it be.

Thank you, Atalie Bale Photography, for another gorgeous photo. I think this one is my favorite!

When the Days are Just Hard

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I’ve approached this past week with a writer’s eyes. “What in the world will I write for Monday?”

And, truth be told, I have felt unworthy to pass on anything.

I’m sick of insights that somehow don’t translate into my living.

This week I longed for a victory so I could pass on some special spiritual secret to you.

Instead, I woke up every day to burdens and labors and jobs I didn’t want and attitudes that gripped me. One morning my world seemed to shift over a nothing–a slight departure from my neatly-pressed plans. It was all I could do to keep sharpness out of my clipped answers to my family. Words clanged in my ears and I could hardly breathe, hardly believe the hateful replies that my off-center mind presented. Things I would never want to say.

And I didn’t. But just my ability to think them startled me. It didn’t help my morning any.

So as I ponder what in all my crazy world could speak to yours, perhaps I’ve found it.

Maybe you really don’t need someone who’s conquered a fear or mastered a subject. You need someone who’s deep in the same life-death battle as you.

Maybe you really have no use for a perfectly cheerful morning person, but instead need to know I’m slogging through attitudes that snag me.

Just like you.

And most of all, maybe you need to know that I don’t have all the answers for you.

I don’t even have all the answers for me.

After a series of days that are spiritually just a bit fuzzy, there are foundations calling me back.

God has given us a Hiding Place to run for refuge. “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2, NKJV).

But I get so busy and so caught up in a self-constructed world that I keep running through the storms instead of running into the shelter He offers.

“You were reaching through the storm
And walking on the water
Even when I could not see
In the middle of it all
When I thought You were a thousand miles away
Not for a moment did You forsake me
Not for a moment did You forsake me”

– Meredith Andrews, “Not for a Moment”

What are real, gritty-living ways we can hide in Him? How do we keep living in the storms?

– Join me in digging deeper. I’m currently memorizing the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) with an accountability partner. Please, read. Please, dive in. Listen on CD, online, or on your iPod. Post verse cards on your mirrors and desktops and on sticky notes. And dwell there. Fix your heart on them, like anchors that are sure to hold in those gale-force winds of this next week.

– Sisters, pray for everything. It’s work–but so, so, so much joy. Pray for me to abide. I’ll pray for you. It is life-giving.

– Lay aside the dream worlds. I can tell I’ve stepped out too far into mine when reality makes me blink and I feel disconnected. Make sure that you aren’t spending so much time in alternate realities–even beneficial ones–such as TV, books (any kind), schoolwork, daydreaming, and your own plans that you lose touch with your family and the real living that is happening now. Today is our calling, not tomorrow–not even a dream tomorrow. Be here. Now. Rooted. As Jim Elliott said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” Join me in setting aside the music and the screens and the papers to look someone you love in the eye when they speak–is it showing love to keep your gaze rooted on your task and grunt a reply? (Oh, I’m preaching to me too!) Please, join me in a prayer for us to be real.

– Take up the pen and journal and give thanks. Write down 3 gifts that God has given you today. Or 5. Or 50. Thank Him, even when your heart’s not quite in it. Pray for help in the rejoicing. Seek His wonders.

Take a breath.

Say a prayer.

Live real, right here.  Right now.

He will make you stand.

“The only beautiful thing about a Christian is Jesus Christ.”

The Calvary Road, p. 102 –