The God Who is Near

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“I bless the holy name of God with all my heart. Yes, I will bless the Lord and not forget the glorious things he does for me.”

 – Psalm 103:1-2 TLB –

This week, a friend gave me a pink remembrance journal. She explained, “It is so you can remember all the things that God does for us.”

Ever since, I’ve been on a treasure hunt for God’s fingerprints all around me. I finally sat down this morning and wrote down some of the moments that I’ve been saving up all week.

It is a little bit like a thankfulness journal, but not quite. Instead of writing down the things themselves (“I’m thankful for…daffodils sprouting up, family movie nights, pumpkin seed dark chocolate…”–all of which I adore), I am homing in on the roots of the blessings. “God, you came when I prayed that sleepy-brained prayer for help in the middle of the night. You answered me right away! Thank you!”

Don’t get me wrong…I dearly love thankfulness journals. It is so nice to make lists of wonders that God gives, and to recognize all the blessings around us as His beautiful gifts.

But it is extra nice, at least this week, to meditate on His nearness.

It is extra nice to pick up my spiritual magnifying glass and search for the ways He is faithful.

There’s something special about that wonder that rushes over you, and you whisper, “That wasn’t me…that was You.”

“God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is.”
– John Piper –

When I take the time to search out God’s amazing behind-the-scenes work, something happens in my heart. It wakes up. Writing down His goodness takes the focus off me.

I can no longer say, “Wow, look what I did! Aren’t I amazing?” Instead, my eyes turn to Jesus and how incredible He is. Even though His future plans are not mine to know, thinking about how He has been faithful today or this past week strengthens me and gives me the boldness to trust Him with my tomorrows too.

As I go through this next week, I will approach it with an even greater sense of expectation because I have “tasted and seen” what my God is capable of. There is no reason for me to miss seeing Him…no good reason, anyway.

I already knew my God is good.

But practicing the presence of that knowledge is something a little different.

It is a little like stepping out into the sunlight and being blinded by the light, until gradually your eyes adjust to the splendor of a bright world.

His brightness thrills me, excites me, and inspires me. But more than anything, it comforts me.

How can I fear, when I have a Father like this?

“An infinite God can give all of Himself to each of His children. He does not distribute Himself that each may have a part, but to each one He gives all of Himself as full as if there were no others.”

– A. W. Tozer –

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Unimagined

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“There is in Jerusalem near the sheep-gate a pool surrounded by five arches, which has the Hebrew name of Bethzatha….One particular man had been there ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there on his back—knowing that he had been like that for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to get well again?”

“Sir,” replied the sick man, “I just haven’t got anybody to put me into the pool when the water is all stirred up. While I’m trying to get there somebody else gets down into it first.”

“Get up,” said Jesus, “pick up your bed and walk!”

At once the man recovered, picked up his bed and walked.”

 – from John 5, Phillips paraphrase –


Thirty-eight years. That’s how long he had been hoping. Everyday, his body lay, with its withered legs, near the holy pool that some people said was touched by angels. He’d seen some of these healings. The water would swirl and agitate, shouts and delighted screams would rise up all around the rocky ledges of the pool where others like him sat and waited on angels. A fortunate blind woman with a guide or someone who had just arrived leaped into the pool. Their tears and laugher were answer enough. He’d seen blind eyes open wide, no longer milky and opaque–healed.

He’d rehearsed the moment again and again. Adrenaline surged in his veins when he thought about it. Next time…maybe next time he could drag himself into the pool in time. Maybe next time, he could be the one laughing and crying with joy.

Then a stranger comes walking through the bodies of the suffering. “Don’t you want to be healed?”

“There’s no one to help me get in the water,” the cripple replies. Maybe he scowled, wondering who would ask such a dumb question. Duh. Of course he wanted to be healed. Why else would he park himself next to the healing pool, waiting for a chance to be well?

This is the good part! The stranger doesn’t say, “Okay, well, I’ll stick around and help you in next time an angel touches the water.” He doesn’t say, “Here are some crutches–these will help you get to the water faster.”

The stranger says, “Get up and walk.”

What? I wonder if the lame man was confused. Walk? But what about the Healing Pool? What about the way healing had always been done?

Can you hear the expectations shattering?

But he got up and started walking on legs that were no longer twisted and weak. He rolled up his waiting mat. He was done with the pool by the Sheep Gate. He was healed, no angel-water involved!

My favorite thing about this story is that Jesus, the powerful stranger, defies expectation. His solution to the problem was on a completely different level than the crippled man’s default solution. Who would have thought that someone could just say the word to straighten crooked limbs? Who would have thought that no holy water or angelic visitations were needed?

Who would have thought that all he had to do was encounter Jesus?

I make the same miscalculation as that lame man did. I get used to one way of thinking and imagine it is God’s only solution. I set my expectations, calibrate my reality, and think that I’ve got the ways of the Lord just about figured out.

But then, I wait in vain for the heavenly visitations or the stirring up of something miraculous that I can grab hold of on my own.

When Jesus comes by, I don’t always automatically think, “I want to be well.”

Often, I’m thinking, “I don’t have any help getting to the pool” and “This plan isn’t working out. Everyone beats me to the miracle.” Like the cripple, I’ve sometimes looked at my own problems so long that I can’t see other ways of escape.

But then Jesus presents an alternative: “Get up and walk.”

Oh. You meant, just get up? Just walk? No water gushing, no magic wand or swooping angels, no ritual to perform? Just get up and walk?

I wonder what preconceptions are keeping us from getting up and walking? I wonder how many solutions we need to put aside in favor of a God-given solution?

Our dear Father God is more than happy to hear our cries. He doesn’t always answer right away–after all, this lame man waited 38 years for that moment of healing, when the perfect time had come. And physical healing is not always His plan, either. This lame man could best glorify God by getting up and walking. A modern-day quadriplegic, Joni Eareckson Tada testifies to His faithfulness another way. In her book A Place of Healing, she says:

“Little did I know…that in due time, God would heal me–but on a level I would have never dreamed….I found the very peace and contentment that had eluded me. I also found joy, simply because I had embraced His will for my life.

And what is His will?

That you and I be in the best position, the best place, the timeliest circumstance in which God can be glorified the most.

For me that place just happens to be a wheelchair.

That happens to be my place of healing.”

What I learn from this story of the crippled man is that we dare too little. We think too small. We plan and theorize and, in the end, God staggers us with His wonders.

Sisters, we don’t have to be anxious about all the pieces of life that don’t seem to be falling into place. We have such a tiny perspective. From our view, we can’t see any way for our needs to be met.

But the One in control doesn’t have the same view as we do.

He has plans so wonderful that we can’t imagine them. He doesn’t need matter to speak a world into existence. He doesn’t need our help to meet our needs.

We don’t need perfect plans. We need to encounter Jesus, expecting glories that we cannot imagine.

He won’t disappoint.


“I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement—that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ—and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself!

Now to him who by his power within us is able to do far more than we ever dare to ask or imagine—to him be glory in the Church through Jesus Christ for ever and ever, amen!

 – from Ephesians 3:14-21, Phillips paraphrase –

 

 

Wonder

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“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy 


Maybe all of us have grown up too much, too fast.

And imagination has lost ground to dazzling virtual realities, so that we don’t have to stretch out with our creativity quite so much. Have you noticed that it takes more and more to capture kids attention these days?

Have we lost all our wonder?

Somewhere along the way, I have lost the wonder, like an addict who needs just a bit more to get his high.

And I walk by the flag proudly snapping in the morning wind, glance past the dusky velvet of the upturned caladium leaves, pass the wide-eyed child without even cracking a smile.

I do it without wonder, because brightness has blinded my jaded eyes.

You know, wonder, I think, is deeply tied to thankfulness. Being so full of thanks that it bubbles out in smiles and sparkling eyes.

So today I slow.

Like a child learning to walk again I try to school myself in the steps of wonder. I breathe, smile, try to pry my eyes open a little wider.

“Help me see.” It’s becoming a rhythmic sort of prayer.

Habits are such tiny, unseen, huge, life-shifting things. Have you, like me, fallen into the habit of finding fault with things around you? Have you become critical instead of thankful?

Or, like me, have you gotten so swept up in your to-do list that you forget to enjoy the thing right in front of you?

“Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.”
― Jim Elliot

We get so focused on our plans for the future, or so bogged down in reliving — or regretting — the past that we let these things kill our zest for life. At least, I know I do. So easily, I take my mind off God’s goodness in the present in exchange for worrying over things I either cannot change or can’t know yet.

“I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be in my mouth.” – Psalm 34:1, CEB

I pray that this becomes my reflex — that I will fix my eyes so much, so constantly upon my Savior that praise is always bubbling up inside me. I’m tired of missing out on the good things He has placed all around me. Today, I pray for my eyes to be wide, for my heart to be ready to soak up the wonder.

Are you ready to be made young again?



“Taste and see how good the Lord is!

    The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy!
You who are the Lord’s holy ones, honor him,
    because those who honor him don’t lack a thing.
Even strong young lions go without and get hungry,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”

– Psalm 34:8-10, CEB –

Charting Paths and Planting Trees

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“To be born is to be exposed to delights and miseries greater than imagination could have anticipated; that the choice of ways at any cross-road may be more important than we think; and that short cuts may lead us to very nasty places.”

– C.S. Lewis, emphasis mine –

You could say that I was raised to be a gardener, to plant little round specks of seeds that would grow comfortable and familiar in my dusty palm before I really understood. Young as I was, I didn’t know enough to wonder what they would sprout up to become.

With equal truth, you could say that I was born to chart paths. Taught to read enough signposts, though, a girl can become numb to the meaning of the places etched on the wood. Adventurous lands erode into formless names. What was meant to thrill can fade into the rut of habit.

True– to be born in a place where planting seeds and navigating cross-roads is commonplace, must be a privilege. I’m conscious of the voices, the onlookers that wish that they’d been born in my place. Yet I still find the sacred ebbing into merely commonplace.

I, born to a call, wake up one day to find that “There” has grown to be a dull place to be.

And I wonder why opening up pages of God-words doesn’t knock me over with glory.

It bothers me that in the morning I can blink open my eyes to the orange-gold sun and not be flooded with speechless wonder.

When the people I meet are…just normal. Something I accept, without an accelerating flutter of my heart.

When my view of family disintegrates into “those people who live here with me.” When dear people’s embraces are expected, usual.

When I accept a day’s pattern with no more excitement than a shrug and a nod.

It’s not that love–life, the glory–is dead. I feel it, deep inside. But muddy, work-hardened fingers have gotten so stiffly mechanical that dropping the seeds into the soil no longer stirs dreams of what will sprout. “This is just what I do. I plant.”

Rattling off the proper turn to make on the journey has become patently logical. “I ought to go this way. It’s the correct way.” Never mind that I used to lie awake nights smiling to myself about the uncharted geography over the next rise. The crinkles in the old maps, the tracks of ridges and beloved valleys and heart-welling childhood glens hidden with faded-ink X’s on old cartographs–these used to quicken my pulse. Imaginings of the sweet, new-land air, the orange-and-spice thrill of mountains and falling waters and trees that stretch on and on to the sun. But now my feet simply go forward. I’ve forgotten how to stop and wonder.

Wake up!

“Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.” – Psalm 57:8

I shake the shoulders of my slumbering soul. “Wake up!” Tears start to my eyes.My skin bristles with a chill. I’m fearing vision eternally fogged with dream-sleep. Oh, that the charted paths would clear of dust and glow gold again. That the seed would slip again through tender hands, smooth of callouses. I ache to see the glory.

Frantic, wild attempts at self-stirring finally spiral into a gliding calm, a prayer to the only Heart-Awakener.

“Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.” – Psalm 51:12, CEB –

Sleep fading from long-still muscles leaves a tingling numbness. But I am–so slowly–beginning to see the dawn.

A compass atop a faded map, waiting at the doorstop, beckon. An adventure waits for my feet to follow. A Friend lingers to walk at my side. He’s already pointing the way to the next rise. I can see He’s come this way before.

The Gardener calls and I realize, as if for the first time, what can spring from the seeds He holds out. Tiny in my palm, yet they may be trees.

Deeds, planted–today. Journeys, started in faith–yes, today I can step through the door.

Tucking potential deep into loamy furrows, I close my eyes and He lets me see the glorious things that may be.

At the beginning of my trek, He leads me to a mountain’s crest and I can see, in dawn swirling on low clouds, dim shapes of the wonders that await in the miles ahead.

“Restore to me this joy.” This time the words are full and breathless. He is so marvelously good to call back this life.

Storyteller Andrew Peterson paints it all in bright words, what this planting, this stepping out, is for us:

“We chose the spot, we dug the hole
We laid the maples in the ground to have and hold
As Autumn falls to Winters sleep
We pray that somehow in the Spring
The roots grow deep

And many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn…

…So sit down and write that letter
Sign up and join the fight
Sink in to all that matters
Step out into the light
Let go of all that’s passing
Lift up the least of these
Lean into something lasting
Planting trees…

So many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless someone”

lyrics from “Planting Trees,” by Andrew Peterson

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“Awake, my soul!
    Awake, harp and lyre!
        I will awaken the dawn

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
    I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.”

– Psalm 57:8-11, NIV –

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Thank you, Public Domain Pictures and Larisa Koshkina, for today’s image.

The Truer Land

flowers-139136937323p“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”
– G.K. Chesterton –

Fairy tales object to being outgrown.

I, at least, don’t seem able to do it.

Writers have long spoken this secret. C. S. Lewis avowed that a fairy tale not good enough to be read by an adult wasn’t good enough for anybody.

But sometimes you have to read for yourself, step into a glittering, strange, noble place and find out what it is really like from the inside.

Something about a brand new world for adventures–a whole creation, made up from the whirring cogs of a feracious mind–speaks to me.

New palettes for my imagination result, and suddenly nearly anything can happen, in a whirl of shimmering, phantasmal hues.

People can argue about the merits of so-called “fantasy.” Certainly, bad stories proliferate faster than the good stories. Wise people stand on both ends of the “fiction see-saw.” I don’t like to give up on stories, though. If stories–parables, they’re often called–were useful to Jesus, surely I am not presumptuous in taking them up. All I know is that the most fantastic things are often those that turn out to be True.

And the Truest things are often the most unbelievably, preposterously outlandish. And the most Wondrous things are the ones we most quickly forget.

What, a God who stoops to breathe air and trace earth and live in a flesh-tent as one of His created things?

Surely not, that bones long weather-cracked can stir with life?

What storytelling, that the Death of One could enact the Life of Many?

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.

– Psalm 40: 5, NIV –

But we’ve told ourselves the history until it’s all drabness. We’ve talked ourselves out of the wonder.

Tales of another world come down to ours, melt into nothing more than a sanitized Sunday School lesson. We push and shove on the idea of God until we think we’ve contained Him to our comfortable, clean, neat little box. Never mind that we’re sitting on it and hopping a little to get it to latch–like a suitcase overfilled for summer break.

Nevertheless, Truth exists, in all its unconventional glory. But perhaps we humans don’t quite know where to draw the boundaries sometimes? Perhaps we erase lines where God has written them, and inscribe them where He has never said they should be?

What is His line, This God who is Truth in flesh?

He is Truth.

C. S. Lewis has a delightful way of turning about our way of saying things, revealing that our little self-constructed “lines” are only fog curtains to reduce the mystery. We like to solve mysteries–maybe it’s because we like to control them. But God, fully uncontrollable, is full of mystery. And He tells fairy tales that are true.

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths….Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’.”

So these books that open worlds?

They’re portals that take my concept of myth and turn it on edge.

For a little while, I give the author “the secret handshake”–agreeing to “suspend belief” for a moment so I can take in his new world for what it is. Fantasy. Make-believe.

And yet, at the end of the tale, I’m often met with unexpected truth–an old friend on a path I thought to be unexplored–, a thrumming Truth in this made-up world, pulsing with the life of what I’ve believed all along.

Not in the words. Not even in the faces of strange creatures or the curiosity of abnormal physics or familiarity of human nature.

In the echoes of certain stories, I feel that the deepest part of it is the Truest part. One element that supersedes fictional places or the boundaries of worlds. An other-worldly longing for Redemption.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

And then, awakening in this Real world, with Real people, I see better.

After reading about things that I don’t expect to be true, I have fresh eyes to see the things that really are.

The point, after all, isn’t the contents of the finely-spun tale. It’s the lesson I learned in the reading–that, indeed, dragons can be killed.

Putting down a good story, I can see God’s Reality with fresh eyes.

Wise tales make the old seem new. They turn the oft-walked-by into a reason for joy. Good stories unmute the singing world so we too-deaf humans can hear the symphony at last.

Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge? – Job 37:16, NIV

Have you wondered lately? About this Story of our Savior’s that’s being written all around and through and in us?

Let’s join the parade, the marching line of story-tellers that “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done” (Psalm 78:4).

Setting down our fairy tales, let’s go out and take off our shoes.

Let us love…for He has poured out Love first, to us, to make us His.

And sing…for we are surrounded by hosts of witnesses, crying out His praise in a thousand languages that we have largely trained ourselves to ignore.

And wonder…for this is the Greatest of Stories and He has brought us about for this season, for His praise.

Beyond the Climax, when Jesus sets all right and inaugurates the True “Happily Ever After,” we will finally see.

“But this is precisely what is written: God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven’t crossed the mind of any human being.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9, CEB

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
 – Gilbert K. Chesterton, emphasis mine –

See also: Psalm 40:5, Psalm 65:8, Daniel 4:2, Job 5:9, Psalm 17:7

Thank you to Public Domain Pictures and George Hodan for today’s photo.