Obstacles

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9b

Do you feel like you’ve been stopped in your tracks? You’ve been on a path you thought God was directing, and now there’s a roadblock you hadn’t anticipated. What do you do? Turn around? Give up? Or push on?

In the first chapter of the book of Judges, we read about the Israelites moving into the land God had promised them. With God’s help, they took over village after village, then came to one area where the people had iron chariots and they gave up. Didn’t even try.

If the Red Sea and the walls of Jericho were not obstacles too big for God, would he be intimidated by iron chariots? Of course not! But the people didn’t see that, so they stopped. As the history continues, we find the people with iron chariots were the very ones who led God’s people into worship of idols. Stopping short of the goal God has placed in front of us leaves us in danger.

What obstacle do you face right now? Difficult relationship? Job or career struggles? Sickness? Financial setback? If we are walking with God and, to the best of our ability, following his will, there is no obstacle too big for him. None!

So, let’s not quit before we complete what God has called us to do. We need to rely on him for strength and push through the challenge in front of us – whatever it is.

“We need to remind ourselves that God can change things. Outlook determines outcome. If we see only the problems, we will be defeated; but if we see the possibilities in the problems, we can have victory.” – Warren Wiersbe

Lost?

“He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.” – Psalm 145:19

We all wander away sometime. We don’t intentionally turn our backs on God, we just stop paying attention to him. We get distracted and, eventually we stop following where he leads.

When a sheep does that, he gets lost. And a lost sheep has no way to find his way back home. So he usually finds a bush or a rock to lie against and he waits to be found. In the meantime, the shepherd has returned from the fields to the sheepfold for the night and, in his counting, realizes that one of his sheep is missing. By now, though, it’s dark and that little sheep will be hard to find. But, the shepherd lights a lamp, ventures out, and begins the search, calling as he goes.

At this point in the dark of night, the sheep will never be found unless he participates in his own rescue. His job is to hear the shepherd’s voice and then respond with a bleat – as loud as he can and consistently over time until the shepherd can follow the cry and bring back the wanderer who, by now, is cold, hungry, and afraid.

Are you feeling lost today? Far away from God? Having no way of knowing how to find your way back to him? He’s reaching out for you already, but he waits for you to participate in your own rescue. How do you do that? You call out to him. You pray. You wait for him to hear your cry for help. He will come. He will rescue you and carry you home.

“Human beings do not readily admit desperation. When they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near.” – Phillip Yancey

Note: Lost sheep concept taken from the book The Good Shepherd by Kenneth E. Bailey

Making a Difference

“. . . (The Lord) who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
 who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
– Psalm 103:4-5

Life can be frustrating, discouraging. Sometimes we feel like we are trying our best, but not making a difference at all. We find ourselves asking if what we are doing today will matter in the long run.

Don’t give up. God works in ways we cannot see – at least not yet! I read recently about the life of David Brainerd, missionary to American Indians in the 1700’s. He kept a journal, so we have a window on his private thoughts. He was often discouraged. He was alone and lonely. He was sick (diagnosed with consumption). And his ministry was not very successful. But, even when he was depressed, he kept going. He prayed – sometimes for a whole day at a time. He fasted. He read and re-read his Bible.

And, listen in to the cry of his heart: “Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.” God answered that prayer. Though he had few converts and died at the age of 29 after only a four-year ministry, his devotion to God during tough times has inspired countless others to gives their lives to God in service as ministers and missionaries.

So, even when we are discouraged, we don’t quit. God is working something in us and through us that we don’t understand. Let’s pray, as Brainerd did, that God would use us to make a difference that is disproportionate to who we are!

” . . . God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.” – John Piper

Following and Trusting

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” – Job 23:10

I was hiking with friends in the Rocky Mountains recently when we came to a narrow part of the trail. I looked to my left and realized there wasn’t much room between me and a long drop to the creek below. My heart raced and I slowed my pace. Beth, walking behind me, asked if I was afraid, and I admitted I was. She understood and asked Bonnie, another friend, to walk in front of me. Bonnie got around me and then walked a slow and steady pace, knowing I needed to be able to follow. It was much easier getting through the tough part of the trail when I was watching her feet instead of the drop-off beside me.

I learned two things that day. First, I have some great friends. They saw I was in trouble and, one behind and one in front, helped me through. When we struggle with a hard part of life’s path, we need friends like these two!

Second, I needed someone to trust. I knew my friends had hiked this trail before, so I had confidence in them. When I took my mind off the scary edge next to me, focusing on Bonnie instead, I calmed down and made it to the wider part of the path.

Do you know the person I trust the most? Even more than my friends? Jesus. I’m trying to learn to follow his sandaled feet whenever I’m afraid. He always leads me to a safer place. He’ll do that for you, too!

“Self-denial . . . means no longer seeing oneself, only him who is going ahead, no longer seeing the way which is too difficult for us. Self-denial says only: he is going ahead; hold fast to him.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wonder and Wait

The symphony he is composing includes minor chords, dissonance, and tiresome fugal passages. But those of us who follow his conducting through early movements will, with renewed strength, someday burst into song.” – Philip Yancey

Life is about the day-to-day, isn’t it? We get caught up in what is next on the schedule, what we need to plan for, shop for, or fix. Life can be mundane.

Then a crisis hits and we long for the “boring” days, the days when all we had to do was the next thing on our calendar. Now we are taken to a new place and it can be a place of discouragement, frustration, and even dread. We can’t see how this will end. We are vulnerable and afraid.

Let’s rewind that scenario. What if we see the crisis we face not as an obstacle to get around, but an invitation from the God of creation to let him lead us through it? What if there are heavenly blessings and spiritual understandings we cannot get any other way than by going through something we didn’t sign up for? Something we detest? Something we fear?

If we are in crisis, let’s face it with awe at what God is about to do. With wonder at what will unfold as we walk day-by-day with him in the middle of it. With anticipation of an outcome we cannot, in our humanness, even imagine. Let’s lean hard into the one who has promised never to leave us, always to love and care for us – no matter what we are facing today. Then we can watch in wonder as he does his amazing work!

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” – Habakkuk 1:5

I have a question.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – 1Corinthians 13:12

I want to ask you “why?”, Lord. Why did my daughter get cancer? Why did you not heal her after the last time? She is a true lover of you, a disciple, growing in her faith over the years. Why would you let this happen?

Then I read a prayer from Carolyn Myss this morning. She said, “I have learned by now that you do not answer questions: You answer prayers.”

That was true of Job, wasn’t it? He wanted to confront God about the disasters that had come into his life. He wanted to know why. He wanted to know what he had done to deserve this pain. God didn’t answer Job’s questions, but he did reveal himself and his glory to Job. That was enough to quiet Job’s heart and satisfy his questions. He learned he could trust God with the whole story of his life including what he was experiencing that day.

So, Lord, I will change my questions to a prayer instead: May we realize your presence in this journey. Give us courage. Give us hope. May I trust you as the author of my life story and my daughter’s. And, please, reveal to us your glory so our questions become unimportant, and you become all-important. Amen.

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal, but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.” ~ C.S. Lewis

NOTE: Painting shown is by Bernard Vaillant (Dutch, Lille 1632–1698 Leyden) and is titled “Socrates Looking into Mirror”.

Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27

I was reminded recently of the story of an art contest years ago in which artists were asked to submit paintings depicting perfect peace. There were many entries of quiet rural scenes, reading by the fireplace, mirror-calm waters, and couples hand-in-hand. But one was different. It portrayed a wild storm, winds blowing, trees bending. Almost unseen, near the trunk of a tree with branches swaying, was a tiny bird sitting serenely on her nest with her wings covering her fledglings. That one took the prize.

It’s relatively easy to experience peace when life is going our way, when the days are sunny, and everything is in order. The real test of our peace is when our world seems to be falling apart and the storms rage.

Are you in the middle of a storm right now? I am.

Where do we go when it’s scary, unpredictable, and fierce? We go to God’s promises, like this one: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

We need to intentionally let go of anxiety, pray sincerely (many times a day when the storm is furious), and trust God’s peace will wash over us and fill us as he carries us through.

“If God be our God, He will give us peace in trouble. When there is a storm without, He will make peace within. The world can create trouble in peace, but God can create peace in trouble.” – Thomas Watson

From and To

As for God, his way is perfect . . .” – 2 Samuel 22:31a

Life has its routines: its familiar surroundings, foods, sounds, and patterns. It’s comfortable, even if it’s not perfect.

Sometimes God sends surprises that uproot us from the familiar and force us to face new routines, new challenges. We usually balk at that. We want things to be like they were before the pandemic, before the rejection, before the diagnosis, before the job loss. We just want to go back to what we knew before everything changed.

The people of Israel felt that way after just a short time in the desert. They complained to Moses that they wanted to go back to Egypt (to slavery!) because the food was better. Can you believe it? Moses knew he had some unhappy campers, but he also knew God had a plan. Here’s what he tells the people: “But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised” (Deuteronomy 6:23).

He’s reminding them they’re not home yet. There is more to come. God has taken them out of Egypt not to leave them wandering in the desert, but to take them to a far better place. They just needed to be patient in the journey.

Has God upset your routine? Removed you from the familiar? Created new challenges? Trust that he takes us out of somewhere to take us into someplace better – a place where we can flourish.

In between, we wonder and we worry just as the people of Israel did in the desert.

Let’s remember where he has taken us from, look forward to where he’s taking us to, and trust him in the in-between.

“Leave the broken, irreversible past in God’s hands, and step out into the invincible future with him.” – Oswald Chambers

Afraid?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

I was anticipating a situation that made me anxious. When that happens, I find it helpful to pray about it. So, I began a prayer telling God all the reasons I had to be stressed about this meeting and then, as it dawned on me who I was talking to, the prayer reverted to something like this:

Me: Are you afraid?
Jesus: No.
Me: Then I won’t be either (pause). Are you stressed?
Jesus: Nope.
Me: Then I won’t be either (pause). Are you worried about what happens next?
Jesus: Not a bit.
Me: Then, me either.

That might seem like a silly prayer exercise, but focusing on God’s serenity calmed me. If we believe that God not only knows what will happen in any given situation, but is actively involved in bringing about the consequences he desires, then we can relax. To the extent we are following him, our outcomes will be exactly what he wants them to be.

Sometimes the question for us is this: Are we content with that? Are we willing to accept his will for us as good? Or will we fight against it? When we have a predetermined outcome in mind, we get anxious. When we commit to being happy with what God has designed, we relax into his plan.

God does have a plan. He’s in control of every situation. He’s not anxious. Why should we be?

“If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer – His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.” – John Newton

Need a leader?

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1

Need a story of hope, today? Try this:

God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, but King Saul was mad and determined to kill David before that could happen. Early in David’s fugitive life, supporters began to gather. Before long, he has a ragtag “army” of about 600 men.

And “ragtag” might be the right word. The Bible tells us they were people who were in debt, distressed, and/or “bitter in soul”. David must have sighed deeply when they met for their first strategy meeting! These were all people who had been battered by life and were, in fact, not responding well to their circumstances.

Fast forward a few years. By then, there were thirty choice soldiers known as “David’s Mighty Men”. The rest were the support team, but all were disciplined, useful, and loyal. They were willing to risk their lives for their leader. Many, in fact, became part of David’s leadership team when he was crowned as king of Israel.

Where are you today? Getting beat up by life? Finding some bitterness in your heart? Discouraged?

If there was hope for change for David’s ragtag men, there’s hope for you, too. Suggestion? Ask God for a modern-day David, a mentor, to walk alongside you, teach you, and encourage your relationship with God. You may be surprised at the amazing changes coming your way!

And, if your life is on an even keel, maybe you are the leader God is calling to help someone else. Be open to that call. You may be the change-agent someone else is crying out for today.

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion.” – John Stott