Doing Hard Stuff

Has God ever asked you to do anything hard? I couldn’t help thinking of that question as I finished reading again the biblical account of Noah and the great flood. Here he was, a man who was favored by God, being as focused on his Creator as possible in a world gone bad. He was surrounded by sinfulness, yet still true to God. How did God reward his faithfulness? By asking him to do something hard – really hard.

First he had to build a huge boat in the middle of a desert land. We can only imagine the ridicule as he brought in logs, sawed boards, pounded nails and created animal enclosures. And, while he built, he preached, calling on people to repent of their sins. Obviously, by the time the flood came, he had no converts other than his own family. Discouraging!

Then, he had to endure the flood – more than a year on a boat with his family and animals of every kind. The work involved must have been never-ending, not to mention the noise and the smell. One whole year, plus. But, happy 601st birthday, Noah! Finally, the ground was dry.

The first thing Noah did when he left the ark was offer a sacrifice to thank God for saving him and his family. He could have complained about the how, but he didn’t. He picked up where he left off before the call to build an ark – worshiping and following God.

Has God asked you to do anything hard lately? If so, don’t run from it. Say, “Yes, Lord” and get to work. God knows how to take of those who are his!

Faith in God has not saved people from hardships and trials, but it has enabled them to bear tribulations courageously and to emerge victoriously.” – Lee Robertson

He came.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him…” – John 1:9-10

There were announcements of Jesus’ coming birth to Mary and Joseph, and his arrival was heralded by angels. But in the darkness of the Bethlehem stable, the most amazing proclamation of all came directly from the newborn boy. He stirred in his makeshift cradle, and his cry broke the silence of that night. That baby’s cry was the voice of God himself.

That cry shook the world of angels and demons. Eons ago, they had heard it break another silence as it called the world into being. They knew it as the voice that cast Satan and his angels out of heaven. It was the voice that called Abraham, spoke to prophets, and empowered kings. That world-changing voice was now coming from a tiny bundle of humanity. Could it be? What power was contained in that cry! What foreshadowing of what would come in his life. What hope for the world, created perfectly, now fallen. God had not sent a prophet this time or a king or an angel. He had come himself, and the world would never be the same.

The voice of God still speaks today for those who will hear. As we sit before him in worship and wonder, we wait to hear again the voice that cried out on that holy night. Then it comes: His voice resounds in the deepest recesses of our heart – through his word and through his Spirit.

Listen.

“What God ever came so tender we could touch Him? So fragile that we could break Him? So vulnerable that His bare, beating heart could be hurt? Only the One who loves you to death.” -Ann Voskamp

NOTE: Post inspired by Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee.

Am I the answer?

“He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” – Job 6:14

Most of the time, we don’t know what’s on another person’s prayer list, do we? Sometime they share their burdens with us. More often, they are silent about what keeps them awake at night. We might not even know they need help.

But God does. He knows, as well, our relationship to this person, and it just may be that he wants to use us to answer a prayer request we aren’t even aware of. So what do we do?

First, as friends, we should learn to listen with sensitivity and to observe behavior. Often a person in need will give clues to what he cannot seem to verbalize, but we have to be aware and watchful. The Spirit will often reveal what we would not see on our own.

Then we can come in a little closer and try to help – sharing from our resources, offering our skills, giving biblical counsel, and standing alongside until our friend’s burden gets lighter. If we are willing, we can make a difference – one act of kindness at a time.

We usually aren’t called to solve other people’s problems, but we are called to respond in whatever way the Spirit shows us until they, with God’s help, can solve their own.

We may be the answer to someone else’s prayer. That, dear friends, is one of the greatest joys of the Christian life. Serving God. Loving others. Sensing God’s affirmation. And being reminded of Jesus’ own words, “. . .It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35b).

None of us can help everyone. But all of us can help someone. And when we help them, we serve Jesus. Who would want to miss a chance to do that? – Max Lucado

Why a mountain?

You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. – Exodus 15:17

My husband and I had the privilege of retiring to the mountains two years ago. We had both lived in the fairly flat Midwest all of our lives and were ready for a change. The mountains called and we came.

Over time, I’ve realized how important the mountains seem to be to God. It was on a mountain that Abraham offered Isaac and later on that same mount where the Temple was built and the people of Israel (and others who would join them) worshiped God.

It was on a mountain that the law was given to Moses, including the Ten Commandments that have been the foundation of laws in many countries today.

It was on a mountain that Elijah, standing in a cleft of the rock, heard God’s quiet voice speaking to him.

It was on a mountain that Jesus taught his followers in the greatest sermon ever given.

On a high mountain in Israel, Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus in all his glory as he talked with Moses and Elijah.

And, of course, it was on Mount Calvary that Jesus was crucified for the sins of us all.

Why a mountain? Maybe ascending to the height of the mountain is the farthest we can get from the distractions of this world, the concerns of this life. Whether on a mountain or in a quiet room, getting away to get nearer to God – to hear His voice, to see His glory, and to receive his instruction may be the finest thing we can do today.

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” – William Blake

The Melody

“I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.” – Psalm 104:33

” . . . and the melody that he gave to me within my heart is singing.”

Do you remember that line from the hymn In the Garden? It came to me recently as I was humming through my day and those words drew me into the rest of the song, “And he walks with me, and he talks with me. And he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

Do you hear it? Knowing God is with us, hearing his voice, being reassured of his love, and, then, the joy so great that we never want it to end. Don’t ever think you’re the only one who wants a relationship with God like that. This song was written in 1912 and the author, even then, understood what it meant to walk and talk with our Father in Heaven.

And it took  just one little line of music to bring it all to my mind.

The Bible, from beginning to end, encourages incorporating music into our lives:

“. . . be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” (Ephesians 5:18b-19)

Has God ever given you a melody? A song that draws you to him? Sing it. Hum it. Take it with you wherever you go. We need reminders of God, and music can be the vehicle to soften us enough to sense his loving presence. 

If God has given you a song, sing it, and let him use it to attune your heart to his.

“Where words fail, music speaks.” – Hans Christian Anderson

 
 
 

A Still Small Voice?

“In distress you called, and I delivered you. I answered you in the secret place of thunder.” – Psalm 81:7a

We often think of meeting God in a quiet place and hearing from him in a “still small voice” as Elijah did on the mountain millennia ago.

But there are times in the Bible when God makes himself known with a lot of noise – ruckus even. Remember he appeared to Job in a whirlwind, and he took Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. In Isaiah 29:5-6, God describes himself as appearing with thunder, earthquake, noise, whirlwind, tempest, and fire. That’s not quiet, it’s chaotic!

Let’s go back to Elijah’s still small voice. Remember that the quiet message he received was only after the wind, earthquake, and fire. God is not a quiet God. He is active and strong, and he speaks in many ways and in every circumstance in which his children find themselves. And, when he speaks, we are comforted: “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalm 94:19).

We’d like to have peaceful, non-chaotic lives, wouldn’t we? But we live in a challenging world that includes storms – physical, societal, relational, and sometimes spiritual. If we want God’s consolations to cheer our souls, we should never stop listening for his voice in the storm – shouting above the fray or whispering in our ear. When we hear him, we can be calm – even when life rages around us.

“A faithful person sees life from the perspective of trust, not fear. Bedrock faith allows me to believe that, despite the chaos of the present moment, God does reign; that regardless of how worthless I may feel, I truly matter to a God of love; that no pain lasts forever and no evil triumphs in the end.” -Philip Yancey

God’s Language

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  – Psalm 19:1-2

Author and missionary Frank Laubach prayed this prayer on January 1, 1937, “God, I want to give you every minute of this year. I shall try to keep You in mind every moment of my waking hours . . . I shall try to learn your language as it was taught by Jesus and all others through whom you speak . . . “

He kept a journal during that year in which we see him trying to figure out the language of God. As he goes through his days, he finds God speaking through unsolved problems, needs, notes in his calendar, mottos on walls, memories, and, of course, the Bible, teachers, and creation itself.

We, too, can learn God’s language. We simply have to be looking for his activity around us, listening for his direction, wanting to know what he is trying to say. Laubach wanted to be doing that every waking minute of his day. I’ve tried that – it’s really not possible! But if the desire is there, even with failed attempts, God will begin to reveal himself.

Focusing on that connection doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Sometimes it’s a quick “thank you” or, if you have no words, a nod and a smile – a simple acknowledgement that he is with you, right there in your office, kitchen, den, or car. And he’s always speaking. We just need to learn his language!

“We look for visions from heaven, for earthquakes and thunders of God’s power . . .  and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. If we will do the duty that lies nearest, we shall see Him.” – Oswald Chambers

Someone should be taking notes.

“Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.” – John 8:47a

I was in a meeting once with a consultant who had been brought in to advise on a non-profit organization’s proposed development project. He began his presentation, then looked around the table and said, “If I’m talking, someone should be taking notes.” That seemed arrogant on the part of an engineer, but it’s not at all arrogant when it comes to God.

Sometimes we do hear God speaking to us, don’t we? Usually it’s a thought, a highlighted verse of Scripture, or a nudge to do something we hadn’t planned to do. That’s often how God guides, encourages, and teaches us. As we get to know him better, we learn to recognize those messages.

When God speaks, it’s something to take seriously. For that reason, I like to keep a journal close at hand, so when God says something to me, I can take notes. Recently, for example, I asked him about a situation in my life and his response seemed to be “I will make a way.” It was clearly from God, and I wanted to be sure I’d remember it, so I made a note. That thought has come back to me numerous times since. I do the same with Bible verses or phrases that seem to speak to me on a particular day. Writing these messages down cements them in my memory and also makes them available for revisiting – sometimes years down the road.

God’s word is eternal. What he speaks may be valid for more than one situation. Let’s write his messages down, then read them again and again. When he speaks, we all should be taking notes!

“People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to.” – Dallas Willard

The Me You See

“Since it is through the Spirit that we have life, let it also be through the Spirit that we order our lives day by day.” – Galatians 5:25 (CJB)

Have you ever had a conversation with God that went something like this?

God, to me, reminding me of an attitude I had yesterday: “That wasn’t you.”

Me: “Yes it was. I’m just like that. I do it over and over. I’m sorry, Lord.”

God: “Oh, Bev.” (I heard his disappointment, not with what I had done yesterday, but at my sense of hopelessness today). “I know who you are now, and I know the you you will be when you are a finished product – and that is the you I see. This attitude isn’t part of it.”

Me: “Oh, Lord, change me. Make me like Jesus. I repent. I turn to you to make me better, to turn me into the me you already see.”

When we have willing hearts, God’s correction is always loving, always gentle, always for our good. He works within us to make us want to change, to want to be more like Jesus. Then, as we cooperate, he begins to carve away everything in us that doesn’t look like Jesus. He adds a few things, too – more patience, compassion, peace, truthfulness, perseverance, and prayerfulness – Jesus things.

At some point, we’ll see Jesus face-to-face and will realize how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. But, the promise is there, “we shall be like him. . .” 

Thank you, Lord, for seeing me as a finished product. For working with me to remove everything that is not like the me you see!

“Don’t get upset with your imperfections. . . Simply surrender to the Power of God’s Love, which is always greater than our weakness.” ~ Saint Francis de Sales

Saying “no” will break my heart.

Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
    to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
    the holiness of your temple! 
– Psalm 65:4

Do you want to know how God really feels about you? Are you a bother to him? A pest? Do you talk too much? Ask for too much? Say the wrong thing? Take a deep breath. He’s saying something like this to you right now:

I want you to be near me. You can talk to me. You don’t have to stay in a corner or try not to be seen. Come closer. Stay close. I’m in love with you. I want you with me always.

“He will rejoice over you with gladness;
 he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.” – Zephaniah 3:17

And, if that’s not enough, Jesus whispers, too:

I am your shepherd, your teacher. You can hear best when your heart is quiet and when you stay within the range of my voice. Stay close enough to hear me. 

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” – John 10:27

Finally, the Holy Spirit asks in his own way:

I’m reminding you that you are invited to the dance. You are welcome at the banquet. Please come. I love you so much that, if you say “no”, it will break my heart.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” – Ephesians 4:30

Are you convinced yet of God’s love? Be brave and get a little closer. 

Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.”  Jerry Bridges