The Horse and I

“Let God have your life; he can do more with it than you can.” – Dwight L. Moody

I don’t know much about horses. But, here I was at a ranch for a weekend with my daughter and granddaughter. Because my granddaughter loves horses and wanted me to experience them, too, we all signed up for the trail ride. And I learned something.

We were shown how to use the reins and told not to let our horse get too close to the horse in front of him and not to let him eat foliage along the way. So, determined to do it right, we set out. I pulled on Cairo’s reins when he got too close to Hoss, and I steered him away from the plants along the trail. Eventually, though, he got tired of being micromanaged. He tossed his head and snorted a couple of times. He was not happy!

So, I decided to quit fighting him (he’s bigger than I am!), and I let the reins go slack. He settled into a pattern he was comfortable with, and we finished the ride better friends than we were when we started.

Are you a little bit like me? Wanting to hang on tight to the reins, to steer, to be in control? Sometimes, I think everyone around us would be better off if we stop trying so hard to be safe, right, and in charge. It would be good for us, too, just to realize that God is the only one who can change people or protect us.

And, best of all, when we yield to him, we can enjoy the ride!


“I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;”
– Psalm 131:1b-2a

Bad news?

And all my life, You have been faithful
All my life, You have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God
*

We’ve all been on the receiving end of bad news at some point or another, right?

“You’ve been a great employee, but we have to cut costs. Sorry.”

“Just calling to let you know about your lab tests.”

“There’s been an accident.”

So how do we react? At first, panic, desperation. Then sadness or depression. But, over the long haul, we pull ourselves up and begin to think clearly. Paul shows us by example that there’s something we can focus on to get us through the bad news times:

When he was on trial before King Agrippa, he recounted his earlier life, his conversion, his missionary efforts, and finally his arrest in Jerusalem, and he sums it all up by saying, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God” (Acts 26:22).

He’s in trouble – again. This time he’s about to be sent to Rome to stand trial before Caesar, an emperor known to throw Christians into dungeons or to the lions. And, what is Paul thinking about? The past. God’s faithfulness. God’s help in every situation.

If we are in distress today, we can do what Paul did: think about the times God has helped us in the past. Times when we’ve had bad news, and he came through. Times when we prayed and were flooded with peace. Then we ask him to do it again. He is faithful to his children and hears their cries for help.

“. . . you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. – Psalm 63:7

“The Goodness of God”, written by Ed Cash, Ben Fielding, Jason Ingram, Brian Johnson and Jenn Johnson, and published by Bethel Music

Half a Mile Ahead

I never see God. I seldom run into visual clues that remind me of God unless I am looking. The act of looking, the pursuit itself, makes possible the encounter. ” – Philip Yancey

When we traveled to Israel a few years ago, we learned to stay close to our guide. We literally would have been lost without her!

Given that experience, it was interesting to read in the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River (Joshua 6) that God gave different instructions. He wanted the people to follow the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant, but they were to follow more than half a mile behind. Not up close, but quite a distance away. That meant they might lose sight of the Ark or the view might be obstructed. I know I would have wanted to be a lot closer to those leaders. It’s more comfortable to follow by sight than by faith!

It made me think about life. There are times when we’re on a path we believe God placed us on, but we’ve lost sight of him, or we’re not understanding his guidance as clearly as we’d hoped. We begin to question whether we’re even on the right path. And, on really bad days, we’re afraid he’s forgotten us. He hasn’t! He’s sometimes half a mile out front making sure everything’s ready when we get there.

God’s not as far away as we think. He may be out of sight, but he’s still leading. We need to follow and trust. We’ll probably see him around the next bend.

 “. . . I go to prepare a place for you. . . And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2b-3

A Trustworthy Love

“Oh, holy night, fill with silence that I might hear that which is not spoken by human voices.” – Sharon Ann Reich-Gray

How well do we know God? We are told that even the stars in the sky reveal who he is. We see his fingerprints all around us in creation. He speaks to us through his Word when a verse just seems to come to life as we read it: The message jumps off the page and into our hearts.

And he speaks through our thoughts, sometimes giving direction, often just letting us know how much he loves us or encouraging us to trust him. He might say something like this:

I love you beyond anything you can know. Accept my love. Love me back.

Or this:

Accept that I have given you gifts and talents for you to use and enjoy as you choose. You don’t have to prove anything. Just receive my love. Know me better. When you really begin to know me, you will serve me better, too.

Or this:

Believe I am who I say I am. Trust me to go ahead of you on the path, to always tell you the truth.

Or this:

Trust me in the dark. Trust me never to leave you, always to love you.

He truly loves his children and wants nothing but the best for us. If we believe that, we can face anything that comes our way today. Keep listening!

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:17b-19

It takes practice.

“To learn strong faith is to endure great trials. I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testings.” – George Mueller

Have you ever learned to play a musical instrument? If so, you know you don’t sit down and play a Mozart concerto on the first day. You start with a few notes and repeat them until the notes on the page flow through you into melody. Making music begins with easy pieces. But if you want to go to the next level, it takes work, stamina, making mistakes, letting the music get into your bones, and, at long last, the more complex composition translates into beautiful sounds. Making music takes practice.

Trusting God is like that: We learn to trust by trusting. The hard part is that the only way to practice this skill is to encounter a problem we can’t solve on our own. Not our favorite thing. And it becomes harder the longer the problem persists. If we don’t give up, our trust grows as we go through the struggle stage-by-stage.

When it’s over, and we’re on an even keel again, we realize our confidence in God is much stronger than it was before the problem began. Then, when God is ready to move us to the next level of trusting, we do it all over again with a new problem life brings, but this time we’re stronger and better able to be joyful, peaceful, and hopeful even in the struggle.

So, let’s not complain when we’re faced with a challenge. Maybe God is taking us to the next level of trust, of knowing him. At each new level, the music is more beautiful, the joy more complete. Keep practicing!

“This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” – Isaiah 25:9b

Power

“What wings are to a bird and sails to a ship, so is prayer to the soul.” – Corrie Ten Boom

Have you ever fantasized about what you’d do if you were in charge of the world? The fantasy doesn’t last long, does it? The problems are great, and we have so little power to make a difference.

But wait. We may have more power to effect change than we realize – maybe not on a grand scale, but, instead, in our circle of influence – people we know up close and those we reach through media.

What power do we have?

First, there is the power of words: Some of you are great at engaging in discussions about important issues. Others know how to say just the right things to people in distress. Still others have great powers of persuasion. We can use our words, whether written or spoken, to urge, comfort, and counsel. Our timely words matter to someone!

The second is the power of community: Sometimes it is who you know. We may not have what we need to make the impact we want, but we may know those who do. Power isn’t simply added when we include another – it’s multiplied!

The third power we have is spiritual. When we pray, God hears, responds, directs, and, yes, empowers. One simple, weak, tired thing we do can be supernaturally empowered by the Spirit to make a big change in this world.

We shouldn’t feel powerless. We cannot do everything, but we can do something! What is the “something” God is putting in front of you to do today? It matters!

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, . . . that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” – Ephesians 3:14,16

Maybe it’s a test.

“Let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!” – Henry Ward Beecher

In some ways, all of life is a test. How will we react when things go wrong? Or when we don’t get our way? Or God feels far away? Those are circumstances we all understand. But, have you ever thought that a blessing from God could also be a test?

In Exodus 15 we find the people of Israel several weeks’ journey into the wilderness after their escape from Egypt. They’re out of food and starting to complain. God tells Moses not to worry because he (God) will provide quail for the people at night and a strange new food the people will call manna six mornings a week. He went on to say he was doing this as a test to see if the people would obey his instructions. They could collect manna six days a week, but not on the seventh, because that was a day of rest. Most passed the test, but some didn’t. They had to learn the hard way.

There’s more: What God was offering was not just food. He was giving them the gift of enough and the gift of rest. They received the full blessing only when they were obedient.

After reading this story in Exodus, I have to wonder if God blesses us and then stands back to see how we will use the gifts he gives us. Maybe, with his blessings, he is trying to grow in us a willing obedience, care for others, and trust in him. Are we passing the test?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” – Ephesians 1:3

Plan C

True faith does not so much attempt to manipulate God to do our will as it does to position us to do his will.” – Philip Yancey

My daughters and I had planned a trip to walk 100 km of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. But that was 2020, Covid loomed, and our plans were put on hold. Late in 2020, one daughter faced a health crisis, and we realized walking 12 to 18 miles a day wouldn’t be possible for her (maybe not for me either!). So we decided that, instead of being pilgrims on the Camino, we would be tourists visiting Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville. Just days before our planned departure, Spain changed its entrance requirements and we had to cancel our plans

We scouted the internet to see what we could sign up for at the last minute and found a great resort in Mexico. We made the trek to spend a week together under the sun and along the sea. It was wonderful! When we came home, I told my husband about the trip: relaxed pace, beautiful surroundings, good food, and great conversations. His response? “It sounds like your Plan C was God’s Plan A.”

Has that ever happened to you? You thought you knew what you wanted, but ran up against obstacle after obstacle. Then God surprised you with a new plan, and you realize his was much better than yours. When we yield ourselves to him, he sometimes has gifts for us we never would have dreamed of on our own. So, even when we’re frustrated, let’s trust him to have the best plan!

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory . . . – Ephesians 3:20-21

When Discouragement Hits

“Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.” — Corrie ten Boom

I know a lot of people who are discouraged, some even depressed, stressing over financial setbacks, health issues, or relationships. Others have a more general anxiety about the world – political unrest, environmental issues, global conflicts.

Paul’s writings helped me to think more clearly about these things recently.

He begins by warning his spiritual son Timothy that things are going to get difficult, and people are going to continue to behave in sinful, ugly ways (2 Timothy 3:1-5). He then gives Timothy some instruction.

First, he says not to get caught up in the horrible condition of the world around him. Be aware, but not obsessed. Instead, he says Timothy should follow Paul’s example:  You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness . . .” (2 Timothy 3:10). Maybe we all need to look for those who are living God-centered lives in difficult times and follow their examples. They may be people we know personally or authors we read or teachers we listen to. Let’s find people with one foot planted in this world and the other in Scripture and listen to them.

Second, Paul tells Timothy to keep following what he knows to be truth: “. . . continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Essentially, Paul says, turn your eyes to good role models and your heart to God’s truth. That advice will preserve us from discouragement when times are tough. I’m working on that. You, too?

May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” – Psalm 25:21

The Backward Look

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done.” – Psalm 105:5

Many of us try to live in the present moment. After all, the present is the only time we have, right? The only chance we have to make a difference, to experience God’s presence, to interact with those around us.

That is a good mindset, but once in awhile we are wise if we stop to realize that where and who we are in this present moment is the result of many things that have happened along the way.

As I paused today to think back on my own life, I realized how God took me into and out of situations that molded me; how he brought me spiritual friends who encouraged my faith, how he gave me ways to serve him, how he drew me closer to himself. Even in circumstances I didn’t like, he was always faithful, always loving, and always looking out for me.

What about you? Whether you’ve lived a few years or many, take some time and let God show you where he’s been involved even when you didn’t realize it. You may be surprised at what he brings to mind. You have never been alone!

Why look back? So we can thank God for his active participation in our lives. So we can share with others who may be struggling in the day-to-day that there is a long view, a plan that God is working out one day at a time. So our faith can be renewed and our hearts encouraged. It’s worth a backward look.

“If you believe in a God who controls the big things, you have to believe in a God who controls the little things. It is we, of course, to whom things look ‘little’ or ‘big’.” – Elisabeth Elliot