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

Shh. He’s working.

“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” – Habakkuk 2:20

Our twenty-something grandson had come to visit us in Colorado, planning to take hikes and summit mountains. But an unseasonable snowfall kept him indoors for a few days instead. He broke out his canvas and paints and began to create a landscape while glancing out our front window.

I looked over his shoulder, wanting to tell him that the open field he just put in was really over a bit further, wondering about the colors he chose, and really getting concerned about all the wild brushstrokes that were not taking any shape at all. But I said nothing. Over the next couple of days a beautiful landscape emerged. It was related to the view out our window, but it also incorporated other scenes from his memory. It had its own artful color scheme, and all those wild brushstrokes emerged amazingly as mountains. It wasn’t what I envisioned. It was so much better! And I was really glad I had resisted the urge to try to get him to do it my way.

Then I remembered the verse that asks us to be silent before God. Wait! I thought we were supposed to talk to him always, tell him our needs, plead for others, ask him to intervene in our lives. Yes, that’s true. But sometimes we don’t understand the picture he’s painting. When that happens, we watch and wait without interference. The picture that emerges may not be anything like we expected, but it will be God’s own idea, and it will be beautiful. Sometimes we just have to be still and let him work.

I hear a voice in the silences, and become increasingly aware that it is the voice of God”. – David Brainerd

Note: I thought you might want to see the results of our artist’s efforts. The painting is titled “Magnificent Vista” and is shown above.

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

The Value of Time

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Have you ever heard of the time value of money? The concept is if you have a little money, invest it where it can earn interest, and let principal and interest grow together, eventually you will have a great deal more money than you started with. The key ingredient is time.

There’s a time value to spirituality, too. We begin with commitment to follow Christ. Then we learn a little here and there, adding to the knowledge we already have. We sense the foundation of our spiritual life is getting stronger. Then, we add experiences, sound teaching, spiritual practices, and relationships until, over time, we realize we’re changing (2 Peter 1:5-9). There are many behaviors and activities that contribute to our spiritual maturation, but time is a key ingredient to fostering true transformation.

Here are a few examples of how that might help:

  • Temptation that is persistent tests us, grows us, and invites God to intervene. We shortchange ourselves when we give in to temptation without a fight. If we resist and trust God, we get stronger (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  • Faith that has to wait for fulfillment grows deeper with time. If all our prayers were answered immediately, our faith would be fragile. As we learn to trust God’s timing, our faith grows (Romans 4:20).
  • Spiritual fruit comes only after seeds are buried and the plants mature. Growth to the point of fruitfulness in God’s Kingdom takes time (Mark 4:26-29).

We want to encourage our own spiritual growth, but we can’t hurry it. Most of the highly valued things in life take time. Don’t give up!

“Be not afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.” – Author Unknown

Any mountains to be moved?

I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. – Isaiah 45:2

I look at mountains every day outside my windows. I don’t want any of them to move! They’re strong, ancient, and remind me of God’s creative power. Yet, Jesus taught we could move mountains with just a mustard-seed-sized faith.

One morning, he seemed to ask specifically, “Do you have any mountains you want me to move?” He didn’t mean the ones outside my window. He meant mountains relating to my life. Mountains I don’t have the power to move myself. 

For God, power isn’t a problem: “The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth” (Psalm 97:5). So, I prayed. He listened. And I tried hard just to trust.

When I think of God moving a mountain, I’d like it to be instantaneous – an earthquake maybe. But, often, it seems, he moves the mountains a stone or a rock at a time. That requires my patience, but it’s OK. Usually, I can see him at work and know that someday that mountain will be moved.

One of the mountains I prayed about that morning has been removed. Gone! And without any help from me. I’m so thankful for God’s melting it away like wax. The others? I’m still praying, still trusting – believing God is moving them in his own way and in his own time – maybe just pebble by pebble.

Are there any mountains you need to pray about today?

“The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where everything is possible. . . Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom

 

 

 

 

 

The Narrows

“Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path . . . with walls on both sides.” – Numbers 22:24

A few years ago, we traveled with some of our family to Zion National Park where we entered “The Narrows”. It’s the most confined section of the canyon where, at times, you can touch both sides of the towering rock walls as you walk through with a river underfoot. I’m not fond of closed-in spaces, so I knew that hike was not for me!

Sometimes we don’t have a choice about how narrow our lives get, and the walls can seem too confining. Some of you are feeling that now when you can’t leave your home even for work. We’re used to wide open spaces – highways, malls, meeting places, beaches, and parks. Now we are kept inside with only occasional recourse to the outside world.

No matter if we are sequestering alone or with a large family, God is waiting with us in the narrows. He offers grace for each day, mercy in our stresses, hope that the wide-open spaces will soon reappear, and joy as we step cautiously through the restricted pathways of our present lives.

To access that grace, mercy, hope, and joy, we need to do one thing: Let our hearts be soft enough to receive. These gifts are there for us. Jesus is simply asking that you recognize he is with you in the small space and acknowledge you need him. As you turn toward him, he will respond. He always does.

Let’s be open to God today! When we do, the walls will seem to disappear, and the vastness of eternity will enter.

“. . . a bench outdoors, a porch swing, a chair in the library. Such places, as much as a church pew, provide openings to grace.” – Emilie Griffin

Rest awhile.

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” – Mark 6:31

Has your life changed because of the corona virus? Most of us have had events and activities canceled. Some have kids home on a prolonged break from school. Many have run into shortages at local stores. Some have been asked to work from home instead of coming in to the office. And our calendars are suddenly cleared!

The result? More time at home, less time on the run. So, let’s stop to assess our new normal and take a deep breath. We are now permitted to slow the hectic pace of our pre-quarantine lives and mellow out a little.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Maybe this world’s enforced slow-down is his invitation to rest, to spend time alone with him, and to let our minds stop the constant distraction of our old normal.

Let’s not overfill the extra time we may have. Instead, let’s live into it. Limit social media use, take soaking baths instead of quick showers, read a little longer to the kids at night, make mealtime last for an hour instead of minutes, take walks, read good books, talk to God, read his book, and enjoy being his kid. I think he has plans for us during the time apart.

If we listen to the Spirit and use this time well, we may emerge from the respite being more purposeful in our pursuits and less frenetic in our pace. We might find a renewed zest for life as we make more God-centered choices about time use than we did before this unsought slowing. Maybe it’s an opportunity to push the reset button!

“Converse less with man, and more with God.” – George Whitefield

Bring the Whale

 “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.” – Isaiah 65:1a

Do you know someone who seems to be running away from God instead of toward him? I think we all do, and if they are close to us as friends or family, we have great concern.

My husband and I pray together nearly every day for those we know who are turning their backs on God. Most were exposed to the truth early on, but are rejecting what they once knew to go their own way instead.

As we prayed one morning, Warren remembered Jonah, who ran from God, was thrown overboard into the stormy sea, was swallowed by a great fish, then after three days, was vomited up exactly where God had sent him in the first place. Thinking of those we were praying for and their choice to turn away from God, he simply prayed, “Bring the whale!”

Some people come to God through scripture, relationships, sermons, or gentle nudges by the Holy Spirit. Others must be compelled by overwhelming forces that might be compared to Jonah’s fish. C. S. Lewis called himself “the most dejected, reluctant convert in all of England . . . drug into the kingdom kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.”*

So, if you know of those who need to turn from the path they are on, don’t be afraid to pray a bold prayer, “Bring the whale.” Sometimes that’s what it will take.

“We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” – C. S. Lewis

*from Lewis’ spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy

Need some soul work?

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.

Psalm 23:1-3

Yesterday, I had been far busier than I intended and felt frazzled. So, near the end of the day, I sat in my comfortable chair and thought about how my Good Shepherd leads me beside still waters and makes me lie down in green pastures. The stress began to leave my body and I felt comforted and calmed.

My mind moved to the next statement, “He refreshes my soul”. What does that mean? Christian scholar J.P. Moreland has spent years studying and writing about the soul and he believes it contains five faculties:

  • senses (touch, taste, smell, seeing, hearing)
  • will (capacities to choose)
  • emotions (ability to experience joy, love, anger, etc.)
  • mind (thoughts, beliefs, ability to reason)
  • spirit (means by which we relate to God). *

In sum, our souls encompass our entire internal being. And that’s what needs to be refreshed – our whole selves, not just our bodies. 

It’s important to pay attention when our soul cries out for refreshment. When it does, we are invited to connect with the only one who can provide what we need. As God restores our souls, he renews our desire to have him near, cleans up the sinful smudges gained from the day, and draws us close. We begin to feel whole, complete, spiritually healthy. That’s refreshment!

This can happen only when we stay close to the Shepherd, asking him to make the changes and restoration we crave. Then we wait. He will not leave us helpless. Soul work is what he does!

The greater perfection a soul aspires after, the more dependent it is upon Divine Grace.” – Brother Lawrence

*From Finding Quiet by J.P. Moreland

Around the Bend

“A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” – Mark 4:26b-27

When C. S. Lewis lost his wife to cancer and was struggling through emotions and questions in his grief, he wrote, “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”

We’re all on a journey. For Lewis, it was through grief. For many of us, it’s through another of life’s challenges. And, while we struggle, we get discouraged. That’s when God renews us with whispers:

  • Don’t quit because you feel like you’re failing. You’re making progress.
  • Don’t quit becuse you’re tired. You’re getting stronger.
  • Don’t quit because it’s hard. The rewards for perseverance are great.

That’s when we realize we just need to keep walking. God is at work even when we can’t see it. Strength comes. Spiritual growth occurs, and he‘s doing it, not you or me.

Eventually, we do go around the bend Lewis mentions and, when we do, we see something new and beautiful. Something we didn’t know, or some gift of joy or relationship or insight. At that point, we realize staying on the path is worth the effort and we keep going, wondering what different and inspiring landscape will appear just a little further down the road.

The gifts of success, strength, growth, and joy include the struggle. Let’s not quit! There’re no shortcuts to becoming.

“I long to put the experience of fifty years at once into your young lives, to give you at once the key to that treasure chamber every gem of which has cost me tears and struggles and prayers, but you must work for these inward treasures yourselves.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe