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

Praying for Daylight

My days have passed, my plans are shattered.
    Yet the desires of my heart
turn night into day;
    in the face of the darkness light is near.
 – Job 17:11-12

Is sometimes the night so dark, the storm so strong, and the pain so deep that all you can do is pray for morning to come? You are not alone.

In Acts, we are told about the horrible storm Paul and Luke and many others experienced on their way to Rome. At one point, in the two-week-long nor’easter, the sailors took soundings and realized the water was getting shallower – they were approaching land. But it was the middle of the night, the ship was out of control, and they couldn’t see where they were headed. It was dark and scary and dangerous. Luke says, Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight (Acts 27:29). They did the only thing they could do – they waited and they prayed.

If you’re in a dark place right now, you can’t see what’s ahead, you are fearful and frantic, hang on. Morning will come. God promises it will. “. . . weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b). 

In the meantime, focus all your attention on him. Pray for light. Pray for comfort. Pray for the security of his arms around you. Pray for the joy that will come when the storm subsides. The one who stills the waters is in the boat with you. He’s been there before. And he has promised never to leave you alone.

“Waiting for God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon our thoughts.” – Elisabeth Elliot

While you wait . . .

“I am the Lord; for they shall not be put to shame who wait for, look for, hope for and expect me.” – Isaiah 49:3b

We’re probably all waiting for something: restored health, reconciliation of a relationship, financial stability, answered prayers, return of our prodigal, settled peace. What are you waiting for? We never know how long our wait will be, but there’s good news:

God has big plans for our waiting time. While we wait, he nurtures us and promises to give us rest, hope, direction, and encouragement. If that’s what you could use right now, read on.

Rest and renewal come from waiting.

“. . . they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)

Waiting can be filled with confidence and hope.

“I wait longingly for Adonai; I put my hope in his word. Everything in me waits for Adonai. . .” – Psalm 130:5-6a (CJB)

Our waiting invites God to act.

“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” – Isaiah 64:4 (NIV)

We can run ahead of God, but that would be foolish, wouldn’t it? If we wait for him, he refreshes us, he gives us hope, prepares us for his response, and then he acts – in his timing, to be sure, but with all the power, wisdom, and effectiveness than only God can have. His intervention is well worth the wait!

If the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole hearts; for blessed are all they that wait for Him. He is worth waiting for . . . The Lord’s people have always been a waiting people.” – Charles Spurgeon

In the Desert?

“Where there is sorrow there is holy ground. Some day people will realize what that means. They will know nothing of life till they do.” – Oscar Wilde

Nobody signs up for suffering, but it happens to us all: sickness, tragedy, loss, and pain. The hardest of all is the struggle that just keeps hanging on and day after day we feel alone in a hot, dry desert.

If you are there, be encouraged! God uses desert time to make us strong, to help us learn dependence on him, and, often, to prepare us for something he wants us to do. Think about Moses who spent years there tending sheep before God called him to lead his people out of slavery. The Israelites spent four decades in the desert learning to trust God alone to meet their needs. Jesus was in the desert for forty days of fasting and prayer before beginning his public ministry. His wilderness time included direct confrontations with Satan. The desert can be a difficult and dangerous place!

Desert experiences tend to strip away the trappings of life so we can see what is truly essential. It is then that God can reach down, touch our souls, and feed us with food that will satisfy: Manna, refreshment for the spirit, just enough until we are healthy and strong and ready to be led out of the wilds into a more abundant life.

The desert truly is holy ground. If you are suffering today, be as open as you can to God and his Spirit within you. Over time, his healing touch will come.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. –
Psalm 30:11-12

Hope

“Through the dark and stormy night

Faith beholds a feeble light

Up the blackness streaking.

Knowing God’s own time is best

In patient hope I rest 

For the full day breaking.” – John Greenleaf Whittier

I have been distressed lately because I have been looking at all the problems that exist, that could exist, or that may be on the horizon or trajectory of my life or the life of someone I love.

Hope doesn’t do that. Hope looks at all the amazing and wonderful things God will do in the middle of the problems and the waiting. When we are sad, discouraged, or even in despair, we have a God who is bigger than our circumstance and is ready to fill us with hope.

Someone I knew had completely given up on his marriage. He was sure it was beyond repair, but, because his wife pressured him, he agreed to go to a counselor. I was very surprised when he continued, week after week, to go back to talk about his marriage with this therapist. Later, when the relationship was in the process of healing, I asked him how that happened. His answer was something like this: “From the very first session, the counselor painted a picture of possibililties. I had lost hope, but she knew how to give it back to me. When you have hope, you can do most anything.” 

Do you need the energizing power of hope? Maybe a prayer I’m learning to pray will help you, too:

Lord, may I trust you with my impossible situations – the things I despair over. Take my sadness away and fill me with joy and peace. And, Holy Spirit, may I overflow with hope by your great power.”

Now, let’s wait  – peacefully, faithfully, alive with hope! 

#hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13

A Holy Place

“I am the Lord; for they shall not be put to shame who wait for, look for, hope for, and expect me.” – Isaiah 49:23b

Do you have a holy place? A place where God seems close? It might be as simple as a familiar chair where you pray every morning or as complex as driving to a church or chapel for an intimate time with him. Wherever it is, do you spend a lot of time hanging out there?

If so, you will understand Joshua. He wasn’t content with a faith delivered through someone else. He wanted to know God personally. So, when Moses went into the tent to meet with God, Joshua waited outside. Then, after Moses went back to the camp, Joshua stayed at the tent, wanting more time in the holy place.

This contrasts with the rest of the people who were afraid of God and asked Moses to represent them and bring messages back so they didn’t have to risk being too close to the all-powerful one. Joshua wanted first-hand experience –  he wanted to know God for himself – even if it was risky (Exodus 33:7-11).

We can know God for ourselves, too! The key may be hanging out a little more often and for longer periods of time in the holy place. The place where he is near and has shown himself in the past. He longs to connect to us. We just need to be ready to receive him.

Lord, I want to be like Joshua – staying in your presence so I can be there when you have something to show me or something to say to me. I don’t want to miss you!

“God will lead you, almost without your knowing it, if you will be faithful to come before him quietly.” – Francois Fenelon

 

#prayer

 

Life is so daily.

“The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness.” – 1 Samuel 26:23

Do you sometimes long for something more or different in your life? You have the same tasks over and over again. Same views out the window. Same people, same conversations, same opinions. We’re trying to follow God, to please him, to do something that will matter eternally, but we are caught up in the dailiness of living. Sometimes we can feel like Belle in Beauty and the Beast when she sings, “There must be more than this provincial life.”

Maybe that’s why God emphasizes faithfulness. He wants us to be faithful in doing the next task, caring for ourselves and others, praying and reading his word, and loving those who may not be lovable on some days. Faithfulness sometimes means doing the same right things over and over again.

And, in that faithfulness, we just might be building something greater than we know – something God is working together we cannot see. I was encouraged today when I read this from Oswald Chambers:

“We are not taken up into conscious agreement with God’s purpose, we are taken up into God’s purpose without any consciousness at all. We have no conception of what God is aiming at, and as we go on it gets more and more vague. God’s aim looks like missing the mark because we are too short-sighted to see what He is aiming at.” 

There is so much about God and his plan we cannot know. But, we can be faithful in what he puts in front of us to do and, in that faithfulness, hang on to him, believe his promises, and know we can trust his aim – whatever it is!

“Who a man is is always more important to God than what he does.” – A.W. Tozer

#faithfulness