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

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

The wrong question?

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

Should I buy a particular car? Should I change jobs? Should I get more education? If we’re not sure, we pray, asking for guidance as we make decisions. It’s OK to ask “Should I?” in cases like these. In fact, God invites and expects us to do so.

But, do you know there’s a question he might not want us to ask?

Think of the ancient Israelites. They escaped Egypt via God’s amazing miracles, were given the law, and were led to the very border of the land God had promised to give them.

That’s where they hesitated. Instead of making plans for crossing the Jordan River and moving into the land, they stopped, deciding to send in spies before they went further. You may remember that twelve spies went into the land. Ten came back describing the amazing produce they found, but, having seen giants, they said, in essence, “We can’t take them. We’re doomed!”

Two of the spies presented a contrary report saying, again paraphrased, “Yep. They’re big. But this is the land God promised us and, with his help, we can do this.”

Do you see the difference? We are always to ask “Should I?” when we seek God’s guidance about decisions we have to make, but we shouldn’t have to ask “Can I?” if God has called us to action. If God has directed you, of course you can! He will never let you down when you follow his plan.

The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” – George Mueller

Disease

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” – Malachi 4:2

We have treatments for many illnesses these days: medicines, pain killers, physical therapy, even surgeries when the simple fixes don’t work. Then there are things that aren’t so easy to treat: cancer, psychological disorders, or even epidemic viruses that come suddenly on the scene.

For some in this world it seems nearly everything is untreatable. In less-developed countries, many people don’t even have aspirin, the nearest doctor may be miles away, and getting there is on foot. What to do when disease strikes and there is no treatment, no cure?

The crowds following Jesus in Bible times were in similar circumstances. They sought him out because they were sick or disabled and had no hope but him. When they pleaded for help, he responded with compassion, and they were made whole.

Some of us need that kind of healing in our lives today, don’t we? The kind for which there is no ready cure. Our needs might relate to our bodies, but often to our minds or emotions as well.

Most of us have some kind of dis-ease we face every day. What do we do? If there’s a treatment we can get from a doctor or a counselor, we need to do so. But sometimes what we are dealing with is something only God can heal.

If Jesus were here, we’d go to him just as the crowds did centuries ago.

Remember, he’s still here.

He’s still loving.

He invites us to bring our dis-ease to him. Let’s be as bold as those early followers and ask him to intervene today.

“The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and the acceptance of love.” – Marianne Williamson

Living Like the Wind

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

John tells about an interesting conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus that occurred late one night. Jesus was trying to explain to Nicodemus the difference between physical life and spiritual life. And it seemed that he said a person living the life of the Spirit of God lives lightly – you don’t know where he comes from or where he goes, just like the wind.

I never completely understood that verse and, maybe I still don’t, but could it be that Jesus was saying (and this is consistent with other teachings of his) that living by the Spirit means we are no longer deeply attached to things of this world? Instead, we are more spiritually-minded and, therefore, more free? If that is so, this is what living the Spirit life might look like:

  • Having the ability to move freely from one environment to another – content in plenty or in need, comfortable with young and old, smart and simple, holy and not-so-holy.
  • Traveling lightly – not overly attached to material possesions (houses, cars, clothes) or weighed down by anxieties about life and/or the world.
  • Living in constant spirit-to-Spirit communication with God within us.
  • Being able to live with unpredictability – like the wind, moving at God’s direction, not always following fixed patterns or pathways.

The wind moves slowly or quickly at God’s command. It appears from nowhere and goes to places we cannot see. Do we dare yield to the wind of the Spirit?

“If we get our information from the biblical material, there is no doubt that the Christian life is a dancing, leaping, daring life.” – Eugene Peterson

Confused? Frustrated?

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” – Luke 24:32

If you feel challenged and confused these days, you’re not alone! Many are mourning the absence of life as they knew it and are wondering how things will change when everything settles down. What will the new normal look like?

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples struggled with some of those same challenges. They’d believed Jesus was the Messiah. They’d followed and trusted him over several years, and now he was dead. They couldn’t imagine what their new normal would look like.

On the Sunday after Jesus’ death, two disciples were walking toward the town of Emmaus when a third man joined them on the journey. Luke tells us that their faces were “downcast”. Their new companion listened as they told him about the events over the past three days – Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and their crushed hopes. And now, some were telling of an empty tomb, and that confused the situation all the more.

Don’t you love that Jesus. though unrecognized, was with them right then in their confusion and pain? Through Scripture, he began to make everything clear. And, when they sat down for a meal, he prayed and broke bread and at that moment they recognized it was Jesus who had been with them all along! He listened to their problems, taught them from Scripture, and revealed himself to them – alive!

Jesus is here in our confusion, too, and his mode is still to listen, teach, and reveal. Don’t you think we can trust that he will help make sense of whatever we are going through? I do!

“All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich

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

A Little Bit of Light

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

I well remember being afraid of the dark as a child. Every sound seemed threatening and what I thought was hiding under my bed kept me wide awake. Turning on the light to check the dark corners was the only solution to my fear.

The darkness evident in the world today causes similar anxieties. But, there is a solution for those fears, too, and it is held in the hands of those who follow Jesus. 

Jesus told us he is the light of the world. That we can believe. He is true, right, and good. Then, he turned to his disciples (that includes those who follow him today) and said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). What? Me? You? Yes. He has entrusted us with the awesome and sometimes scary responsibility of bringing light to dark places.

Light reveals what’s hidden in the darkness and it shows a way out of the darkness.* Many people think they know how to deal with the darkness around us, but, Jesus says his followers are the ones who carry the light of this truth: The solutions to the most basic problems in this world are found in him.

How are we doing as lights of the world? We might be tempted to back away when we realize that many people don’t want the hidden things of darkness to be revealed. Jesus warns us not to hide our light. Instead, he says we must hold it high, ready to warn of the dangers lurking in the dark and eager to lead those who are willing directly to Jesus, the source of all light and truth.

“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself”. – Erasmus

 

 

*Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Martino Publishing: Mansfield Centre, Connecticut,), 2011, p. 168.