Where did he go?

“No soul can be really at rest until it has given up all dependence on everything else and has been forced to depend on the Lord alone. As long as our expectation is from other things, nothing but disappointment awaits us.” – Hannah Whitall Smith

God doesn’t impose himself on us. At times, the people of Israel rejected him and turned to idol worship. God repeatedly called them back, but they wouldn’t listen. So he said, “I will return again to my place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face and, in their distress, earnestly seek me” (Hosea 5:15). We might paraphrase it this way: “I’m going back home until you understand how much you need me.”

Sometimes God seems far away even when we go to church, sing the songs, and take communion. Hosea says something about that, too: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The people of Israel were doing many right things like going to the temple and offering sacrifices. But outward actions didn’t change their hearts or keep them from following other “gods”.

God’s greatest desire is for us to know and love him – above everything and anyone else. Our true devotion is more important to him than ceremonial actions. I’ve found that if I am missing a sense of God’s presence in my life, I soften my heart and ask him to come back. With that invitation, he usually begins to work with me and makes himself known again.

Does he seem far away right now? Tell him you miss him. You love him. You want to sense his presence. He’ll come.

For the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.” – 2 Chronicles 30:9b

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

Jesus: Who is he?

But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” – Matthew 16:15a

What would you think if some some simple person with no social standing, home, or education, stood in front of a crowd and said, “I am the light of the world?” That was Jesus in first-century Jerusalem. Who did he think he was? Light of the world? Really?

To Nicodemus he said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me,” and to his disciples, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Why would anyone make these claims?

He said them because he believed he was God incarnate and that his statements were true. If he was not God, then he must have been a delusional narcissist.

There was no narcissism his behavior, though. He interacted with the religious elite and with the lowest sinners. He chose hard-working fishermen and social outcasts to be his closest friends. He healed, he gave his time lovingly even when he was tired. He was patient with his disciples when they didn’t understand or, worse yet, failed him. And he boldly confronted those who abused others.

“Above all, he was unselfish. Nothing is more striking than this. Although believing himself to be divine, . . . he was never pompous. There was no touch of self-importance about Jesus. He was humble.”*

Who do you say he is? An outrageous egotist or God himself? He can’t be both. Your answer to that question matters more than you know.

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.” – C. S. Lewis

*Stott, John R. W. Basic Christianity, pp. 43-44

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

The Every Day God

My mouth is filled with your praise and with your glory all the day”. – Psalm 71:8

As I’m writing this, it’s Sunday morning. God’s day. Going to church on Sunday is good! But, it’s even better to make every day, all day God’s day. I don’t mean we should sit, pray, and read our Bibles all day. God wants us to live our actual lives – family, work, play – all of it.

But, what if, while we were living our daily lives, we invited God to be with us? What if we acknowledged his presence by talking to him – as we drive to work, shop for groceries, or relate to others?

“Spiritual people are . . . those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God” (Dallas Willard). When we have an ongoing conversation with God, he enlivens us, energizes us, gives us true life. We become aware of what pleases him, are a little bolder in sharing our thoughts about him, and find our hearts softening toward those around us. Then, little by little joy creeps in. When I talk to God more, I smile more, too!

What can you talk to him about? Here are a few ideas from Psalm 71:

Tell him when you don’t feel safe: “Be to me a rock of refuge to which I can continually come.” (v. 3a)

Praise him for who he is: “My praise is continually of you.” (v. 6b)

Talk to him about your dreams: “I will hope continually.” (v. 14a)

Thank him for something he did for you: “My tongue will talk of your righteous help all day long.” (v. 24a)

The more we talk to him, the more natural it feels. Life gets a new dimension – God’s perspective, direction, companionship. Amazing, really!

“Prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together.” – Dallas Willard

Just love him.

“Direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only.” – 1 Samuel 7:3

If you have made a commitment to follow God, you know you don’t do it perfectly, right? He doesn’t talk out loud to us. His Book can be hard to understand. We pray and believe, but sometimes we don’t know if he hears. We want to love others as ourselves, but know we don’t do that as well as we should.

When I was getting discouraged about these things recently, God placed this question in my mind: “Where is your heart?” That was easy to answer. My heart is with God. I love him. I want to serve him. You know what I then “heard” in my head? “That’s all I need.” Really? All I have to do is direct my heart toward him and he’s happy with that? Yes. Because if he has my heart, he can work with me, steer me, grow me, use me.

Where is your heart?” has become an encouraging question for me. Answering that a few times a day might be helpful for you, too. If our hearts are directed with sincerity toward God, we will find ourselves making decisions (time use, possessions, spending, sharing) based on our knowledge that we really do love God. That reassurance helps to guide our choices. We have to focus on only one thing – where is my heart? Our actions will follow as naturally as water flows toward the sea.

“Let a man set his heart only on doing the will of God and he is instantly free. If we understand our first and sole duty to consist of loving God supremely and loving everyone, even our enemies, for God’s dear sake, then we can enjoy spiritual tranquility under every circumstance.” – A. W. Tozer

What I Can’t Do for Myself

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,” – 2 Corinthians 3:5

If God loves us, has all the resources in the world at his disposal, and is almighty, we should be living lives of ease, right? Just ask and he will deliver what we need. Kind of like Amazon.

Yet, we know it doesn’t work that way. God invites us to tell him our needs, but he often asks us to participate in answering our own prayers and sometimes even our prayers for others. If we’re sick, we pray for healing, but we also see a doctor, take the medicine, and get rest. If we’re in financial need, we ask God for direction and help, but we also work with diligence and spend with discretion. And if we pray for a friend in need, we might also lend a hand.

God enables us, partners with us, and blesses our efforts. He knows that is better for us than simply giving us everything we ask for. Maybe our prayer should be more like this:

“Dear Lord, please do for me what I cannot do for myself.”

When we pray that way, we begin to realize there are some critically important things only God can do. Only he can direct our paths, protect us from the evil one, forgive our sins, and give rest to our souls. Every one of these things is foundational to our physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being and, try as we might, we cannot do them for ourselves.

Sometimes, though, when he thinks it best for us, he steps in to heal, provide, or give special wisdom. Only he knows when and how to intervene. That’s why we trust him.

“Our quitting point is God’s beginning point.” – Woodrow Kroll

Just a Glimpse

Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight . . .Please show me your glory.” (Moses to God in Exodus 33:13 and 18)

There sure are a lot of problems in our world. Every now and then I try to think of ways to solve them. Last week I hit upon a solution – something that would take care of a lot of the these issues in a moment’s time. So I prayed all that day, off and on as I went about my activities, that God would just give a glimpse of himself to everyone in this world. Just a peek at who he is – some revelation of his glory, power, justice, majesty, awesomeness. That’s all it would take, I thought, to set things right.

But, his answer to that day-long, murmuring prayer came to me in my Bible reading the next morning, “You do not know what you are asking” (from Mark 10:38). Of course he was right. I have no idea what it would mean for God’s glory to be revealed to the whole world. Maybe it would set everything right. Maybe it would create a chaos I cannot fathom. I had to acknowledge that sometimes my prayers are wise and sometimes foolish. Maybe I should resist giving God advice and accept that he has a plan I don’t understand.

Something inside me still wants a glimpse of him for myself – even if not for the whole world. The more I know of him, the more I want of him. And I know I’m not the only one. You, too?

“The deepest longing of the human heart is to know and enjoy the glory of God. We were made for this.” ~ John Piper

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