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

How much is it worth to you?

. . . anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. – Hebrews 11:6b

Do you want to get fit? Your success may depend on how much you’re willing to endure changing your eating and exercise habits.

Do you want to earn a degree? Your success will depend on how much you’re willing to prioritize, maybe even giving up sleep and social activities to reach your goal.

Do you want financial security? Your success may depend on how well you say “no” to things you can’t afford so, just maybe, you’ll be able to afford them later.

Now, here’s the bottom-line question. Do you want to know God better? To hear his voice? To know he hears your prayers? To sense his presence with you every minute? Your success will depend a lot on how much you’re willing to prioritize time, deny yourself, and say “no” to lesser things so you can pursue God with everything  you have and are. Anything as important as our relationship with God is going to cost us something. It may even be painful at times. 

Is it worth it? From my own experience, growing close to God is worth everything! Getting up early to read his word? I’ll do that. Talking to him throughout the day? That, too. Praying my heart out for people I love? Yup. Letting go of my need to control? OK.

The reward? Realizing and receiving his enduring love for me. Finding myself happily singing for no reason at all. And living with peace because trusting him has left me with fewer burdens to carry. Worth it? Oh, yes!

“The only thing between who you are now and who you want to be is the pain you are willing to endure.”

Rabbi Aryeh Markman

Did God say “no”?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

God speaks often about persistence in prayer, asking until we receive, and trusting he hears and will respond. But, apparently, there are times when we need to stop storming the gates of heaven for an answer we want desperately. Sometimes God simply says “no”. 

If that’s happened to you, you’re in good company. Moses had that experience when he pleaded with God to let him go over with the people into the promised land and God said: “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:26b). In other words, “Stop asking me, Moses. I already told you ‘no'”.

Paul had something similar happen when he prayed three times for his physical problem to be taken away. God didn’t answer the prayer the way Paul had hoped, but he did promise that his grace would see Paul through the difficulty.

If Moses and Paul, amazing saints, didn’t always get “yesses” to their prayers, we realize that sometimes we, too, have to accept “no” as an answer! When that happens, what do we do?

  • We stop repeating a prayer we know God has already said “no” to.
  • We don’t protest.
  • We persevere, asking for faith to rely on him to be with us in the difficult circumstance.
  • We acknowledge, as Paul did, that human weakness can be an avenue through which God displays his power – in ways we couldn’t even think to pray about.
  • We keep on loving, trusting, and worshiping God.

And then, at some point, we’ll find that God’s “no” was a great blessing!

“God’s refusals are always merciful – ‘severe mercies’ at times – but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better.” – Elisabeth Elliot

Being Still

“The Lord will fight for you and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:14

The people of Israel had escaped from Egypt but now realize Pharaoh and his mighty armies were hot on their heels. They run faster. Then they stop dead in their tracks. They’re confronted by the Red Sea and there’s nowhere to hide from the advancing armies. The people cry out to Moses. He cries out to God, and God says he will fight for them. They just need to be quiet and wait.

This may be one of the most difficult commands in all of Scripture! It involves:

  • Silence. No crying. No shouts. No complaining. Just quietness.
  • Waiting. Unable to anticipate if God will act and, if so, how? And when?
  • Standing still. No helping. Only waiting for God to do something.
  • Being cautiously hopeful. Just maybe God has a plan.

He does have a plan. Always! But often we keep protesting our circumstances and trying to help God out with ideas of our own. We run ahead, we pace the floor, we plead. Right now he might be saying, “I’ll fight for you. Just sit still and be quiet.”

What do we do while we’re practicing quietness? We can thank him for his his loving care and his mighty resources – the ones we have experienced already and the ones we don’t know about yet. Then praise him for his power, his mercy, and his majesty. Wait. Thank. Praise. The answer will come – right on time.

For the Israelites, the Red Sea opened for them to cross into safety, out of reach forever from the Egyptian armies. What will it be for me? For you? Let’s wait in great anticipation of God’s amazing grace.

“It takes more effort to be still than to run.” – Brennan Manning

Trusting?

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped. – Psalm 28:7a

I want to learn to trust God more and that becomes easier when I think about the many good reasons to believe he is trustworthy:

He loves me.
He’s powerful, and able to help.
His character doesn’t change.
His purposes don’t change.
He keeps his promises.
His past blessings in my life make me believe he will keep blessing me.

If all that is true, there is no reason not to trust him. Maybe what I need to do is to put that trust in to practice. If I do that, maybe I would . . .

. . . be comfortable not being in control of every situation.

. . . stand back sometimes while others make decisions without my input.

. . . be more confident and less fearful in new situations.

. . . enjoy each day for what it is, including both challenges and blessings.

. . . see life as an adventure, knowing God has a good and perfect plan he will unfold one step at a time. 

. . . be OK with not having all my “why’s” answered, believing God has reasons I don’t know of and which he may not be ready to reveal to me.

. . . live to please God alone, knowing that, in doing so, I won’t always please others. And I have found God is quite easily pleased because he sees me through eyes of love.

Are you ready to trust God more, too? Think about what he has done for you so far in your life and then let him know you are trusting him with the rest of it. He will never let you down!


Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God.     
John R. Stott

You don’t need me?

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth.” – Acts 17:24

There’s a scene from the TV series West Wing in which the US discovers a nuclear explosion in another country. The president meets with the ambassador from that country and is told that it was not nuclear, it was an oil refinery fire. Not true. He gives the littany of evidence of their lack of security, training, and expertise in to be able to handle nuclear weapons and he offers to help. The ambassador says, “We don’t need your help.” The President leaves the room in anger, knowing she’s lying and, in not accepting expert help, is putting the world at risk.

Then I read the prophets of the Old Testament and realize the one thing that seems to make God leave the room in anger is when his people think they don’t need him. “We’ve got it covered, Lord.” And by covered, they mean they are hiding their messes, sweeping the dirt under the rug, putting false fronts on the disasters lurking, and hoping someone (other than God, of course) will step in to save the day.

The messes in our world are big. The messes in many of our lives are big, too. It may be time we admit we’re not doing a very good job of managing things ourselves. Maybe it’s time to turn to God and say, “I need you! I’ve needed you all along, but have been trying to do it on my own. Now look at this mess. Can you, would you, please help me?”

The believing man does not claim to understand. He falls to his knees and whispers, “God.” – A. W. Tozer

#trusting God

What more could he have done?

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” – 1 John 3:16a

Do you ever wonder of God really loves you? If you do, take a few minutes to think about the cross. Jesus, God in a human body, nailed to the cross, bruised, broken, bleeding. He hadn’t done anything wrong! He was tried in two courts and found innocent. Even his enemies couldn’t pin any crime on him. He could have been living in powerful luxury in Heaven, yet he subjected himself to human decisions and ultimate cruelty. And all for one reason: Because he loves us – you and me.

Author Brennan Manning tells the story of his friend Ray who fought with him on the frontlines of war. As they sat talking in a foxhole one evening, a grenade dropped in beside them. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, and threw himself on the grenade, saving Brennan’s life, but losing his own. Years later when Brennan visited Ray’s mother, he asked if she thought Ray really loved him. Her emotional response, “What more could he have done for you?”*

Self-sacrifice is the greatest evidence of love there is. Jesus sacrificed more than we can ever imagine. And all for one reason: He loves us and wants us to be in an intimate relationship with him, now and forever. There’s no need to wonder if he loves you. What more could he have done? Maybe we just need to believe he meant it!

“It was not nails that held Jesus to that wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for his Father, to do his Father’s will—and it was his love for sinners like me.”
― D.A. Carson

*Story told in The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith

#Jesus

#sacrifice