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

Can you believe it?

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” – Isaiah 26:3

Do you know why the people of Israel were forced to wander in the desert for 40 years after being delivered dramatically from slavery in Egypt, given the Ten Commandments, and led by the great prophet Moses?

My first thoughts: They disobeyed God by worshipping a golden calf, they grumbled a lot, and they even suggested they should go back to Egypt. But the writer of Hebrews lets us in on the true problem: They didn’t believe God!

After recounting their bad behavior, he sums things up by saying, “So we see that they were not able to enter because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). After all God had done for them, they still didn’t trust him to fight the giants and give them the land. Unbelief kept an entire generation from receiving the blessings God had prepared for them.

Our trust in God is fundamental to his active involvement in our lives. In fact, Jesus said we needed to believe before our prayers would be answered. If we want to grow our ability to trust, maybe we start by believing some things God has already promised:

  • Your pain won’t last forever.  (Psalm 30:5)
  • Justice will come. (Psalm 103:6)
  • Your needs will be met. (Philippians 4:19)
  • God’s Word will show the way. (Psalm 119:105)
  • Relating to him will give you strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)
  • You don’t have to be afraid. (Psalm 23:4)
  • God has a place and purpose for you. (Philippians 2:13)

Our earthly and eternal well-being depend on believing in the God of the Bible so much that we entrust our lives to him. None of us trusts him perfectly, but we can begin today to do it better!

“Man says, ‘Show me and I’ll trust you’. God says, “Trust me and I’ll show you.” – Anonymous

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

He’s calling you.

. . . they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”– Mark 10:49

Imagine being blind in a world where there’s no economic safety net. Every day someone leads you to a spot on the road where people pass by. You call out when you hear them coming, just hoping someone will have mercy and give you a coin or two. Imagine that life day after day. No change. Nothing to look at. Unthinkable boredom. No hope. Then you hear of Jesus and his miracles. Maybe, just maybe, he would give you more than a coin and everything would change!

When blind Bartimaeus heard Jesus was on his way to Jericho, he was determined to get his attention. So, he shouted, begging Jesus to stop, to be merciful, to respond to his need. He was so obnoxious that people around him asked him to quiet down. But Jesus heard his cry and spoke to some who were nearby, “Call him.” They went over to Bartimaeus and gave him this amazing message, “Take heart. Get up. He is calling you.” 

Bartimaeus got to his feet and allowed the men to lead him to Jesus where his life was changed in an instant. He could see! No more need for someone to lead him by the hand. No more need to beg in order to survive. No more mind-numbing existence sitting alongside the road. New life began the moment he met Jesus.

Where are you in life today? Jesus hears your cry and he’s calling you. He asks that you take heart, get up, and come to him. Only he can change your life!

“Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” – Augustine of Hippo

It’s good to be thankful!

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. “- Psalm 69:30

One day I was fussing around trying to get everything done, worrying about this and that when I felt the Holy Spirit’s nudge: “Don’t you have something you want to thank Me for?” Of course I did. I stopped my whirlwind and gave him thanks for several things that came immediately to mind. Amazingly, as soon as I did, I felt my spirit move from restless to restful. 

So what really happened? God’s reminder to thank him was not for his benefit, it was for mine. A gratefulness pause made me realize all God does for me every day and how much he must love me to remind me of that even when I was “toiling and spinning” like the biblical lilies of the field. Recognizing his character, his faithfulness, and his consistent drawing of me to himself helped me to trust him even in the middle of what felt like chaos.

Trusting is an emotion that grows out of a confident relationship with God as we discover that he loves, protects, teaches, and rescues us – and has been doing it for years. Even brief moments of remembering his never-failing consistency nurtures the emotion of trust in my spirit. Over time, I am finding that trust is more often my first response to struggle instead of my second, third, or fourth.

Maybe we need to stop telling ourselves to trust God and, instead, start realizing who he is and what he does for us. As we make gratefulness a habit, trust happens. Understanding that has made a big difference for me. It can for you, too. Don’t you have something to thank him for right now?

Our knowledge of God is perfected by gratitude.” – Thomas Merton

This post is an update of an earlier blog, but one that seemed appropriate for today. Enjoy!

Trouble with trusting?

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

I recently read Paul’s recitation of his immaculate pedigree as a passionate follower of God through Judaism. When he became a Christian, his new understanding made him realize he’d been trusting in his own goodness and zeal to earn God’s favor. After his encounter with Jesus, he understood that none of his efforts earned him any gold stars from God. Instead, God’s favor was gained by putting his trust in Christ, not himself. A commentator on Paul said, “It takes humility to trust.”

I began to think about ways in which pride can block our ability to trust God. Maybe it’s because humility means . . .

  •  acknowledging our own helplessness to change a situation.
  •  realizing that only God can see the future so knows best what to do for us and others.
  •  giving up control.
  •  accepting that what God chooses might hurt us for a time, but a greater purpose will be accomplished, even in our pain.
  •  believing, even when we can’t understand, that God is who he says he is and all his words are true.

You can imagine with me why it’s hard for a proud person to do the things listed above. Our pride doesn’t like helplessness, submission, accepting the truths in God’s word without argument. If there is any pride in us, we’ll find it hard to trust God.

Are you having trouble with trust? We all do, sometimes. When that happens, we should examine ourselves and root out whatever may be prideful or self-serving. Every time we do that with sincerity, we find it easier to trust God – our faith grows and his ability to use us grows.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” – Anonymous

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