Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Week Twenty-Four - God Can Handle Your Overwhelm

I confess. I tend to be an over-thinker. I run every possible scenario as I try to solve problems and think through decisions. It can be overwhelming. I caught myself doing this early one morning and began praying, "Lord, I don't know how things will work out." And God calmly answered me, "Gail, that's okay. That's not your job."

Not my job? He is right. It isn't my job, and besides, I would never figure everything out anyway. I am limited. He is not.

My prayer changed to, "Well, Lord, then what is my job? What am I to do?" And again, he was ready with an answer. I grabbed my pencil and began jotting down my Father's instruction.

"Love me. Love me with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love others as well. Walk worthy, acceptable, and by faith. Enjoy the life I have given you. Do your job and leave the rest to me."

I got up that morning much lighter and less overwhelmed. Let me share a few verses that support my Father's answer and see if you can apply them to your overwhelm.

Some of the verses you probably know, like the first and second commandments. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Matthew 22:37-39

Walking worthy is found in Ephesians 4:1. Living acceptably relates to Romans 12:1, "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And to walk by faith brings Hebrews 11:6 to mind, "but without faith it is impossible to please him."

When I lose focus on life's perspective and get overwhelmed, I take myself to Ecclesiastes 5:18, "It is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him." This verse, and others that say the same, remind me that God wants me to enjoy life, to appreciate all he has provided, and to relax in his provision.

And the Lord's last instruction brought to mind my son's favorite verse, Micah 6:8. This verse sounds exactly like what the Lord said to me in the midst of my overwhelm. "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."

You know, when we overthink and begin to succumb to the pressures around us, we aren't doing what the Lord requires. He requires so little compared to what we try to produce. He just wants us to love him, trust him by faith, and appreciate his provision. That's our job. We can trust him to do his. He can handle our overwhelm.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Week Twenty-Three - Detours

   Do you take a huge gasp of air when you see a detour sign? I do! I hate taking a road I don't know because I fear not getting to my destination, winding up on some narrow lane, or missing the next sign.
      Right now, we have several diversions, as they call them in Britain, because they are working on the roads. These types of detours help us avoid hazards and keep us safe. But no matter the reason, I still experience frustration, fear, and impatience when faced with the prospect of changing my intended direction.
    Sometimes our spiritual lives are thwarted with detours as well. I like to view them as providential redirection toward God's goal - His purpose for my life. And I also see them as providential protection from a Good Father who is keeping me safe. Sometimes, that helps me not get so frustrated and fearful!
    But even with this better perspective, I still get a knee-jerk reaction to a detour because I have to surrender control. Things seem out of order, and I feel forced to make the decision to walk by faith.
     Folks in the Bible experienced detours, too. Probably the most extended detour in recorded history is the Israelites' trek across the wilderness. A journey of eleven days turned into a 40-year detour and resulted in the death of a whole generation.
    Jonah created his detour and wound up in the belly of a whale. Once he got back on track, he was angry, resentful, and had a complete disregard for others.
    Michal, Saul's daughter, had a couple of detours. She did not handle it well and for all eternity is recorded as a spiteful and angry wife.
    However, others yielded to their detours. Joseph made the best of his. Nehemiah faced much opposition but completed his detour with dignity. David encountered many, but he knew the value of waiting on God's timing. Esther's challenging detour positioned her for the salvation of her nation.
        Evelyn Christenson, in her book Gaining Through Losing, lists the following gains and losses. Detours come - 

        So we might gain the purposes of God
        So we might gain the strength of God.
        So we might gain the sovereignty of God.
        So we might gain the comfort of God.
        So we might gain hope in God.
        So we might gain trust in God.

        So we might lose our rights.
        So we might lose our pride.
        So we might lose our attachment to possessions.
        So we might lose our apathy.
        So we might lose our fears.

God-directed detours always have a purpose. Chris Tiegreen wrote, "God's hand is in even the most difficult circumstances, letting affliction have its deepest results. This is His chosen path for us, not a diversion from it. He is always the Lord of our situation."
    Here's the thing about detours, they do not last forever. Oh, they might land us at a different destination, but it will be a destination of God's choosing. Through God-given detours, we see our sufferings used to magnify our Saviour, help us grow in Christ, be more sanctified, and purified, etc.
    And we can always be assured that God will bring us through the detour. He will not leave us lost beside the road. Just as He brought Joseph, Moses, and Paul through, He will bring us through!
    So, what should be our attitude when we see a detour sign? Let's remember to submit, not only to the law of the road but more importantly, to the Lordship of our Saviour. 
    And let's be thankful. That sign isn't randomly placed to annoy us, it is for our protection and has a purpose. Thankfully, in wisdom and for our benefit and protection, the Lord directs our steps. He is the Lord of detours.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Week Twenty-Two - I Need a Vacation

I'm so ready for a vacation. Not a working one, not a meeting with family one, but a staring at the sky or sitting on the beach or any place where the sun is shining and a nice breeze is blowing with no unwelcome distractions. How about you?

  I got to daydreaming about this the other day, and I wandered off into thinking of unwanted vacations, the kind we think will never end.

  Like sometimes, we land in a place where we are fearful. The world seems to be caving in all around us, relationships grow difficult, and our times are so uncertain. It leaves us lonely and afraid. It's not a great spot to find rest.

  At other times, we get stuck as anger grasps our hearts and colors our every word and motive. We feel it scorching deep inside, no matter how hard we try to suppress it. Anger evades our prayers and twists our thoughts, leaving us nervous and weary of the battle, but we just can't find our way home.

  Disillusionment is a cold and dark vacation spot. We know this world is not our home, but even passing through feels disheartening. The beauty of life has been shoved aside for so long, we can barely see the light of hope.

  And we have probably all visited discouragement. Things aren't moving ahead as we expected. It seems like one step forward and two steps back. We push and push, and it feels we are the only ones putting forth the effort to break free.  And what does God say about these unpleasant vacation spots?

  For fear, he says, "You need my perfect love. My love casts out fear. Come, rest in my arms and let me love you."

  If you are angry, you'll hear him saying, "You need to put that away, my child. Let it go. I will give your heart a song so you can sing praises to me, and we'll rejoice together."

  Disillusioned? "Look at the beauty of me," God says, "I've given you my wonderful rainbow of promise, the beauty of the sunset, the great and exceedingly precious promises of my word, and my unfailing faithfulness. You won't be disappointed."

  Discouraged? "Oh, dear child, take heart. Drink from my fountain, feed on the bread of life, strengthen your weary soul in me."

  You know, I've been to many beautiful places around this world, but the loveliest vacations I have ever experienced were the ones where I drew aside with the Lord. I didn't have to be on the beach or wearing my sunhat. I simply cuddled up in my chair and wrapped the sarong of his word around my aching and cold little heart, allowing the warmth of the spirit to permeate my bones and the sunshine of his love to brighten me through and through. He met me there!

  Do you need a vacation? Make sure you pick a Son-ny spot!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Week Twenty-One - Starving for Love

I'd like to think I could write today's blog with as much passion as in my heart, but I'm not that talented. I am, however, moved with enough desire to try to express to you how God's everlasting, unconditional, yearning love is extended to all. Grasping even a portion of the depth of his love will change your life and feed your longing soul.

I've been reading Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund. I don't think I've ever read a book with so much attention and detail into the heart of Christ and the depth of the Father's love. I do not doubt God's love for me. I rested in that truth when I found salvation, for only Jesus could satisfy my soul. And over the years, I have come to understand many facets of God's love and recognized his Spirit unearthing areas in my life where only His love could touch and heal. Today, as I write, I think of those who have not yet accepted God's love, who doubt or feel unworthy, or who need to venture deeper into his love.

Dane Ortlund wrote, "The world is starving for a yearning love, a love that remembers instead of forsakes. A love that isn't tied to our loveliness. A love that gets down underneath our messiness. A love that is bigger than the enveloping darkness we might be walking through even today. A love of which even the very best human romance is the faintest of whispers."

Is that the type of love you are starving for? A love that never forsakes? A love that truly understands and moves to embrace your brokenness? Well, my friend, this is exactly the love of God, and it is expressed through his word, exhibited by the sacrifice of Christ, and sealed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

This deep and abiding love of God envelopes your starving heart in times of despair. It carries you to new heights and hides you within his Everlasting Arms. Your heart sings when the cloak of God's love covers your sin and comforts your needy soul. There is no reason to starve when the banquet table is laid out before you. Song of Solomon 2:4, "He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love."

There's a beautiful hymn by Lucy Meyer based on Isaiah 55:1, 6 that goes,

Ho! every one that is thirsty in spirit,
Ho! every one that is weary and sad;
Come to the fountain, there's fullness in Jesus,
All that you're longing for: come and be glad!

Child of the world, are you tired of your bondage?
Weary of earth's joys, so false, so untrue?
Thirsting for God and His fullness of blessing?
List to the promise, a message for you!

Child of the kingdom, be filled with the Spirit!
Nothing but fullness thy longing can meet;
'Tis the enduement for life and for service;
Thine is the promise, so certain, so sweet.

"I will pour water on him that is thirsty,
I will pour floods upon the dry ground;
Open your hearts for the gifts I am bringing;
While you are seeking Me, I will be found."

Maybe it is time to stop starving and partake!  Dane Ortlund wrote, "Repent of your small thoughts of God's heart. Repent and let him love you."

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Week Twenty - Don't Poke the Bear

"Don't poke the bear," my mother would say when I antagonized my sister. It's an expression most often used as a warning to prevent someone from asking or doing something that might provoke a negative response or cause a fight. And we two girls fell easily into a fight.

When the Bible uses the word " provoke, " it means to stimulate or give rise to a potentially negative or positive reaction. Today, we're going to do a short study on this word, then I want to share one quote from Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund that prompted my exploration. By the way - this is a great read on the attribute of compassion.

The word provoke is used forty-one times in the Bible. Only two times is it used in a positive light - provoking others to love and good works. Thirty-one times the provoking is done by man toward God - man provoking God to anger or jealousy.

Why would I be interested in provoking God to anger?  Well, I'm not, but let me share with you what I read about God's mercy and this idea of provoking or poking the bear.

"'Slow to anger." The Hebrew phrase literally "long of nostrils." Picture an angry bull pawing the ground, breathing loudly, nostrils flared. That would be, so to speak, "short-nosed." But the Lord is long-nosed. He doesn't have his finger on the trigger. It takes much accumulated provoking to draw out his ire. Unlike us, who are often emotional dams ready to break, God can put up with a lot. This is why the Old Testament speaks of God being "provoked to anger" by his people. But not once are we told that God is "provoked to love" or "provoked to mercy." His anger requires provocation; his mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth. We tend to think divine anger is pent up, spring-loaded; divine mercy is slow to build. It's just the opposite. Divine mercy is ready to burst forth at the slightest prick...

Yahweh needs no provoking to love, only to anger. We need no provoking to anger, only to love."

Isn't that thought-provoking? We are like the bear, ready to fight at the slightest provocation, but our Lord is defined by mercy and longsuffering. He doesn't sit around looking for things that upset him. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil." 

Unlike my sister and me, God isn't waiting for an opportunity to fight. He doesn't fall into anger at the slightest word or sideways glance. Mercy is the definition God gives of his name as he speaks to Moses in Exodus 34:6."And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin."

Dear friend, this challenged me to look at my short-nosed-ness. Do I respond quickly in anger? Or do I have patience? Am I looking for a fight, or do I have an attitude of loving thoughts and grace? 

I also had to look at my idea of God. He is mercy. He is love. He does not willingly afflict or punish. It is his desire to grant goodness and patience. Do I see him that way? How much joy there is for us as we accept and rest in this attribute. And, what an example for us to follow.

Ask yourself. Which way are you? More easily provoked to love and mercy or a bear too easily poked to anger?

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."  James 1:19, 20

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Week Nineteen - Take a Break


Psalm 107:23-31 is a passage that, to me, describes ministry. God's servants are out there doing the work in great waters seeing the hand of God and His mighty wonders. And yet, even the works of God bring highs and lows, leaving them tossed about and at their wit's end. But then, as they cry, "Lord, I need a break," He calms the waves. Quietness returns for a while, and they enjoy a safe haven. The passage reads - 

"They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deeps. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves there of. They mount up to the heaven, they do down again to the depths; their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven."

What a precious thing to find a safe haven in times of storm. But not just any shelter will do. Acts 27:12 speaks of a haven, which was not commodious. We sometimes drift into non-commodious havens, places where we think we can get away from the storm, but where we find even more difficulty.

One such haven is self-pity. We anchor there because of hurts and pride, thinking no one will see us or know how we feel. As the tears fall and the groaning grinds on our spirits, we should recognize we have moored in a dangerous haven.

Psalm 6:6-7, "I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Mine eye is consumed because of grief."

Another non-commodious haven is resignation to our plight, giving up, or believing ministry too hard. We grow weary of the battle. Staying in this haven brings hardness of heart and a loss of joy to ourselves and those we serve. We can't stay there forever.

Jeremiah 20:9 "I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay."

One most often frequented is the haven of anger. Moored alongside are resentment and poor judgment. Those who serve from anger find it colors every outcome, taints every victory, and becomes a fierce taskmaster.

James 1:20 "For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."

These havens provide a form of sanctuary, but they take a heavy spiritual and emotional toll.

However, making it to a safe harbor produces distantly different results. Let's turn to Psalm 91:1-16 and see God's description of a safe harbor.  In God's haven --

We dwell under His shadow.  Verse 1 - "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."

We have refuge and shelter. Verse 2 - "I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust."

We have deliverance from Satan's traps and annoying calamities.  Verse 3 - "Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence."

There is safety and comfort. Verse 4 - "He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shall thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler."

We have no fear. Verses 5-7 - "Thous shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday."

We have satisfaction and refuge.  Verse 8,9 - "Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation."

We have God's protection. Verses 10-13 - "There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone."

We have God's favor.  Verse 14 - "Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high, because he hath known my name."

We have God's attention. Verse 15 - "He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him."

We have God's blessing. Verse 16 - "With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation."

Now that's the sort of place where I want to take a break!

Proverbs 18:10 describes my favorite haven, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe." I have sought and found refuge there through many times of storm.

If your life's sea is tossing to and fro or your ministry ship is taking on water, anchor your soul in God's haven. Take a break! You will find safe harbor and enjoy sweet fellowship with comfort, rest, and praise.

I've anchored my soul in the haven of rest,
I'll sail the wild seas no more.
The tempest may beat o'er the wild stormy deep,
In Jesus, I'm safe evermore.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Week Eighteen - Lamentations and Light

The book of Lamentations is woeful and full of Jeremiah's exhausted bereavement at God's judgment on Israel. He is so wearied with it all. But in chapter three, he reveals an antidote that can help us face similar intense trials. Let's take time to decipher it. Why not open your Bible to Lamentations 3 and follow along with me?

God's judgment on Israel brought personal affliction to Jeremiah. Men were persecuting him and laughing at him (vs. 1, 14). It left him feeling forsaken and in a dark place (vs. 2, 6). He feels trapped (vs. 5, 7, 9) and begins believing God must be against him as well. (vs. 3, 10,12). He is full of hurt and bitterness (vs. 4, 11, 13, 15, 16), feeling completely cut off, even from prayer (vs. 8, 19, 44).

Sounds depressing, doesn't it? But we've probably all been there at one time or another. Yet, amid Jeremiah's woeful lamentation, he reveals a way through and a secret about how to face enduring deep trials. Have a look with me.

In verses 18-21, he says, "And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord: Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope."

What? Thinking about his desperate circumstance brought him hope? Yes! Jeremiah doesn't deny things are bad. He is in a tough spot, but he shifts his focus. That word "recall" means "make to return to my heart." Instead of lamenting his situation, he begins thinking about the Lord and looking at his trial from a purposeful prospect that creates hope in his heart.

Look at what he recites. Remember the Lord. Trust in His goodness, His promises (vs. 22-33). And what are they? Mercy, in verse 22. Faithfulness, in verse 23. God's provision, in verse 24, and goodness, in verse 25. Jeremiah knows the consistent characteristics of God. He experienced them in the past and knew them to be still true. Long, heavy trials do not change God.

Now, he begins to speak into his situation. (Ephesians 5:19, 20 instructs us to do the same.) Be humble, he says in verse 20.  My soul---is humbled in me."  Wait on God, he tells himself in verse 26. "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." Jeremiah knows learning to wait is an appointed lesson from God.

Learning to bear heaviness is good for spiritual growth (vs. 27). "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth." This too will pass (vs. 31). "For the Lord will not cast off for ever."

God will give compassion and mercy (vs. 32-33). "But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men." It probably hurt God more than it hurt Jeremiah, yet God knows the importance of teaching His children to trust Him more fully and grow in faith. There is purpose in Jeremiah's trial, as with ours.

Jeremiah concludes with repentance and praise, "Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto the God in the heaven." (Lamentations 3:40, 41).

What did he do next? "I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon" (Lamentations 3:55). Even though he felt very low, he prayed anyway. He chose to act by faith instead of drowning in his emotions. That is a good lesson for us.

Did he find help? Yes! God spoke to his need. "Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee! Thou saidst, Fear not"(Lamentations 3:57).

You might think Jeremiah's plight changed overnight. That's what we would expect, but it didn't. His trial was not yet complete. But, by looking to the Lord, recognizing God's goodness, and confessing his dependence, he found the surest way to endure troublesome times and found Light at the end of the tunnel. 

We, too, may be lamenting our circumstances, but there is so much to learn from Jeremiah's situation. Let's begin by rehearsing God's truth to ourselves and holding onto the exceeding great and precious promises of God's word. Let's not forget the promises right here in Lamentations 3:22-23, It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness."

God knows right where we are. He will bring us through much stronger and prepared to give Him the praise due to His name if we faithfully wait on Him - even in the dungeon.