Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Week Seventeen - Life with a Capitol B

Beside the Well

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivered them from him out of them all.  Psalm 34:19
            This verse has been my meditation for the last several days.  I wish I were an artist.  I would draw the word many with repeated layers, for many, many, many are the afflictions of this life.  They are so varied and multiple.  We could all recount the several afflictions, disappointments, fears, and hurts we have experienced.  That is where we get stuck.  We keep looking at the many things against us and fail to recognize the power held in the remainder of the verse.
            My next attempt at artistic flair would be on the word but.  Dressed as a traffic cop, the capitol B blows his whistle and stretches forth his gloved hand.  The afflictions come to a screeching halt piling up at his feet as he points their attention to The LORD—high and lifted up, our hope in the middle bleakness.
            He is the one who comes to deliver us from—ALL our afflictions.  What a blessed promise!  All can’t be drawn large enough.  For all the hurts and fears we have named are overcome when we understand the Lord is able to deliver, for all is totally inclusive.
            Priscilla Shirer, in her book, Fervent, wrote, “No matter what is against you, it is no match for the power and authority He’s given you access to.  There may be armies against, you, but they’re only waiting to become an unwitting witness to the overcoming power of God and the overriding ocean of his grace.”  (p 64)
            Did you catch that?  My afflictions will become “an unwitting witness” to the fact that God is able to overcome—able to deliver.   Satan can remind me of my failures, but God will deliver me from them all.  My body may age and start to rack with pain, but God will give me grace and deliver me in His time.  Friends may fail, children may go astray, life may be hard, but through it all God is the one I can trust.  By faith He will help me to continue moving forward.  As each affliction is laid to rest they become markers of God’s victories—witnessing stones if you will, where I can build an altar of remembrance.
            My God is able to deliver and as His child I choose not to put my focus on my MANY afflictions, BUT on GOD who is going to deliver me from them ALL.

Shirer, Priscilla, Fervent,  B&H Publishing, Nashville, Tennessee, 2015

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Week Sixteen - Three Virtues

Beside the Well
            I like to read older writers.  Sometimes the language bogs me down, but I persevere because I love the way they think deeply and widely about their subject.  I find a strong sense of dedication and commitment that seems missing in today’s fluffs and fancies.
            Anyway, I was reading Practicing the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence and my eye picked up on the word possible.  He said, “All things are possible to him who believes; less difficult to him who hopes; more easy to him who loves, and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues.”  (p. 27)
            Since God had already been directing my attention to the word possible, I was well aware the Bible says all things are possible to him who believes.  But Brother Lawrence didn’t stop there.  He threw in hope and love.  That got me thinking. 
            As an eternal optimist and idealist, I tend to see things as possible.  I’m not oblivious to difficulties, but I see them as hurdles to get over or problems to be solved.
            I know of other people who throw their hands up and cry aloud when faced with a hurdle.  It is as if they immediately lose hope they could ever find the solution.  It all seems too hard to them. Impossible seems to the main word in their vocabulary. 
            How wonderful that God uses both words.  With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).  And, “With God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37).  God knows our individual dispositions and has every base covered.
            I have found that facing the possible and the impossible with a hopeful attitude and a heart of love creates energy.  Doing things without love produces frustration and hardness, which kills motivation. Hope becomes hard to find and even simple things become a burden.
            I remember the hard work it took to keep up with the house, be a good wife and mother and be active in the ministry.  I never fell in love with housework, but because I loved my family, what often seemed impossible became possible.  We survived the lean years and the teen years, and now have an ever-growing family. 
            Even though the kids are out of the nest, life still challenges me with situations where faith, hope and love are necessary.  They help me to see opportunities and make wise decisions.  I need them to guide ministry.  I need them to face retirement and health.  I need them when I flinch at the future because they remind me God is already there.  
            Looking at life’s hurdles through the lens of these three virtues creates the energy to solve problems and keep moving forward.  I don’t know about you, but I need all the energy and positive motivation I can get.   Life doesn’t seem to get any easier with age, but when I approach it with faith, hope and love truly all things are possible.

Lawrence, Brother, compiled by Beaufort, Joseph, The Practice of the Presence of God, Dover Publications, 2005

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Week Fifteen - At Thy Word

Beside the Well

            I guess by now you realize God uses words to keep me encouraged and directed?  Well, a few years ago the word was possible.  In 2015 my word was enough.  One journal entry recorded something the Lord had shown me using both of these words.
            Jesus had all power.  He could do the impossible. Satan knew that when he tempted Him.  By the spoken word Jesus could turn stones into bread, water into wine, heal and raise the dead.  The winds and the waves obeyed His will; even the cross was not beneath His power to command. 
            Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39).  As I meditated I had to admit it was truly possible.   There were legions of angels ready at the spoken word to rescue Him. It was possible for Him to avoid the cross. It was truly possible for the cup to be removed. 
            Mark 14:36 records His prayer, “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”   There was only one thing with enough power to motivate Jesus to accept the cross—the will of the Father.
            Jesus had free will to choose obedience. All power was in His hand.  It was possible, yet he chose to obey unto death. He submitted to the will of the Father and chose to suffer and die according to God’s will.  The mandate of God’s will was enough. 
            It makes me question, “What motivation makes it possible for me to obey?  Is God’s will as revealed in His word enough for me?  Do I choose to obey upon God’s direct mandate?”
            Or, do I find myself trying to wiggle out of obedience?  Do I make excuses for my lack of faithfulness, prayer, and Bible reading?  Do I blame others for my bad attitude or hardheartedness?  Am I stingy with expressions of my love for others?  Do I withhold witnessing if I feel discomfort or fear?  Do I fail to take up my cross in obedience?
            The word possible taught me that with God all things are possible.  There is no limit to His power.  And, as He lives through me I can truly do all things through Christ—no room for excuses, for all means all. 
            The word enough taught me God is enough for any situation, there is enough of His grace and love for anything I face, and what He says to do is enough to prompt my obedience.
            The real choice is left to me.  Do I believe in possible?  Do I know God to be enough?

            Christ did.  Easter proves it!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Week Fourteen - The Comforter

Beside the Well
            There was a little saying when I was a child, “Smarty, Smarty, had a party, No one was there but Smarty, Smarty.”  I think of that little quip whenever I find myself in the throes of a pity party.  Me? Yep, me!  I can have a real pity party sometimes. 
            My feelings get hurt.  I am disappointed.  Or, I feel overstretched and out of control.  I know what deep depression is like as well, but praise the Lord He brought me through.  Still, sometimes, I can get too self-focused and find myself languishing emotionally. 
            Right in the middle of enjoying “it’s my party so I’ll cry if I want to” God stopped dead me at a phrase in Psalm 77, “my soul refused to be comforted.” Let me share what God taught me.
Psalm 77:1-4 reads:
I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me.
In the day of my trouble I sought the LORD; my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. 
I remembered God, and was troubled:  I complained and my spirit was overwhelmed.
Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak. Selah.”
            Here is a really good description of a pity party.  Complaining and feeling overwhelmed.  Crying in the night.  Refusing to be comforted.  Like Jacob at the loss of Joseph (Genesis 37:35), we decide to be depressed, to live life mournfully, to look down and be overwhelmed.  Our constant language is based around, “Oh, woe is me.”
            The pity party leaves us troubled and searching for answers, which the psalmist describes in verses 5-9:
“I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.
I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.
Will the LORD cast off for ever? And will he be favourable no more?
Is his mercy clean gone for ever?  Doth his promise fail for ever more?
Hath God forgotten to be gracious?  Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?  Selah? “
            Do you hear it? “O, woe is me. I used to be happy.  I used to sing, but I have been abandoned.  I’m all alone.  No one understands or cares.  Even God has forgotten about me.”
            After his search, he made a conscious decision in verses 10-12:
And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.
I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.
I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.”
            To end the pity party the psalmist needed to look straight at the infirmity and call it what it was—stubbornness and pride.  So do I.  No need making excuses.  I must stop right where I am and not refuse to be comforted. 
            God is trying to comfort me with His word.  He is calling out to my spirit.  As His child I can obediently do the things mentioned.  I can choose to remember, meditate, and talk about the Lord knowing my behaviour, actions and speech will change as I obey. Or, I can continue to pout and stomp and whine and cry.  The choice is mine.
            The remaining verses of Psalm 77 are a testament to the fact that God is the only one strong enough for me to rely on.  He is the source of encouragement.  You might like to read Psalm 142 as well, for there again David breaks free from another pity party stating, “Though art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living” (Psalm 142:5).
            I, however, am not the source of my encouragement.  Inward reflection produces loathing.   God spoke through Ezekiel saying, “and shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations. (Exe. 36:31).  The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18).  The pity party is such a waste of effort.  We will never find the answers inside ourselves.
            I must look to God for the help I need.  O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:24-25).
            Refusing to be comforted is like throwing God’s goodness and care back in his face.  It is saying we would rather stubbornly languish in our pity than give up our self-focus and humbly yield to God’s omnipotence and love.
            Why do we refuse to be comforted?  Because we are stubborn and prideful.  O wretched people that we are, so small minded, so full of our puny selves, while God stands with an immense amount of mercy and love ready to lift us up and establish our goings.
            Gail, let the Comforter be your comfort!