Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Week Five - Deserts, Droughts, and Desperation

My brother-in-law manages the water plant in his town.  We lived there, too, during our furlough in   The city and the wider area had not had sufficient rain for five years.  Lakes and reservoirs were so low they only had enough city water for three more months when we arrived.  My brother-in-law was out trying to make deals with landowners and the Osage Indians to redirect any available water into the city supply.  They were fervently praying for rain.  It was quickly becoming a desperate situation.
     God answered, and it did begin to rain.  And when it came, it did so with a vengeance.  They went from no rain to too much rain, from dry lakes to overflowing lakes.  It rained for several months.  Their drought was officially over.
   Isaiah 41:17 speaks of extreme drought, saying, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst.”  I’ve never been in that situation.  However, for many around the world, is it a sad, heart-wrenching, current experience. 
    God uses the example of a physical drought as a picture of the dryness of our soul.  Here in Isaiah 41, I see six promises for those wandering on dry land.

1.     He will hear.  V 17, God hears when his children cry.  He is aware.
2.     He will not forsake. V17 It might get very dry, but God is still there.  There is no place one can go to be abandoned by God.
3.     He will open rivers and fountains above and around. V 18
4.     He will place pools of refreshment and water to spring up nearby.  V 18
5.     He will provide, as Albert Barnes describes, “unanticipated sources of comfort” that comes in the form of trees indigenous to the desert. V 19
6.     And even in the desert time, V 19, the poor and needy will find plant growth providing shade, beauty, and sustenance.

Why does God give these promises for desert times?  Verse twenty tells us it is so we may “see, and know, and consider, and understand” that the Lord is the one taking care of us.  He wants us to focus our minds back to His goodness and provision, even when we feel dry.
      Questions started in my mind, “How do we wind up in desert places? Why do we so often wait until we are in the wilderness failing for thirst before we cry to the Lord?
    I’m afraid too often we wander away and find ourselves parched for no reason other than stubbornness and rebellion.  We dry up because we have not been feeding on the Word.  We shut off the streams of refreshment through unforgiveness or have angrily turned our backs on God and headed straight to the desert to pout.
    We could have come asking for rain before the drought set in.  We could have received refreshment and water from His Spirit and the Word.  We could look and see places of shade, beauty, and sustenance, but instead, we lay on our waste ground feeling abandoned and alone.  Our cries aren’t honest cries for help as much as they are muttering, complaining, and self-pity.  And often, our circumstance is one of our own making.   
   You know what?  God is still there and hears prayer. Desperate situations do not cancel God’s promises. He is always listening. He has the water and comfort we need, and He is ready and willing to supply if we will but acknowledge His hand.
   Verse twenty-one is the Lord’s response to this situation.  What does He say?  “Produce your cause and bring forth your strong reasons.”  In other words, “What’s wrong, tell me why you are here.  Bring forth proof that you are in the right place.”
    Did your parents ever put such a challenge before you?  Mine sometimes did.  I would get into a foolish mood, and they would take me by the shoulders, make me look straight into their eyes, and ask, “What are you doing?  Why are you acting like this?”
    That would catch my little mind caught off guard.  I didn’t know why I was acting like that most of the time, but sometimes I was angry with my sister, or I didn’t want to do what was asked of me.  I knew my childish heart was guilty.
   Well, when God’s eyes meet ours, we melt in the same way.  We might have ignorantly wandered away, but most usually, we know the angst in our hearts and the excuses we are giving. It’s time for us to accept the refreshing waters and the comfort of the shade beneath His wings and allow our souls to be replenished.  There is no reason for us to continue in the desert when God takes us by the shoulders!

Barnes, Albert, Barnes Notes, Isaiah. P 90-91

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Week Four - Without Strength

Is God able?  Well, of course, He is.  We might be better to ask, “Are we able to trust Him?”  “Are we able to do anything about our situation?”  “Are we able to make it through?”  “Will we survive?”
   As I contemplate all I hope to accomplish this coming year, my mind gets torn with all the what-ifs and if-onlys. I find myself discontent, struggling, fearful, and burdened down by the prospects. Why do I feel so tattered and frayed?
   And what does God say to me in prayer? “Trust me, Gail.  Keep moving forward and take those steps of faith.  I’m right beside you. The blessing is on the other side.  You aren’t meant to stay here!”   
   Then, He starts putting up signposts—scriptures, little sayings, and words of encouragement that point my eyes back into the upward gaze.  I’m His child; He isn’t going to leave me without guidance.
   Here is one such signpost that triggered me to meditate for days. 
   “Can God find me a job or provide food for my children?  Can God keep me from yielding to that besetting sin? Can God extricate me from this terrible snare in which I am entangled?  Rather say this, “God Can!”  That will clear up many a problem.  That will bring you through many a difficulty in your life.  There is no strength in unbelief.  He can do new things, unheard-of things, hidden things.  Let us enlarge our hearts and not limit Him.  We must set our faith on a God of whom men do not know what He hath prepared for them that wait for Him.  The wonder-doing God…must be the God of our confidence.”  (Springs in the Valley p. 24)
   Boldly put—There is no strength in unbelief.  Unbelief?  I feel torn, tattered, and confused because I am not believing?  That is exactly right!  When I forget He is a wonder-doing God, I start trying to do everything myself.  When I get overly anxious and stop waiting on His timing and hand, I push myself into a tizzy.  When I limit Him, my world spins down to a little blob with me in the center.
   All of these, and more, are actions of unbelief.  Unbelief is the source of my weariness and creates discontent and fear, leaving me stripped of spiritual power.  My Lord wants much more for me!  My confidence returns when my faith is placed solely in Him. 
   I looked up from my prayer and devotion to see another sign standing on my bookshelf—For Nothing is Impossible with God.
  What about you?  Are you facing hard trials?  Is life not working out as you hoped?  Do you feel entangled in a snare, boxed in with no way out?  If you continue a pattern of unbelief, you will stay there!  Only faith has the power to lift you out and give you the strength to endure.
   Sometimes we are guilty of forgetting we are in a spiritual war.  Our enemy goal is to keep us from prayer, from looking up in faith, and from trusting God and moving forward.  He wants us to feel defeated, discouraged and confused. 
    There is no need for unbelief when we have the strength-giving promises of God.  God is able to turn the bleakest situation into the dawn of a new day and the most dreadful fear to dissolve into peace and joy right before your eyes. 

God is able to do more than you ask or imagine – “He is able to do abundantly, exceedingly above all that we think or ask.” Ephesians 3:20

God is able to provide for you – “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”  2 Corinthians 9:8

God is able to deliver you – “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour (help) them that are tempted.” Hebrews 2:18

God is able to keep what you have committed to him – “…for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”  2 Timothy 1:12

God is able to establish you – “Now to him that is of power (able) to stablish you according to my gospel.” Romans 16:25

God is able to keep you from falling – “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.”  Jude 24

God is able to save you to the end – “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”  Hebrews 7:25

God is able to secure you eternally – “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.  My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”  John 10:28, 29

So, I ask you, “Is He able?”
Jesus asks you, “Believe ye that I am able to do this?”  Matthew 9:28

We must reply, “Lord, we believe.  Help thou our unbelief!”

I pray you find strength in believing!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Week Three - Have a Great Day

Have you ever read the devotional Streams in the Desert?  This work, by L. B. Cowman, has oft refreshed my soul.  She uses illustration, poetry, and comments to bring truth and encouragement.  This year I am using her other devotional work, Springs in the Valley. Mrs. Cowman, and her husband, were pioneer missionaries in Japan and China from 1901 to 1917.  They were forced home due to his poor health.  She cared for her husband until his death six years later.  Coming from her experiences and heartbreak, she writes with a biblical understanding and depth of character that touches my heart.
    As 2020 approached, I began praying for direction.  I have so many hopes and dreams, but feel helpless to make them happen.  I found myself thinking through the night and waking tired with the prospects I had set before myself.   I asked the Lord to point the way, and He answered me with this single devotion.  It’s a lesson too easily forgotten, and one we need to lock within our hearts.  Let me share it with you!

 “There are two golden days in the week, upon which, and about which, I never worry—two carefree days, kept sacredly free from fear and apprehension.
    One of these days is Yesterday; Yesterday, with its cares and frets, all its pains and aches, all its faults, mistakes, and blunders, has passed forever beyond my recall.  I cannot undo an act that I wrought nor unsay a word that I said.  All that it holds of my life, of wrong, regret, and sorrow, is in the hands of the Mighty Love that can bring honey out of the rock and sweetest waters out of the bitterest desert.  Save for the beautiful memories—sweet and tender—that linger like the perfume of roses in the heart of that day that is gone, I have nothing to do with Yesterday.  It was mine!  It is God’s!
    And the other day that I do not worry about is Tomorrow; Tomorrow, with all its possible adversities, its burdens, its perils, its large promise and poor performance, its failures, and mistakes, is as far beyond my mastery as its dead sister, Yesterday.  It is a day of God’s.  Its sun will rise in roseate splendour or behind a mask of weeping clouds—but it will rise.
    Until then, the same Love and Patience that held Yesterday holds Tomorrow.  Save for the star of hope that gleams forever on the brow of Tomorrow, shining with tender promise into the heart of Today, I have no possession in that unborn day of grace.  All else is in the safe keeping of the Infinite Love that is higher than the stars, wider than the skies, deeper than the seas.  Tomorrow is God’s day!  It will be mine.!
    There is left for myself, then, but one day in the week—Today.  Any man can fight the battle of Today!  Any woman can carry the burdens of just one day!  Any man can resist the temptations of Today!  Oh, friends, it is when we wilfully add the burdens of those two awful eternities—Yesterday and Tomorrow—such burdens as only the Mighty God can sustain—that we break down.  It isn’t the experience of Today that drives men mad.  It is the remorse for something that happened Yesterday; the dread of what Tomorrow may disclose.  These are God’s days!  Leave them with Him!
    Therefore, I think and I do, and I journey but one day at a time!  That is the easy way.  That is Man’s Day.  Dutifully I run my course and work my appointed task on that Day of ours. God—the All-Mighty and All-Loving—takes care of Yesterday and Tomorrow.”
p 4,5

     May all of us live each day of 2020 with this single vision in view.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow has not arrived, but we can live for today.  Whatever trial we face is chopped down to size when we approach it daily.  Loneliness and weariness can only last for one day because His mercies are renewed every morning.  Hope rises with the dawn.  This is the day which the Lord hath made—we are to rejoice in it.  
    There is so much more that could be said about the productivity, focus, and opportunity of each day.  Take time to open your Bible and do a bit of word study.  You will find God’s opinion is the same—take it one day at a time!

Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days (not our yesterdays or tomorrows), that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”