Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Week Fourteen - Rest

I don’t remember exactly where I found this little definition for rest, but I want to share it with you today. While we are all cooped up in our houses, we have time to reflect, to pray, to think, refresh, and rest. For some, it is a God-send, for others a real struggle, because many don’t know how to rest. 
We place all our identity and personal value in what we create instead of whose we are. 
Take time to think with me today about the rest available during this time of self-isolating.

F – Filling – we can allow the Spirit of God to fill our hearts with love, thankfulness, and compassion. It affords us growth in our prayer time and personal relationship with the Lord.

A – Accepting – we accept that God has the right to make changes in our lives and attitudes. We can learn more about the joy and secret of yieldedness.

I – Immersing – there is no excuse now for staying away from our Bible reading or study time. Immersing ourselves in the word help us find encouragement for the road ahead.

R – Reminding – This is also an excellent time for us to open our hearts to the Lord and allow Him to remind us of the areas where we need to grow, of the people who need a kind word or good deed from us, and of His great faithfulness – the Infinite Faithfulness.

S – Surrounding – And we can know the arms of the Lord around us at this time and at all times. We are surrounded by His love and protected by His grace. We are never alone.

When you take these five things and apply them to rest, you find your heart filled with the joy of the Spirit, open to the moving of God, deep into the word, aware of the need of those around you, and surrounded by the great, great love of God. There, you can rest.

My friend lent me a book entitled “We Neurotics.” It’s a story about an overworked man and some people he meets that help him see his humanity. In one chapter, he meets with a nun who begins to talk about how to rest.

“Mr. Dawes,” she said, solemnly and slowly, “you are but one among thousands in this very city who face the problem of curing themselves. We talk of people finding their feet, a ridiculous expression; the real task for most people is to find their souls. First step, you must learn to relax. And when I use the word ’relax’, I am, of course referring to therapeutic relaxation. I cannot help my children in the clinic until they are muscularly peaceful, so God needs a similar condition in the spiritual life.”  (We Neurotics, Bernard Basset, p 11)

Then she recommended. “Do not pray for, perhaps, a month, for God Himself is not at His best till we are relaxed.” Now, I’m not so sure about her suggestion, but I would say, coming hurried, frustrated, and too weary for communion hinders prayer. God wants us to draw aside, to take time, and fellowship to listen and draw strength.

She went on to describe her method for therapeutic relaxation. Lay flat on your back with your eyes closed until you feel your body relaxing.  “When at last the whole body was at rest, I had to stretch out my arms as a cat does so that the claws are exposed.  Then with my arms loose on my chest and my feet crossed for polarisation, I was to lie quite still for forty minutes, seeing myself strolling leisurely through luscious, green fields. After three weeks without a break, I could relax with comfort and the luscious green fields arrived at once.” (p 14)

Here is the real issue – we don’t stop long enough to let rest come to our lives. We pause for a cup of tea or a chat with a friend and think we have spent enough of our valuable time. We go on holiday and read books that keep our emotions stirred. We watch programs that cause our adrenaline to flow or play games that heighten our ambitious, competitive nature. These are distractions, not therapeutic rest. 

God calls us more often to rest than to work—or dare I say play too hard! He wants our fellowship most of all asking us to come to Him when we are weary, to come aside to pray, to submit ourselves to His hand, and He will give the increase. He will fight the battle. He will direct our paths.

So, during this time of forced rest, instead of chomping at the bit to get back to the rat race, let’s learn more about what rest means. Let’s take some real quiet time—even forty minutes on our back meditating on the beauty of the Lord. You've got plenty of time to do so, and the kids could do it too! Then—

R – Relax   E – Enjoy   S – Sing   T – Thanksgiving

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Week Thirteen - What's It All About?

I thought that people my age had everything figured out.  After all, they were adults.  But now that I have reached that enviable age, I know no one has it all figured out!  And more and more I am coming to understand that life isn’t about figuring it out, it’s about living by faith alone.  As I pondered on this, I looked back at some of the ideas I used to hold.  Let’s ask ourselves:

Is life about being top dog?  The brightest and the best?  If it is, we are all set for failure.  There are very few of these people, and those that appear to be on top can fall at any time!  It’s very lonely there, and the pressure breaks many of them.  So, life isn’t about being top dog, is it?

Is life about having control?  Getting everything working just as you like it?  Obviously, none of us have that much control over life. Just look at where we are!  Things rarely work out exactly as we want without a high price.  Living as a control-freak places us under undue pressure as well.  We aren’t God.  We can’t make everything work as we want.  Other people live here too.  It’s not all about us!

Is life about getting all you can?  Living life to the fullest?  That’s just greed and selfishness.  It breeds discontent because we are continually on the search for another high or another adventure.  Living life with such abandon has consequences.  True happiness and fulfilment are found in contentment.

So, maybe life is about keeping a low profile?  Living like a hermit.  How are you liking isolation?  It will hopefully work to slow down this virus, but it doesn’t work as a consistent lifestyle because no man is an island.  We affect others by our life choices. 

When it comes to what life is all about, we are better to ask the Giver of Life for a good definition.  And I have found God doesn’t withhold here!  He is very clear about the basis of life and the way to the happiness and security we seek.

Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes and the wisest man who ever lived, gives us the sum of it all when he says, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:  Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”  Eccles 12:13

God never says we have to be top dog before He loves us.  He never instructs us to seek to control life but to live by faith.  He warns us about living in greed and selfishness and encourages us to use our lives for others.  But my favourite explanation of the meaning and purpose of life is found three times in Ecclesiastes. 

Eccles 2:24 says, “There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour.  This also I saw, that is was from the hand of God.”

Eccles 3:22 says, “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion.”

And, Eccles 5:18, 19 reads, “Behold that which I have seen: 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: for it is his portion…this is the gift of God.”

All three of these verses teach us to value what God has given and to live happily therein.

It is said if we have three things, we are rich – food, clothing, and shelter.  Most of us have them, don't we? Sadly, the consumer mindset means we are always shopping for more than what God has already given.  To ask us to be content with what we have, and enjoy them without trying to strive for more, seems almost anti-Christian.  Anti-productive.  Unwise and lazy.  We have swallowed the world’s philosophy here, I believe.  We no longer see contentment as valuable. 

Let’s ask ourselves a couple more questions.  As the old folks sit on the porch in their rocking chairs, do you see them as lazy, motivation-less, and a waste of time?  Or, do you see people who have lived a full life and learned the secret and happiness of contentment?

As we sit removed from our daily norm, it is the perfect opportunity for evaluation!  With all our scurrying and striving, where has it taken us? What’s it all about?

Let’s not forget that God is the one who gives the increase.  He is the one who provides and opens doors of opportunity.  Life isn’t about what we create.  It’s about what He gives.  Let’s pause, take a breath, rejoice, be thankful, and Wash Your Hands!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Week Twelve - Prayer and Providence

My heart aches for those affected by the virus, but it is also torn for the future outfall of the economic decisions being made.  The virus lasts a week to ten days, but the closing of business brings anxiety and fear to all of us.  We need to be praying for the ill, but also for the young families losing their jobs, for the small business owner losing his livelihood, and for the impending economic catastrophe.  We must pray for our leaders who make the choice between courage and fear, and between political correctness/pressure and a strong hand on the rudder!

Providence.  Some call it fate, others destiny, but for the Christian, we know it to be the protective care of God; a truth wherein we rest and in time, see the working out of His plan according to His perfect design.

A few years ago, God dealt with me about this issue.  I learned about His control.  He always does what is best for my life and for those around me.  He asks me to consider Him to be enough and to rest myself within the promise of that truth.  I have to say, it has brought much peace and calmness to my heart.

Still, at times, I may wonder why life takes the turns it does, and how the Lord intends to bring glory from it all, but again, I must fall back on the providence of God and content myself.

Spurgeon tells of a dream.  He was walking up a stairway to heaven with a voice urging him upward.  He writes, “I knew that my mysterious guide could not err.  I felt that infinite faithfulness would not bid me take a step it if were not safe: and therefore mounting still, I stand at this hour happy and rejoicing, though my faith be all above my own comprehension, and my work above my own ability.”  (p151)

My thoughts got stuck on the idea of The Infinite Faithfulness – God Himself.  Isn’t that a beautiful title?  The Infinite Faithfulness?  And in His providential care, he will not bid us take one faltering step. 

“Happy indeed are they who bathe in the bath of such a promise as this, ‘I am with thee.’  Put your whole soul into that consoling element; plunge into it, and you will feel your strength suddenly renewed, so that you can bear troubles which before would have overburdened you.  Take the naked promise of God, for it is enough, and more than enough, though all earth’s springs were dry.”  (p 153, 155)

“Christian!  There is no sweeter pillow than providence; and when providence seemeth adverse, believeth it still, lay it under thy head, for depend upon it there is comfort in its bosom.  There is hope for thee, thou child of God. That great trouble which is to come in thy way in the early part of thy pilgrimage, is planned by love, the same love which shall interpose as thy protector.” (p 146)

As we face the current pandemic, let us rest ourselves in the promise of God’s providence.  Adversity does not detour the Infinite Faithfulness! We can still know joy in God’s presence, and precious moments of prayer and fellowship as the Spirit is enjoined giving comfort, strength, and empowerment. 

I know those times, do you?  When God is so near you could virtually touch Him and feel his arms around you as you hear His voice whispering to your heart? 

Lay your head then, on the sweet pillow of providence, as Spurgeon calls it, and know God is with you.  The assuring promise of His Infinite Faithfulness is enough!

Spurgeon, C.H., Words of Cheer for Daily Life

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Week Eleven - Weaving to Music

I look forward to the end of things.  Like a sewing project—to see the beauty of the finished piece.  Or an event.  The planning is fun, the execution wearing, but the end is best when you settle back and know the plan came together!  I think that is why I push so hard!  I’m in a hurry to finish.  But when I do, I miss out on some things and fail to see the beauty of the process.  I’ve been collecting a few thoughts on this.  We will see if they all weave together!

Pinned up by my computer is a Spurgeon quote. “My soul—be thou in love with the way as well as the end, since thy Lord is the one as well as the other.” 

That says to me, “Gail, take your time.”  It could also say, “It isn’t about whether you win or lose, but it’s how you play the game!”  But most of all, it reminds me that everything is a process.  I need to let it all play out and enjoy each God-ordained step.

Then, both of my current devotional books began talking about a similar subject.  Spurgeon, again, entered with, “All things work.”  Earth and nature are always at work for a purpose, working out God’s purpose, and we work, too.  All things work together, no matter the conflict.  “There is harmony in the most discordant parts of your life. You will find, when your biography is written, that the black page did but harmonize with the bright one.” (p 126)* Look at that!  Again, the process is a part of the beauty, even when things look bleak. Even when we aren’t happy about what is happening.  Even when we think things are at their worst, it all has a purpose and becomes a part of our story.

Then, I read, “Blessed are they who feel sure that there is a pattern; who hear and trust the directing voice, and so weave the changing threads to music.”  WJ Hart (p 56)** I can envision a weaver working to music, changing the threads in count with the rhythm! It also reminded me about life being a tapestry.  We only see the messy side.  God sees the work He is accomplishing.  We are better to rest ourselves in the process and allow Him to weave us as He sees fit.

I don’t know about you, but my thoughts and work occasionally get muddled up. I get too many irons in the fire and then grow discouraged in my attempts to finish.  My problems get more twisted as days pass, and I wonder how in the world I will get them straightened out.  Probably, I am sticking in my own hands too often, pushing the Weaver aside, and deafening my ears to His music. 

“A young man writing to his father about a personal problem said, ‘Once again, just yesterday, I have put this whole matter in the Lord’s hands, and asked Him to guide me about it all.  I often think of how I’d get my fishing line all tangled up.  The more I pulled the worse it got.  Finally, I’d hand the whole thing over to you, and you’d smooth it all out.  So I generally do that with my problems now; and I’m trying to learn not to pull at the line much, before I give it to Him.” (p 58)***

Are you guilty of pulling at the line in the problem that troubles you today?  Are you in a rush to get to the end?  Are you weighed down by the process? Why not hand it over to your heavenly Father, and allow the music of your life to weave to His design.  He will swiftly and lovingly untangle the crisscrossed and knotty impossibility that has troubled you so and put harmony back into your life.

*Spurgeon, C.H., Words of Cheer for Daily Life
**Cowman, L.B., Springs in the Valley
***Cowman, L.B., Springs in the Valley

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Week Ten - Make the World Go Away

My parents used to sing in the car as we travelled. Us kids would join in with “You are my Sunshine” or “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” One song, of which I only remember a few lines, was more of a wail, “Make the world go away, and get it off my shoulders.  Say the things you used to say, and make the world go away.” The song, as I recall, was more about a broken relationship, but for today, I want us to think about how we allow the difficulties of this world to drag us down. 

Think with me, though. We really can’t blame the world for our problems, it is inanimate. Our burdens are heavy because of the way we bear them. 

Spurgeon began talking about troubled hearts in my reading the other day.  It got me thinking again about a question I have spent hours meditating on – why is it some people seem never to be happy?  Why are some people bound in trouble all the time?  I’ve never found the answer, but Spurgeon must have dealt with the same questions as he wrote about troubled hearts.

Before he gives the cure, he makes an examination.  Just look at some of what he says.  “It is the easiest thing in the world in times of difficulty to let the heart be troubled. A troubled heart will not help us in our difficulties or out of them” (p 7) When we face difficulties, giving up to heart-ache will not solve our problems.  “The darkness of your heart will not light a candle for you.” 

That phrase creates such a picture in my mind!  Staring at the darkness does not produce light—only continued darkness! We needn’t throw open the doors so the howling winds can blow right through our lives—that doesn’t solve anything.  When we allow our aching spirit to have free reign it takes from us what joys we have.  A troubled heart makes that which is bad worse.

Then, he writes, “There are flowers that bloom in winter, if we have but grace to see them.  Never was there a night of the soul so dark but what some lone star of hope might be discerned, and never a spiritual tempest so tremendous but what there was a haven into which the soul could put if it had but enough confidence in God to make a run for it.  Rest assured that though you have fallen very low, you might have fallen lower if it were not that underneath are the everlasting arms.” (113-114)

Ah!  Beautiful—the everlasting arms.  How many times have I found myself falling upon them when there seemed no hope and rested secure in their embrace?  How many times have I had to make a run for it, to cast myself upon the Lord in the face of awful trials?  How about you?  Do you know that experience?

Spurgeon continued to speak of fear.  Fear that made the ten spies feel like grasshoppers!  They forgot God was on their side.  They failed to remember the hand of the Almighty and so felt reduced and daunted in the sight of what they faced.  Their unbelief made their difficulty into a giant.  “O woe is me,” they began to cry.

And that is what we do.  We look at difficulty as if it were a giant, and we a grasshopper.  Our ailments, break-ups, and challenges grow into huge mountains, and we find ourselves laying at the base with no strength to be able to climb. 

And what was Spurgeon’s remedy for heart-ache of this sort?  Take heart – there is always someone around you facing a severe trial, more extreme poverty, or on a more difficult path.  Don’t think you are the only one.  Look for those around you who are persevering through their trials and walk with them.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  He endured more than you ever will. 

Then…then…Spurgeon quoted a short passage that always brings a smile to my face and courage to my heart. 

Hebrews 12:3-4 “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.  Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” 

In other words, think of all the hostility Christ endured from the world around him.  Draw courage from his example; then, you won’t be so tempted to become weary and give up.  After all, you haven’t yet shed blood in your struggle against sin.  

It is the habit of our unbelief and rebellious heart to draw the blackest possible colors to our situation, to tell us that our road is unusually rough and utterly impassable, that we will never reach the haven.  There is no courage in unbelief!  So, dear friend, take heart.

Your path may be rough, but it will only last for a while.  Better days are ahead, but if you stay at the base of the mountain complaining and whimpering, you will never make it to the heights!  Get your eyes back on the path, and start moving forward!

This world isn’t going to go away, yet.  So, let’s learn to cast our burdens on the Lord, adjust our sights, and move forward with hope.

 “This is the day which the Lord hath made. 
We will rejoice and be glad in it!”
Psalm 118:24