Will my enemies ever depart?

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You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Psalm 23:5 NASB

I had set aside Saturday morning to do a guided meditation on Psalm 23.  Question number three was: Do you feel anointed, set apart?

I thought I understood the context of this Hebrew word from years of reading through our Bible.  Hasn’t it been kings who were anointed?  In our age, it’s we Christians who have been set apart by God for holiness.  My mind sped to Ephesians 2:10:  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. NASB

When I deep-dived into the Hebrew for ‘anointed – dashan’, I stepped into an entirely different world. For sure, kings have been anointed or appointed for certain roles. The prophet Samuel anointed first Saul as king and then his successor David.

But the first meaning for this Hebrew term staggered me. My Hebrew reference did not mention king-naming but how God ‘fattens’ his people.  Anointing oil moistens our heads, enriching us, prospering us, satisfying us, accepting us.  Look at this context from Proverbs 28:25b, The one who trusts the Lord will prosper (be made fat, be oiled up, be anointed) NASB

Lavishing joy-filling abundance on us is what George Mueller meant when he wrote: “ I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.  The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul in to a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished….I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation

What else is in Psalm 23:5 besides oil running down over our heads?  Yes, food, drink and the best company make up that banquet feast spread out for us. Yes, in the presence of all our enemies.

For me, my enemies, my ARCH-enemies are my fears, primarily anxiety about the future. I don’t imagine I’m much different from you.

I know I’m sinning against God when I try to control the future by imagining and planning for possible scenarios. Realistically, I don’t think I can stop myself from flirting with the temptation to figure out and then limit what scares me or fills me with dread.

But as soon as I catch myself falling prey to that fear trap, I can draw back and confess it to Jesus. Because our world 1.0 is broken, full of sinning people(us included) and much evil, enemies will always surround me. What I have taken away lingering in Psalm 23 is the ever-present feast available to those Jesus has anointed.

My practice so far has been to acknowledge the fear, tell the truth about it to Jesus, and ask for his cleansing. Then I make a 180 and direct my attention to the good food prepared to nourish me.  The Lord’s table will never run out.  His helper, the Spirit, keeps the nourishment coming as long as I show up hungry and thirsty. Night or day.

Here’s a glimpse of what fellowshipping at the King of King’s table looks like. Put yourself back in Solomon’s days.  You’re a regular at his table.  The stewards bring in great platters of warm and cold food. Wine flows freely. Nothing runs out because of their attentive service.  The kitchen doesn’t close.

And those deputies provided food for King Solomon and all who came to King Solomon’s table, each in his month; they allowed nothing to be lacking.1 Kings 4:27 NASB

This is our privilege as well. As adopted children, ‘fattened’ and welcomed at the generous table, our God provides constant care for our bodies, our spirits, and our emotions so that we are set up to flourish in his kingdom. Despite the presence of enemies.  Prosperity with enemies still out there is not mutually exclusive.

Feasting on and with Jesus while all those fears linger outside the banqueting house can be my and your reality.  Let’s turn our eyes back to Jesus and his good gifts.

Fighting fear, one breath at a time

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As long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils…Job 27:3 ESV

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22 ESV

Fear, discouragement and shame are Satan’s weapons of choice because they usually work. We look around us, take in our circumstances and listen to Satan’s false interpretation of events. For good reason he’s called the liar, the deceiver.

Over the past weekend, Mike and I retreated to a cabin in the woods of North Georgia.  We spent four days resting, restoring, reflecting and hiking.

Thanks to our newish daily practice of using biblical apps to meditate on God, I’m beginning to notice more often each individual breath I take in. This growing morning routine of observing my intake of oxygen causes me to know that at that moment, all I need, all my body has to have is this next breath.  And the Lord is providing it.  I am 100 % dependent on him. He alone will decide when I no longer need that physical sustenance.

The secular world has used meditation and mindfulness for years. What is different for us as Christ-followers, that is those who aspire consciously to abide in union with Jesus, is that we use Scripture as the content for guided meditations.

A few days before our trip, the speaker in the Encounter app Mike and I use mentioned that each breath is a gift from God who knows just what our body needs, moment by moment. As obvious as it sounds, I had never consciously connected God with each inhale.  Most of the time, I breathe without thinking.

While section hiking the Appalachian Trail with Mike, God gave me plenty of time to pull back from fear.  When the trail became less steep, my mind would wander forward into the coming days.  All of a sudden, the Holy Spirit would alert me to my fear-filled thoughts and I would ‘run back’ to Jesus who inhabits my very breathing. I’d confess my sin and huddle closely to him, breathing in thanksgiving and exhaling fear.  It was during our last full day, while hiking up to the summit of Blood Mountain, that I actually began thanking God each time I caught myself worrying and projecting.  Each fear thought became a trigger to return and enumerate with gratitude the Lord’s numerous blessings to me. I realized that I can’t multi-task.  I can’t nurture fears while naming the gifts God provides. 

For me, this ordering my thoughts, this submitting them to God to govern is new.  That is why I keep talking about this recently-acquired spiritual discipline of biblical meditation.   All the uncertainty regarding my mother-in-law’s care weighs heavily on me. I realize that I have become an expert in ‘futurizing’, that euphemism for ‘worry and fear’. My best friend Joyce has rightly named it for what it is.  This projecting into the days ahead is also sin.  I know, for the Bible teaches, that each time I indulge in fretful imagining of what might happen, I grieve the Holy Spirit who is in me.

This morning, something struck me from Hebrews 13:20-21: ‘May the God of peace…..equip you with all you need for doing his will…’ (NLT)

“Oh”, I mused, “you really are preparing me for the future!”

A daily ‘spiritual retreat’ of 15-20 minutes has become a precious part of my morning routine.  I am learning to be present with Jesus. This early meet-up is where I hand over all that concerns me and my family. Then I arise once again, to follow closely on his heels. I imagine myself often stepping on his heels, so near to him I want to be.  I don’t believe he minds.

Scarcity or Abundance?

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I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. Psalm 81:10

I was watching a teaching series from the Identity Exchange called, “Become what you Believe”.  Jamie Winship pointed out how contrary the world sees and handles resources.  Scarcity is one of ‘pillars’ of those who DON’T acknowledge or who don’t live in the Kingdom of God.  The creed goes like this: ‘We don’t have enough, we are not enough, we don’t do enough, we aren’t smart enough, we don’t have enough time or information or…..  This ‘List of Lack’ or scarcity feels endless.  What a depressing message.

The other framework and place to live is God’s.  He is the God of abundant resources. And there’s no end to what he can and does provide.  His resources and abilities are beyond anything we can dream or imagine.

Jamie says that when we begin to fear, that’s a clue to our operating out of the world’s scarcity model. Fear can actually serve as a helpful signal, telling us to stop and figure out just what we are thinking. Whether we are afraid of a menacing bully, or a scary disease or how off the rail our children seem to be, at the bottom of each fear is this idea of ‘not enough’ or scarcity.

I’ll give you a for instance.  This morning, I started to tighten up when I received a text from a very dear friend.  It turns out that she and her husband will be passing through our town in November and would love to see us.  I looked at the dates. Any other time, I would have been excited.  But given what we have on the calendar right after this possible visit, my first reaction was anxiety, another name for fear. What was I afraid of?  That we wouldn’t have enough energy to turn around and be available to extravert and love those arriving 2 days later.  That might sound weird to you.  But we are introverted and ‘need time to replenish.’

Do you see how I was thinking? My thoughts and conclusions had their basis in this scarcity model.  By grace, the Holy Spirit reminded me of God’s abundance.  In my fear-filled scenario I was running ahead and assuming that we would have deplenished our energy balance.

I stopped myself and began to journal. I recognized this finite thinking layered with overtones of lack and privation. Here I was actually belittling the INFINITE God who formed me, who created me. This gracious Father who graced us with new hearts and free access to him by means of the Son.  And our Father expects us to stay connected, to abide in the Infinite Son, the source of all our supply.

Thanks be to God for his timing in giving me, through Jamie’s reminders, a new way to recall the resources that are mine as a Kingdom child. Furthermore, who am I even to predict that we will feel depleted?  I’m no prophet.

Besides, I mused: these potential back-to-back visits (and everything else!) is NOT up to me. I can no more manufacture energy than I can time.  No, Jesus calls us first to BE what we are, the ‘called-out ones’.  Then we are to BELIEVE and TRUST what He teaches us in his Word about his ‘enoughness’ to care for us.  Then we are to REST and RECEIVE the endless divine supplies, as we need them in the moment.

Scarcity’s sister is the lie that shouts (or whispers), “It’s all up to you!”  Thank God, that is not!  To fight the lie, we are to recall the Savior’s past rescues and provisions and then trust him to keep providing, to keep satisfying us.  For if we stop and rest and look up and EXPECT his provision (i.e., open our mouths) he promises to fill us.

Not to give us more than what we need, nor less. Just the right amount to keep us dependent on him.  Since he created us, he knows the measure of our emptiness and just what we require.

Curious, isn’t it, that as soon as the Lord provided this teaching via Jamie Winship, I now have a practical exercise to test out whether I actually DO believe what I have learned. 

How to live if you are an Afghan Christian

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As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:36 NIV

Followers of Christ in Afghanistan these days live with terror. All Afghanis must feel threatened, especially those who desperately want to flee Kabul.  But to be Christian in Afghanistan these days is to have a bulls-eye painted on your back with neon colors. As in other countries where believers are persecuted, neighbors know just who has accepted Christ and left the majority religious community, whether Islamic, Buddhist or Hindu.

Each morning as I read reports from Open Doors or hear the news, I try to imagine how I would feel. Just how I would deal with the pressure of impending death at the hands of the Taliban? How I would live with the fear that comes simply from being Christian in Afghanistan?

You’d have to live as though you were already dead!

That’s the only way I can think to reduce the tension, live with the stress.  Whether actual death comes today or tomorrow or next week, soon you’ll be with Jesus.  With that mindset, that you’re as good as dead, you’d have nothing to lose by helping other Christians, of spending yourself for neighbors, of even telling your executioners about Jesus.

We Christians SAY we believe that God sovereignly plans our birth and our death and everything in between, but I can’t say that I live that way, functionally.  I know I hold ‘my plans’ too tightly.

This morning I lingered over Psalm 31.  Verse 15 fit my reflections about the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.  “My times are in your hands…” NIV. I’ve read that the Hebrew word for ‘times’ can also refer to events or seasons.

Jesus knew this dual reality.  He considered himself dead to the world, and alive to his father.  How else can we explain his calm warmth during that last supper, the very night he was betrayed? Psalm 31: 5 proclaims, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” NIV.  Jesus gasped out these very words from the cross (Luke 23:46). And Stephen who was martyred likewise committed his spirit to Jesus.

I’m asking myself, “Maria, how would your life change if you gave back each day to the Lord, leaving it for him to do what he has planned.  Paul mentions, ‘not counting his life dear’ (Acts 20:24).

I’m not ‘there’ yet.  But thinking about the persecuted church, and especially Afghani brothers and sisters right now, challenges me.  And that is good.

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. Matthew 16:25 NLT

The pattern of spiritual attacks

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As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So, humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:6-7 NLT

Almost 20 years passed before I recognized Satan’s spiritual attacks. Of course, I had heard of spiritual warfare and read Ephesians 6 multiple times, and I could see Satan’s hand in life’s suffering.  But a new awakening to spiritual reality took place half way through the most severe religious persecution I had ever experienced.

As soon as I arrived at Carolina Day School in Asheville, North Carolina, the harassment started.  Middle school parents believed stories their children, my French students, passed on, about how I was ‘proselytizing’, how I (an evangelical) crossed myself during class, as do Catholics.  I fervently sought other jobs, clamoring to get out of there, but God kept me at this school.  It was awful.

Cousin Terry gave me a promise to cling to:

No weapon formed against you shall prosper. Isaiah 54:17 NKJV

I asserted that fact over and over, many times in a day as I walked to the copy room or bathroom.

I understood external suffering from outside, but I had never been conscious of the dark world’s incursions into my thought life.  I had always assumed that I was she who gave birth to discouraging notions and feelings. They were products of my mind, or so I had always reasoned.

But half way through my tenure at this school, about six years ago, the Lord opened my eyes to a new facet of spiritual reality.  I was about to travel with other teachers to a conference.  Very demoralized about my French teaching and how students and parents reacted, I didn’t want to go.  Two nights before our departure, I experienced what I’ve heard termed, ‘the dark night of the soul’.

My despair over teaching spread to every part of my life.  Not only did I not think I could or should continue teaching, I saw myself as incapable of being Mike’s wife, of being a grandmother, of continuing to manage our week-to-week finances, even of preparing meals.  So convinced that these changes were true, I awoke feeling unable to carry on with my life. Not suicidal, but in total despair and without hope. Someone or something had flushed my normal enthusiasm down the drain

I don’t know the exact moment God draw back the curtain, but it was later that same day. Suddenly, I knew!  These weren’t my thoughts; they belonged to the devil!!!  Relief flooded my mind and heart.  As fresh energy for life flowed back in, I felt strengthened and enthusiastic once more.

I partook of the conference and even acquired some new ways of engaging students.  I returned to my classroom, feeling ready to carry on.  Praise be to God.

That event and what God taught me propelled me on to enjoying the best three (and final) years of my French classroom career.

Five and half years later, I still experience AND recognize occasional attacks.  But not always do I identify their source.  I still have fallen for the lie that they are MY thoughts and feelings.

The other night turned out differently.  After at least two hours of sleeplessness around what I affectionately call “pee o’clock”, I fell into a nightmare.  Just before the alarm sounded, I was praying in my dream, “Help me! I am under spiritual attack!”

Fifteen minutes later, although tired, I eagerly sat down with coffee, Bible and my journal at hand. As I had been feeding the cats and making the coffee, I quickly recognized what had occurred. With the dream still fresh, I replayed my fearful, desperate cry for rescue against this enemy.

As I started to write about this, God took me in a different direction, his application surprising me. I had spent part of my awake time, worrying about all the self-assigned tasks for the coming week and my desire to have more ‘Maria time’. What God brought to mind turned out to be a picture of my prevailing sin as a bed of smoldering coals.

I hoard time for Maria, and am aware of this top manifestation of my sinful selfishness. Suddenly, I pictured Satan blowing on these coals of ‘Not enough time for Maria’.  Small flames of discouragement had flamed into strong fire during my awake worry time.

What is interesting is that over the past couple of months, I have actually relaxed more about ‘time’, trusting God’s grace to be sufficient. More and more, I have let go of the need to get stuff done.

Thanks be to God, I saw my nightmare for what is is, a desperate dark ploy to keep me tied to Satan’s lie.

I immediately dumped cold water, dousing those roused embers. And Satan fled.

Then I wrote in my journal a version of Paul’s account of his take-away in God’s Holiness School.

Paul wrote:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13 NIV

I composed this:

I have learned to be more content each day.  I know what it is to have little time and what it is to have plenty.  I am practicing the secret of being content in either case, whether I have ‘too much’ to do or the day looks wide open.  I can trust Jesus to provide just what I need for what he has pre-planned for me to do.

In other words, it’s okay to be weak, to be needy, to not have enough time.  As a needy little child, I can safely trust my Father to give me what I need. I’m not wise enough to know about the day ahead.  But he is!

Let’s love well and enjoy safety

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Since today is Valentine’s Day here in America, let’s focus on God’s command to love one another.  I’ve always known that being well loved is a gift, but this week I saw how practicing love toward others is also a gift. I’m beginning to think that loving others well, something that often includes ‘bearing’ or helping to carry another’s burden, is a kind of protection against one’s own fear and churn.  It’s been said that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. So, to fight fear we need to focus on love.  God’s love for us and ours for others.

My second offering to you today is a slim example of why ‘not worrying’ when we can trust Jesus is such a relief.

May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow….. may He make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy….1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

February is ‘Heart Health Month’. We all know that proper nutrition and lots of cardio benefit our hearts.  But God also has a sure remedy to strengthen our hearts.  That is to practice loving one another each day.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it!  Just how can loving others improve my heart condition?  Because it means copying Jesus’ interactions.

Practicing this love thing can be painful at times.  Especially since the logical place to ‘train’ my heart is with my family.

I don’t have to tell you how challenging that is.  To treat someone the way Jesus would involves humility, patience, gentleness and keeping my mouth shut when tempted to blurt out a barb.

I don’t work in an office anymore, but if my family doesn’t provide enough ‘exercise’, there’s always my church family. 

God’s ‘School of Love’ provides one long continuing education program meant to condition the heart.

February 10

….do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Mark 13:11 ESV

We don’t have to be ‘preppers’. Mike and I used to live in Western North Carolina. We occasionally heard tales of locals stockpiling food and supplies in case of future invasion or calamity.

Jesus is an anti-prepper. He teaches that when believers are dragged in front of government officials hostile to the gospel, we don’t have to plan what to say.  The Holy Spirit will speak give us the appropriate words.

Then in verse 23 when describing the end times, Jesus again does not counsel packing food or clothes, but simply commands: But be on guard.  The Greek verb ‘blepo’ means ‘to pay attention, to understand the times’.

What a relief to know we don’t have to worry, to be anxious, to make contingency plans!  How would we prepare anyway? Too many eventualities to think about. Jesus presence is enough.

Worried about the country? How should Christians respond?

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Many of my friends tell me they alternate between grief, anger and fear regarding America.  Four years ago, a different group of friends experienced the very same emotions and confided in me.  So, just how are Christians to respond like Jesus when their country’s rulers seem to act contrary to their values? 

Backing up, what should shape our values?  The Bible, of course.  But what do we do when the Bible is silent on current issues? Did I say ‘current’ as though today’s matters are new?   Really? What did King Solomon write but that when it comes to people, there is nothing new!

This week’s reflections dovetail to address what I am seeing and hearing. By the way, I am enjoying the gift I gave myself in November: the challenge of writing daily, while keeping to a 175-word budget!

January 22

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the worst of them all. 1 Timothy 1:5 NLT

I have friends and family members on both sides of the political spectrum.  Yesterday, listening to a family member ‘demonize’ former President Trump bothered me. I’m neither a Trump supporter nor a Biden fan. But to hate someone and not be able to see anything good in a person is unfair. Just look at that word – ‘demonize’.  What is it but acting like the Chief of Demons, Satan himself?

Are we to ‘hate’ anyone? Peter teaches that we are to… Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:17 NIV

Consider Paul.  He doesn’t mention a single evil leader governing during his time.  He focuses only on his sin.

Two facts remain: First, I have plenty of sin to confess daily to Jesus. Two, I don’t have all the facts about what is ‘best’ for God’s glory and the spread of His Kingdom.

**

January 26

Do everything without complaining or arguing… shining like bright lights….as you hold forth the word of life…Philippians 2:14-16 BSB

Each Tuesday morning, I head off to the local pregnancy resource center.  My morning study and prayers shape my heart and mind as I search for one Truth to take with me.

Paul’s words highlight what might cause the world to notice Christians. If people pause to notice us, they might listen to what we have to say.

What will catch their attention? Our lack of complaining and arguing.

Not many days have passed since the 2021 presidential inauguration.  Many Americans are complaining loudly.  Most are arguing in an ugly manner.

The Father has given us words of LIFE and called us to offer them to everyone we meet. Many around us live captive to words of death and despair.

But they won’t listen to us unless something startles them.

What can be simpler than a restful, gentle smile that comes from trusting the King of Kings?

We Christians should not complain or argue!

How to face false reality

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What do we do when Satan projects false, fearful future scenes that we can’t eliminate from our racing minds?  The only antidote is right thinking about who God is and His promised supplies for whatever confronts us.  Here are two of my recent ‘daily devotional bites’ as I call them.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9a NIV

J.I. Packer in A Quest for Godliness writes how God protects us, “often allowing one evil to touch our lives in order thereby to shield us from greater evils.”

So, what do we do when we FEAR ‘lesser evils’ with their potential pain?

Two of my friends struggle with fear of something bad happening to family members. Familiar with that favorite weapon of Satan, I turned to Paul’s example for help.  Transparently, he models how to face potential dangers and evils.

He learned to think correctly about God. Hardships taught him that God’s ‘dynamis’ (power, abundance, influence, resources) and His grace are always more than ENOUGH to enable one to bear pain, not asking for its removal.  He describes how this divine power and grace take possession of and live within believers.  For God has given a perpetual supply of supernatural help to all His children.

Let’s turn our backs on fear.

**

for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. 2 Cor 12:10 Berean Study Bible

Yesterday, I talked about how to handle fears of potential evil and suffering.  That each time Satan predicts false future realities, we need to remind ourselves that God’s power and grace are enough.

For decades Paul practiced this kind of thinking until he had ‘LEARNED to be content’, to delight in hardships (Philippians 4:11)

Content or to delight in are the same Greek verb, ‘eudokeo’. Other meanings are: to be ready, favorably inclined, of good courage, and willing. When God announces that He is ‘well-pleased’ with His Son, Jesus, He uses the same verb.

For Paul, what was the happy outcome?  What did he learn? He grew skilled in transforming a dread or fear picture (nurtured by Satan) into a cause for rejoicing. He knew that strength was coupled with any future hardship.  Thus, he rested easy in his mind.

Brothers and sisters, let’s practice this way of thinking as well!

Face the facts…pray…work and trust God!

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Haggai 2:3 Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Is not this in your sight as nothing in comparison to that? Yet now be strong, alert, and courageous, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; be strong, alert, and courageous, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, alert, and courageous, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work! For I am with you, says the Lord of Hosts. (Amp)

Facts are never a problem for God. Rather, He, the Creator of these ‘facts’ calls us to face circumstances and name them.

But He doesn’t leave us alone in the midst of our overwhelming situation to stew in our ‘not-enoughness’. Not up to the assigned task? That is how He has planned this moment, for the Lord of the Angel Armies is WITH us. He assures us that He will provide what we lack, making up for our God-designed deficits. Ever our Father, He pushes us forward, gently but firmly, TOWARD the situation that scares us.

Last Tuesday at the local pregnancy resource center here in Huntsville, I faced the facts. Nothing as scary as what the returning Hebrew exiles were up against, (the book of Ezra details this ‘adventure’) but unsettling enough for me to ask Mike and my friend Joyce to pray!

Every Tuesday morning, I meet with women who believe they are pregnant and turn to us for verification and assistance. They also want to find out how we can help them during their pregnancy. My role as an intake counselor is to meet with them, listen and learn what they are facing, administer the ‘pee test’, discuss our cost-free services, share something of the Gospel and to pray with them.

My husband Mike always asks God urgently to provide for me throughout my morning shift because of the gravity of these one-on-ones. All of us who volunteer and work at the center recognize that the life of the baby is sometimes in jeopardy because of the possibility of abortion. Even more important, these appointments can be occasions where questions of the eternal destination of the gal (and her partner) arise. With so much at stake, these 45 minutes or so ALWAYS feel weighty and I depend on God entirely for His direction – what to say and how.

Nine months before I left teaching Middle School French full time, I started working on my Spanish. My motivation? – a planned student trip to France and Spain the following summer. That never happened because we moved to Huntsville, changing my life dramatically. But already hooked on Spanish, I continued my language-learning journey in order to be more useful to God in a volunteer capacity here.

A data geek, I track everything about my personal Second Language Acquisition process. It’s been 27.5 months since June 2018 when I began from scratch. I employ the same method I used to teach French, that is acquiring the language through input, not via grammar or explicit learning. Starting first with simple videos and podcasts, I now read in Spanish and have some weekly conversations (language exchanges). I am at the intermediate level. The ‘problem’ is: I know what it FEELS like to be fluent in French. I can’t help but compare my skill levels. I call my level: Broken Spanish. A Mexican colleague has assessed my speaking as ‘adequate’.

Obviously just where God wants me, forcing me to depend on Him!

Back to ‘facing the facts’ this past week. Arriving at the center, I knew that all 3 of my appointments for the morning were going to be with Hispanic gals. A first for me!

No point informing God: ‘I wish my proficiency level were more advanced!’ He knows because I remind Him often. Daily, I plug on, continuing my Spanish journey, through comprehensible input (my goal is 3 hours with Spanish a day).

So, this past Tuesday, I JUST KNEW that His will for me that morning was to move ahead with my meager ability, trusting Him to make it enough.

Of course, He came through. No, I didn’t suddenly experience a jump in proficiency. My Spanish STILL felt broken and IN-adequate. But it was enough. The Holy Spirit made up what I lacked. The gals helped me as well. (They spoke NO English and two of them from Guatemala were illiterate as well – how scared THEY must feel, far from home!) And I served ‘my clients’ well enough, I think.

I didn’t get to ‘share the Gospel’ in the full sense that I am able to with English-speaking clients. With my limited Spanish it was enough for me to get through the content of their pregnancy status and services and set them up for a follow-up ultrasound appointment. BUT……I wasn’t at all afraid to pray in Spanish. For a year now, I’ve been enjoying my morning time in God’s Word using a Spanish study Bible. (Thank you, Michael!) I have acquired much of the Spanish specialized vocabulary that goes with talking about God.

But get this! I would have been thankful enough, just making it through the appointments without serious misunderstandings. But God gave me MORE.

For the first time, walking to my car at the end of my shift, for the VERY first time, I FELT upbeat about my Spanish. Serving here at the pregnancy center, using my limited Spanish is a GOOD challenge, a ‘meaty’ dig-your- teeth-into kind of worthy goal. Maybe this will turn out to be a ‘turning the corner’ marker in my quest for Spanish proficiency.

More importantly, I learned, yet again: daunting circumstances are no obstacle for the LORD.

With this ‘language high’ so vivid in my mind, this morning’s reading in Haggai struck me as a needed pep talk from God to these 5th-century BC folks (as well as an encouragement to me!) Under the Holy Spirit’s power, the prophet Haggai speaks pointedly FIRST to the elderly returned exiles from Babylon. They are the ones who likely remembered the much larger dimensions of Solomon’s Temple as youngsters in Jerusalem before it was destroyed and they were taken captive. God, through the prophet speaks to:

(Haggai 2:2) ‘….. Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to……’ the returnees who chose to journey and undertake the rebuilding of the Temple:

  • saying in effect…..Yes….this is going to be a smaller temple…and these rebuilding conditions are very, very difficult and dangerous BUT…
  • and the LORD cites those wonder-filled reasons above NOT to be discouraged.

So, it is with me, and with you, with Christians everywhere. God has created us on purpose NOT to be up to the tasks He assigns. That’s the whole point, don’t you think? Each time He comes through, our faith and awe deepen and He gets the glory. My habitual fear of failure and occasional balking alert me to my mis-guided assumption that completing this assignment, this Mission Impossible, is up to me. Yes, I need to face the facts, but I also need to focus more on the Truth. That God is my ever-present Helper. Hebrews 13:6

Can’t you see the water?

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A certain young man whom I dearly love is struggling with fear, anxiety and worry. He has recently been moved into a position with more responsibility and fewer resources that he can see. Knowing himself well, he has rightly concluded: I don’t have what it takes to succeed in this job!

Night and day, he has fallen into obsessing about failure. He feels stuck in the position because it appears to be one that will last until June 2021. He confessed to me last week that he sometimes daydreams of working an 8 to 5 at Walmart!

Haven’t we all been there!

Yes, he is a believer and knows Scripture well enough to realize that all this pressure is from God. He should also know that as a born-again child of God, he has been given solid promises that are his to use and to cling to.

So, when I read Jeremiah’s description of the ever-green leafy tree, I immediately applied it to his pressure-cooker of a job.

God’s sovereign governing of all that concerns his children includes where He ‘plants’ us. The Holy Spirit, through Jeremiah, is reminding us of the following:

  • wherever the Lord ‘plants’ those who TRUST HIM, that place is always VERY near a nourishing, life-giving stream. What does the stream represent? Something that is invisible at first to our eyes. Do you remember when the Exodus crowd were parched and out of strength in the desert? God instructed Moses to strike the Rock (Jesus per 1 Cor 10:4). Water gushed out in abundance. That MASS of people were enLIVEned, refreshed, encouraged and energized. Never would they have imagined water coming from a boulder.
  • the one who is confident in God’s WILL and ABILITY to provide draws near to the LORD, the only constant and dependable supply. Jeremiah is given a vision of the tree moving her roots TOWARD the water. Why would a tree bother to spread out her roots? Because there is no rainwater. But having sensed water and its life-giving relief, she moves toward it.
  • when troubles come, like NO RAIN, the tree keeps her roots IN the water. She does not say once she is satisfied: “Thank you, stream, that will do me just fine. Have a nice day!” No! That would be stupid. Since she has received, she stays connected to the Source.
  • what is the happy result? She doesn’t suffer the natural consequences of rain-deprived trees. She has a secret supply of what she needs. The effect of being so nourished is evident to all – GREEN leaves amidst dying, dried-up trees.
  • furthermore, do you notice the impact of HER leaves staying green all through the drought? She produces fruit. Do trees need their own fruit? No! Fruit is for others, whether the next generation of little trees, for squirrels, birds or humans!

So, sweet friend of mine. This is for you. I believe the Lord has planted you in a desert where you are withering. But take heart. There is a river nearer than you think. God’s never-ending Supplier, His divine Spirit, the Helper, is not just NEAR you, He is in you.

But yes, He is invisible as are His supplies. Yes, depending on your abilities alone scares you. It should! God means you to be overwhelmed if you’re looking at just you and all that is on your plate. But God, rich in mercy, has not planted you NEAR a stream. He has planted the stream IN you!

John 7:37-38 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

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