Protection against Prosperity

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The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad! Psalm 126:3

God has come through with an extraordinary mercy to us in answer to much fervent prayer – our own cries for help along with sustained prayers offered up by family and faithful friends. I’ll tell you more in a bit.

I’ve been reading in Scripture examples about the dangers that ‘good’ times can present. King David gives us many examples. His most notorious is his complacency (leading to the Bathsheba incident) after God’s divine help in driving away Israel’s enemies. Were it not for Biblical narratives of his downfall and his own writings in the psalms we would not be warned. Yet despite his astonished and grateful joy in God’s forgiveness, over time, David’s gladness waned. He grew distracted by comfort, helped along by an increasing lack of attentiveness to his Master, the LORD.

Merriam-Webster explains complacency this way: “self-satisfaction, especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” Com means ‘with’ and if you recall the verb ‘to placate’ (to please) the idea of being pleased with oneself is obvious.  But self-pleasure can be dangerous, especially if we grow über-SELF-confident.

But what does prosperity in the title of this post have to do with complacency?  We can see that it was God who had made King David prosperous. And in the beginning, David’s gratitude over his ‘prosperity’ or successes was real. But he didn’t nurture that spirit of thankfulness. As life grew easier after years of hardship, his attentiveness to God slackened. He let himself get preoccupied with the gifts.  Not only was David wealthy he enjoyed multiple blessings of regional peace, family, friends. For sure during those painful, difficult years he had followed Moses’ advice to Joshua about how to be ‘prosperous’:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Josh 1:8

But once God was gracious to him, David FORGOT the part about ‘meditate on God’s law day and night.’ A change came over the prosperous David. Enjoying God’s bounty, he let down his guard. 

I don’t want that to happen to us! 

As Mike and I have come to know our Bibles, we understand how to please our Father.  Ultimately it’s because He has changed our hearts that we WANT to obey Him. We also have grown to realize that afflictions are gifts from God that keep us clinging to Him.  They keep us needy and very close. Desperation keeps us ‘meditating on God’s Word night and day’.

Since June 2013, when we left Virginia and moved to the Asheville, NC area, we have been especially needy.   How so? through hardships right and left, one after the other. Like what, Maria?

  • a blatant closed-door, dead-end to Mike’s plan to work from home in NC as an operations research analyst
  • no open doors to other significant work for him during our time in NC
  • perplexing difficulties for me in a new school teaching French – each year in that school was laden with painful experiences. Nor could I couldn’t find another teaching position
  • Mike’s frightening heart crisis that lasted some weeks
  • his slide into depression during our 6 years in North Carolina, alienating some people
  • a surprising decision to leave mountains we loved for Mike to go back into full-time engineering work
  • then after God’s good gift of a job and sale of our house in NC, a recurrence of a physical stress symptom that had dogged Mike for 25+ years but had been absent during the previous 7-8 years. ‘Complacently’ we had assumed it would never come back.

The return of this latter affliction seemed to be the most painful of all the above. It colored Mike’s world and spilled over to me.  He could hardly avoid noticing it, because it affected his body, every day and all the time. I prayed fervently.  We both did. As did friends and family.

What else did we do?  We journaled, we tried functional medicine, Mike met with a Christian counselor.  Friends and family continued to pray and stay connected. Most of all we went deep into God’s Word. As we did, He began to change our thinking to align more with His Word. Whether you believe that He ‘allows’ or ‘sends’ suffering, in God’s hands He wills all things for our good.  We began to ask God to change our desires – that we would desire HIM more than an affliction-free life.

Then, about 4 months ago God seemed to be directing us to have Mike go back on a medication that had ‘stopped working’, one he had gone off of.  He visited his doctor, asking for a higher dose. We prayed on, willing to live with this suffering if it were God’s best for our holiness and ultimate joy.

It took a full 10 weeks for any relief to be evident.  His body started slowly to respond, in fits and starts.  Mike kept meeting with his Christian counselor.  We continued to pray, to journal, to study God’s Word. 

It is now almost the end of May 2020 and we rejoice. Mike DOES have relief. The symptoms have subsided. His body feels normal. He is visibly relaxed and cheery.  I can tell he is enjoying life in a new way. 

I check in with him each evening as we write down our God-directed thank-you’s in our prayer journal.  Then we pray for one another mentioning the next day’s needs. We don’t hesitate to ask Him for another day of relief for Mike.  Just as we ask Him to grant me a good night sleep. We take NEITHER gift for granted. We also know that God has the right to withhold both. They are not our due.

Hence my meditating on the ‘danger’ that comes with answered prayer, when the pressure lets up.  Not that God is dangerous, but that a cavalier attitude on my part can easily endanger my heart. I want to lay in place good habits of thinking. Yes, our Father IS good and He delights to give us rest and periods of joy-filled relaxation.  Mike and I are grateful for these broad or open spaces where ‘enemies have been driven back, bodies have healed, children have been born, and the harvest is plentiful.’ 

Psalm 18:9 He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me.

So how DO I guard against complacency?  I have landed on two ways: 

  • Gratitude and
  • Humility

Gratitude looks like this for me:

  • recognizing and chattering my thanks to my Father throughout the day for all the gifts I can see 
  • mentioning His kind provision of what I might not even think to ask for, like safety or how loving my friends are

Humility looks like this for me:

  • Recognizing that I am a contingent being, that I cannot do ANY thing on my own.
  • Acknowledging daily that God, the Creator and Sustainer, gives me life moment by moment. Unless He wills that I KEEP LIVING, I am but dust molecules
  • Talking out loud to Him about what I need Him to provide NEXT in order to do the task at hand

This, then, is how I am trying to ‘walk humbly with my Lord’.

Friends and family, we want YOU to know how glad we are for the great things He has done.  Thank you for your prayers and years of encouragement throughout these past years. This new broad and fertile time is refreshing us.  We are savoring it.  It feels sweet.  We don’t deserve it, and we are grateful.  May we continue to keep our eyes on Him!

 

You never gave me a young goat!

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About that goat reference in this post’s title, can you identify whose complaint that was?  If you guessed ‘the Older Brother’, you know your Bible!  Luke records that complaint from Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:29, to be exact.

Mike has been reading G.K.Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy out loud to us in the evenings.  Chesterton takes some time getting used to; I have to concentrate more and think through his prose, almost sentence by sentence.  In our current chapter the author is addressing fairy tales and what they teach us about reality.  Chesterton points out that main characters tend to complain about limitations imposed on them when they should be in awe, marveling over what they actually have been granted.

For example, when Cinderella challenges her fairy godmother about why she has to leave the party before the clock strikes midnight, she should really be captivated by the sheer improbability of EVEN going to the ball!  Where’s her question about that turn of events?  Did she ever imagine she would dance with the Prince, let alone be magically attired in elegance with a chic hairdo to boot? So improbable was that scenario, especially since she had been forced to sew for her step-sisters after cleaning house all day.

How like us humans, to complain.  If we are alive, it is SHEER gift. If we are believers, then we have hit the jackpot of God’s purposeful favor.  The guarantee of everlasting life WITH God is the only true ‘happily ever after’ fairy-tale ending we all long for. Yet, we seem to have eyes for what we lack, what we haven’t been given.

I know this well.  Though I rarely complain out loud, were my inner chatter publicized, I would feel great shame. The time I spend envying, longing, wishing silently…that’s PURE complaining. Whom do I envy?  Those who SEEM to be doing and enjoying what I think would satisfy me.  Like traveling, living overseas.  (I’m a linguaphile.)

Is there hope for envy-addicts? Yes!  And I am experiencing it.  It’s called God’s School of Contentment. I’ve been a student in this training academy for decades, now.

The point is that this addiction has deep roots, so it FEELS like I haven’t made much progress.  My Father gently AND frequently hands me a new lesson. Like this week.

Today in the notes of my Spanish study Bible (one of my tools for acquiring Spanish!) the writers noted that ‘obeying the Lord tends to mean leaving off one thing in order to receive something better.‘  The passage in question was Abram’s leaving Ur, his extended family, the land and even the familiar pagan gods to go where THE one and only God was guiding him, to receive new land and descendants.

How did the Lord use that explanation in my holiness training? Immediately I saw that I am to LEAVE OFF the sinful, evil pleasure of envy, in order to bolster contentment with my lot, the circumstances which He has granted me.  (A corollary evil pleasure of mine is worrying, but that’s another post!)

Those Bible notes were anchored a few minutes later by a verse that ‘popped up’ in my Prayermate app – 1 Tim 6:6 Godliness with Contentment is GREAT gain.

And just how does God define the concept of contentment?  The Greek word is ‘autarkaa’ meaning ‘sufficiency’. Blue Letter Bible describes it like this: ‘A mind that looks at one’s lot and says: IT IS ENOUGH, what You’ve given me IS SUFFICIENT.’

Following that description I read one final thought that deepened my desire to practice this trait:

  • without this contentment I will do today’s deeds NOT as an expression of Christ’s all-sufficiency but in order to make up for some deficiency I feel.

So, same message from a couple of different sources.  To top it off, Regina, my spiritual reading buddy, sent me a Luther quote earlier this week. Scrolling through her texts I found it again: “To obey is better than……. miracles.”

Isn’t our Father good!  He doesn’t give up. He keeps after us to make us ultimately happier through holiness.  The obedience in view here, this day, is thanking God for my boundaries, my lot. Being satisfied, being content with what He deems best for me is part of that holiness training.

Does God care about the little things?

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“Oh, He is too busy running the world to care about this little issue of mine!”

Have you ever been politely put off by someone pretending to be humble?

Here’s the Truth – our God LOVES to take care of ALL our issues, cares, problems, burdens.  “Cast ALL of your cares on Him, for He cares for you!”  1 Peter 5:7

I’ll tell you a story about one of those ‘little things’ that my Father took care of yesterday and the bigger take-away.

It’s almost Thanksgiving.  We’re living in a rental house with a small frig. Family arrive next week to share the holiday.  I had been fretting on my inability to do any food prep and baking ahead of time due to the size of our freezer section.  Mike to rescue! He seconded my suggestion about buying a chest freezer NOW (instead of waiting until we move into our new house).  Relief!

Home Depot here in Huntsville had a sale. The freezer fit in the back of the Subaru. Mike set it up and turned it on. Monday, I happily purchased the $40 frozen organic turkey, along with some wild-caught Sockeye on sale, also frozen.  Placed them and some bacon in the new freezer.

But the next morning after working out in the garage, Mike reported that the turkey felt soft when he checked it.  Oh, no!  It had been solid as a rock when I purchased it the day before.  My mind flashed to all the rigamarole it would cause us, especially Mike, to have to load the freezer in the car, take it BACK to Home Depot…..et cetera. And when would he have the time to do that?

By God’s grace, I knew immediately what to do:  I handed the entire mess over to the Lord.

“Father, you tell us to cast ALL our burdens on you.  Handle this, please. You know I just spent a bunch of money and that I need a freezer. And how I had planned to do some baking this afternoon.  Help!”

Finishing my quiet time, I bundled up for my walk and prayed on and off during the 30 minutes. I continued to have a steady confidence that this was one of those tests and that the Lord would come through.  Entering the house, I hung up my jacket and took out my phone.  Following Nehemiah’s example, I formulated another quick prayer as I punched in the number for Home Depot, asking God that the manager would be in the store this early (8 am).

He was!  But first I had to go through customer service.  I really hadn’t wanted to explain the situation to the gal on phone duty, but she asked before connecting me to the manager.  Her empathetic response reassured me, “Oh, how awful! Of course, I’ll put you through right away to Drew.”

Drew grasped my situation immediately.  Asking a few questions, he assured me that he would send a replacement over as soon as possible.  By 9 am, I had a new freezer humming in the garage.  And praise be to the Lord!  Per Google, my turkey which had been kept cool over the past 18 hours but not frozen in the defective appliance, could be safely refrozen, if within 3 days.

With joy, I texted Mike to share the good news of how quickly God had worked. Furthermore, by 3 pm I had placed one baked item in my new and fully functioning freezer.

What about that corollary or bigger take-away from this on-time grace?

It’s this:  like all of you, Mike and I have a BIG need that we have committed to God.  We pray every day, asking for a resolution as well as the strength to endure and trust him in the meantime.  And our Father has seen fit to tarry.  Frankly, some days it’s a real struggle to hold on by faith to his promises as well as to remind ourselves of all his past answers.  We intentionally rehearse his goodness as we read about him in his Word and see hourly and daily evidence of his love.

So, in his very rapid handling of our freezer problem, I see reassurance from a loving and kind Father that he really does care about us. Through this quick supply of grace, it is as though he is reassuring us that he IS indeed at work in our big need. But that in his perfect wisdom, he has planned a wait.  So, we await HIS timing and continue to pray.  But not frantically, not desperately.

Oh, by the way, the next time someone thinks to put me off with a quip about God having more important things to do than handle a problem like a defective freezer, I’ll confidently say:

The one and only true, living and loving God cares about ALL that concerns me, AND you, AND the nations at war, AND the environment, etc. And compared to his GREATNESS, and from his point of view, all these problems are little items!

Discounting the current gifts from God

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There’s this ONE prayer and request that I keep asking God for.  It’s the ‘tugging on the Father’s sleeve’ kind.  That heart-filled longing that would consume me if I let it. Over the many years, I’ve learned to compartmentalize it somewhat.  Allotting it very specific time in my prayers each morning.  But I also pray when the occasional acute detailed need arises.

When I’m feeling strengthened by God, my prayers are statements of faith, attesting to God’s goodness and His sovereign control over all events. I KNOW for a fact that our Triune God is:

  • sovereign
  • loving
  • holy
  • wise
  • all-powerful
  • good
  • merciful
  • faithful

Those characteristics of our Father sustain me most days and nights.  I can leave this need in His hands.  But on occasion, there are those tearful prayers when along with David, I cry out:  How long, O LORD!

Like yesterday morning. I felt depleted and discouraged.  Will God EVER answer this request?  The tears flowed.  I had my notebook open and penned my lament. But as I dried my tears, a new thought arrived.

What if I am SO fixated on this one thing that God has not yet provided, that I miss the good gift He already has bestowed?

Like my sweet husband.  We’ve been married 38 years.  And ever since our crisis at the 20-year point, our relationship has been on the upswing.   That in itself is a gift from God.  But over the past year, Michael’s expressions of love for me have distilled into something even more pure and tender.  The notes he leaves me on our frig whiteboard are enough to make any wife cry with humility and gratitude.  How did I end up with such a choice life partner? Only by His grace, for sure.

So here is the new thought that I believe the Holy Spirit of the Father brought to mind yesterday after my Godward plea. I’m going to put words in His mouth:

  • Maria, are you SO fixated on wanting this one thing that you are missing My many gifts designed specifically FOR you, my beloved daughter?

That thought startled me!  What if God is answering my request for X with this other gift because that is what He KNOWS is best for me RIGHT NOW!  In fact, could all His gifts be what He has decided I actually need at this Kairos moment in my life, while I’m seeking X?

Does that mean He won’t ever provide my X?  Not necessarily, but that answer is beyond my ‘ken’ or knowledge.  I can’t predict if He will bring about my desired circumstance.  But He is my good and wise Father.  I can trust Him.  For right now, what He gives is enough.

The Holy Spirit left me with this final realization:

  • Maybe THAT is why our Bible teaches and reinforces gratitude over and over.

Since then, I’ve been pondering and reflecting on what I might have already missed or discounted from God’s hand.  What OTHER gifts has He given me that I have not even VIEWED as gifts, nor as an answer to my Big Request?

How about you?  How is God answering your heart prayers?

Psalm 107:1 ESV – Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

 

 

Praying, the physics of intercession and gratitude

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What do you pray for?

  • safety?
  • the salvation of family or friends?
  • a new job?
  • patience?
  • healing?
  • reconciliation in a marriage or other relationship?
  • wisdom for a difficult decision?
  • unity in your church?

I pray for all these things and more!

Recently, WHILE praying, God has been pinging me for my lack of gratitude for so many of His gifts.

Here is what has happened.  Every day, on my Prayermate app, a different ‘Unreached People Group’ pops up in my feed.  Here is a photo of today’s UPG on my iPhone:

Prayermate Image  If you look at the % Evangelical of these people, the Shixing of China, you’ll notice that percentage-wise there are NO believers among that group. None!  That stuns me.  But more than being sad for their lostness and eager to pray that someone WOULD share the Gospel of the one, true God, I feel a deep conviction of how little I value MY salvation.

These 3500 people are locked into fear and superstition and a future worse than their present conditions.  Yet, I, by God’s grace have been given the most valuable gift anyone could want – God’s Holy Spirit presence with me right now, because of the Cross, and a future with Jesus, face to face.

So, what’s wrong with me?  Why am I not stunned by His grace, past, present, and future?

Two days ago, as I pondered and prayed for a people group currently imprisoned in darkness, I thought about ALL my prayer requests, not just the ones for others’ salvation.  I realized that each person’s request could be paired with multiple examples of God’s past provision TO ME of the very same grace I was begging God to give someone on my list.

For example, one son and his wife were traveling home from a trip this past Saturday.  I prayed for their safety.  Then the Holy Spirit reminded me of how He had brought Mike and me home safely only 3 days earlier.  I quickly thanked the Father for that, with a sudden rush of gratitude.

What I am beginning to confess is not just blindness to God’s hourly goodness in my life, BUT a pathway to NOTICE, NAME and EXALT Him for all His benefits and gifts.

I’m a language teacher, not a science person.  But even I recall something about Newton’s laws of motion. His 3rd law goes like this:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

So if I’m obeying God’s law or principle, then each time I ask Him for something for someone, that request should generate the equal and opposite act of gratitude for having met the same or similar need in my life.

Here’s one small illustration of how I put this insight into practice today as I was preparing to leave home for school.

  • Initial action: Father, please give my husband your peace this day as he works from home and keep our house safe.
  • The opposite and equal REaction: Father, thank you for protecting our house through the night.  No trees came down on it, despite all the rain we have had over the past 2 weeks. Thank you also for how you are growing my husband, through Your Word, to depend on You when problems confront him.

My hope is that by praying according to this ‘Law of Physics’, which is a principle our Creator God set up, that my eyes will focus more readily on all the gifts He gives me hour by hour.  He really does ‘load us with blessings’ each day.  (Psalm 68:19)

I repent of time lost to praise Him.

 

 

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