Can we know God’s will?

1 Comment

For it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:13 Amplified

May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill your whole plan! Psalm 20:4 NASB

Have you ever prayed to know God’s will about a matter BEFORE you ‘did’ anything, before you took action?

I’ve only started first with God once in my life.  It happened like this.  I found myself at civil loggerheads with the other French teacher at my private school.  Thanks to a radically liberating workshop I had attended nine years into teaching, I switched how I taught French. I abandoned textbooks, grammar and spelling, typical emphases for language teachers.  Instead, I embraced helping students acquire French through comprehensible input. Presenting my students rich, varied, repetitive and interesting input in the form of stories and anything novel, I simply copied how we all learn our first language.

It’s natural, organic, fun and thoroughly engages learners.

It also threatens a traditional textbook teacher. My colleague feared that my radical change would slow her down in preparing students who started with me for the AP French exam as seniors.

I endured her pushback for several years.  But eventually, I knew that one of us would have to yield.

In September of my last year at this school I told God of my desire and asked him to reveal his will. I started praying for a sign. I had no idea how the Lord would grant my request, but I trusted that he would.  The ‘deadline’ loomed closer as we approached March, the month when contracts were to go out to those teachers the school wanted to retain.

I don’t remember being TOO terribly anxious.  Mike and I kept reminding our Father of this request. Frankly, it felt like a new adventure in trusting Him.

On Valentine’s Day, I received God’s signal.  I ran into Elaine in the hallway that day. “Maria,” she began, “you’re going to have to go back to using our textbook next year.  I’m losing too much time teaching what they should have learned with you.”  What is poignant is that my students were growing unafraid to open their mouths and speak French. Was it messy? You bet, but I expected that.  Could they conjugate a verb?  No, but they entered my colleague’s classes enjoying speaking French.

Back to my hallway conversation.  “This was it!  God just gave me a sign” With relief, I felt released to look for a new job for the fall.  I refused to teach the traditional way which didn’t serve my students well.  So, I would be the one to depart.

Experiencing God’s answer after months of waiting thrilled me even more than the answer.  Here was evidence, that if we wait on him in faith, he really DOES give us wisdom.

Here the Lord was affirming and opening up a path toward my heart’s desire: the freedom to teach the way I knew allowed learners to enjoy the process of speaking without fear.

Twenty-two years have passed.  I have once again asked Jesus what he thinks about a desire I have.  I have been praying and waiting for 4-5 weeks.

You know how much I love practicing languages.  My ‘monthly allowance’ for this polyglot hobby, my exercise class, nail and hair care and book habit is not enough.  Therefore, I have laid this issue before the Lord. I have asked Mike to pray that God would make clear if he approves of me proceeding with that desire. Afterall, he is the logical person to check with first!

Isn’t the Lord the source of our good desires?  I reason from Scripture like this:  if he gives me a desire, then he is going to fulfill it.  Probably not in the way I imagine, but in a creative and surprising form.

I believe that I received a greenlight nudge three days ago. Listening to a Spanish podcast while doing food prep, Pablo mentioned why people allow fear to stop them from trying something.  Suddenly, I felt the longing to embrace something larger than me, beyond my comfort level and ability so I would have to depend on Him.

I mentioned it to Mike that night and he concurred that very likely was from the Lord.

I continue to pray and wait. At the same time, I have opened a file to capture the practical ideas that are popping into my mind.  I don’t know yet where God is leading me by means of this desire, but I’m excited to find out. His word assures me that it is he who is causing my desire to do works that he has programmed for me.

Can one bite of God’s word sustain you for the day?

1 Comment

Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. Psalm 4:1 NIV The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer. Psalm 6:9 NIV

The message is not new.  We Christians are regularly exhorted to spend time with the Lord each day. Having one’s quiet time is held in high esteem.  For some people, this is easy to do.  If you have the time and you enjoy reading, it’s not a difficult practice to implement and maintain.  I have always loved my early morning time.  And these days, since all my work is as a volunteer, I enjoy the slower time with my Bible, coffee, notebook and prayer app.

But the pressure to keep up this healthy and holy practice sometimes has unintended consequences.  What first comes to mind is the temptation to turn this daily ritual into a checklist item.  Something you have to do in order to be considered a spiritual Christian.  ‘Whew, check THAT off my list!’ doesn’t foster a rich, meditative listening experience. 

I think there is potentially an even more insidious outcome that may ensue. Haven’t we all felt guilty when we can’t seem to keep this rhythm going? Who is not overwhelmed with the daily tasks and demands placed on 21st century busy people? That time with Jesus can easily get crowded out by good things.  Guilt and shame can follow.  “I must not be a good Christian because I either can’t dedicate the daily time I ‘should’ or when I do sit down with my Bible and coffee, I feel dry.  It FEELS rote.”

This morning I read a small devotional that mentioned the two verses above.  All of a sudden, I thought: ‘Maria, just that first verse is enough to chew on all day long. For someone super busy, if she took just one verse and brought it back to mind throughout the day, what a feast she could have!’

So, just how does one mediate on a verse? Let’s break down the first one from Psalm 4:1 into small bites: Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer

David is so direct with God. He doesn’t mince words.  He tells God, ‘Listen up!  I’m talking to you. I have a need.’

Next, he expresses confidence in the Lord.  He reminds God in essence, ‘I know you to be righteous.  I don’t doubt that you WILL hear me and help me.’

Next, we can discern that David has a specific problem in mind.  He feels distress.  He has an enemy or he is in a tight place with no visible way out. We all fall into distress.  Not just occasionally, but multiple times.

A woman I know from tutoring her young daughter in English lives in Moscow.  God has kept us connected since I taught Veronika.  When her son dropped out of university at the end of last summer, he had to enlist in the Army for 12 months.  Two weeks ago, he was sent to the front.  I never bring up politics or the news when I check in with her.  I usually find a verse and google its Russian translation and send it to her.  She is a mom who is in distress.  She fears greatly for the safety of her son. 

I thought of her this morning when I read Psalm 4:1. My overall prayer for her is that the Lord bring her, her son and young daughter to a vibrant relationship with Jesus through this distress.

Finally, once David shares his specific need, he asks for mercy.  He doesn’t tell God how to rescue him.  He simply appeals to God’s character. He knows how merciful the Lord is. And he trusts him.

What struck me this morning is that for those of us who have those seasons or days or weeks of too much to do, there need not be any guilt.  Simply take ONE verse, ONE promise or fact about God from the Bible.  Maybe write it out on a 3×5 card.  And direct your mind back to it multiple times a day.  Think it through and apply it to your life right now. 

That’s worth far more than reading three chapters and not remembering anything that you can take with you during the day. The point is to direct our thoughts toward God, toward all we have been given as members of God’s family.

So, eat to savor.  Don’t just swallow your spiritual food without tasting it over and over again.  Let’s be like cows who keep chewing their food throughout the day.

Does God answer all our prayers?

8 Comments

You do not have because you do not ask God. James 4:2 NIV

This kind of verse can hurt.  We all have those people and situations about whom and for whom we have consistently prayed, often pleading with intensity that the Father would DO something! It could be a spiritual change in heart for a non-believing family member so that he feels compelled to turn to God.  Or maybe a cry for healing or way forward where there seems to be nothing but one obstacle after another.

But sometimes we haven’t even thought to pray, to bring a need before the Lord. Why would that be? In my case, I think Satan has blocked me from seeing that we could add a need to our joint prayers at night.  And it’s not because I entertain a kind of pious-sounding false humility that goes something like this: “Oh, I don’t believe in praying for myself.  That feels selfish. Besides, God’s got bigger fish to fry!” Have you ever heard that from fellow believers?

Let me give you an example of something Mike and I never thought to pray for daily. We’ve been talking about his upcoming planned retirement in a year, if that be God’s will. He loves recording books and doing voice-over work. About three weeks ago, we decided to include in our evening prayers a daily petition for more voice-over work right now.

What do you know!  Last Friday, Jen from ‘His Productions’ contacted Mike with the news that another pastor had selected him from all the other audio samples on the company’s website to voice this pastor’s intros and outros for his planned teachings on the entire Bible.

Boom!  Just like that, more audio work.  That sure encouraged us to keep praying.

Three days later, I heard the good news of another answered prayer. Mike’s mom had been lamenting that her daughter-in-law never seems to want to hop on Zoom during her weekly catch-up call with Mike’s brother, her youngest son.  My mother-in-law was wondering if she had somehow offended this gal.  Mike and I added their relationship to our nightly prayers.

Not 3 weeks after we started praying specifically for Mom and Eve to connect on Zoom, I learned that the Lord had answered our prayer. Mom had been able to chat briefly with her other daughter-in-law on the most recent Zoom call with Steve.

My theory is that God loves to respond quickly to many of our ‘small’ needs in order to encourage us to persevere in prayer, to NOT give up counting on him to handle all those burdens that we off-load in obedience. For sure, we all have been praying for months and years about many situations.  But you know, if you think about all the ‘moving parts’, all the circumstances and timing that God is coordinating, then you can see that arrangements can take time.  There is a ‘fullness of time’ for everything we ask for, whether the answer is as we requested OR whether God changes us so that what we thought would be wise or good and right might not really be.  

I have to remember that Satan strategizes to get me to draw a false conclusion about God, one such as:  ‘Oh, God doesn’t really care….He’s far too busy….you might as well give up…. you don’t want to be disappointed…..maybe you misunderstood the Bible….did God really say?’

Remember the persistent widow parable Jesus used as a teaching point? It’s a ‘how much more’ scenario.  Jesus emphasizes that indeed our loving and righteous Father will respond, unlike that unjust judge who just wanted to get that annoying woman off his back!

Friends, let us not grow weary in praying!  We have a good Father.

First the heart, then the actions

1 Comment

Create in me a pure heart, O God, Psalm 51:10 NIV

Let’s face it.  Relationships are hard!  No wonder, since we live in a sin-saturated world.  After all, our perfect world Eden didn’t last long. Eve and Adam disobeyed God, breaking our world’s order and harmony forever. But instead of fix our world at that point, he set about fixing us, with the promise (future – dated for a set kairos event to come) to give us a new world, a renovated earth 2.0.

Back to difficult relationships and today’s focus on the heart.  Like you all, Mike and I live with some regrets and painful sadness about how our interactions with others have gone over the years.  Thinking about an upcoming visit with some family members caused me to worry this morning. I turned to a fresh page in my journal as I started scribbling down my thoughts.  I wrote in clear declarative sentences:  I feel anxious thinking about what we can do differently to reduce the awkwardness we feel around this couple. Even writing this down caused more angst.

I continued: How am I going to have the wisdom to know just what we should change in our interactions? And if God does bring something to mind and we agree about it and then attempt to implement it, that might make us feel even more uncomfortable resulting in us looking ‘pained’. Likely we’ll be so focused on monitoring our behavior and their response that it will appear like we are NOT enjoying them! 

I now felt worse than when I started to identify my worry. But the sweet Father gifted me with wisdom from above. He sidestepped the ‘what should we do, how should we act’ aim of my worry and presented a new and different approach.  What would happen if Mike and I directed our prayers not to relational tools, but instead asked God to purify our hearts?

I stepped further into this new idea and started to write, Father, you who swap out dead hearts for living hearts that incline toward you, YOU know how to get rid of all the junk in our hearts. It’s no big deal for you to drain away impurities such as: regrets, past hurts, memories of visits that did not satisfy, mindfulness of having to ‘walk on eggshells’, fears about what they think of us, disappointments, and unwelcome feedback that we didn’t see coming.

What if you really removed all that ‘yuk’ and replaced it with a heart totally filled with delight and love toward them? Wouldn’t they notice and respond in kind? Wouldn’t we all feel more natural?

All of a sudden, lightness flooded my whole being and the heaviness and sense of being weighed down vanished.  I realized that it’s not first a matter of deeds and actions, but the heart.  Out of the heart flow our actions.

We wouldn’t even have to game plan our responses and actions. What a concept!  We might actually be able to sit back and enjoy their visit AND look forward to it, as well.

I bet you have relationships that perk along quite naturally.  You feel comfortable with a friend or family member.  You don’t TRY to act a certain way.  You simply are who you are and it all works.

Of course, we can still hurt those who are this easy to love.  That’s why good friends still need to practice forgiveness.  We’re going to step on others’ toes because we’re sinners. Genuine friends aren’t afraid to say with soft and gentle directness, ‘ouch….that hurt when you said/did that just now!’.

Thank you, Father, for providing your wisdom from above.  Please, we ask you, do this supernatural work in us.  It feels like it’s impossible, but nothing is impossible for you.

What are the odds? – God’s big interventions in my life

1 Comment

So, keep and do them…….in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?’ Deuteronomy 4:6-7 NASB 1995

When I read and lingered over Moses’ words above, the Holy Spirit convicted me of my need to point to visible evidence of how the Lord has worked in my life.  People sometimes need to SEE tangible proof of how God comes through in this life, before they are ready or interested in hearing about how the Father changes one’s eternal future through Jesus.

All people, not just those who have yet to see Jesus for who he is, but believers as well need evidence of God working in lives of those who belong to him.

So, with this passage in Deuteronomy desire bubbled forth, causing me to want to make a list of at least 5 big divine provisions from our kind Father. I saw so many possibilities, but I’ve selected the following to encourage you.  

  1. The first time God directly answered a specific prayer request in a way that I knew it was him, was my second day at Airborne School in May 1978.  I was a 20-year-old ROTC cadet pursuing some army training at the end of my junior year in college. Much to my horror, I had failed the pull-up evaluation on the initial day of week one. If I didn’t pass the re-do, I’d be cut from the three-week class.  I wouldn’t earn those Airborne wings that I wanted. Not yet a believer, but knowing that prayer was my only recourse, I pled with God for help.  He came through.  A female airborne sergeant took me aside for the redo and passed me, with merciful leniency.   That was God’s unmerited favor for sure!
  2. His next rescue took years of prayer, interspersed with lots of despair and tears, before he gave me what I begged him for.  I had fallen into bulimia at 16. This eating disorder relentlessly pursued me.  Nothing I attempted worked. During the 9+ years I suffered, I was converted to Jesus.  Certainly, I had prayed for years before my second birth, but God waited.  About two years after coming to Christ, he provided the answer I wanted in a very creative way. He used the long months of my first pregnancy to break that binge-purge-remorse-resolve cycle.  Knowing I was carrying a baby provided a compelling reason to care for my body.  Even though I feared returning to that old pattern post-partum, God liberated me fully.
  3.  This next marvel from God surprised me.  I had to wait several years to see his divine and good plan in hindsight.  As a lieutenant, a full-colonel ‘fired’ me due to not meeting his standards. In my mind, he treated me unfairly. No amount of behind the scenes ‘Maria manipulation’ worked. A mere lieutenant has no influence! With one signature, he dispatched me back to a subordinate unit from which I had felt relief when he had brought me to his headquarters staff the previous year.  Here’s what is meant by ‘he planned it for harm, but God planned it for good’ (Genesis 50:20). Back at my old unit, my boss assigned me the ‘additional duty’ of managing the MP battalion’s million-dollar budget.  With no finance background, I learned a lot.  My follow-on army assignment added to that knowledge.  What played out after I resigned my commission stunned me.  I needed a job to support our family of three, for Mike worked a sales job on a 100% commission basis.  The recently constructed Monterey (California) Sheraton Hotel offered a job-fair.  With my budget background (but no accounting or business courses under my belt), I applied to be the Credit Manager/Accounts Receivable Supervisor.  They hired me, because no one else applied.  Pure God. I remarked to Mike, ‘So THAT was what being fired and being assigned budget duties was all about!’
  4. Further evidence of God’s goodness occurred when our marriage ruptured. Many tears, many prayers, godly counsel from biblical older women kept me trusting God and his ability to restore us, to change us. Six months later, we were still together, headed in the right direction, and learning about God’s best for how husbands and wives treat each other with love and respect.  Now in 2021, 41-years into our ‘adventure of one flesh’, we are more content, more joyful together than we could have ever imagined.  God has certainly used our sin and our suffering to grow us more into a godly and HAPPY couple.
  5. My final example today of God working marvels in my life is how he removed a physical affliction that dogged Mike for years. A sales position in his late 20s caused his body to go ‘wonky’.  Neither doctors nor meds helped.  This condition often ‘sombered’ our family life, as it drained good cheer from Mike.  One day, after about 27 years living with this ‘unwelcome member of our family’, my hairdresser suggested an anti-anxiety medication that had helped her. Mike’s doctor okayed it and miracle of miracles; Mike found relief! We knew this was a gift from God, in answer to years of prayer. We praised him heartily. Yet, 8 years later when Mike started a new job here in Huntsville, stress triggered the same condition.  We were dumb-founded. ‘Really, Father? What is up with this!!!’  We renewed our prayers, this time from a much deeper place of confidence in God.  A year later, slowly and in fits and starts, God began providing relief.  Today, Mike has been freed from this condition!  We often sing God’s praises, for he deserves all the credit. And he could bring it back if he deems it good for us.  We are learning, through suffering, to trust him more and more.

So, what about you?  What are your top 5 evidences for God, Ebenezers that you can point to, for strengthening your faith anew and as a tool to assist you confidently to communicate the good news about Jesus Christ?  Have some fun taking time to reflect and come up with a top-five list. Then share it with others.

Are you preoccupied with how someone else needs to change?

5 Comments

Be still, and know that I am God Psalm 46:10 NIV

I’m noticing a pattern among women, myself included. Often, we find ourselves in a desperate situation or worried about someone we love.  Well-trained as believers, we start praying for God to rescue us or the other person.

We faithfully keep praying and nothing happens.  Then we start questioning God: ‘What’s up with this?  Why are you not answering my desperate prayers? What I’m praying for is a good thing.  It’s not for money or fame or anything ‘selfish’ like that.  I’m asking you to do what the Bible records as your own desires, Father!’

I first experienced God’s silence, his apparent unwillingness to answer ‘a spiritual need’, when I was about 30. Living in England we worshipped at a local Anglican church. As we got to know people, we were invited to participate in a weekly house group.

I felt hungry to go deep into God’s word and to draw closer to him.  I can’t recall what caused me to think that Mike was less ‘spiritual’, but I vividly remember frequently tugging on God’s sleeve, so to speak, begging him to grow my husband’s faith.  Nothing changed.  I even started privately lamenting my unanswered prayers about him with a couple of mature women at church. 

Here’s the catch.  My tone when I would share why I was praying, sprang from a boastful position.  Picture in your head: ‘I’m so spiritual.  I just wish my husband would catch up with me!’

I know.  It’s awful.  I’m ashamed to pull back the curtain and give you a peak into my heart.  But it’s the truth.

It was a good 12 or 13 years before the Lord changed Mike.

Only in looking back do I see how my good Father first chose to straighten me out. I oozed spiritual pride. My heart was ugly.

Here’s my conclusion.  We can’t see or know all the details in our lives or those of others.  Only God does.  He is God and his point of view is from above.  You and I live horizontally; hence our information is limited.

A promise from Psalm 84:11 has helped me adjust my assessment of God and his slow or strange ways of answering our requests.  In this psalm he pledges that he will withhold NO good thing.

If that’s the case, then we are wrong to write off those events as ‘this should not have happened!’  What we deem as bad, horrible, painful, devastating, unfair, exhausting could actually be circumstances he deems good. These are circumstances that he has ‘planned to permit’, as John Piper notes. They are all for good purposes, plans that only the unique all-wise loving God of the universe knows.

Thinking about a friend whose husband seems to have walked away from believing God, I jotted down in my journal what she might respond to me about Psalm 84:11,

  • ‘But this is a good thing I’m asking God for!’
  • I reflected back to her on paper, ‘But maybe there is a better thing God wants for you or your husband!’

God says in Psalm 46:10 (with my paraphrase):  Stop fretting and worrying.  I am God.  I have the highest vista over this situation.  I know what I am doing.

The Bible teaches that God is providential, that he controls every subatomic particle in the universe and directs each one in a way that does not violate our free will nor inculpate him in sin. That being the case, then we must reason outward, starting from his word, not from our perspective.

My conclusion about answered prayer, based on anecdotal accounts and my life is that often we prideful women need a lot more holiness training than our men.  Our good Father loves us SO much that he will stop at nothing, even delaying ‘fixing our husbands’, to get us right.  When we’ve been ‘pruned, cut and cauterized’, only THEN does he turn his purifying gaze on our guys.

Don’t you want to get on with ‘it’ then? I know I do!

May we turn our attention (not our prayers) away from how much someone else needs to change and focus on becoming more holy, like Jesus. We can trust the Master.

The pattern of spiritual attacks

1 Comment

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!

Protection against Prosperity

1 Comment

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!

 

Are you up to the task?

2 Comments

Due to this pandemic-shift in my weekly routine I have more time.  One activity I have taken on is teaching 3 of my grandchildren beginning Spanish, via Zoom.  Two live in Florida and one in North Carolina.  Now, you have to know that I am only an intermediate-level Spanish speaker.  I’ve been working on acquiring Spanish, not yet two years. Being fluent in French has helped. God also has given me years of assisting kids acquire a language.

I do not FEEL up to this new task. But it’s not my limited Spanish that unsettles me, it’s my fear of not ‘being ENOUGH’ as a language teacher. I have doubts about creating and engaging my 3 students competently enough to hold their attention so that they both learn and enjoy Spanish.

This feeling of ‘not enoughness’, of not being UP TO the task is not new.  I struggled with that same sense of inadequacy during the 27 years I taught French.  I cannot remember one day when I ever approached my classes feeling confident in myself OR competent.  In fact, I had a love-hate relationship with this career.  On the days when a lesson would go well, I rejoiced and felt energized.  But a previous day’s success never translated into the expectation that tomorrow would deliver the same outcome.

I know I am not alone.  A pastor friend of ours ALWAYS asks Mike and me to pray fervently for the preparation and delivery of his occasional sermons.  Like me, he evidently struggles with doubts and fears about being ‘up to the task’, as do many others I can think of.

What about parents raising kids?  Do they ever have confidence in their ability to nurture, discipline and teach their children?  I don’t know a single mom who does! I never did, that’s for sure.

Mike, my husband, rarely feels self-confident.  During our 6 years in Western North Carolina, he would ask me to pray for EVERY radio script he researched, wrote and recorded, for EVERY article he composed for World magazine, for EVERY Sunday school class he taught, as well as for EVERY session meeting in which he took part.  Here in Huntsville, he continues to ask for and I know he depends on my prayers to our good God on his behalf.

One of our sons who is an Army lawyer texts us to pray for each court appearance and airborne jump he makes. We also pray for the weekly work, travel and parenting needs of our other son and his wife. They regularly share the tasks that face them that keep them ‘needy’.

So, I ask you, is self-confidence wrong or is it the norm?  Could it be there is something weirdly weak about me and the people I’ve mentioned?

Tabletalk, the devotional monthly magazine published by Ligonier ministries, reassured me this week that not feeling UP to it, to the assigned task, is normal.  Pastor David Strain wrote in his March 21-22 weekend devotional (page 57 of the March 2020 issue):

…..the infinite God…only (is) enough. (This doctrine of God’s infinity) reminds the anxiety-riddled introvert: “You are right to feel your limits so keenly. But you are wrong to think you should be up to the tasks before you.  You were never meant to be enough.  You were meant to live depending on Me. Only I am enough! My grace is sufficient for you, and My grace is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).”

What a relief!  No wonder I don’t feel up to teaching the kids Spanish.  I’m not supposed to.  That uncertainty, that fear is a gift from our good Father. He created us to be needy, right from our conception.

I love 2 of the looser translations of Matthew 5:3 where Jesus proclaims the poor in spirit to be blessed.

Contemporary English Version: God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven!

God’s Word© Translation: Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Is there no room for confidence in the Christian life?  You know the answer to that!  We put our confidence not in ourselves but in the One who is infinite, powerful, good, wise and sovereign over every one of us whom He created: whether rock, butterfly or human being.  What a relief NOT to depend on Maria!

What are YOU gathering?

1 Comment

Exodus 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.”

Do you collect anything? My cousin Darby for a while collected all things turtle.  My mom collected blue glass. I tend to collect quotes and interesting words. What that means for all of us collectors is that we keep our eyes open for what we value.  We’re always on the hunt.

No doubt you’ve heard the term ‘hunter-gatherers’. It’s a very logical title, isn’t.  We can only gather what we spot, what we notice.  Hunting, searching out something, is the precursor of gathering.

Last week I fed deeply at a conference for my denomination called ‘Refreshed – help and hope for those who are suffering.‘  My major take-away centered on how to pray more biblically for myself and others IN suffering.  (the key? – pray for what God promises to give us in suffering).  Beyond the main theme there was a side ‘nugget’ I picked up that intrigued me, and that was about gathering.

The wandering Hebrews in the above passage learned to hunt for the manna that they were to gather.  Their new habit collecting the white flakey substance lying about in the early morning depended on them looking for it.  Think of an Easter egg hunt.  When their sack was filled with the food substance, they took it back to their tents to bake or boil.

Constrained supernaturally to pick up ONLY enough for the day (and double the amount the morning before the Sabbath), God trained the entire population to depend on Him day by day for their life’s substance, for their food.

God provided, but they had to look for it.

That picture or example transfers so well to the fact of God’s promised daily mercies.  How so? Like the manna, God’s provision or mercies…..

  • are fresh and waiting for us in the morning.
  • and God requires us to scout them out, intentionally.
  • are waiting for us TODAY.
  • We can’t live without them.

How do I gather God’s mercies, His provision for the day?  First off, I trust Him when He says He WILL provide.  After all, He provided yesterday.

I search the Scriptures in my morning quiet time for mercies, through His word.  I DO look forward to my quiet time each morning because I feel so empty.  I long to feel satisfied by what I read in my Bible.  If the assigned portion of Scripture doesn’t meet that hunger, then I know that in my prayers or in Tabletalk, a devotional I read daily or in my current spiritual/ theological book, there will be something that is meant for the day.  Right now, I’m reading a Thomas Watson book on Romans 8:28, a gift from Regina!

In addition to God’s word, I have my eyes peeled for provision, for mercies sent to me through people or circumstances.  Our God is immensely creative.  I’ve made mention of this before, but once I really needed more time one particular school day. I was behind with planning or grading and from looking at my schedule, there was not enough space in the day to meet the need.  God provided by causing a hoax bomb threat call to my school. And after evacuating everyone safely, we all got to go home.  And I had enough time to finish the tasks.  THAT taught me the futility of worrying!

To close, think of Jesus’ prayer that He gave His disciples:  Give us our bread for the day –  a clear parallel to Israel in the wilderness who were given manna for the day.

Back to the title of this post, what are YOU gathering?  What are you hunting for each hour?  Or if you’re not, why is that?

 

 

 

 

 

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: