First the heart, then the actions

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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

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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?

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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

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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!

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!

 

Are you up to the task?

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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?

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

Goals – do I set any? or what!

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Part of my family is entrepreneurial.  My son and his wife run on-line businesses.

Recently during Thanksgiving Shay, my daughter-in-law mentioned that as soon as they returned to Tampa she would be heading off for her annual 24-hour-away solo planning meeting to evaluate the year, set business goals, and create strategies for working toward those sales and growth targets.

No matter which industry you’re in (I taught secondary school French for years), planning is essential.  You can’t just wing a project and expect the same kind of outcome that is attainable through measured steps.

Since October, I’ve been searching for a Biblical goal, a Jesus-centered capital-G goal for my life (or this next year), one that transcends the narrower aspirations such as building more muscle mass, acquiring proficiency in Spanish, spending less time on my phone/with my laptop, eliminating rushing.

What drives my desire for ONE Holy-Spirit-powered goal?  Chronic anxiety, occasional feelings of being unsettled or splintered, and a struggle to hand over fears.

I’ve been trying on different goals for size.  Such as:

  • The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself as love (Gal 5:6b)
  • Breath mantras about God like: “His good, my peace”
  • Creating a habit of noticing beautiful aspects of life and creation and thanking God at the moment.

Monday of this week, I finally confessed to Mike all my anxieties ‘du jour’ and asked him to pray for me.  It was cyber Monday, and with Christmas approaching I was feeling VERY scattered, like Martha running around the house, as she attempted to multi-task her way through the day.

Then Tuesday morning, during my quiet time the Holy Spirit dropped THIS thought into my heart:

  • Since I am going to be spending the majority of my life (read: forever!) in heaven with the Triune God of the universe….
  • Since I am IN FACT an adopted daughter of the Father as well as Jesus’ little sister……

…should I not be PRACTICING MY ROLE, MY LINES for living eternally right now?  After all, in one sense, I already AM ‘above. It’s not like I need to pretend some thing that isn’t true. For we read in Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae:

Colossians 3:1 Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Jesus’ little sister!  This thought captivated me. Yes, I AM His sister.  Then came the empowering breath of the Spirit:  “Well, Maria, if you ARE Jesus’ little sister, how about starting to ACT like who you already are!”

There it was – my goal. So simple. It claimed me.  Immediately and at various times yesterday AND today, I have been reminding myself:  ‘You’re Jesus’ little sister.  So, act like it Maria!’ That prompt is all I have needed to send the anxieties running.

How have I translated my eternal identity into concrete living?  For one, I immediately have taken a deep breath and relaxed.  Jesus never rushed. I certainly won’t be rushing in heaven. Might as well start practicing moving at HIS pace now, on earth.

The corollary to NOT rushing is taking time to be with the people I encounter during the day.  Yesterday that looked like: noticing and engaging gently with an impatient man in the grocery check-out line ahead of me at Kroger.  Today, it was sitting in my car for 30 minutes chatting with a friend after we picked out granite for our new house.

All I seem to need to pull back from stress is to say out loud to myself,  “I’m Jesus’ little sister.” And Holy Spirit calm settles on me.  Then I look up to see whom I might encounter.

The cool thing is that yesterday at lunch time Mike texted me writing that he had just prayed again for me to feel less scattered.  I rejoiced to share with him how the Lord had used his prayer for me.  Then I reminded him that he also is Jesus’ younger brother.

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!

Is Jesus enough for me?

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Elkanah had it right!  Do you remember his question to his wife, the wife he loved most, the wife who was barren? This was the childless wife, Hannah, who wanted to have children of her own.   The OTHER wife, the fertile one, ‘her rival’ as the text renders it, used to taunt her sister wife about her lack of kids.

One year, when the entire family made their annual trek to Shiloh to sacrifice and worship to the Lord, Elkanah addressed Hannah’s sadness and said:

……“Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons? 1 Sam 1:8

We women often smirk at Elkanah’s remark, belittling him for his apparent oblivion of Hannah’s desire to be a mom.  Justifying our reaction we also point to the heightened value of children in that culture and concomitant stigma assigned to those unable to bring forth life.

I thought of Elkanah this morning when I lingered over Charles Spurgeon’s morning encouragement:  Spurgeon’s am thoughts – 27 April 2019

Specifically, he writes about God:

  • He can supply you with all, or, better still, he can be to you instead of all.

When I read that, I stopped and immediately thought of Hannah’s husband and his response to her sadness. Could it be that Elkanah is a type, pointing to Jesus, not only the provision-supplier but THE provision Himself?

Convicted, I suddenly saw how I tend to go to Jesus more for what He can give me, rather than simply for Himself as my satisfaction.  That is to say,  I go to Jesus to get ‘bread’ – my specific stuff that I ‘need’. Recently those needs have centered around:

  • guidance about how to live as a newly un-employed woman, sprung from a life of hustle and rush
  • direction about what to do with my English language videos I’m producing since I don’t ‘have’ to make money now
  • help and encouragement for family members and friends who struggle with suffering, fears and doubts

But this is a new thought. Maybe Spurgeon and Elkanah are saying: Yes, for sure go to the Provider for what you need. Always.  But don’t stop there. Think bigger! Ask for what lasts, for you and for those whose needs you lift up.

Could it be that our various necessities have an expiration date, that they won’t EVER be enough, lastingly?

That, the temporary provision is going to have to be replaced with still more short-term supply, ad infinitum?

That Jesus offers not just the daily, hourly particular nuggets of grace, but Himself, the Bread, the Water, the Light, the Life that really satisfies?

These are new thoughts.

Maybe we really CAN trust Jesus when He says: Seek primarily, most of all, before anything else, the Kingdom of God and my righteousness. (Matt 6:33)

For then, THROUGH Him, IN Him, BY MEANS of HIM we can see how to think about everything else.

Elkanah was speaking more truth than I ever have given him credit.  I’m going to put his name on my list of people I want to meet in heaven.

 

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