There’s been a ‘heat’ wave and my leaf is still green!

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Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. He is like a tree planted by the waters that sends out its roots toward the stream. It does not fear when the heat comes, and its leaves are always green. It does not worry in a year of drought, nor does it cease to produce fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8 Berean Study Bible

Are things ‘heating up’ for you? Is trouble brewing?  We’ve just passed through that feast day when families gather, some happily and some reluctantly. Often mixing with those we don’t regularly see except at Thanksgiving can produce sparks that ignite as surely as rubbing two sticks together.

When Jeremiah’s words popped up in my Prayermate app earlier this week I lingered a while connecting God’s words with what Jim, our associate pastor, had emphasized on Sunday. Wrapping up this fall’s Sunday School journey through Paul’s encouraging letters to the Thessalonians, Jim emphasized our absolute need to meditate daily and deeply on Scripture.  His exhortation included imploring us to pray for our pastors and missionaries that they would do the same.  For how can we hope to endure as believers and encourage others in the faith unless we……stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 NIV?

Last Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, I saw first-hand the blessing in standing firm, a growing ability due to years of lingering leisurely over God’s word. So, what happened?  Just some ordinary ‘heating up’ right before our families arrived that could easily have thrown me for a loop.  Satan lost this skirmish to manipulate circumstances toward his evil plans.

We had hosted friends for 2 nights the weekend before Thanksgiving and I was tired. I had a day and a half turn-around time to get the house ready, to stock the kitchen and catch up on some tasks foregone during our friends’ visit.

Even when our friends were with us, I continued feeding on God’s word.  Company, cooking and other tasks weren’t going to stand in the way of what I look forward to. I always need time each morning to reset with Jesus.   So, on Tuesday morning, after reminding myself that ‘God’s got this’ and ‘He is my sufficiency’, I set out for Kroger’s, my favorite grocery store, to gather all the food we needed for the eleven of us.  A shortage of baggers, time needed to hunt for one-off items and a plethora of holiday shoppers stretched my normal 45-minute shopping trip to 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Only by grace, could I practice patience, frequently reminding myself that ‘All this serves my eternal good’.  I was even able to rejoice when I maneuvered that overflowing, heavy cart toward my car, for I thanked God that it wasn’t raining! Furthermore, no egg cartons fell off nor did cherry tomatoes make a break-out run from their plastic homes.

The Tampa family was due to pull in between 4 and 5 that afternoon.  After putting everything away, I wanted to get the Coq au Vin prepared and set to ‘warm’ in my Instant pot so I could be free to enjoy these dear ones.  But another probe from Satan materialized. The chicken stuck in the Instant pot and started to burn.

I immediately unplugged the pot and released all the steam that had built up. As I transferred this rich chicken-wine-mushrooms and thyme goodness to a regular pot on the cooktop, I reminded myself, ‘This, too, serves my eternal good’.

In the past, I’ve given in to self-pity many times when situations heated up.  But thanks to the Lord and his word, my leaf remained green.  Rising early to feed the cats and make some coffee, I refocused on Jesus and refreshed myself each morning in God’s word while our families slept to at last 8 am.

A week has passed since Thanksgiving.  Looking back, I can see how God showered so much grace on us, including protecting Gizmo, our kitty escape artist.  I found out later that in the confusion of 4 extra adults and 5 kids, he did manage one time to get out the back door. Somehow, someone succeeded in catching him and returned him to the house. Grace!

This morning, God added a PS to last week’s grace. Our microwave popped, hissed and went on strike, refusing to re-heat my coffee.  My first thought flew right to God and the grace he showed in delaying this microwave failure by one week.  We used that microwave SO much preparing, heating, melting, reheating food and liquid as we feasted all week.  Furthermore, ALL the appliances, the gas fireplace, central heat and the hot water worked perfectly.

What encourages me more than God’s grace is how I see the blessing of this practice of slow meditative Bible reading. Fruit such as confidence in God and his promises, patience and self-control come easier.  I rejoice in God’s goodness.

Spiritual fruit takes a while to show itself

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Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 ESV

I’ve been asking God for a long time to change my heart when it comes to how I view time.  I know full well that it’s an illusion to think of time as ‘mine’. As a Christian, I don’t actually own anything, whether material possessions, talents, the body I inhabit or the hours in a day.  I’ve known that in my head, but I don’t seem to have power over that kind of internal change.  And since God’s word teaches us that he, God, is the one who gives us desires, it seems logical to me to ask him to change my heart.

So, when I noticed a less selfish heart response one day this week, I felt encouraged.  “He’s really doing it; he’s changing my heart!”  But it wasn’t 6 hours later that my cheery demeanor evaporated.  This was the proverbial 2 steps forward – one step back, for the Lord humbled me, showing me how much holy spirit heart surgery remains to be done.

Last week I read the book by James Clear, Atomic Habits.  In an early chapter Clear described how the Chinese bamboo tree grows.  Apparently, if you plant a seed for this species of bamboo, you won’t see any green shoots for about 5 years.  No, your seed hasn’t died.  Growth has been happening steadily, but underground with the solitary focus of developing a foundational root system. It takes years to create a sufficient and extensive root network strong enough to support bamboo stalks that can tower 90 feet and higher.

Here’s what’s fascinating about this kind of bamboo tree.  One day, with no warning and after about five years of invisible but real growth below the surface, a shoot will abruptly appear and shoot up 3 feet in 24 hours!  By the end of a month, your Chinese Bamboo Tree towers 90 feet. Whoa!

Do you see why this plant example might illustrate how our faith grows? Jesus, himself, used the example of a large mustard. I don’t know how long it takes the tiny mustard seed to emerge, but a big tree will need strong and deep roots. 

You might know someone who has heard and received the gospel truth of what Jesus Christ did to save and redeem sinners. But you might not see any ‘fruit’, that evidence of a changed life.  Take heart, if your friend has been sitting under good teaching and/or reading his Bible, the roots have been growing. We humans simply tend to be impatient.  In many endeavors, when we don’t see the results we expect, we easily give up, resignedly concluding, “That didn’t work….I’m no good at…..he’ll never change!”  When all along, we didn’t exercise patience.

Back to my ‘growth’ in heart. The good news this week was when my volunteer shift at the local crisis pregnancy center went almost an hour longer than normal, I found myself unexpectedly NOT impatient.  I had no thought of, “It’s past lunch time, I won’t have enough time to do….” I simply felt pleasure in spending time with this late-to-walk-in gal who needed pregnancy and spiritual counseling.

I high-fived God on the way home.  The afternoon passed quickly with barely 30 minutes for lunch.  We had no food in the house since we had arrived home the previous night from a week out of town.  By the time I put away the groceries, it was practically time to start dinner prep. I started to feel sorry for myself.

When Mike passed through the kitchen, I remarked, “I’m almost finished with all the grocery sorting and storing and I’ve only had a short break all day!”  He remarked, “Are you feeling resentful?”  I wanted to deny that, but explained, “Well….maybe a little, because I’ve been so busy.”  When he explained he picked up on my tone, my pride was hurt.  I HAD been telling God it was not right to feel sorry for myself. After all, I had enjoyed ample time on our trip….but that was my head talking and not my heart.

After asking my husband to pray for my heart, I settled into the realization that God both encouraged me and gently scolded me, all in one day.  He’s still at work on my root system! More growth needed.

Do you have to know how He’s going to work?

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Phil 4:6-7  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  and the peace of God, which SURPASSES all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

God had already prepared me last week by focusing my attention on His term ‘surpasses’.  I spent quite a bit of time nosing around Blue Letter Bible to see just what ‘hyper-echo’ revealed.  Paul uses it 3 times to mean:

  • is vastly superior
  • stands above

What struck me was what God promises – in return for handing over problems and worries.  He guarantees nothing short of supernatural peace – quite the opposite of what we’re feeling as beleaguered worriers.  Moreover, He asserts that this holy peace of His brings us life-giving energy.  In contrast, anxiously wanting to know HOW and WHEN He’s going to work out the issues SUCKS away life and joy.

But human as we are, we WANT to see the provision, the solutions. Our minds race ahead, exploring options and play-by-play ‘if THIS, then THAT’ scenarios.

Getting back to how God prepped me for a bigger problem by means of this command cum promise.  Going into Friday of last week,  I practiced meditating on Phil 4:6-7,  how His peace counts more than knowing how He was going to fix 2 problems that have dogged me this summer.  Each day I practiced restating out loud Paul’s advice like this:

“Your divine peace is worth more than seeing or knowing how you’re going to handle these 2 issues, so I choose to leave them with You!”

Silly me – I thought God had opened my eyes to the value of God-sized peace for THOSE two problems.  But now I see that the gift of His insight readied me for Friday’s ‘surprise’.

Year 26 of teaching French starts tomorrow, Monday.  Typically I spend the day before we have to report for teacher workdays organizing my room and taking stock of class rosters and supplies.  Friday morning I walked into school around 9 am, carrying two bags of this-and-that. On the way up the steps, my principal fell in beside me and broke the news that only 3 students had signed up for level 1 French class.  I had heard from one of the 2 Spanish teachers that this year’s entering 6th-grade class was small.  With that information in my mind, I had figured a class size of maybe 8-9 instead of 12-15 as in previous years.

The news stunned me.  Only THREE?  Really?  Throughout the day I kept turning over the implications of such a tiny group.  The Holy Spirit did prompt me to text 4 friends who understand what it’s like to teach a ‘minority’ language in America.  They started praying.  And I returned to worrying and casting on Him and feeling sad.

The dark gray cloud sunk deeper into my heart, despite repeating Paul’s promise.  Joy-smothering heaviness lingered.  It felt personal, for I had taught most of the rising 6th graders in an Intro to French last year.  Students in our lower school study Spanish from Kindergarten through 4th grade.  In 5th grade, one of the middle school Spanish teachers continues with a semester of Spanish and I offer them a taste of French.  The idea is they can better choose the language they like or value to continue in Middle School.

I shared the news with Mike when I got home.  The pall lingered through the evening and dogged me during the wakeful night. The next morning my loving husband handed me an essay about waiting on God.  The author wrote from painful personal experience how these situations are exactly the kind that produces the fruit of patience.  Hmm….I had forgotten that patience is one of those 9 traits of holiness cultivated by the Holy Spirit.

If we really trust God’s goodness, then we can rely on and WAIT for Him to act, exercising patience by means of the faith He gives us.

A few hours later Mike followed up with a written-out specific prayer for me, asking God to give me supernatural patience and peace.  And God DID!

This prayer has SUPER-NATURALLY helped me.  In a tangibly different way, I KNOW the power that a believing child of God can access through prayer and have sent by the Holy Spirit to someone else.  It’s not that I FEEL any different.  I have been enabled to believe that God WILL indeed take care of the situation.  I don’t need to know the HOW or the WHEN.

Within an hour of reading Mike’s prayer for me and after typing it up for myself, my spirits lightened.  I regained my ability to think about other things.  What other things?

To be frank, thinking about ME, my concerns or the future is boring and life-sucking. So what is there to think about?  I’m tired of rolling them around in my mind.

Uncle Paul wastes no time in helping us there.  As soon as he describes the gift of God’s peace for those who off-load their worries, he tells us just what remains to be done, one final thing:

Phil 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (NLT)

Here’s what Blueletter Bible says about the Greek word Paul uses (dwell or fix your thoughts on) “This word deals with reality. If I reckon (logizomai) that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise, I am deceiving myself. This word refers more to fact than supposition or opinion.”

So, what about that small class? I’m going to wait and see what the Lord has in store for me and for the kids.  I don’t think this situation is something that He will resolve right away.  Lot’s of homework (i.e practice in relying on His Word and character rather than on circumstances I can see) and some pop quizzes are likely in store for me.  I know they are all part of God’s good plan to produce more fruit and Christ-like character traits in me.

I’m going to wait and see what the Lord has in store for me and for the kids.  I don’t think this situation is something that He will resolve right away.  Knowing God, He’s likely to have planned, just for me, lots of homework (i.e practice in relying on His Word and character rather than on circumstances I can see) and some pop quizzes. I know they are all part of God’s good plan to produce more fruit and Christ-like character traits in me.

But He is good and whatever He brings me is designed to ripen and multiply my fruitfulness, conforming me to Christ.

 

 

Don’t scorn patience

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“Don’t pray for patience, or God will give you many exasperating circumstances!”

Doubtless you have heard versions of that adage.  As true as it is, the one who utters it seems to do so with a tone of frustration and resignation as though having to wait were a curse.

A quote by William Gurnall, 17th century English pastor, recently arrested my attention and transformed my view of the fruit of patience.

Here’s the context for Gurnall’s teaching on the value of patience: What are we to think when God is silent after we pray earnestly an ‘acceptable’ prayer?

(Gurnall qualifies prayers as acceptable those tied to one of God’s promises and those that are offered from a ‘clean’ heart, that is a heart that has repented of known sin among other qualities.)

This pastor labored to persuade readers (or listeners to his sermons) to appreciate God’s delay in answering our prayers.

“Be patient, and thou shalt find, the longer a mercy goes before its delivery, the more perfect it will come forth at last…(then giving an example from Abraham’s long wait for a son)….when the date of God’s bond was near expiring, and the time of the promise drew night, then God paid interest for his stay. None gain more at the throne of grace than those who trade for tie, and can forbear the payment of a mercy longest.”

180 turn

Reading that quote the other day flipped my heart 180 degrees. All of a sudden I saw this onerous, groan-worthy quality trait as a priceless treasure God desires and wills to give us. But not as in, cut open my heart and pour in high-octane patience. Were it that easy!

No, instead, He sets out to offer me many, many occasions to wait on Him.  Whether:

  • at the grocery store or
  • for someone laboriously telling a story to get to their point or
  • the arrival of a job offer after multiple interviews or
  • for rain or
  • for a diet to work or
  • for a publisher finally to say YES!

Considering the payoff for this kind of inner strength, I now see the KINDNESS of God in giving us multiple opportunities to practice the skill of waiting on Him.  For what else are delays but God’s sovereign schedule of life’s events?  And what else is Biblical faith, but a treasuring of all that God is for us and all He promises to be in the future? Doesn’t that kind of faith require PATIENCE since we don’t physically SEE what is promised?

Does this kind of waiting on something in the future seem vague and like a discipline involving self-denial?  Then maybe shifting the focus to the reward will help.  Here are just a few of the many payoffs?   Consider some staggering promises of reward:

  • face-to-face seeing God (Rev 22:4)
  • renewed strength (Is 40:31)
  • compassion from God (Is 30:18)
  • food and satisfaction for all our desires(Ps 145:15-16)
  • all the gifts from God due us (1 Cor 1:7)
  • adoption by God the Father (Rom 8:23)
  • help and protection (Ps 33:20)
  • salvation from many dangers (Gen 49:18)
  • grace that is promised when Jesus comes back (1 Peter 1:13)

And if reflecting on some of these pledges of future blessing were not enough to help one see the payoff for patience, God brought to mind James’ motto for the ‘Saints Club’. Consider it PURE JOY my brothers when you face trials of various kinds….(James 1: 2-4).  Why?  because, as this apostle explains, trials grow patient, cheerful endurance in us.  The Greek term for that character quality is hypomone. Literally it means to STAY UNDER.

I take that counsel to instruct me NOT to fight the trying circumstance but to practice patient waiting, praying for God to resolve it or for it to resolve itself or for my God-dependent efforts to have their effect.  Whatever the outward action, the inner state of a follower of Christ is calm, patient, cheerful trust in God who ordained this particular trial and circumstance.

What is ‘driving you nuts’ that God is allowing or bringing back time and time again in different forms to GIFT you with patience? 

Keep your roots in good soil

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tomato-in-soil  The zucchini failed, the cucumber baby plants did not thrive, but our container garden yielded tomatoes.

These tomato pots have shown me over the past 4 months that if the soil is good, and God provides adequate sun and water, that is still not enough to produce a crop.

All vegetation, if it is to yield fruit, must have its roots planted in the soil.  That is crucial. (yes, I have heard of hydroponic cultivation!)

Aren’t we Christians the same?  According to Jesus, we will grow naturally, without working at it, if we are immersed in His Word, sucking up nourishment because it satisfies like nothing else.

John 15:4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I recently noticed in this verse that the verb Jesus uses is to BEAR fruit. We don’t GROW the fruit ourselves.  We just let fruit sprout and flourish.

As the Holy Spirit gives growth, He causes our new nature to develop characteristics like joy and patience, gentle responses and kind actions, to name a few.  This Holy Spirit fruit in turn feeds and fertilizes us, resulting in deeper and sturdier roots and an ongoing yield.

I like how the inspired psalmist described the process in Psalm 92: 13-14: 

Planted in the house of the Lord,
They will flourish in the courts of our God.
[Growing in grace] they will still thrive and bear fruit and prosper in old age;
They will flourish and be vital and fresh [rich in trust and love and contentment]; (Amplified Bible)

I’ve noticed some dying leaves on my October container plants, but I’m still getting salad tomatoes. How encouraging for all of us in a Western society that abhors and tries to hide from aging.  Since we don’t have to rely on ourselves to ‘add value’ we can relax and allow God generate all and any good yield.

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