Not my strength, but His

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I was thinking of my dad this morning while reading Isaiah 12.  Pop used to say as he was aging, “Maria, come lend me your eyes!” or “You’ve got young eyes, you be my eyes right now.”

That memory produced a new insight, a helpful distinction as I pondered verse 2:

Isaiah boldly proclaims some faith-building personal commitments. He reprises Moses’ words from Exodus 15:2 and announces joyfully for all to hear: “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” (Is 12:2)

The Spirit rotated the kaleidoscope of my understanding just a click through the memory of Pop’s words. Previously I have asked for and expected that the Lord GIVES strength. I’ve begged for me or loved ones to be delivered out of narrow dark places that shout NO EXIT!

But Isaiah and Moses don’t say that.  They announce that HE IS what they need. If that is the case, then they did not need to become strong themselves. They did not need to create their own song of acclaim and accomplishments.  They didn’t need to effect their own rescue.

That implies and means that normal is: 

  • Maria being weak, broken, tired and sometimes ill
  • Maria having no record of notable, distinctive accomplishments, but living an ‘ordinary’ life
  • Maria falling into pits, facing danger, getting stuck, wandering toward harm

I don’t have to TRY to be UN-ordinary. I just have to hang on to my Savior and stay in His arms.

Whew! Of course, in one sense, I already knew this.  Jesus says throughout the Gospels: I am the truth, I am the light, I am the life, I am bread…….not that He supplies them but that He IS them.

Reading God’s word and thinking about it day after day is what drives it deeper into our hearts.

Repetitio est mater studiorum. Repetition is the mother of learning.

Commands & promises that simplify life

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Parents mean well, but they can unwittingly burden their children.

My father was one of those ‘can-do’ men who had reduced life’s collective wisdom to short statements meant to both encourage and teach.  Some of this military man’s words of advice were:

  • Drive on all the way (Infantry motto)
  • Your wants won’t hurt you
  • Don’t borrow trouble
  • Do your best

That last one has caused me much grief.  Why?  Because I never knew what was my best. By what objective standard did one measure one’s best?  How would I know if I had reached ‘my best’?

There was one time in my life when I obsessively worked a side business while teaching school full-time and mothering 2 sons.  I almost wrecked our marriage, so driven was I for ‘success’ in that part-time fashion venture.

One week in particular stands out.  Push-push-push!  Striving to reach a sales goal in order to be recognized and applauded at the national sales conference one month later, I drove myself nuts (and probably the rest of the family!).  My dad’s motto about one’s BEST compelled me to keep making phone calls.  My goal consumed me.  I couldn’t rest.  That target named ‘MY BEST’ kept inching further away.

This past week, 2 verses have both grabbed my heart and resurrected painful memories of drivenness.

  1. Psalm 105:4   Seek the LORD and His strength, seek His presence continually
  2. Psalm 37:3  Trust in the LORD and do good

Yesterday was a difficult day teaching.  I dreaded one of my classes.  As I was walking up the stairs to the building, praying, I affirmed over and over again: All I need are the LORD’s strength and His presence.  God has commanded me to seek and pray for these things.  He must really want me to have them!

And He came through!  (why do I doubt????)

This morning, bracing for that same first-period class and sensing the familiar creeping dread, I recalled Pop’s adage about doing my best. I prayed for God’s strength and His presence; and the above verse from Psalm 34 came to mind.  Tim Keller in his devotional on the Psalms had reflected on that psalm the previous night.  And I had been encouraged by the simple command to ‘do good’ in the context of trusting/resting in God.

Far from being burdened by having to aim for my best, I felt relief flooding me.  One’s best might be the way of the world, the mantra of certain motivational speakers, but not the path that the Triune God teaches.

Prior to any effort or work God commands from us, He assures us in numerous places what He has already accomplished FOR us. (chose, created, sought, rescued, redeemed, and saved us). And in view of THOSE mercies, we are to TRUST HIM. For hasn’t He already proven to us that He is worthy of our trust?

How that command to trust Him relieved the burden of my dreaded class was in this way:

  • I don’t know what God is doing in the interactions between my class and me.  Most of the time I FEEL ineffective with them.
  • But I willed myself to trust Him, the all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful Sovereign of the universe.
  • And having committed myself to trust Him this day, I resolved to DO GOOD.

But what did ‘do good’ look like? For me, this morning, I taught French to my class in a way that was sensitive to their moods, abilities and comprehension and did not fret with what they gained from the class.  I did not take personally their bored 13-year-old faces or their chattiness about other topics IN FRENCH class!   I trusted God, did ‘good’ and let it rest.

This particular crop of students is weak. Their abilities probably don’t have as much to do with my skill as a teacher as I think. But God has placed me at that school with those children for His purposes. His plans are good and I will commit to being faithful in my assignment through the power the Holy Spirit gives me.  That is all He expects.

 

 

Exercising the right muscles….

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Weights

I don’t like working out.  Whether it’s with the weights above or just my daily trek.

In fact, I dread that strenuous cove walk here in the mountains of western North Carolina. Yes, it’s beautiful and the trees and birds point to God’s glory.  But the average incline is 13% and my route takes me up and down the gravel roads.  It never gets easier.

I thought about the difficulty of my daily routine, rereading that Hebrews truth (12:11)…

  • No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Boy, does THAT describe my early mornings – Unpleasant but worth it!

From that reflection, it’s easy to connect to God’s training plan for our character. He uses suffering and difficulties of all stripes to build up our faith and hope muscles.  Just look at what these many God-sent trials accomplish for us:

1 Peter 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

The 4 verbs listed are powerful encouragements to persist through the God-ordained ‘workouts’.  If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I love looking up the Greek or Hebrew words to help me understand God’s teachings. So here’s a glimpse of some of God’s many purposes in designing our suffering along with what He promises to do through or by means of the difficult times:

  • Restore – this verb sometimes gets translated as ‘to perfect’.  It means to kit out, equip completely.  Obviously I lack qualities God deems necessary and can only be given me through hanging onto Him when tested.
  • Confirm – you can see the ‘firm’ part of the verb.  Troubles endured in Christ are the means to set us fast, to fix or place us more ‘immovably’ than we’ve been.
  • Strengthen – means just what we think – to make us vigorous in our minds and hearts.  Think resolute and determined!
  • Establish – to ground, shore up the foundation.  Imagine a house being constructed in a hurricane or earthquake-prone area.  The structure of the building would be reinforced and enhanced to withstand intense natural thrashings.  We, too, need this kind of bracing that will not give out.  Strengthening trials ready us for greater ones, kind of like skirmishing with the Varsity team grows the JV team’s abilities.

Do any of us like trials?  NO!!!!

But just as you and I recognize the value gained from physical workouts, let us not fight the spiritual and emotional training that our good God ordains for us.  Besides, we have a workout partner meant to encourage us at all times.  This Comforter will bear us up when the struggles are too much.  The truth is, our faith grows best amidst storms.  Think of giant trees, windswept and battered, strengthened through the storms.  Think of pearls, formed by the irritating grains of sand within an oyster.

So, I say to you just as I have to remind myself: God means my circumstances for good. Fighting against Him just makes us tired!

The delight-filled duty of joy

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Do you realize that the God who created the entire universe, the one and only God,

  • is a happy God?  

 

If we are Christians, then we serve the Lord of Joy as His happy and glad ambassadors.

Dangerous Duty of Delight

 

John Piper’s book on joy

 

 

 

 

Once you SEE with open eyes that joy is both the fuel and result of biblical Christianity, then you can’t escape this doctrine.  The Bible is peppered with references to our joy, delight, pleasure and happiness in God.  Hebrew has several words like  ashar and simcha and sasson and the significant Greek word for this state of well-being is chara  (as in Acts 8:8 – there was ‘megas chara’ when Philip shared the good news of God who came to Earth as a man, aka the Christ)

Oil of joy

Here is how my morning thoughts have gone this week:

 

 

 

 

  • Focusing on what is permanent is healthier than meditating on circumstances, which in THIS world are always going to be temporary.
  • All the permanent facts of my life are AMAZINGLY and DELIGHTFULLY GOOD and HOPE-FILLED.  Nothing in my permanent future bodes ill!  It’s all going to be blessing.
  • My thoughts about permanent matters affect not only my moods, but how I relate to others.
  • If I am a Christian, then when I was regenerated, the Holy Spirit came into me and permanently, eternally altered my spiritual DNA.  The Holy Spirit is the archetypal agent of Joy.  I have Divine Joy, the 3rd member of the Holy Happy Trinity living with me, in me.  That gives NEW meaning to the assertion that the Joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10)
  • Joy of the Lord - butterfly

 

 

  • Part of my new makeup is gift – already imparted to me forever.  The Holy Spirit – God’s agent of Joy and Holy Happiness,  is both INSIDE me and around me.  Do you remember reading this fact? –  He has girded me with gladness (Psalm 30:11)

With all that God has done FOR us, He also trusts us and is training us to use some resources and tools that He now provides via His immaterial but living Word.  Daily we are to:

  •  prepare our minds for action. (1 Peter 1:13)
  •  PUT ON new clothes (Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.Col 3:12)
  • Strap on our defensive gear, especially the Belt of Truth –  the outer part of that permanent Holy Belt of Gladness – (Eph 6:14) 

These are some of my prayer-filled thoughts that I engage in each early morning before I face the world.   They sort me out. They encourage me. They help me remember that I am NOT my own but His.  I have a duty each day to be ready to exude, offer, shed, share, sprinkle and spill out that counter-cultural vibe of true joy that comes from the God who is IN me, AROUND me, THROUGH me and definitely FOR me.

Everyone is saddened and heavy-ladened with something.  Everyone needs a lift.  We believers are permanently connected to a universe of grace.  We have NOTHING to lose! So be gratuitous with your grace. Your Father in Heaven will beam.  He will not chide you for wanton waste of living water.  The world is thirsty!

Addiction and joy

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