The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms… Deuteronomy 33:27
We’ve just returned from our annual staff retreat where, after prayer times, we were given a variety of activities from which to choose. At our beautiful retreat center in the Texas Hill Country, the staff has erected “The Screamer” whose name was not at all attractive to me. But I decided to see what there was to scream about, not sure I wanted to participate.
We approached a flat pasture where two telephone poles were erected with cables stretched from side to side and another cable falling to the ground. The idea was to get into a harness, be lifted up to the top by one’s friends, and then release a cable that allows “the screamer” to swing back and forth between the poles while making a descent.
Typically, I do not like heights. Yes, as a teen I climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty and I’ve soared down tall mountains on skis, but I don’t like teetering on the edge of a symphony box and looking down at the seats far below. I do not like heights.
But there was something different about this challenge. Trusted specialists had erected the course; trusted friends would strap me into a harness; the trusted camp director would himself hook me onto the cable; and trusted friends would hoist me into the sky screaming, “You can do it. Go, Marthe.” And so, I did. When I got to the ceiling of the clear Hill Country sky, I looked below and saw my friends laughing and smiling. I released the cord and found myself soaring. I flew in circles, and I swung between the poles. Effortlessly, I glided through space until I found myself in the arms of those who were waiting below.
Camp materials state that this kind of experience helps campers build trusted relationships, develop confidence, and promote a sense of being rooted, among other things. For me, someone who doesn’t like peering into the Grand Canyon, I was given a concrete example of what trust is all about. In no way could I have helped myself while I was suspended in the sky, but my friends were ensuring my safety AND my enjoyment.
Trust is not just about having faith in our friends, but, ultimately, it’s about having faith in the One who never fails. When God calls us to a situation, he’s the One who fits us with the protective gear we need (Eph. 6:11-18); he’s the One who has created the environment into which we are thrust (John 1:3); he’s the One who holds the rope that keeps us from wandering into danger (Isa. 41:13); and he’s the One who watches, cheering us on, ready to encircle us with his loving arms (Deut. 33:27).
Would you like to take a ride on “The Screamer?” You’ll learn a lot about trust, about protection, and about everlasting arms ready to enfold you.
Father, thank you that in you there is ultimate confidence, protection, security, and everything we need for this life. Help us to let go of everything that limits us and put our trust in you. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
For when I am weak, then I am strong. II Corinthians 12:10
Recently, I was with a mission team in Guatemala in the most beautiful setting of tropical flowers, mountains, lush foliage, and cool temperatures. The surroundings couldn’t have been more pleasant. In directing the team, however, I became frustrated with the tiniest of logistical matters, and my annoyance began to build. I continued throughout the evening through dinner and meeting time, but alone in my room, the self-recriminations began. “Why wasn’t I more patient? Knowing that God was in control, why hadn’t I just relaxed?” And on the criticism continued.
Suddenly, but quietly, it seemed that God assured me that he was still in charge, and my frustration only ensured that I was not. My weakness reinforced my extreme need for God at every moment of my day, especially when I thought I was in control. My flaws highlighted my dependence on God for his grace, his mercy, and his strength. With that sweet reminder, peace returned.
Back home, in hearing about our trip, a sweet friend, Bob, gave me a sonnet that spoke deeply to my spirit. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:
The glorious revelations you’ve bestowed,
Ineffable displays of holy light,
Call forth my joyful praise in sheer delight,
A foretaste of my heavenly abode.
Then why this ceaseless thorn, this painful goad
Of Satan? Why not spare me pain, the blight
Of persecution, malice, danger’s fright?
From what strange stream of love have nettles flowed?
“Sufficient is my grace for you: indeed,
My power is perfected when you’re weak.
Will you for your own feeble prowess please,
When bankrupt weakness brings the strength you seek?”
Now insults, hardships, weakness are my song,
My joy: for when I’m weak, then am I strong.
(D. A. Carson. Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century)
Father, thank you for your regular reminders that you’re God and that we’re not. We live and move and have our being in you. AMEN.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8
John, a carpenter, was invited to go to Honduras with a mission team. He was so moved by what he saw and experienced that he gladly went again. And again. Finally, on his fourth mission, his wife Helen joined him. Both Helen and John found themselves strangely touched by the people and work they did in a place that soon didn’t seem so foreign.
When the middle-aged couple returned home, they began praying and seeking God’s direction. Two of their four children were married, and the other two were in school. And yet John and Helen felt called to leave everything and give their lives to minister in the mountains of Honduras.
I asked Helen if it was terribly hard for her as a mother to leave her children and home to serve in a country thousands of miles away. Her eyes misted, and she nodded. She said that at first, the two young ones were angry, but they were well situated in university. She and John knew they had to follow where God was leading them.
They began working in a medical clinic with logistics and administration, all the while saturating their days with prayer and trust. Through difficult times John said God continued to challenge him with, “Can you trust me?” They stayed the course, relying fully on God’s provision, grace, and guidance.
Today their children, all grown by now, visit and say, “We’re so proud of you.” They get it and now have their own walk with the Lord. The clinic has grown and has 16 staff members including doctors, medical specialists, and technologists. Thousands of mountain people are served every year, and many of those come to know Jesus.
Because two people decided to give away their lives to follow Jesus.
Father, open our ears so that we may hear your call, and give us courage to trust your leading. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. Song of Solomon 2:11,12
Driving around my neighborhood, I see people out in the yard with trays of annuals, pyramids of fresh soil, and garden tools strewn about. There are printed signs in other yards that declare a renovation project is about to begin. It looks like everybody is ready for a fresh beginning.
I don’t know where to start. Should I work on the front courtyard with its large decorative pots? Should I go to the back garden that needs a touch of color? Would I be better served by just giving everything a thorough cleaning? A new season of nature provides the opportunity for us to give everything a fresh look. And any day can be a new beginning in our spiritual lives.
I love Paul’s admonition to “forget those things which are behind and reach forth unto those things which are before” (Phil. 3:13). Our spiritual lives also have seasons—what about moving into a time of spiritual renewal, of letting go of the past (even the good things), to see what God has for us at this time? He has already said that “goodness and mercy will follow” us all the days of our lives. Essentially, our past failures are graced by him, so we can let them go. And in letting go, our arms are open to embrace this new thing that he wants to do in us.
Might God want to heal those wounds that we’re not quite ready to release? Do you remember the man at the pool of Bethesda who had been ill for thirty-eight years? He kept coming to the pool hoping he would be cured, and then Jesus asks him a curious question, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6) Could it be that his illness became his point of identity just as our pain and suffering single us out? The man had to make a choice—give up the known for what faith had to offer. Jesus asks us the same question: “Do you want to be made well?” Do we want to become whole in him so that the attention (and glory) move from our pain to his plan?
In this new season, might God want us to forgive that grudge we’ve nurtured for decades? We all know the futility of unforgiveness, and yet we sometimes cling to wrongs from ancient history. (I remember Catherine Marshall’s writing that she had to forgive Henry VIII for his villainy.) Forgiveness is a good thing to practice in this new season.
Forgetting the past and pressing on to God’s promise for the future… Spring is a good time for new beginnings. We are new creations with the Holy Spirit constantly working in us to make us more like Jesus. Why not put away all those things “that hinder and the sin that so easily entangles” (Heb. 12:1) and joyously move into a new beginning?
It’s about time.
Father of all things, we ask that you help us to get rid of everything past that hinders us from moving into this new season with you. We don’t want the tiniest thing to hold us back. Strengthen us with all goodness to live in you and to do your will. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.