TRUSTING

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding… Proverbs 3:5

I often find that God teaches me through circumstances. I do trust him, and he’s faithfully guided me all my cognitive years, but still I sometimes wish he would just give me a brief outline of his plan prior to launch. I know trust is based on our relationship with a God who has never failed us, but it would be so much easier if he would confer with us on logistics.

This past week I was scheduled to be part of a team leading a retreat for missionaries in Guatemala. Our theme was “Trust,” and we’d all planned our presentations. Our airfares were booked and paid, our accommodations were reserved, and we were ready to go. And then the excruciating pain in my foot (a stress fracture) alerted me that I WOULD NOT be part of the retreat. Instead, I was the one assigned to retreat, rest, and listen.

That had not been part of the plan, and I was not consulted prior to packing or preparing my talks. When the ER doctor confirmed that my team would leave without me, I was relegated to immobility, rest, and listening. I was reminded that understanding typically occurs after the fact—when we’re quiet and when we’re open to God’s wisdom.

I remembered an event that occurred during my last annual church council meeting, which could have had severe consequences. We were doing a dramatic presentation of the Woman at the Well for the thousand or so church delegates. All the lights were off in the vast conference hall, and I was standing at a podium with blinding theater lights pointing in my direction. Slowly and as articulately as possible, I read John 4:4-42, a really long passage. When I came to the end of the reading, the lights were abruptly cut off to heighten the effect. What happened next would instruct me…

My task was to make my way across the platform, step down to the next level, and find my chair – in total blackness. (Whose idea was that?) I carefully slid my feet inches at a time, thinking, “What if I fall and the noise disrupts the flow? What if I scream as I break something?” The actress following me in full costume had already begun her part on the far end at the other side of the platform. I mustn’t make a scene.

I continued to slide my feet, carefully inching along the upper platform, wondering if the next step would bring disaster. And then a hand reached out of the darkness and grabbed me. An unexpected hand that had anticipated my dilemma and was there waiting for me. Santos (Saint, his real name) knew I couldn’t see and had moved to the edge of the step to help me and to keep me from falling. I could feel his strong grip, and I could sense his warm smile.

And that’s just what Jesus is like—knowing and anticipating those pitfalls ahead of us but also planning to be there to keep us from injuring ourselves. I hadn’t needed Santos at the podium or on the long slide across the floor. But he was there just at the right time, and he kept me from falling.

Father, sometimes I complain about your ways, but I ask that you continue to strengthen my faith and teach me to trust in you—however you choose to do it. You’ve saved me so many times, and you’ve promised to continue. In fact, you said you “[are] able to keep [us] from stumbling and to present [us] before [your] glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 1:24). Your promise is enough. AMEN.

CLAY POTS

 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. II Corinthians 4:7

 

Have you ever wondered why, in spite of trying so hard and being so sincere, we still sometimes don’t accomplish or don’t succeed as perfectly as we’d like? This passage from II Corinthians sheds light on exactly that dilemma. Paul says that the treasure of the Holy Spirit within us is housed in an earthen pot. It is temporal, breakable, and worth very little. It’s what’s inside that has all the value.

 

God led the prophet Jeremiah to visit the potter’s house and gave him a message. Jeremiah observed the potter as he worked the clay spinning on the wheel. But the pot that he was shaping was spoiled in his hands, and so he had to smash the clay together and begin all over until the vessel took on the image that he intended (Jer. 18:1-4). The potter had complete control over the pattern as well as the process. God asked Jeremiah if he couldn’t do the same thing with his people.

 

It’s helpful to remember that we are God’s workmanship. We are not the designer. We do not do the molding. We do not determine how we will be used. We are clay with the simple assignment of being still and lying quietly on the wheel as God fashions us. He doesn’t ask our advice, and he doesn’t need our permission. When his work is done, we will be perfect in his sight, and he will fill us with himself to be used for his purpose.

 

Let us simply be still, trusting God’s good work in us. He knows what he is about.

 

Have thine own way, Lord
Have thine own way
Thou art the potter
I am the clay.

Mold me and make me
After thy will
While I am waiting
Yielded and still.
(Adelaide A. Pollard)

 

Father, that shaping process can sometimes be painful. Help us as we trust your good wisdom and your love as you mold us. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

SLOWLY BY SLOWLY

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. II Peter 3:8

 

Ugandans have a wonderful expression, “slowly by slowly,” which we would probably translate, “little by little.” I, personally, prefer slowly by slowly, especially when I’m waiting for something to transpire. When it doesn’t happen within my timeframe, the days and weeks can drag on and on. The image of time as a snail precisely expresses my attitude as I wait for God’s intervention.

 

The faith walk can be described quite accurately as “slowly by slowly.” God gives us a word or direction, and we can often expect fulfillment just around the corner. Truth is frequently just the opposite. And sometimes it may seem that God doesn’t respond at all to our cries.

 

God promised Abraham a son; he waited twenty-five years for Isaac’s birth. Joseph dreamed of ruling; the reality occurred about thirteen years after his kidnapping. The Children of Israel were told they’d be returning to Canaan; after 400 years of slavery and then forty more years of wandering, they finally reached their homeland.

 

The people of Israel believed for centuries that God would send a Messiah, but for so many, that promise was never fulfilled because Jesus came in a form and with a mission they couldn’t accept. Paul strongly desired to go to Rome. That wish was granted, but Paul made his journey as the Empire’s prisoner. God is sovereign.

 

God’s promises are true, and he is faithful, but he doesn’t operate in our timeframe or according to our human schemes. The distance between promise/prayer and fulfillment/response is determined by God’s wisdom. We may mentally acquiesce that “his ways are higher than our ways” (Isa. 55:9), but we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed with disappointment when his time and methods don’t concur with ours.

 

Walking by faith is just that. God speaks a prayer to our hearts or a word to our spirits and then asks us to trust him for its fulfillment. We pray for perfect healing; God answers by taking our loved one to perfect health in heaven. We ask for a loan; God gives us a grant. We ask for more grace in a difficult relationship; God removes that person from our lives. We ask that God does whatever is needed to bring someone to himself; God answers in ways we’d never imagined.

 

Slowly by slowly, step by painful step, through dark and perilous passages God asks us to trust his profound love and to walk with him. He asks us to trust that all his plans for us are good and that all things will work together for good (Jer. 29:11, Rom. 8:28). And while we lean and trust, we learn and grow. We shed much of our self-assurance and those selfish attitudes that lead us to trust ourselves more than our loving Father who is using delays and his methods to make us more and more like him and more and more dependent on him.

 

“My times are in your hands” (Psa. 31:15). Give him time to work out his perfect plan. God is never too slow and never late.

 

Father, strengthen our faith and help us to walk confidently with you even when we don’t understand your timing and your ways. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

PERSEVERANCE

 

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

“The Life of Pi” is a work of fiction, but the hero, Pi, is remarkable in the intensity of his determination to survive shipwreck while sharing a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. And Pi is still a teenager. Through months of fluctuating weather patterns, blistering heat and freezing nights, not to mention emotional roller coasters, Pi focuses on a solitary thing—survival. (You’ll have to read for yourself to see how it ends.)

Our lives, in a sense, are a story of survival in a hostile environment that does not seek our well-being. We, too, live with emotional highs and lows; with political and cultural storms; with relational fragility; and with instability on all sides. In only one place do we find security, survival, and that is in Jesus Christ.

When Jesus left his beloved disciples, he’d only given them a three-year crash course in surviving. He’d laid out the basic rules—primarily, just two rules: love God and love each other—and he’d said, “Do what I’ve done the way I’ve done it.” FOLLOW ME. And then he left them to work it out (Phil. 2:12). Life would be always accompanied by death (to the world and the flesh), and the way would be narrow with hazards. The cup would be bitter.

They would reach the Father’s house by persevering every day, every hour, and every moment. Paul would later say in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (ERV), “We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We often don’t know what to do, but we don’t give up. We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed.” Paul calls this a “light affliction” and knows that all the things that sometimes weigh us down are not eternal. And so we persevere.

Persevering is not relegated just to spiritual giants. Any of us midgets can call on the power of God’s Spirit to keep going. It doesn’t take intellect or charisma to keep going. All it takes is determination to be faithful to God; to trust his promises; and to know that he will not fail. We put one spiritual foot in front of the other, and we take another step and then another.

He empowers us to persevere, to not give up, to keep going. And we will reap.
Father, may we keep our eyes firmly fixed on you, holding your hand, and following to the end. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

CHILL

 

“Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today…” Exodus 14:13

 

I’ve been mulling over a situation that has caused substantial grief in my world. Some of us have acted in ignorance; others have been wounded; there are those who have been misunderstood; and all of us are grieving. I’ve spent time and prayers trying to discern God’s way to healing and peace. I’ve walked around with a heavy heart and a determination not to make the issue a topic of public discussion.
For days I’ve carried this weight. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t roll it on the Lord, but I did. And then I tilted the prayer so that it rolled right back on me. How could I possibly resolve an issue I didn’t create but in which I was inadvertently caught up? And so I turned this about in my mind for too many days.
I’ve continued to pray and to ask our Father for a way forward. This morning, I read, “This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged… For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (II Chron. 20:15). For days I’ve been wrestling with this divisive issue and not finding any way to turn; then God speaks. “This is MY battle, not yours. Release the worry, the concern, your impotence, and trust me.”
How many battles did the Children of Israel face that seemed insurmountable? There was the crossing of the Red Sea under Moses; the capture of Jericho under Joshua; the defeat of the Midianites under Gideon; fighting the Philistine champion Goliath; and on and on. These were all God’s battles, and he would be victorious when he was trusted and obeyed.
Isn’t this a simple and happy way to move forward in confidence—eyes on Jesus and heart trusting him. We can let go and let God do the impossible. It’s his battle. Time to chill and watch him win.

 

Father, I forget sometimes that you’re in charge, and I’m not. It’s your battle, and you are Lord. Lead on. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

CONFOUNDED

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” Isaiah 55:8

 

I am in company with the disciples as we walk to Emmaus after the death of Jesus. The conversation is full of tears and disillusionment, downcast faces and dashed hopes. They had walked with Jesus and had trusted. They had watched him heal and do miracles. They had even seen the dead brought back to life. Now it seems that they must have missed something.
Have you ever trusted God about a matter—your expectation of how he should intervene in a particular way—and then he acts in a contrary manner? You had prayed with faith, all for his glory, and then you discover God’s ways to be confounding.
Joy Dawson, New Zealand missionary, once preached a spontaneous sermon about Lazarus and Jesus’ nonchalant attitude toward his friend. Remember that Jesus got word that Lazarus was ill, and still he stayed in place. By the time Jesus arrived at the scene, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. The miracle that followed far surpassed the healing the sisters had been expecting. Dawson asked her audience, “Do you want a healing or a resurrection?”
It would seem that we can be satisfied with a band aid rather than a display of God’s omniscience and divine power. We see the finite matter of our interest and conclude that this, yes, this is what God should do, rather than surrendering to God’s will. To the infinite God who sees and knows far more about every circumstance than our collective minds could dream. And God is able to do exceeding above all we can ask or think.
I’ve asked myself if I trust God only when he answers prayer to my liking or if I can let go of my hopes and trust him when I do not understand. How many people followed Jesus when the loaves and fish were in abundance? And how many were at the foot of the cross when Jesus was becoming the Savior of the world?
Could it be that we follow when we understand but are adrift when divinity outstrips our humanity?

 

Father, I ask your forgiveness when my faith is earth-bound. You are God, and I am not. Let your will be done. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

DRY PLACES

For I will pour out water on the thirsty land And streams on the dry ground… Isaiah 44:3

Ever have days or weeks when you feel you’re living in a spiritual desert? Are you tempted to think you might be out of God’s will or you might have in some way displeased God? (The operative word here is “tempted.”) When the tempter can’t move us into actual sin, I think he tempts us with thinking that dryness is equated to a lack of spiritual fervor or loss of commitment. Let’s unmask that evil one with truth.

Following the Greatest Generation, that marvelous population characterized by self-sacrifice, traditional values, and hard work, we moved into the Me era (so named by Thomas Wolfe) and got stuck in hedonism, narcissism, and personal sensibilities—essentially, feelings. Everything was measured by how we feel. And that leaked into the spiritual world. We began to think that feeling God was necessary to spiritual health; that feeling righteous was the gauge for holiness; that feeling happy was the direct indicator of spiritual maturity. Feelings left faith far behind, and feelings left fact behind.

So today when we have dark nights (or months) of the soul, we become discouraged rather than realizing that even the saints in Scripture (see Moses, Gideon, Job, Elijah, Peter) went through physical and emotional struggles. We have the same remedies they had in their darkest hours: trust, declare, and praise. Trust God’s faithfulness: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22, 23). Declare our trust: “ Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” (Job 13:15). Disregarding circumstances, praise him: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17, 18).

Our faith is not based on feelings, which are notoriously fickle. They change with a good meal or a phone call or new purchase. During dry times, we trust our faithful Father, reminding ourselves of his unfailing words to us. We quiet ourselves before him and give ourselves to praise. We are quick to thank God when we experience pleasant circumstances. Why not praise in reversals or in the desert?

God WILL make himself known in his time, and we will grow as we trust and praise. “The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” (Habakkuk 3:19).

Trust, declare, praise. The rain is coming.

Father, there’s nothing about droughts that we like, but we need them from time to time to strengthen us and to cause us to trust, declaring your faithfulness, and praising your name. Don’t spare us because of our whining. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

RADICAL TRUST

 

…but as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good. Genesis 50:20

 

I was having lunch with a friend recently, and she said, “I’ve asked God to intervene in my child’s life no matter what it takes.” Pretty radical. She meant it. I’ve walked for decades with this friend as she continues to pray that her child’s hurtful lifestyle will be transformed by God’s unconditional love. And she is trusting him.

 

And then I read on a Facebook entry another friend who thanks God for using the legal system to bring his grandchild to a personal relationship with his loving Father (and with his own family). From the posted photo I saw a set of beaming grandparents with their beaming grandchild who now has peace (Dare I say “freedom”?) and ministry in prison based on redemptive grace. Where better to touch castaways? Pretty radical.

 

Think about that rascal Jacob whose life was colored by deception. Although God changed him to Israel, he still experienced the fruit of lies through his children. As they grew older, perhaps he prayed, “Lord, my favorite son, born of my favorite wife is filled with potential, but pride makes him intolerable. And then I have other sons who are violent, while none of my children get along. Do what you need to do, but please change them.”

 

We know the rest of the story, how God used circumstances to bring Joseph to Egypt, to humble him, to test and make new creations of his brothers, and to save the whole family. No one human person could have done what God did nor could they even have imagined the salvation of a whole nation. God could, and he did.

 

I could go on about the way I’ve seen God use circumstances to accomplish miracles in lives when radical trust has been at work. Think of Monica whose son Augustine was such a rebel. She anguished when he went to Rome—but that’s where he found God. You know the rest of that story.

 

We trust; God works. Let’s give it a go.

 
Father, sometimes we shrink back from allowing you to be Lord of a situation. We want to spare and protect those we love from the very circumstance that might be the instrument for the makeover they need. Help us to let go and radically trust you to be God. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

GROWN CHILDREN

All your children will be taught by the LORD…Isaiah 54:13

 

Last night my brother and I were having dinner together. As often happens, we were talking about family—all our children are grown now—and how we never know until much later if our methods will yield the results we hoped. Both of us are still in the watching mode, but we did agree that our parents, particularly our father, had a firm impact on us.
Papa taught us to persevere and never give up; he urged us to excel (“Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”); he taught us integrity by example; and he taught us to work hard, among other things. Our mom, on the other hand, focused on spiritual values and was the source of wisdom as we were trying our own spiritual wings. They took the responsibility of parenting seriously and left nothing to chance.
I suppose Jack and I will both be parents as long as we live. We shared prayer concerns and discussed matters that as parents of grown children, we are trusting our heavenly Father to direct and inform. Letting go and releasing our children to the Lord is an ongoing exercise as we see our children stumble and scrape spiritual knees. We wish healing were still only a matter of finding the Bactine and Disney Bandaids. But we don’t want to stave off the struggles that draw our children closer to the Lord and that shape their characters to be more like him.
While we were talking, Jack’s cell rang. His grown son, a father himself who lives in another state, was calling about a trivial matter but one that needed his dad’s input. (Looks like Jack succeeded on the communication issue. His son definitely knows Dad is there for him to share about the smallest concern. Just like his heavenly Father.)
As we sit back and watch, we observe our children embracing many of the principles that were taught and modeled while they were growing up and many they are now teaching their own children. We hold our collective breath as we see some of them treading treacherous waters, but we wait in faith knowing that they are even more precious to our heavenly Father than they are to us. We watch, remembering the promises given to us as parents: “ Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6).” “All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace (Isa. 54:13).” “In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge (Prov. 14:26).” “ Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you (Deut. 4:40)…”
When my son was five or six, he made a pronouncement: “Mom, when I grow up, I’m going to be a Christian but not like you. I’m not going to read all those books (pointing to the devotional books I savored each morning).” Nowadays, he calls and asks if I read Daily Light or My Utmost. It’s working.

 

Father, more than anything, we want our children and their children and their children’s children to know you and to enjoy you—forever. Fulfill your promises to us as we wait and trust in you. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

HANGING IN THERE

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.