Some of you may have already recognized I’ve taken the liberty of altering the title of a Grammy-award-winning song by Glen Campbell from several years ago to come up with the title for this post. The song? “Gentle on My Mind.” After all, Jesus is indeed gentle and on my mind so it’s easy to see how the title of this post came together.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29 (NKJV)
When it comes to the rhythm of life, Jesus is the most captivating and empowering melody…no, a symphony!…imaginable in the lives of those who love Him.
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. John 10:27 (NKJV)
His voice is music to every believer’s ears.
The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)
Earlier this week the title of a song playing on the radio sparked my imagination in a somewhat similar fashion regarding the change I made to “Gentle on My Mind,” but with a slightly different twist.
“Where Do Broken Hearts Go?”
As I contemplated that question a verse immediately came to mind as the answer we’re looking for during heartbreaking times.
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. Psalm 34:18 (NKJV)
Since that first pairing it’s become a game for me trying to tie the title of whatever secular song is playing on the radio to a verse that fits with the message embodied in the song’s title or has a particular application to it. I try not to let the song’s message beyond the title steer the ship in my efforts to come up with a match. To that point, I’ve found listening to an instrumental version of a song is particularly helpful because doing so allows me to focus on the title only. It should also come as no surprise to say that not every song title has resulted in a verse either in whole or in part popping into my head. Hmmmm…perhaps if I knew the Bible better I’d “score” more often?
So, what other couplets have I come up with since that first pairing? Allow me to share a few:
Song: “You’ve Got a Friend”
Verse: A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24 (NKJV)
Song: “Born to be Wild”
Verse: Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Psalm 51:5 (NKJV)
Verse: For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Hebrews 13:14 (NLT)
Verse: What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? Matthew 18:12 (NKJV)
Song: “A Taste of Honey”
Verse: Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. Proverbs 16:24 (NKJV)
Song: “All By Myself”
Verse: Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (NKJV)
Song: “Live Like You We’re Dying”
Verse: So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 (NKJV)
Song: “A Whole New World”
Verse: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. Isaiah 65:17 (NKJV)
Song: “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”
Verse: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1 (NKJV)
Song: “Silence is Golden”
Verse: A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; Ecclesiastes 3:7 (NKJV)
And now one more to wind things up to what could be a long list if time and space weren’t a consideration.
Song: “All My Loving”
Verse: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)
There’s a quote from the movie “August Rush” that has touched my heart and set the horses of my imagination running free since the very first time I heard it.
“Listen. Can you hear it? The music. I can hear it everywhere. In the wind, in the air, in the light. It’s all around us. All you have to do is open yourself up. All you have to do is listen.” August Rush (Freddie Highmore.)
To me, that quote soars to breathtakingly majestic and unbounded heights when you replace the phrase “the music” with “God.” Why? Well, simply put, He is “thee music” that is all around us!
For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. Colossians 1:16 (NKJV)
Associating a song title with a verse from the Bible is another comforting reminder that the Lord can be found anywhere…all we have to do is…”listen.” Are you listening? I pray you are!
As I bring this post to a close it seems appropriate I should end as I started in a full circle moment by changing up a song’s title once again. This particular song has been sung by many singers over the years, but most notably by the likes of Willie Nelson and Elvis: Lord,You Are “Always on My Mind.” (Original title in italics).
May You always be on my mind, Father, because You alone are worthy of my full, undivided attention. Open my eyes, ears, heart and mind that I might become increasingly aware of Your glorious presence wherever I am. You alone have the right to be called Altogether Beautiful because in You there is only light and no darkness. Lord, You are the music, my sound haven, a vibrant garden oasis filled with matchless harmony that soothes and quiets my restless soul in a harsh and off-key land. You are my sound haven, a rock-solid sanctuary upon which to stand and be unafraid. May my heart be filled to overflowing with the joy of Your song. Until that day when I enter eternity may it be for me here in this life just as Your servant, David, the one You described as “a man after Your own heart” proclaims…
One thing I have desired of the Lord, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple. Psalm 27:4 (NKJV)
A Thousand Hallelujahs (radio version) by Brooke Ligertwood
“Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify Your name forevermore.” Psalm 86:11-12 (NKJV)
“There are no ‘if’s” in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety.” Corrie ten Boom
We often wonder, “Why is it sometimes so difficult, if not impossible, to hear God?” Yes, this question is familiar to all, myself included, especially lately I might add. We strain mightily to hear Him, yet His voice sometimes seems faint or nonexistent. In those times, it’s as if we’re in the uncomfortable, disquieting soundless vacuum of space. And make no mistake, as we all know it’s a tough spot to find oneself.
To You I will cry, O Lord my Rock: Do not be silent to me, lest, if You are silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Psalm 28:1 (NKJV)
Before we dive in, please understand we’re approaching this issue solely from the perspective of a believer and not that of a non-believer. The Bible is crystal-clear in its distinction between the two in this regard.
He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” John 8:47 (NKJV)
As believers, we expect to hear from God, so it’s particularly alarming and disquieting when we don’t. In these situations, typically, the next question out of our mouths is, “God, where are You?” It’s a heartfelt, emotional inquiry often stemming from our circumstances but one that is not rooted in Biblical truth. How I wish I had recognized this error in my thinking much earlier in my life.
He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered. Proverbs 28:26 (NKJV)
When searching for the truth, we shouldn’t rely on our feelings, especially during difficult situations. Instead, we should look to the scriptures for the clarity we seek because God’s Word is trustworthy, and as we all know, our emotions resemble the ever-changing weather at times.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)
Where hope is concerned, our negative emotions are a dead-end street, and we must not allow them to bind us in chains, no matter how loudly they demand our attention. The hope we seek exists when we stand on The Rock of Age’s promises and nowhere else.
“Thereforewhoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. Matthew 7:24-25 (NKJV)
Putting aside the supposed truths your emotions are trying to get you to buy, what does the Bible say about where we stand with God?
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 (NKJV)
If reading Paul’s heartfelt conviction about God’s presence and intentions towards us isn’t enough, Jesus, our Savior, assures us we are by no means alone, now and forever.
teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:20 (NKJV)
Rest assured, sister and brother, God is indeed present with His children, even if our feelings vigorously proclaim otherwise. Do not fall for the enemy’s lie that God has abandoned you leaving you all alone.
Friends, it’s time for those tempted to think they’re no longer on our Father’s radar to change their understanding and perspective by knowing God more deeply through His Word. Embrace that He sees you and trust that He loves you and is with you!
“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” C.H. Mackintosh
The Lord gave me this memorable quote a few years ago. I’m just now beginning to appreciate the refreshing, hope-filled perspective it offers. Here’s the thing, it’s taken a while, but I’ve finally accepted that I tend to be more emotional than most guys. I don’t work as hard to hide it as I used to, which is a good thing, but now that I know this about myself, I’m more aware that I’m particularly vulnerable to my emotions putting a bit in my mouth and controlling me. In the past, whenever they spoke, I listened with a mindset already pre-conditioned to give them the lead. That’s been my MO for about as long as I can remember, and it’s no easy ride, I can tell you, as they’ve taken me over some pretty rough terrain.
Being carried away by your negative emotions is a perilous place for any believer to be. Why? Because nothing less than your relationship with God is at stake. The loudest voice in the pit is often our emotions: “Woe is me! God has abandoned me!” As I’ve already said, listening solely to your feelings is a quick way to find yourself unmercifully bound and gagged in the pit with hope nowhere to be found.
Employing the wisdom in CHM’s quote, flip-flops one’s thinking in all the right ways so that when you find yourself in a dark hole, you are no longer the easy pickings for the enemy you once were via your emotional state. In wonderfully stark, hope-filled contrast, the Bible promises that He is still present, loves me, and has only the best intentions for me.
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Psalm 34:18 (NKJV)
So, we can rest knowing God is with us, but given this truth, why is He sometimes silent? Remarkably, who other than God has so much to say, even through silence? His silence speaks volumes at times and grabs our attention. When He is silent, we know something is amiss. Indeed, how we long to hear our Heavenly Father’s voice, for we are as though dead without it.
To You I will cry, O Lord my Rock: Do not be silent to me, Lest, if You are silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Psalm 28:1 (NKJV)
Could God be speaking, but for some reason, we don’t hear Him? Perhaps there are times He is not as silent as we perceive. Maybe the problems we experience hearing from the Lord sometimes result from our whereabouts relative to Him. Or, as realtors like to remind both buyers and sellers alike when it comes to property values, “Location, location, location!”
If you look closely just to the left of the center in the photo, you’ll see a woman walking in the opposite direction on the sidewalk. Admittedly she’s hard to see, but even from this distance, I could still hear the music she was listening to on her cell phone when I took the photo. “Hmmmm. That’s odd,” I thought, “I could barely hear the music when she had passed me by only steps away a few minutes earlier, but now I hear it quite well from way up the street.”
Why, do you suppose I could hear her music more plainly some distance away as opposed to barely being able to discern it when she was mere feet away from me?
The science of sound waves tells us the difference maker was the wind. The volume level I heard depended upon whether I was upwind or downwind of the source of the music. I could easily hear the music playing when I was downwind from a considerable distance away. Yet when I was upwind, even though only a few feet away, the volume of the music was noticeably lower and, therefore, much harder to hear.
How well we hear the Lord’s voice depends upon our location relative to Him. Are you downwind, or are you upwind of our Father? Are you in His will, or are you not?
Hearing from God is best accomplished downwind, which places us securely in His wake instead of the lonely, harsh silence experienced from being upwind, running ahead of Him, and plowing new ground the Lord has not trod. Let us always be mindful that He, not us, is the One supremely qualified to carve and craft new pathways.
Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19 (NKJV)
Construction zones are usually noisy and busy with activity. If you’re hacking your way through the wilderness with a chainsaw, is it any wonder you can’t hear the Lord when He’s speaking? Or how about the noise of the backhoe you’re operating while digging the new river’s course? Furthermore, even if you do manage to excavate the river channel, where will you get the water to fill it? It is a desert, after all. It’s worth saying again, “He is well qualified for this task, and we are not.”
Where exactly are God’s construction zones located? Where is this wilderness and desert the Lord intends to make both accessible and livable? To be sure, He has many construction projects in the works, but one, in particular, is pivotal to His plans.
Oh yes, you know what I’m talking about here because it is the wilderness of our untamed hearts and the parched, inhospitable deserts of our minds He seeks to repurpose.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NKJV)
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
To be sure, we are no small transformation project, but our Heavenly Father is more than able to accomplish the task at hand. Simply put, “The Lord is unwilling to leave us as He found us.” Now that is something all of us “works in progress” should all be excitedly shouting about from the rooftops with a hearty “Amen, praise God!”
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Romans 8:28-29 (NKJV)
For these dramatic changes to take place within us, He must lead…
And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8 (NKJV)
…and we must follow in His footsteps…
If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. John 12:26 (NKJV)
…trusting He is directing our steps for His good purposes…
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)
…even in the face of evil.
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Genesis 50:20 (NKJV)
Buoyed by our lack of comprehension and swept away by our unbridled enthusiasm, we are prone to impetuously run ahead of the Lord, which interferes with our ability to hear and understand Him clearly, even if we’re only a few steps away.
The famous saying from the vintage TV series, Get Smart comes to mind when agent Maxwell Smart says as he’s holding up his thumb and finger to help emphasize the point, “Missed it by THAT much!” Continuing this thinking, it’s also worth mentioning another famous expression, “An inch is as good as a mile,” regarding the importance of being on target. In other words, close to the bullseye is still a miss. The bottom line is if we desire to hear what the Lord is saying, the place to be is downwind in His wake and not upwind, even in the slightest, running ahead of Him.
Running ahead of God, now there’s a subject I can speak about with some authority of late. For the past month or so, I’ve given much thought and prayer to the differences between “audacious faith” and “presumptuous faith” and how they have impacted my life over the past five years. I’ll not get into the details here, as that will be the subject of a later post. I only mention it because this tendency to take the reigns (purposeful misspelling, think about it) from God is, I fear, not something uniquely “me” but something many, if not all, struggle with in our lives at various times.
“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Robert Robinson, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
However, lest we become discouraged by our shortcomings, it’s noteworthy to recognize that even the Apostle Peter was guilty of getting out in front of the Lord, supposing he knew Jesus’s destination. Here’s how that all played out:
“You are the Christ. The Son of the Living God.”“Jesus answered him and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.’ Matthew 16:16-18 (NKJV)
Boom! Peter nailed it, culminating with Jesus lauding his audacious faith. And just like that, Peter finds himself in cotton so tall it’s easy to become lost if he isn’t careful to check his ego at the door. Let’s see how Peter handles things following Jesus’s uplifting commendation.
“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. 22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:21-23 (NKJV) (emphasis mine)
As it turns out, Peter became lost in the tall cotton of his vanity, exchanging his audacious faith for presumptuous faith that egotistically dared to presume to know God’s will and intended destination. In a short period, Peter experiences Jesus’s affirmation only to be followed up by a stern rebuke in which he’s associated with Satan and his evil plans. Wow, talk about extreme high and low bookends!
Yet, as we all know, all was not lost with Peter despite such failings. He was not cast aside and abandoned as worthless in Jesus’s eyes. No, far from it; Jesus’s steadfast love and godly plans for Peter remained.
And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. Mark 5:37 (NKJV)
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. John 21:15-17 (NKJV)
Let’s be encouraged that there is a way forward upon realizing we are upwind of the Lord’s will. Though they may seem impossible to overcome, even the giant monkey wrenches we’ve managed to throw into the works from our self-appointed leadership role are incapable of derailing God’s plans. How small would you have to believe God is if our mistakes could do that?
But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 (NKJV)
Thankfully, He is graciously willing and more than able to overcome our failings and even use them for His glory when we approach Him in a posture of genuine humility and repentance.
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV)
My fellow “Lead Dogs,” it’s time to get back in line downwind and in the wake of God Almighty where we belong so that when He speaks to us through the Bible, we hear His voice loudly and clearly. He has much to teach us, lest we think otherwise.
“We do not so much search the Word of God as the Word of God searches us.” Barry Black, US Senate Chaplain
Paradoxically, a life continually laid bare before the Lord for His name’s sake devoted to following Jesus makes such a person a much-needed leader among God’s children and in His Kingdom.
So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” Matthew 20:16 (NKJV)
Indeed, what about David caused God to call him a “man after My own heart?” (1 Samuel 13:14)
And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ Acts 13:22 (NKJV) (emphasis mine)
My friend, let this be His wake up call to His beloved children that we may live in the exceeding abundance of His will. As we take our place in the wake of the Lord’s glory, delighting in His presence, let’s begin this day anew, refreshed and filled with hope, eager to follow as He leads, for when we do, we’ll once again hear the sweet sound of His voice say, “This is the way, walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21, NKJV)
“Get into the habit of saying, ‘Speak, Lord,’ and life will become a romance.” Oswald Chambers
Just imagine the possibilities!
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Matthew 13:9 (NKJV)
“The Sound of Your Voice” by Third Day from the album “Move.”
“Please, Lord, help me get one more.” Desmond Doss’s (played by Andrew Garfield in the movie Hacksaw Ridge) prayer as he single-handedly returned again and again to an active and deadly WWII battlefield with the sole purpose of rescuing one more wounded and hopeless soldier.
I recently reconnected with a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years for lunch. After paying for my food, the cashier gave me a number for my order, but I paid no attention to it at the time. It wasn’t until I placed it face-up on my table to let the server know which order was mine that I became aware my number was “99.” As soon as I did, a delightful warmth embraced my heart, and a smile spontaneously etched itself across my face.
“Oh yes, Lord, I see You!” I chuckled aloud, unable to contain my delight as I immediately connected the biblical story of the shepherd who leaves the flock of 99 behind in search of the one lost sheep and my having lunch with my long-lost friend. “99 is the perfect number for lunch with my missing friend! Thank You, Father!”
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:4-7 (NKJV)
As I contemplated that well-known story, God graciously reminded me of His wondrous love for me. Jesus left the 99 and began His decades-long quest for me, a lost, broken, and rebellious sheep in desperate need of rescue. He refused to abandon me in the wilderness despite enduring the worst the world I was a part of could throw at Him on His rescue mission. Bruised and beaten, hanging on the cross, Jesus fixed His gaze lovingly and compassionately upon my brokenness as I wallowed in the sludge of a battlefield thick with the musky stench of my rebellion against God. Yet, even so, He gloriously persevered for my sake rescuing me for all eternity.
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of]sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. 9 And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53 (NKJV)
My dear brothers and sisters already in Christ’s “99,” I pray your heart overflows with thanksgiving and praise as you reflect on Jesus’s steadfast, boundless, relentless, life-giving, sacrificial love for you.
14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (NKJV)
If you don’t know Jesus yet, may today be the day He brings you home to join the flock. No matter how far away you’ve roamed, no matter what you’ve done, please know that you are not beyond His reach of love and grace.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)
Even now, He’s calling out for you, the one lost sheep. Do you hear His voice? It is my prayer you do. Call out to Him!
that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever callson the name of theLordshall be saved.” Romans 10:9-13 (NKJV)
“Living Hope” by Phil Wickham from the album “Living Hope.”
“What or whom we worship determines our behaviour.” John Murray
The eclectic line of people silently stretched as far as the eye could see away from the building. Persons from all walks of life were present: the old, the young, the rich, the poor, the powerful, and the powerless, some with hats in hand and heads bowed low, others with their noses up in the air. From time to time, the building’s front doors would open, but only long enough to admit the next one waiting in line to enter.
Once inside, each person found themselves alone in a large, silent auditorium illuminated by a single window. A sense of reverence permeated the room. “Hello, is anyone there?” they half-whispered as their eyes anxiously scanned the room for a felt but not seen presence. The silence quickly returned as the faint echoes of their question disappeared. Hearing no reply, they turned their attention to the light offered by the window, which drew them ever closer. A few pressed their noses against the glass, while others stood back at varying distances gazing at the outside world they had just left. Suddenly a voice, remarkable in its gentle nature, enveloped the entire room, saying, “What are your thoughts about the world as you look through the window? What do you see?”
So many people, so many uniquely individual answers to the question, as one might guess. Yet, despite the diversity found in such a large crowd, their answers leaned in one of two directions.
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Some pursue the world as if it’s a prize or trophy to be obtained for personal gain without regard for the cost. It’s an enticing but ultimately deceptive take-no-prisoners lifestyle approach that leaves misery and regret in its wake sooner or later.
“The world is my oyster.” (A well-known, slightly modernized quote from Shakespeare’s, The Merry Wives of Windsor)
I can’t help but think about the “old” Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dicken’s beloved “AChristmas Carol” before he experienced the visitation of the three Christmas spirits.
“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Now there’s some irony for you, eh? Those who view the world as their oyster for the taking become an oyster themselves, desperately clutching a pearl of their making, unwilling and afraid to share it with anyone else.
“We become what we behold.” William Blake, Jerusalem
Is such a solitary oyster-like existence all that surprising, given such persons view themselves as life’s singular, all-important reference point around which the world orbits? The voracious flock of seagulls from the animated movie “Finding Nemo” immediately come to mind, loudly squawking, “Mine, mine, MINE!” as they coveted the objection of their affection.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (NKJV)
And therein lies sadness and danger if the treasures we hold near and dear to us are solely self-serving.
“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:26 (NKJV)
“We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living but not a life. We’ve added years to life, not life to years.” George Carlin
In due course, the knife called unavoidable pries the precious pearl from deep within the oyster loose, it now intended for another’s hands. How can we be so foolish and short-sighted?
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 1 Timothy 6:7 (NKJV)
Ah, but this is graciously no ordinary window that beckons us ever nearer to embrace the life-changing view of the world it offers. Perhaps you noticed the cross in the window immediately, as did I. It reminds us that a vibrant relationship with God through Jesus is the gateway to truth and meaning as we go about our daily lives interacting with the world through eyes, hearts, and minds other than our own.
“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3 (NKJV)
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV)
Jesus is the window, the True North we seek, through which radiant hope shines for a darkened and despairing world.
All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:8-10 (NKJV)
He shows us a still better way of viewing and engaging with the world.
“I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:35 (NKJV)
“It’s about how we can love people, how we can make a difference for other people. I really believe in God’s economy, which is different than how we talk about our economy. In our economy, in order to have more, you take more. But in God’s economy-you give more.” Tim Tebow
And now it is your turn to enter through the doors into the room set aglow by the light streaming in through the single window. As you gaze out through the window, the gentle voice asks, “What are your thoughts about the world as you look through the window? What do you see?”
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.33 Butseek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:31-33 (NKJV)
Start Right Here by Casting Crowns (single version)
“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’” John 8:12 (NKJV)
And just like that, it turns out my most recent post, which I had thought would be my last post of the year, isn’t the last one, after all. Surprize (wink)! What can I say? When the light of inspiration strikes, it buoyantly sets into motion a creative adventure with the Lord like none other for me. I pray it is the same for you.
Recently we bought a cheap solar-powered Snoopy bobblehead. We weren’t looking for him at the time, mind you, because he wasn’t even on our shopping list. However, there he was on a shelf alongside a host of other bobbleheads, all seemingly laser-focused on capturing our attention with their almost hypnotic up and down movements. It was like a bobblehead flash mob, but with one standout “star” in our eyes. How could we resist, given that we love Snoopy and all things Charlie Brown? Encouraged by Snoopy’s eager, nodding approval, we decided the right thing to do was take him home with us, and so we did.
Snoopy’s new home is on our kitchen counter-top. Much to my delight, I’ve discovered that my daylight conversations with him are always positive and uplifting. Indeed, watching his head always nod affirmatively is something that brightens my day.
I’ve noticed a few other things about Snoopy since he’s come to live with us. One, when the lights are off, he’s motionless and has nothing to say. Two, his head starts bobbing almost immediately as soon as the lights come on. Lastly, the longer the lights are on, the more pronounced his head bobs up and down. In short, no light amounts to no enthusiasm whatsoever, while more light equals visible, unmistakably passionate movement.
We can say the same about our walk with the Lord, can’t we?
“You were placed on earth to know God. Everything else is secondary.” Greg Laurie
The amount of enthusiasm, devotion, and passion we have for God and His Kingdom directly depends on how much and how often we bask in His light through prayer, Bible study, and other spiritually edifying choices that all result in authentic worship experience.
“Keep on being faithful, because God honors faithfulness. Not bigness, but faithfulness. Not the great crowds, not the great set-up, but faithfulness in the place He put you.” Billy Graham
The truth is we are brought to a spiritual standstill when we are outside God’s presence and alone in the dark. Our forward motion is non-existent.
“If we are unexcited Christians, we should go back and see what is wrong.” Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There
Just as you do in all relationships, you have to invest time and energy in your relationship with God to reap the rewards; otherwise, negative consequences will arise.
“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24 (NKJV)
“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” Matthew 12:30 (NKJV)
And so, the stage is set for the dramatic divide between darkness and light, stagnation and forward progress.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” Romans 8:5 (NKJV)
The more quality time we spend with Him, inevitably, the greater our enthusiasm and desire for all things of God. His light amplifies our motion on His behalf and in His direction.
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8 (NKJV)
“The Bible is the only book whose author is always present when one reads it.” Anonymous
“But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)
The question on the table for all of us throughout each day is, “Are you headed in the Light direction?” Will we choose to nod in affirmation of Jesus, or will we stand stoically silent in the dark?
“Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.” Luke 6:48 (NKJV)
“Two Sets of Jones” by Big Tent Revival from the album “Big Tent Revival.”
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” James 1:17 (NKJV)
What’s one thing God and cats have in common?
Before I give you my answer, note that I’m in no way putting God and cats on equal footing. God is the creative force here; cats are the products of His efforts. Creator and created, big difference! The root of this question stems from the idea that what an artist creates cannot help but say something about the artist. Hence, cats have something to tell us about God, the Creator.
“The personality of the artist leaks through their work. God included. He reveals himself through nature, as the Scriptures testify.” John Eldredge from Beautiful Outlaw (highlight mine)
So, here’s my one-word answer to that question that you may or may not have seen coming based on the title of today’s post: surprise. Surprised?
A cat’s uncanny ability to show up in some of the most unexpected places and ways always elicits a reaction from those fortunate enough witnesses. More times than not, whenever something unforeseen happens, it’s downright startling, as in “Whoa, I did NOT see that coming!”
Not that long ago, I was walking through our kitchen and was completely caught off-guard by our cat, Ringo (yes, after the Beatle!), staring out at me from one of our kitchen cabinets that had accidentally been left open. Even today, it’s a treasured memory that continues to refresh my soul for its disruption of my otherwise unremarkable, vanilla day because it serves as a priceless reminder that I gloriously don’t have everything figured out, especially when it comes to God.
Surprises like this are a gift because they awaken the once wide-eyed but now all-too-deeply slumbering child adventurer in me. I don’t know about you, but it’s a joy whenever my much younger self shows up because doors to possibilities suddenly appear that my deadened, cookie-cutter adult self either won’t or can’t conceive of as even existing. My earlier “God-in-the-box” post touched on this issue.
“and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3 (NKJV)
“On worship: ‘For many, Christianity has become the grinding out of general doctrinal laws from collections of biblical facts. But childlike wonder and awe have died. The scenery and poetry and music of the majesty of God have dried up like a forgotten peach at the back of the refrigerator.’” John Piper, Desiring God
Such a delightful interruption in my day is a trumpet’s call to be open-minded about just how much more extraordinary, grander, and more mysterious God is than my pedestrian, earth-bound, more “mature” thoughts will comfortably allow.
“Jesus rarely comes where we exect Him; He appears where we we least expect Him, and always in the most illogical connections. The only way a worker can keep true to God is by being ready for the Lord’s surprise visits.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest
And with those truths front and center, it also leads me to contemplate His brighter-than-the-sun, absolutely pure Holiness. Could the chasm of differences between the Lord and myself be any more stark and dramatic? To that, I gratefully exclaim, “Wonderfully not!”
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (NKJV)
“No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.” 1 Samuel 2:2 (NKJV)
Our God is not in the least bit humdrum, nor is He passive and ambivalent to the goings-on of this world as some would suggest. Since the foundation, He has been actively involved in His creation, including, of course, His purposeful commitment to the ongoing, ever-deepening One-on-one relationships with His children.
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29 (NKJV)
Given the vast differences between God and ourselves in tandem with His desire to conform us to the image of His Son, our Savior, Jesus, we have every reason to anticipate that God should and will upend our ways.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)
He will upset our status quo for His good purposes.
“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.” A. W. Tozer
In the lives of believers, disruptions of all shapes and sizes that lead to the changes He desires to take place in us as proclaimed by scripture should be considered “normal” to expect, shouldn’t they be?
“We do not so much search the Word of God as the Word of God searches us.” Barry Black, US Senate Chaplain
What sort of God would He be if He didn’t boggle our worldly minds, challenge our mistaken beliefs, expose our tightly-held, wayward assumptions, and overturn our oh-so-carefully but far-too-often selfishly set tables?
“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.” Matthew 21:12 (NKJV)
My friends, Jesus is an utterly beautiful disrupter of our doggedly-entrenched worldly condition for good reasons.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed;” Luke 4:18 (NKJV)
Praise God because He is so much more than we dare think or imagine whose generosity knows no bounds.
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21 (NKJV)
He has, after all, given us a surprize beyond measure, Jesus, in a most surprising but oh-so-delightful, completely God-like way.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 (NKJV)
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 (NKJV)
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 (NKJV)
It is no surprise that Jesus didn’t come in the form or way that the world expected. Even to this very day, He continues to give Himself as the ultimate prize to all those who would believe in Him. And that, dear brother and sister, I pray brings you immeasurable joy and delight every day of the year, especially during this Christmas season. May God’s surprises continually refresh and bless you in the most remarkable, hope-inspiring ways throughout the remainder of this year and those to follow according to His good and perfect will.
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27 (NKJV)
“Praise the Lord” by Crowder from the album “Prodigal Son (Deluxe Edition).”
“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John 8:12 (NKJV)
Though they cannot speak, our shadows have something to say about us.
Standing beside a stream a few autumns ago, I was immediately drawn to the appearance of my shadow as it stretched out into the water. Where the water was shallow, the silhouette of my head and body was sharp and crisp. However, my shadow became increasingly indistinct in the deeper water and diffused to the point my outstretched arm became progressively unrecognizable. Indeed, where the water was deeper still, the shadow of my hand wasn’t distinguishable at all, so wrapped up it was in the depths.
Such is my relationship with Jesus. As a believer standing in His living water, am I in the shallow or deep water, or somewhere between the two? Am I ankle-deep with a lot of me still visible, or am I deep enough that Jesus, at least in part, can at long last be seen? The shadow I cast in this world tells the tale of my condition.
So long as we remain in the shallows, our shadows more times than not have something more to say about us and less about Jesus. And uncomfortably so, I might add.
“Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And so said all the disciples.” Matthew 26:35 (NKJV)
“But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:23 (NKJV)
Can you relate to Peter’s failings? I know I certainly can.
Fortunately, God is mercifully unwilling to leave us as He found us. You see, He has plans for you and me far beyond our becoming converted believers. He has nothing less in His sights than our becoming conformed believers.
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.“ Romans 8:29 (NKJV)
How can a person not be blown away by the very thought of God intending us to bear the image of the One who set us free, our Savior, Jesus? The mere thought of such an astonishing plan should cause us to erupt into praise spontaneously every time it comes to mind!
“Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: 3 Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, 4 Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, 5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Psalm 103:1-5 (NKJV)
This view of our destiny is so breathtaking it’s tantalizing to linger here, perhaps even stop altogether and forever bask in its warm glow. But, after a moment’s pause, we must keep going, for we have not arrived at our destination yet.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(Robert Frost, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening)
“but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14 (NKJV)
What is the purpose of this journey that beckons us onward like none other?
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” 1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV)
A herald magnifying the Lord, this is God’s purpose for our lives. How incredible is that calling? As before, I find myself stepping aside and pausing to breathe in as deeply as possible this magnificent view’s sweet aroma. And yet again, I am called to return to the path He has laid out before me.
All worthwhile plans come with instructions to ensure their success, and most certainly, this is no exception. So, where should our adventure of faith begin? The same place it should end: the Bible.
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17 (NKJV)
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)
I have to ask, “What sort of quest shares the same beginning and end?” The obvious response is, “Only those that run in circles, which means they end up going nowhere.” Ah, but this is no ordinary undertaking at all, of course, so circular thinking has no place where the Lord’s plans are concerned.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
It is no secret that one must wade through the shallows to get to the deep. Shortcuts don’t happen on our way to meaningful spiritual maturity as God seeks to achieve His purpose and plans for our lives through an ever-deepening relationship with Him. As I noted a few years ago in (S)Parking Lot, we must persevere and be patient as God’s plans for us unfold. We cannot get ahead of ourselves. More importantly, we cannot get ahead of God.
“I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:24 (NIV)
God transforms us step by step as we hike the hills and valleys along our lifelong trail. One need only examine the lives of a few such notable biblical figures like Joseph (Old Testament), Moses, King David, Jonah, Ruth, Peter, and Paul to realize our pilgrimage into Christlikeness is a long-ranging process. But happen it surely will because just as the tides are subject to the moon, so too is God’s will for the upward call of His children.
“Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me.” Psalm 42:7 (NKJV)
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV)
By the grace of God’s Spirit, I inevitably become less, and Jesus becomes more.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30 (NKJV)
I end, Christ gloriously begins.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)
Our Christlikeness doesn’t reach its zenith until we pass from this life into the next. I can’t help but wonder what the appearance of a genuinely godly person’s shadow might be like in this life, though, can you? God has graciously given us a glimpse of such a person.
“so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.” Acts 5:15 (NKJV)
Now that is a shadow born out of the Spirit’s deep waters that shades people with the light of Jesus!
Peter, while wallowing in the shallows, denied Jesus no less than three times. Jesus also rebuked him for his all-too earthly point of view that lacked heavenly understanding. Yet now, we later see a radically different Peter who radiated Jesus so much that people sought out his shadow.
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13 (NASB 1995)
I ask you, “Who does this sort of thing?” Only God, friends, only God.
That’s good news for you and me because that means God will bring about meaningful, world-impacting change in our lives, too. But we must move by faith into His deeper waters.
“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 (NKJV)
“but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:14 (NKJV)
Wait, did you hear that? Shhhh. Yes, there it is, a still, quiet voice welling up from deep within our souls, asking, “What does your shadow have to say to the world about Jesus?” Friend, the Lord calls you and me out of the shallows and into the deep. It is time to let go and let Him.
Lord, out of the shadows of our lives flows Your life-giving light of love. May it be ever so! Lead me out of the shallow and into Your depths so that the fruit of Your Spirit blossoms in me, bringing forth love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control for against such You have said there is no law. May people see the shadow of Jesus and not mine wherever You would have me, Your herald go, for Your glory. In Jesus’s name, amen!
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8 (NKJV)
“Less Like Me” by Zach Williams from the album “Rescue Story.”
“God is infinite, and because God is infinite, you and I can be bold and brave in the universe, just the same as the little boy who is brave when his father is around.” A. W. Tozer, Delighting in God
Recently, my wife and I went out for a later than usual lunch at one of our favorite beachside restaurants. Accompanying us was my unwanted sullen attitude, which only worsened as a long line of other hopeful diners unexpectedly greeted us at our restaurant of choice.
Patience challenged as I was, I suggested we leave and find a place where we could walk right in with no waiting, but my wife brushed right past my attempts to avoid the crowd, cheerfully observing, “What else do we have to do this afternoon?” She was right, of course. It’s just that I didn’t want to hear such positivity as she joyfully, and I begrudgingly took our place at the back of the line.
Why my lousy attitude? Simply put, I was under siege by a ruthless army of restless, negative thoughts feasting on my worries of “what wasn’t yet, but might be.”
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 12:25 (NIV)
Despite the crowd, we somehow ended up getting the table we’d both choose if we were the only people there. Sitting outdoors at this time of year overlooking the beach is nothing short of a breath of fresh air, yet my gloominess refused to budge an inch even in the face of our good seating fortune.
All the while, I was trying to tamp my negativity down to prevent our afternoon from becoming a washout. I felt like I was falling in slow motion off a cliff, yet there was nothing I could seemingly do about it even though I knew better, which made it even worse for me. I was aboard a self-pity train headed fast towards nowhere good that I desperately wanted to jump off of but maddeningly couldn’t. Such a tight spot is so frustrating and debilitating for professing Christians to find themselves in, especially for one who writes about my faith as I do. And with that thought, another chain wrapped itself around my leg.
But then something fortuitously happened out of the blue that completely rearranged and refocused my thinking. Or perhaps I should be bolder and use the word “providentially?”
“Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
We had been watching a dove sitting forlornly on a nearby ceiling fan blade. You see, it couldn’t find its way off the seasonally enclosed deck. While observing the weary bird’s dilemma, I had already ironically thought to myself, “It seems that I’m not the only one trapped today.” If misery loves company, then the dove was my company. Suddenly, the bird left the overhead fan blade and landed directly on my head, much to my and everyone else’s surprise and amusement.
There’s something remarkably transformative whenever you perceive yourself as seen instead of unseen, you know? It’s so encouraging and uplifting. Here’s how my friend, Mindi, put it in my “trucks top rescue“ post when she was battling feelings of abandonment during a rough time in her life, “The bird just sat there sweetly looking at me, tenderly reminding me God was with me, watching over me. Instantly my focus was changed from my circumstances to Him. It was a deeply beautiful moment when I truly felt…well, not so alone.” Amen? Amen!
“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” C. H. Mackintosh
“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)
In that moment of clarity, just as Mindi had experienced, my burdens were left behind as my thoughts also turned away from myself and towards Him. A few short minutes later, with the help of some other diners, the dove also found welcome release from its captivity, as well.
The enemy would have you believe you’re a forgotten castaway adrift on a raft all alone. The truth is just the opposite: the Lord always has His eyes on you because He is always with you, His precious and deeply loved child.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NKJV)
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4 (NKJV)
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NKJV)
“For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” Isaiah 41:13 (NKJV)
“’ teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” Matthew 28:20 (NKJV)
This particular day I needed to be reminded of the Lord’s promises. I needed to refocus my attention on Him. Graciously that mindset change was initiated by a dove improbably landing on my head.
“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Colossians 3:2 (NKJV)
As much as I’d like to say my faith is rock-solid 24/7, it’s not. The good news for you and me, though, is that while we have our ups and downs, our heavenly Father never wavers!
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8 (NKJV)
I pray this story is an encouragement and reminder for you to turn your focus on Jesus regardless of your circumstances. When you do so, He gloriously transforms your sore earth-bound thoughts into thoughts that majestically soar heavenwards. May you experience that sweet relief in Him!
“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NKJV)
“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV)
“You Raise Me Up-Acoustic” by Selah from the album “You Raise Me Up: Greatest Hits.”
With God, an ocean of unfathomable possibilities exists right behind us; all we need to do is turn around for a new perspective.
If the late Cajun chef and beloved humorist, Justin E. Wilson, could see “provision” spelled as “preauxvision,” he would most likely enthusiastically exclaim, “Hoo-wee, dat’s sum unexpected Cajun flavoring mixed right in there, I gah-rown-tee (guarantee)!”
True to his love for preparing Cajun cuisine, Mr. Wilson once told the Associated Press, “Cajun cooking is the ability to take what you have and create a good dish and season it right.” Or, put another way, in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, even the most improbable ingredients prepared with the proper seasoning in just the right way can make your taste buds get up and dance.
“Blessings sometimes show up in unrecognizable disguises. ” Janette Oke
And so it also is with God’s unexpected provision in our lives. Indeed, the Lord is capable of making the unlikely, the seemingly impossible, happen. He is, after all, the Master Chef of all creation.
“But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 (NKJV)
Using just the right seasonings of His mercy, grace, wisdom, and love, our Heavenly Father can take all of our circumstances and create something good out of them. Even those that appear to be utterly hopeless and bewildering from our perspective.
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Psalm 34:8 (NKJV)
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 (NKJV)
“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” Genesis 50:20 (NKJV)
Let me share a story of an unlikely provision in my life from last year amid the pandemic with you.
If you’ve read my bio, you’re already aware my business partner and I began a start-up oil and gas exploration business a few years ago. Although our goal is simple, the pile of bones of many who have gone before us testifies how truly challenging it is. Our task is to identify drilling locations with the hopes of ultimately finding and producing an economic accumulation of oil. Each barrel of oil found and sold becomes the lifeblood that provides the revenue stream we need to survive.
So, how have we done? In the three to four years we’ve been in business so far, we’ve been abysmally unsuccessful in this endeavor. To date, we have produced zero barrels of oil despite our best efforts, which have been bathed in unceasing prayer by myself and many others along the way. I can assure you this was not how I imagined or expected things to go believing that we would be successful within the first year or so. In short, our prayers seemingly went unanswered, much to everyone’s growing dismay. But, oh, this is where it gets exciting in the face of such outwardly disappointing results.
“May we be strengthened with the understanding that being blessed does not mean that we shall always be spared all the disappointments and difficulties of life.” Heber J. Grant
Last year due to the pandemic, oil commodity prices plummeted to less than zero, hitting a record low of around -$38.00 per barrel.
Following that unbelievable oil price collapse, I wondered how we could ever possibly survive this historical low point for the industry. However, my anxious thoughts were suddenly brought to a screeching halt by a staggering realization that raced triumphantly through my mind. Simply put, it dawned on me that had all our prayers been answered according to our expectations and desires, everything would’ve come crashing down around us, abruptly ending in bankruptcy. You see, there would’ve been no way our fledgling company could have financially survived taking an extended negative price hit on selling our oil. But, astonishingly, because we had no production during the price crash, we lost nothing and were able to continue to stay in business. How crazy is this turn of events?
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Corrie Ten Boom
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)
Gone were my aching questions about why our prayers for success had gone unanswered. Suddenly my doubts and fears disappeared and gave way to words of praise for Him for this unexpected form of provision. In an instant, the Lord used a shocking turn of events to lead me to thank Him for not answering my prayers according to my expectations but instead for answering them His way. Friends, there’s no other way to say it, but, “Dat’s sum dance-and- praise-worthy preauxvision as only the Lord can provide, I gah-rown-tee!”
“And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (NKJV)
“He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. 30 Then they are glad because they are quiet; So He guides them to their desired haven.” Psalm 107:29-30 (NKJV)
Gratefully, He is exceedingly superior to me in every way. Amen? Amen!
“O Lord, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, For You have done wonderful things; Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.” Isaiah 25:1 (NKJV)
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, 12 To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” Psalm 30:11-12 (NKJV)
Lord, I’ll trust in You with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways I’ll acknowledge You, and You’ll direct my paths. You alone know best because Your ways are higher than my ways, and Your thoughts are higher than my thoughts. Without faith it’s impossible to please You, so I’ll draw near to You and believe that You reward those who seek You. God, You call me blessed because I have not seen, yet I still believe. You always keep Your promises, and You don’t change like shifting shadows. You’re my dwelling place, my helper, my strength, and my defense. You are mighty, robed in majesty, armed with strength, compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love. You made the heavens, formed the dry land, and Your renown endures through all generations. You won’t slumber but will watch over my life. You fashioned the ear, formed the eye, and determine the number of stars and call them each by name. God, You are the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, and there is no one in all the world like You. (YouVersion original devotional, Praying God’s Truth Over My Fears)
“For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:20 (NKJV)
Have you ever purposefully bought something you knew was defective? I never thought I’d find myself doing that, but that’s what happened a few days ago. And unexpectedly, there was Jesus wonderfully right in the middle of my conversation with the cashier about my improbable purchase.
If you read my last post, “Humilability,” then you already know I’ve had the Japanese art form known as Kintsugi on my mind. So much so that I decided I wanted to try my hand at it. I was in the process of buying something at the last minute for my art-venture when a “refreshing summer rain” moment of understanding in the checkout lane occurred.
Let me refresh your mind about Kintsugi before moving on with this story.
Kintsugi is a Japanese art form that takes shattered pottery and makes it whole by mending the broken pieces together with glue typically containing silver, gold, or platinum. Upon completion, the revitalized object becomes more valuable and desirable than it was initially. Those who follow this style of art delight in the object’s history as revealed by the repaired joints. In other words, the rejuvenated vessel tells a story of hope through its rebirth that is cause for much celebration.
Returning to the story, I had already bought everything I thought I needed for my project but still had one last stop to make for my wife before heading home. She had asked me to buy a clay pot, so I stopped by the local gardening center knowing they would have a good selection. While looking for just the right clay pot for her, I noticed a chipped and cracked one. As soon as I did, a light bulb immediately went off in my head, and I realized it’d be a great addition to my collection of Kintsugi project material. Why smash up something in perfect shape when I could break up something that was already flawed? So, I happily picked up the broken pot along with a good one for my wife and headed to the checkout lane.
After a short wait in line, I placed the two pots I wished to purchase on the counter. As the cashier scanned the items, she paused over the broken one and looked up at me with a questioning expression on her face.
Cashier: “Did you know this pot is broken?”
Cashier: “And you still want it?”
Me: “Yes, I have plans for it.”
No sooner had those words been said when a spiritual sonic boom stirred my soul, recrystallizing the reality of a precious gift I far too often fail to acknowledge and cherish rightly. Indeed, just as I had plans for the broken pot, how much more so does Jesus have plans for broken me?
“For I know theplans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV)
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)
There is a huge difference, of course, in the method of payment for these items. Jesus purchased me with His life, while all I did was hand over a few dollars for the flowerpot. He gave all, I gave little.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13 (NKJV)
Before I stepped into the picture, the trash heap was that defective clay pot’s only future where it would join countless other items also considered worthless and of no use. However, the funny thing now is it sits next to me on my bookshelf in plain sight as a treasured reminder of where I’d be right now without Jesus. There now was no way I was going to bust it up as I had initially planned after being gifted with such a beautiful flash of insight. God has such a wholly (holy!) excellent way of turning my thoughts and plans upside down, you know?
“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV)
How did this broken pot land in a position of honor in my office instead of lost in a landfill? Simply put, I had plans for it where no one else did and was then willing and able to do something about it. That is the sole reason this little clay pot has a new home beside me.
“Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19 (NKJV)
As a believer, the soul (yes, that’s purposeful spelling on my part) reason I now have an eternal future overflowing with hope is that Jesus saw my need and was willing and able to do something about it.
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 (NKJV)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed;’” Luke 4:18 (NKJV)
He put my brokenness, my chips, if you will, on His shoulders at great cost to Himself. And He’s done the same for you.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6 (NKJV)
“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)
What are the Lord’s plans for you, my brother and sister in Christ, and for me? He has prepared a place of honor for us with Him.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:3 (NKJV)
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2 (NKJV)
But there’s more, so much more. It’s beyond astonishing when you think about it!
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29 (NKJV)
Have you sincerely thanked God today for His active presence in your life, for the priceless gift of rebirth out of brokenness He has bestowed upon you through His Son, our Savior, Jesus?
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
Come to the Table by Sidewalk Prophets from the album “Something Different.”