“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” Habukkuk 3:17-18 (NLT)
When I think about birds, two things immediately come to mind: flying and singing. Indeed most people would say a bird unable to either fly or sing is, well, less of a bird, especially so if it was no longer capable of flying. I can’t help but wonder out loud, though, “Is it possible God sees such a bird as ‘more than’ when all we see is ‘less than?'”
What would your answer be if I were to ask you to tell me two vital things about yourself that are integral to who you are, like we just mentioned about birds regarding flying and singing? Do you have those attributes firmly in mind? Good. Imagine what it would be like if something happened and you lost one of the two traits for an undetermined length of time. In other words, you don’t know whether the loss is temporary or permanent. What might your attitude be? Your outlook? What emotions might you experience? Would you shake your fist at God? Or would you praise Him despite your circumstances?
“It’s easy to love and trust God when life is good, but when things fall apart is when you find out what we truly believe.” Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (the devotional)
Let me tell you a remarkable story about a lady and a bird as told to me by my wife last week. One of her Facebook friends originally shared the story as I understand it. It’s a story that points the way forward towards higher ground for all who find themselves struggling to keep their heads and their hopes up in deep, stormy waters. I hope you will be as touched by it as I continue to be.
“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.” A. W. Tozer
Before I begin this story, let me first make mention of God’s photo provision before I ever heard this story. A few days earlier, we had a bird fly into one of our windows at the back of our house. Stunned from the impact, it fell on the outdoor couch between the seat back and the cushions. This situation was unusual because it was a cardinal rather than the typical dove we usually see. Intrigued by this uncommon occurrence, I took the photo. Little did I know at that time that I’d need an image of a cardinal sitting in an unusual setting for a story I’d be inspired to share a few days later. And yes, for all you fellow bird lovers out there, I’m happy to report that the bird fully recovered and was gone just a few minutes later after I took the picture.
As the story goes, it seems this lady was driving down the street at the beginning of a hectic day filled with appointments when she happened upon a cardinal sitting in the middle of the road. The bird didn’t attempt to fly off as she drove closer, so she pulled off to the side and parked her car for a closer look at this unexpected sight. Realizing something must be wrong for the bird to act like that, she gently scooped it up and placed it in a cardboard box she happened to have in her car. Instead of going ahead with her busy schedule, she immediately drove to an animal shelter, hoping someone could help the bird out. The person examining the bird explained to her that, most likely, the bird had a broken clavicle (collarbone) and had only a 50-50 chance of recovery from this severe and excruciating injury. If she wanted to help, the best thing for her to do would be to take the bird home, nurse it as best she could, and then wait and see what happens, realizing the bird may not ever fly again or possibly die. Not surprisingly, the lady decided to take the bird home with her.
In an unexpected twist on the drive home, the lady said she and the bird shared a “moment” of sorts as they made eye contact. And then, to the lady’s delight and amazement, the cardinal broke out into a song and continued to sing most of the rest of the way home. Happily, the bird healed over the next several weeks, and as instructed, the lady took it back to where she found it and released it back into its home territory.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Vivian Greene
You know, friend, I’ve thought about this story a lot since first hearing it. Do you want to know what tugs at my heartstrings about it? It’s the bird still singing despite the pain, despite being unable to fly, and despite finding itself in strange and threatening surroundings. I have to ask, “Would I still sing under such difficult and painful circumstances where I’ve lost something of great value, something I consider to be part of who I am? Do I have the faith and trust in God to sing His praises during challenging times that shake me to my very core?”
“Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.” Steve Wiggins, Groundworks Ministry
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Corrie ten Boom
The story of an underdog facing seemingly insurmountable odds stirs my heart like none other. This tale is that kind of story, and it brings to mind that old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” God has called us to make lemonade with Him no matter our circumstances. Why? For His glory. Do you know Him to be a good, good Father? Do you believe He is sovereign? Your willingness to sing His praises even while surrounded by lemons depends upon Who you believe God to be and the degree of intimacy you have with Him.
“There is a correlation between our sense of security and the depth of our understanding of God’s love.” David Jeremiah
Ah, yes, if we but truly grasped the unsurpassed depth of God’s love for us, we would never be shaken, and our days would overflow with waterfalls of heartfelt singing.
“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “’Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” Mark 9:24 (NKJV)
I’ve taken the liberty of changing a few words from an iconic song (Singin’ in the Rain) to help illustrate this story’s takeaways. The original word is noted in parentheses. And, yes, of course, this song is the source of inspiration for this post’s title.
“I’m singin’ in the pain (rain) Just singin’ in the pain (rain) What a glorious feeling I’m happy again I’m laughin’ at clouds So dark up above The Son’s (sun’s) in my heart And I’m ready for love Let the stormy clouds chase Everyone from the place Come on with the pain (rain) I’ve a smile on my face I’ll walk down the lane With a happy refrain Just singin’ Singin’ in the pain (rain)”
Writer/s: Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown Publisher: BMG Rights Management, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind
When the painful times come into our lives, and Jesus assures us they will, may we find the courage, trust, and faith to sing His praises despite the heartaches. He has, after all, overcome the world. Do we believe God to be sovereign? Let all who know this to be true be of good cheer.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NKJV)
“But I will sing of Your power; Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; For You have been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble.” Psalm 59:16 (NKJV)
“The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.” Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible
I’m blessed and inspired, as I hope you are as well, by this moving and encouraging story about the cardinal singing amid a life-threatening storm. Yes, these are the type of stories that thrill and lift my heart above the stormy waters that threaten to capsize and sink me. May I live an authentic and vibrant “more than” life that points others to God even during dark and treacherous times. Because of You, Jesus, I can sing it is well with my soul. Let us sing His praises, my friend.
“Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:22-25 (NKJV) (emphasis mine)
Soul’s Anthem (It Is Well) by Alisha Mino and John Rose
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)
“Content.” Now there’s an interesting word. What’s the meaning or significance of this word as it applies to your life?
“Well, that depends on which ‘content’ you’re asking about,” you say. “With the word standing there all alone, I can’t be fully content to tell you the answer to that question until I know the full content of what you have in mind since it could be one of two possibilities. At the very least, you’re going to have to use it in a sentence; otherwise, I’m going to keep bouncing back and forth between the two choices. So, you tell me, which one are you talking about here?”
To that, I enthusiastically jump to my feet and reply, “Both!”
Now that we’re on our feet, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page regarding the distinct meanings of these two identically spelled but differently pronounced words. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “content” as “everything that is contained within something.” It also informs us that the other pronunciation of “content” means “pleased with your situation and not hoping for change or improvement.”
Our level of contentment is determined by how content or satisfied we are with the contents of our lives. Generally speaking, when we perceive our content or the components to be favorable, we’re content. But when the contents of our life take a turn for the worse, we become woeful or even fearful.
In a sense, these two words relate to each other a bit like our feet. In one scenario, they work together in harmony like finely tuned, graceful dance partners, serenely gliding across the floor. Or, conversely, they’re like two left feet noisily and clumsily stepping all over each other on the dance floor, which frequently results in a memorable faceplant of viral social media proportions. By the way, I fall into the latter category of these two as I’m no Fred Astaire.
For many of us, when a significant component of our lives that we’ve come to depend upon falters, so do we. Experiencing the loss of a job, relationship troubles, financial issues, or an impending health crisis, to name a few, are undoubtedly challenging turns of events that threaten our well-being. The Apostle Paul certainly experienced various potentially life-altering and, at times, life-threatening circumstances. No doubt he had more than his fair share of the scars to prove it, too.
“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 11:25-27 (NIV)
Theologians generally agree that Paul wrote about those trials about six years before he penned the following words in Philippians:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:11-12 (NIV)
These verses in Philippians stand in stark contrast to the world’s perspective of contentment. Paul’s steadfastness and confidence are even more remarkable, considering he wrote them while being unjustly confined in prison. How was he able to avoid falling into despair regardless of the situation? Why doesn’t he have two left feet? What is the secret he has found?
Paul’s ability to be content in all circumstances did not just magically and suddenly appear one day in his spiritual arsenal. No, far from it. Each of his visible and invisible scars wrought from his experiences became graduation diplomas of trust and understanding in the Lord’s plans for his life beautifully and lovingly engraved on his heart.
Does the relationship between “content” and “content” as they influence our contentment not exist for Paul? At first glance, it might perhaps seem they’re disconnected, but given a bit more thought, the answer is an emphatic “no!” The difference is Paul can confidently say what he does because of the eternal Who that fills his life up, rather than the temporal whats that fills up the majority of most other people’s lives.
“To know something in your head is one thing; to feel it in your heart is another. And I think most Christians are trying to be happy without a sense of the Presence. The Presence is here, but the sense of the Presence is absent. The sense of the Presence is absent and that yearning you see is a desire to be nearer to God.” A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God.
Paul is content because he fully embraces the sovereignty and presence of God in his life. He understands that so long as his life is full of the Lord, Who is good beyond measure, his outward conditions are of little consequence. The when, where, how, and why of his circumstances are no longer uncomfortable mysteries tormenting him. He recognizes his place in God’s hand. And that gives him hope.
“for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13 (NKJV)
Paul is a person completely sold out for God.
“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God” Romans 1:1 (NKJV)
“Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” Philippians 2:14-15 (NKJV)
Paul has learned the secret for true contentment.
“I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (NIV)
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.” Isaiah 55:2 (NKJV)
“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)
“I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:24 (NIV)
In the end, all of the worldly what’s we have come to believe in as necessary to secure our contentment are mere smoke and mirrors. In them, we stack clay bricks made without straw that cannot possibly support our weight when the storms of life come our way.
“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand:27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” Matthew 7:26-27 (NKJV)
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV)
Only God, Who is the same today, yesterday, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), is an eternal rock that is utterly dependable.
“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)
Where are you searching in your quest to secure your contentment?
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” C. S. Lewis, A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis
“My home is in heaven. I’m just passing through this world.” Billy Graham
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20 (NKJV)
“Wait a little while, O my soul, wait for the divine promise, and thou shalt have abundance of all good things in heaven.” Thomas a Kempis.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV)
“The secret to happiness is to be content no matter the situation. My life isn’t going to make my happiness. My happiness is going to make my life.” Full Count, the movie.
Dear friend, I don’t know where you are or what’s going on in your life, but one thing I do know: He alone is the Source for true and lasting joy that creates and sustains contentment. Content in and through Jesus is where we are meant to be!
He! Is! Worthy!
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NKJV)
Be Still and Know by Christy Nockels from the album Healer
“So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17 (WEB)
“Insistence on security is incompatible with the way of the cross…So to follow Jesus is always to accept at least a measure of uncertainty, danger, and rejection for His sake.” John R. W. Stott
Almost exactly two years ago, I posted sound affects. Yes, in case you’re wondering, the use of “affects” not “effects” is very much intentional in that post’s title. God is always present, but the world’s noisy commotion does its very best to divert our attention elsewhere. If we’re going to “hear” Him and be affected by what we hear, we must make a conscious effort to include Him in our daily lives.
“The call of God is not just for a select few but for everyone. Whether I hear God’s call or not depends on the condition of my ears, and exactly what I hear depends on my spiritual condition.” Although I had not yet stumbled upon this particular quote by Oswald Chambers at the time, “Per-sway-did or per-sway-dead?” was written from a very similar mindset. I love the Lord’s quilt weaving that is neither bound by time nor location!
My previous thoughts expressed in the original post gained a much-needed exclamation point of emphasis this morning as I walked down our street towards the waters of the sound. Not only are we invited to hear Him but to dive fully into Him and experience all He has to offer. It is a most welcome and timely invitation to intimacy.
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Psalm 34:8 (NKJV)
This morning the surf’s distant roar from waves crashing against the Gulf-side of the beach was still quite evident so long as you paid attention, just as it was back in 2018. What struck me this time, however, is that is all you can hear. When you’re standing more than a mile away from the surf line, the roar is an indistinct, constant, radio-station-static-like sound. If you’ve ever experienced the joy of being on the beach, you know each wave creates a beautiful crescendo of sound all its own, distinct and separate from the others, as it breaks along the shore. It’s a stark contrast of sounds generated from the same source.
And so it likewise is concerning our communication and thus our relationship with God. Being within hearing distance and hearing His “roar” is a much-needed and welcome step in the right direction. However, the simple truth is that our relationship with the Lord grows by leaps and bounds when we come close enough to realize He is singing over us. He is calling us home to Himself. It is the dramatic night and day difference between being merely “aware of Him” and intimately “knowing Him, and being known by Him.”
“Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me.” Psalm 42:7 (NKJV)
In his YouVersion devotional, “Discover Your True Self,” Chip Ingram rightly observes, “If you’ll take a step toward God, He will take every other step toward you, no matter how many it takes.” But you have to respond.”
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8a (NKJV)
This verse conveys a conditional promise. Yes, God will draw near to you, but we must respond by taking a step towards Him first for this to occur. As human beings, we face somewhat of a problem here regarding that crucial first step. On the one hand, when things are going well for us, our attitude is often complacency towards God. We’re not necessarily inclined to make that step happen when the sun is out. Yet, when times are tough and foreboding, we frequently look upon God with suspicion and wariness. It’s a double-edged sword all too often.
In “How to Have Intimacy with God,” Jon Bloom addresses these issues this way: “Trust is at the heart of intimacy. The more we trust someone, the closer we let them get to us. The degree to which trust is compromised in a relationship is the degree to which intimacy evaporates. This is as true in our relationship with God as it is in our relationships with other human beings. Our experience of God’s nearness or distance is not a description of his actual proximity to us, but of our experience of intimacy with him. Scripture shows us that God is intimate with those who trust him. The more we trust God, the more intimately we come to know him. A felt distance from God is often due to a disruption in trust, such as a sin or disappointment.” (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-have-intimacy-with-god)
Ridgelines are topographic drainage divides that divert water towards one watershed basin or the other. Challenging circumstances like where I now find myself are spiritual ridgelines challenging me to trust or not trust the Lord. Balancing at the very top of the divide is not possible. Unlike the drop of water precariously poised at the ridgeline, I have a choice to make.
Friends, it’s always true that whatever you read here is born out of my experiences of “walking around the block of life a time or two with the Lord,” as I like to describe it. Simply put, what I share here with you first finds its genesis in my walking. Today’s “exclamation point” couldn’t have come at a better time for me.
My relationship with the Lord has come under brutal attack the past few weeks. Disappointment has reared its ugly head in an unveiled and bold attempt to persuade me that He is not trustworthy. Feelings of abandonment have tried to capsize and sink my faith.
A couple of weeks ago, my three-year-old startup company experienced a crushing disappointment when our bid to acquire another company’s interest failed. Our efforts to do so were months in the making. Had we been successful in that effort, our company would’ve finally succeeded at getting our heads above water.
Going into the bidding process, we were confident our nearly-empty-timeline hourglass for our company I mentioned in “The Miracle of Him” was finally going to be replenished by a large supply of sand grains once we secured the properties. Such was our hoped-for expectations regarding the potential impact of this acquisition.
And what an impact it was, too, of the worst possible sort. James Taylor’s poignant lyrics from his song, “Fire and Rain,” capture the depths of my disappointment upon first learning we had come up short in our attempt to secure the deal. In that song, he sings, “Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.” There was nothing but smoldering wreckage as far as the eye could see after that utterly distressing phone call informing me we had failed.
Things have not gone at all as I imagined they would go with my startup company these past three years. I watched God create this business opportunity out of seemingly nothing in 2017. Where once there was nothing, He miraculously provided. No, I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I mistakenly thought we’d experience success reasonably early on, especially since we had His apparent blessings. However, my expectations have not matched up very well with the reality of how things have gone since we’ve been in business. To say I’m intimately familiar with disappointment at this point is an understatement.
More times than I can count, my business partner and I have discussed a quote by Mike Tyson, the world’s former heavyweight boxing champion. “Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth.” Indeed. Say what you want to say about Mr. Tyson, but he’s punched a truth ticket with this one.
As a believer, what do you do, what do you believe, when you find yourself flat on your back yet one more time drowning in a nauseating sea of swirling stars after a vicious, lip-splitting punch in the mouth? Do you believe the Lord’s affections and intentions for you are sound even in the face of relentless disappointment? Alarmingly, spurred on by this latest crushed expectation, I have found myself straddling an unexpected spiritual ridgeline.
In response to my concerns, the Lord lovingly answers with questions of His own, saying, “Who do you believe Me to be? Do you believe My plans for your life are good? Do you believe I care for you? Do you trust Me?” The truth is that His questions are reminders, invitations to experience greater intimacy with Him by trusting Him when life inevitably gets messy and complicated.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NKJV)
“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” C. H. Mackintosh
My struggles revolve around my unrealized expectations, which have caused me to focus on my uncomfortably lengthy circumstances rather than Him. Mercenaries known as sadness, panic, disillusionment, and self-pity have relentlessly stormed my castle walls. What am I to do in the face of this onslaught?
One of my go-to verses these past several years has been Lamentations 3:24 (NKJV), which says, “The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!’” It’s worth noting that other translations substitute “wait” for “hope.” Now that potential financial disaster is staring me squarely in the face, have I been guilty of only talking a good game with this verse? I said I would wait on Him in this season because He is worth waiting on, but that was several very long and hard years ago. Did I mean that or not? Has my trust in Him been misplaced?
“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’” Exodus 32:1 (NKJV)
“It’s easy to love and trust God when life is good, but when things fall apart is when you find out what we truly believe.” Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (the devotional)
Am I so different than the Israelites? Sadly, I am not. My impatience is showing, along with other less desirable traits of mine. The problem lies with me, not Him.
A fire has a way of refining and purifying like no other means.
A couple of pertinent quotes from movies I’ve recently watched have caught my attention. They share a recurring theme that fits rather nicely here. “Sometimes you gotta tear something down so you can build it back up again” (Joshua). “Any story that’s good has to go wrong before it gets good.” (Storm Boy)
Revisiting Lamentations 3:24 in light of these quotes is the smart thing to do, especially so when bathed in the truth espoused by Romans 8:28-29 (NKJV), which says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 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.”
And so I am graciously reminded that I’m an ongoing project that is very much under His construction. As a rule, what building projects aren’t messy along their way to being completed? To expect otherwise is a mistake that makes me vulnerable to a whole host of issues, the likes of which I’m now experiencing.
My attention has wrongly been on my circumstances and not on Him. Lord, reframe and refocus my perspective and my attention to You!
Josh Baldwin, “Evidence” from the album, “Evidence.”
“Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; and Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:4-7 (NKJV)
Recall and revisit the evidence of His provision and presence! Of course! Yes! I may be hanging on by a thread, but I know Who holds the thread!
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Corrie Ten Boom
Heavenly Father, I have experienced Your ongoing presence in so many different ways these past years. Lord, You rightly instructed the Israelites to employ Jordan Stones as remembrances of Your provision for generations to come that they would keep You always in their hearts. I ask You to refresh my mind and spirit, too! Immerse me in Your goodness, mercy, and grace! Fill me to overflowing with Your presence so that I will know You more deeply. Lord, my faith and trust have waivered because I took my eyes off of You. Please forgive me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. May I always seek first Your Kingdom and Your righteousness. In Jesus’ name, amen.
My fellow brother and sister in Christ, have you heard His song, the sound of His voice calling out to you? His affection for each of us is more beautiful and sound than you and I could ever imagine. He is calling you to Himself in the midst of whatever your circumstances are in this moment. Do you hear His voice? Do not be afraid; take that first step towards Him, for He is altogether trustworthy!
“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)
“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)
Third Day, “Sound of Your Voice” from the album, “Move.”
“To live Coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of God.” R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries
Psalm 23 (NKJV)
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
What if this is the last post I ever have the opportunity to write?
What if reading this is your last opportunity to do anything?
In just a few hours I will undergo surgery. It is a minor surgery that doesn’t involve matters of life and death as so many others will endure this very same day all across this globe we all call home. Yet, it still causes me to pause and take a longer, deeper look at what is most important.
What thoughts run through your mind after reading these questions? Are they balls and chains that weigh you down, buzz-kills if you will, or do you view them instead as unlikely wings that, when firmly attached to Him (“Grounded Flight of Freedom”), allow you to soar in ways and into places you never imagined possible? When the latter occurs, a whole new world of previously unrecognized opportunities to be “Flying with God”presents themselves.
To live absent or oblivious to the underlying truth behind such questions is to miss out on living abundantly. To live in their sweet presence, however, is to experience “a life danced to the rhythm of God’s wisdom in a Byrd’s song.” Indeed, acknowledging this truth allows us to live each day to the fullest. This understanding ironically ushers us into a previously unseen world of incredible possibilities. What seems at first blush to be uncomfortably confining is ultimately found to be incredibly liberating.
Can nature’s song sound any purer than if you consider it from the perspective of recognizing you may never hear its captivating melodies again? Can the sky be any bluer than with such a mindset? The night stars twinkle so brightly? A flower’s bloom smell any sweeter? Can the touch, the look, the sounds of those you love be any more profoundly moving than when you humbly acknowledge it could be your last time?
My friend, this post has continued to grow far beyond what I originally envisioned. At first, I strongly resisted this expansion, wanting to keep this post as concise as possible, which admittedly is always an ongoing challenge for me. However, what began as a bubbling spring on a hillside has blossomed into a full-fledged waterfall. It is a captivating sight. I cannot look away. The vibrant current transports me along its purposeful path towards adventures only it knows at this moment. I am like a child on Christmas morning. My smile stretches from head to toe, and back again.
With renewed vision, I see that He would have me paint a much different picture than I originally intended. Quite frankly, it’s a picture I have needed to see as so often I’m prone to see the tree but not the forest. “It’s the view from 20,000 feet high” as my mentor, 2Tim, likes to say from time to time. After all, the Lord cannot be constrained to the earth-bound muddlings of the likes of someone like myself. The great I AM is thankfully so much more than my small-minded, narrow “God-in-the box” notions.
Each post I make addresses something He is teaching me, something I need to understand more fully. This latest endeavor continues in that vein. My hope and prayer are that you, as a fellow voyager, will walk away from this journey with a more profound and revolutionary awareness of His sweet presence in your life as well. In turn, may you be “contagious, unstoppable, and revolutionary” in your walk of faith, as John Eldredge notes in his book, “All Things New.”
Sprinkled throughout this post are links to past compositions already present on this site. Alone, these posts are but singular notes. Considered together, however, they become a captivating melody, if you will allow me to be so bold as to use that description. Yes, the view from 20,000 feet is quite extraordinary and humbling. In moments like this, I enjoy telling people, “Nobody weaves a quilt like the Lord, nobody!”
“We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.”B.J. Neblett
Embracing a grander perspective is vital to ensuring our walk with Him remains headed in His direction, and not one of our choosing. If we focus solely on the tough times as completely individual pieces with no interconnectivity, we risk losing sight of not only the larger quilt He is weaving, but even more significantly, the Weaver Himself.
My fellow adventurer, where is hope to be found under a narrow, fragmented perspective? If we are to experience “tapping into hope,” then we must remain vigilant, trusting that there is a much bigger picture than the circumstances staring us immediately in the face. Hearts aligned with the Lord are then able to discover and embrace the hope lying just beneath the surface within the “Beauty is in the ayes of His beholders,” for example.
Walking with the Lord through the garden of your life, can you imagine a more breathtaking lifetime adventure than this? Surely there is nothing more mysterious, more beautiful, more revealing than this remarkable experience shared with the Living God, your Creator, your Salvation, the Author and Perfecter of your faith.
Each step, each bend, each vista, both large and small, is like a breath of fresh air after a cleansing summer rain when He is by your side. It’s seeing things as if you’re gloriously experiencing them for the very first time as a wide-eyed child. “Three in one” was such an experience. Yes, this odyssey with the Lord is nothing short of extraordinary. It overflows with sacred and noteworthy moments that span the variety of seasons that add vibrant color and meaningful depth to our lives. It’s like Dorothy stepping out of her former black and white world into the spectacular explosion of color, sights, and sounds that is the Land of Oz.
As you explore the winding path with the Lord, there inevitably comes the time when He pauses, puts His arm around your shoulder, and looks off into the distance. Pointing with His finger towards the distant horizon, He says to you with great anticipation in His voice, “Look there, my child. Do you see that?”
Squinting mightily, you peer off in the direction of His outstretched finger. “Lord, I’m looking, but I’m unable to make out what it is that You want me to see.” “I know, child. It’s OK that you can’t see it yet, but I wanted you to know I have already provided and planned something marvelous for you. The closer we get to it, the clearer it will become for you. It’s so lovely and magnificent!” He replies. “Oh! It sounds spectacular! How I wish I could see it, Lord!” you exclaim. “You will not be disappointed, I promise!” He whispers into your ear as He grasps your shoulder even more tightly. Gazing off into the distance, an ever-broadening, glowing smile of immense satisfaction appears on His face as He turns His attention back to you. It’s a smile that instantly warms your entire being.
Continuing, He adds, “I’m excited for you to see it and to share this adventure with you. It’s a long journey to get there, but I’ll be there every step of the way with you so you’ll never be alone. I must tell you, though, that there may be times when the temptation to think and feel otherwise might present itself. There will also be times in which you seem not to be making any progress. Don’t worry, though, because (S)Parking Lots have their good purposes. Remember to pursue My Word that it will always be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (Psalm 119:105.) Welcome My presence moment by moment with open arms so that you may enjoy its full and “sound affect”on you. Surround yourself with brothers and sisters of spiritual character and integrity (Hebrews 10:25.) Allow their iron to sharpen your iron (Proverbs 27: 17) Be encouraged by their stories like “Truck stop rescue”in which they have experienced My presence (Joshua 4:4-7) and unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3.) Listen carefully, my child, fear not for I will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6.) Have faith that I’m always there beside you working on your behalf “behind the seens.” Together, we will go on this quest that will be incredibly challenging at times but immensely rewarding. Keep your eyes always on Me so that you stay the course and do not falter (Hebrews 12:1-3.). Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. (Matthew 11:29, NKJV) In the end, the effort will seem light when compared to the great reward I have in store for you (Philippians 3:13-15.) You will not be disappointed. How does that sound to you?”
Listening intently, you subconsciously rise on your tip-toes in hopes of obtaining a more precise view only to come up short in your effort yet again. “Lord, I still can’t make out what You want me to see. Is there something wrong with me that I can’t see it?” you ask with a slight bit of uncertainty in your voice. “No, my child,” comes His soothing voice. “Many others also find themselves exactly where you are now standing. They also express similar concerns. You are a “diamond in the rough” just as they are. The time has come for you to move forward if you want to discover what lies in the distance. You must move beyond this place in which you have become comfortable. You must move courageously in faith towards what is unknown to you but known to Me.”
It’s fair to say that so long as we’re comfortable most of us are quite happy to stay exactly where we are. Two of my favorite quotes come to mind. The first is from the movie, “Morgan” in which Dr. Alan Shapiro, played by Paul Giamatti, says, “I have found comfort to be a possible thorn in the side of revelation.” The second quote is by John Maxwell. It reiterates the same basic idea as the first. “If we are growing, we are always going to be outside of our comfort zone.”
Of this much, I am sure: His plans and purposes for our lives are far more significant and grander than you or I can imagine. To allow us to languish in comfort when we are as yet unfinished lumps of clay would fall well short of who He is and who He has purposed us to be. His love for His children presses us onward and upward toward mountain peaks instead of little hills.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4 (NKJV)
To grow, you have to go; it’s as simple as that. An old familiar saying puts it like this: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” Stagnation is quite unlikely to happen when you’re moving. No way is the Lord going to allow His people to become covered in moss. Even God’s own Son, our Lord, and Savior, Jesus, was always on the move.
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” Luke 9:58 (NKJV)
Ironically, we all strive mightily to be comfortable, but once obtained, it is comfort itself that too often hinders and thwarts our spiritual progress. We have misunderstood “happiness.”
In Desiring God, John Piper explains, “The very longing for contentment that ought to drive us to simplicity of life and labors of love contents itself instead with the broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort.”
“Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches-feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8-10 (NKJV)
“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing…” Revelation 3:17a (NKJV)
What is the remedy for our chasing of things that offer only temporary relief in our search for happiness? How can we avoid falling into the deadly trap of filling the “broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort?” The answer? We must be firmly grounded in Him. Cultivate your relationship with Him with all your might. The better you know Him, the more you will experience His peace and joy and the things of this world will lose their grip on you.
“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life.” Psalm 119:92-93 (NKJV)
The Psalm 119:92-93 author experienced a life-threatening event. Ironically, in the throes of his wrestling match with death, however, he miraculously found life. The thorn of affliction, although unidentified, was the catalyst for such an epiphany.
This much is sure: the truth and wisdom found in verses like this were purposefully wrought on the rocky shores of adversity and desperation far, far away from the safe, moss-covered harbor of comfort. “Faith rubber meets the rowed” happens outside the bounds of a comfortable sanctuary. To enjoy the abundant life God intends for us, we must look beyond the walls of comfort.
What do you think? Was the Psalm 119:92-93 trial too great of a price to pay for such a life-altering revelation? For something that creates deeper trust, intimacy, and dependency upon the Father? For something that ultimately glorifies God?
Let’s consider Joseph’s story, as told in Genesis. He unexpectedly found himself at the bottom of a dark pit at the hands of none other than his brothers, who then sold him to strangers. His treasured coat of many colors had been stripped from him. And what about those marvelous dreams he had boasted so freely about to his family? Instead of his brothers bowing down at his feet as foretold by the dreams, he now found himself staring up at their feet. Surely at that moment, he must have felt as if his whole world had suddenly collapsed around him.
Yet not only did Joseph survive this and other challenging situations that followed, but he thrived. How was this possible?
How we view troublesome circumstances that we encounter along life’s path dictates whether we survive and thrive, as Joseph did, or experience ruin and heartache. When we face setbacks, do we see the pits as bottom-less, or as bottom-more? It would be easy and for an excellent reason to call such a place, “despair.” Or perhaps it would be better named “prepare?” Our answer to these questions is critical and reflective of one’s perspective, one’s worldview.
“It’s time that you take a close look at your God concept. Your God concept is what you think about God and how you feel about Him. These beliefs and feelings become a type of filter in your brain. Inevitably you will not live with the facts of your life but the interpretation of the facts of your life.” Paul Marc Goulet
“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” C.H. Mackintosh
The world, apart from God, is predisposed to view such dreadful pits as dead-end roads lacking hope that ultimately leads to nowhere good. Alternatively, an eternal perspective that embraces the sovereignty and flawless character of God believes there is ample reason to hope and, therefore, not give up, regardless of the circumstances.
Astonishingly, this hole was the improbable and unlikely beginning of his Coram Deo journey to becoming the much-admired, God-centered “Genesis 50:20” Joseph. Therefore, wisdom accompanied by faith instructs us, His children, to not be too hasty regarding our perception of our circumstances at any given moment, and instead beckons us to view our conditions in this world with Romans 8:28-30 in full view at all times. Why is this viewpoint so critical? Joseph became humbly teachable at the bottom of that pit, and so must we in order to become useful in God’s Kingdom.
To what end, such a profound transformation as Joseph underwent? And for what purpose? The Westminster Shorter Catechism #1 answers these questions: Q1-“What is the chief end of man? A1-Man’s chief end is to glorify God, by enjoying Him forever.”
Unwavering faith grows when a person experiences first hand His intimate presence and ongoing provision. Trials amplify this learning process. As the saying goes, “Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.” Tested faith joyfully proclaims and shares what it knows to be true. It is no longer a mindless faith that timidly whispers of what it does not genuinely know, but rather it becomes a passionate voice crying out in the wilderness that He is none other than who His Word proclaims Him to be. He has come to set the captives free! Yes?
Psalm 23 is an overflowing fountain heralding God’s Kingdom built upon King David’s tested faith and personal relationship with Him. We are to be fountains overflowing with His living water, as well. I can’t speak for you, but the still, small Voice in my heart whispers, “How well does your fountain flow?”
“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)
A loaf of bread can momentarily satisfy a person’s physical hunger, but the Word of God nourishes the starving soul forever.
“When our body needs energy, we eat food. But when our soul needs hope, what do we feed it? Promises…. Our souls are designed to be nourished by God’s ‘precious and very great promises.’” (2 Peter 1:4, NIV) Jon Bloom
How priceless, then, are situations that teach this ageless truth and create deeper intimacy with Him? If you have been to such a heavenly place wherein you have been entirely dependent upon Him, then this portion of the journey is familiar to you.
Genuine freedom and wisdom are not acquired cheaply. What price an authentic life? What price freedom? Our Savior paid the ultimate price to secure our freedom. Is it any surprise, then, that our transformation into His likeness is costly as well?
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” Luke 9:24 (NKJV)
Judging from my own life experiences, I can confidently attest that the Lord is the actual source of such wisdom regarding the importance of our moving beyond our comfort zones. What, then, are the circumstances that have taken me outside the comforts of a hammock gently swinging beneath lush shade trees? What is the landscape of the pit I am now experiencing?
I am momentarily stepping aside from the plot to tell you a portion of my story. It is not to whine or complain, mind you. No, not at all. Nor is it to elicit pity. Instead, I feel the need to inform you of my immediate circumstances, given its relevancy to this discussion.
I am at an age that is generally perceived to be associated with retirement. Retirement in the foreseeable future is off the table for me, however. About three and a half years ago, I was laid off by my former almost two-decades-long employer as a result of a severe downturn in the oil and gas business. Three days after my layoff, my partner experienced the same fate. A half-year later, my partner and I were blessed to most improbably give birth to a drilling and exploration company. We have primarily provided the “sweat equity” while a group of investors has provided the funding for this startup company. The life expectancy of this enterprise was for two years, based on our partners’ level of financial investment. Miraculously we are now one year beyond that expected expiration even though we have yet to produce one dollar of revenue to date despite our best efforts to the contrary.
As you might guess, COVID-19 has only served to compound our problems like it has for so many. My partner and I have given everything we have and more to this effort, yet we stand on the brink of a cliff. The hourglass sand is trickling away with scant few grains remaining as you might correctly surmise. If grains of sand each represent a month, then we are down to only two remaining grains. The dream will become that distant “Wylie Coyote” puff of smoke and dust at the base of the cliff from the Roadrunner Cartoon series if we’re unable to establish a revenue stream quickly. Financial ruin is on our doorstep. At my age, how can one possibly hope to ever recover from such a devastating loss? Will my wife and I find ourselves living under a bridge for the rest of our years? These are questions that growl more loudly with each passing day. In short, we need a parting of the Red Sea sort of miracle.
My relationship with the Lord has deepened remarkably throughout this experience. I can honestly tell you that the reward of intimacy with Him I continue to receive is well worth the price. Truthfully, I wouldn’t change any of this part of my journey if it meant losing Him. I have gained so much more of Him through this valley. He is my Rock, my Refuge, my Strength. It is He that keeps me in unlikely peace amid this storm-filled pit. I am blissfully dependent upon Him.
“In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19 (NKJV)
And so we return to where we earlier left our journey gazing at the distant horizon. There is but one remaining question that must be asked: “Do you trust Me?”
That is THEE question before all of us, His children, wouldn’t you say? How do you respond to Him? Will you go with Him to discover this distant, unknown beauty so that He may reveal it to you? Or will you play it safe according to your understanding and remain firmly planted right where you are? Will you be “per-sway did or per-sway-dead?”
The great I AM now knocks at the door of your heart, beckoning you to follow Him. Perhaps your response to the question is predicated upon your knowing how this adventure ends. For those that need an answer, I have good news for you. You don’t have to remain in the dark any longer. He has already given to each of us, His children, the remarkable answer to that question. Be encouraged by His words.
“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. 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. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30 (NKJV)
The Transformed You, my brother, and sister in Christ is the distant, gleaming beauty on the horizon at the end of the trail that He seeks to show you. It is your metamorphosed beauty bearing His Son’s likeness and clothed with His righteousness that He aims to bring to your attention. What was once unknown and unrecognizable to you has all been graciously revealed beforehand! Therefore, consider solemnly “the few-ture”awaiting you. Regardless of your current circumstances, do you now sense the heartbeat of hope and meaningful purpose rising within you?
“to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3 (ESV) (emphasis mine)
There is but one true beauty responsible for this life-changing transformation leading to our being “(br)oak(en) for righteousness.” Jesus, the “unfading Rose,” the One who has redeemed us and set us free, the One to whom we owe all, the One who willingly took our place that day on the cross, He is the reason. Rejoice friends for He has made our destiny sure. I say again, rejoice!
“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)
Will you accept His offer to lovingly guide you through the hills and valleys of your lifetime as King David declares in Psalm 23? The first and last steps of your Coram Deo adventure in search of the destiny He has purposed and planned for you can successfully begin and end only one way: trusting Him.
In the end, He is what matters. Do you trust Him?
“Only Jesus” by Casting Crowns from the album “Only Jesus”
“Whohas 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)
for you…and for me…seven centuries later…
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)
And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center. (John 19:17-18, NKJV)
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, NKJV)
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.16 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. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:14-17, NKJV)
So, Isaiah’s question remains: “Who has believed our report?” Do you believe? Do you know the One whom Isaiah the Prophet foretold almost 700 years beforehand would die for you…and does He know you? His outstretched arms await you…………..
“Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me) by Casting Crowns from the album “Hymns of Faith”
“Listen to this, Job, stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?” Job 37:14-16 (WEB)
In the 2009 animated film, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” an inventor creates a machine that is capable of causing all sorts of food to fall from the clouds like rain thus relieving the suffering town of its hard times which consisted of having only sardines to eat. Unfortunately things go haywire with the machine resulting in the town being threatened to be buried alive in an avalanche of food leaving the townsfolk wondering if maybe “just sardines” wasn’t so bad afterall. The early hope of deliverance from sardines by the new possibility of meatballs instead became an impending disaster of terrible proportions leaving the beleaguered little town fearful of clouds. Can you blame them?
Are we any different than this make believe town when it comes to the clouds in our lives? When our lives get uncomfortably crowded with ominous clouds our attitudes and thoughts can take on a decidedly doom and gloom outlook right underneath our very noses. As the steel gray gloom of towering clouds wears on us we naturally seek relief from our fears and concerns. Where can hope…real hope…be found under such circumstances? “Surely the promise of the crystal blue sky of the hoped for miracle that I seek exists somewhere, but obviously not here where I am,” we begin to declare to ourselves as we observe the menacing cloud for weeks and months on end. “If hope is not here, then where can it be found? And furthermore, since hope for a miracle doesn’t seem to be here, then why am I here in such a place having to endure this oppressive situation for so long? Do You not care about me anymore, Lord?”
Let me be uncomfortably transparent here. Right now at this very moment I am in great need of a parting of the Red Sea sort of miracle. It’s been that way for going on several years now. From where I sit the need for this miracle to come to pass grows alarmingly with each passing day and week. It’s like I’m riding in a speeding car headed straight towards a 1000’ cliff edge drop just up ahead that grows ever closer with each passing moment. My hope has been ruthlessly attacked along the way as you might’ve guessed by now. It’s been frequently ambushed and left bruised and bleeding along the side of the road by ruthless bandits. The story of the beaten traveler in the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37) comes to mind causing my heart to cry out, “Where is my Good Samaritan?” Indeed, not long ago I came across Proverbs 13:12 (WEB) which says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when longing is fulfilled, it is a tree of life.” I’ve read this scripture many times before, but now I can truthfully say I have a much deeper understanding and appreciation for the pain deferred hope can inflict upon one’s heart. It is an ever growing, insatiable impact crater gnawing unmercifully away at my heart. Words like squashing and paralyzing come to mind to name but a few. So does soul-crushing. It is a malignancy that erodes my deepest parts. Make no mistake, hope deferred can be a very dark pit of a place to find yourself. It is a place none of us want to know very well.
As my journey of hope awaiting this miracle has continued a new, uninvited, and most unwelcomed traveling companion has taken up residence on my shoulder cozied up next to my ear. This insistent, growling rasp of a whisper delights in providing me with a completely unsolicited play-by-play narrative of my journey. The voice knows the first half of Proverbs 13:12 well and uses it against me. This avalanche of taunts and accusations ignores the second part that speaks of fulfilled longings. Instead it seeks to reinforce the first part with a piercing Hollywood villain sort of laugh, “This road you are now traveling is going nowhere you really want to go. It leads to disaster. There is no rescue coming. Forget Him because He’s forgotten you. You have no Good Samaritan in your future. Frankly, the truth is you’re not worth any sort of miracle at all. None! Look, there’s an exit just up ahead. Take it and be done with this madness and spare yourself all the additional heartaches that are sure to come.” As mile after mile slowly goes by the whisper grows even more insistent. Yet despite its repugnant tone the message the voice is selling to my wounded heart becomes disturbingly more and more alluring with each bypassed exit ramp. How is it that all exit signs on this faith journey always beckon and urge you to take the “Short Cut” and abandon your earlier desired destination? “He, your God, is no more than cumbersome and unhelpful baggage” the voice hisses. “Ditch the extra weight. He is obviously not trustworthy. He doesn’t care about you.” And as I wistfully watch one exit ramp after another slowly slide past me as if it’s in slow motion through the passenger side window I wonder, “Why is He so silent? Why is He not acting?”
In times like this how utterly welcome it would be to be reminded that the Lord is indeed still very much present and in the miracle business. I am alarmed at how easily I have forgotten meanwhile, behind the seens. “Yes, I could certainly use a double, extra-large portion of that sort of encouragement again right about now, please, Lord.”
A quote comes to mind: “Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.”Perhaps C.H. Mackintosh is onto something here? What if the reassurances I’m seeking have been right in front of me for the entire time of this long and difficult journey? What if I were to look in the direction of the clouds themselves? Seriously? Why would I possibly want to do that? Afterall, the clouds serve as a constant reminder to me of my circumstances. To be quite honest, it’s been easier to look away from the clouds. Why stare at something that brings pain to my heart? But what if I were to consider the clouds in a different light? What if there is more to them than meets the eye? Is it possible my understanding of these clouds that fill up my sky has been too narrow causing me to overlook the miracle of His presence? To doubt His presence? Has my lack of understanding of these clouds in my life caused my hope to be deferred thus making my heart more vulnerable to attacks along the way? Is there a different perspective to take that will allow me to grasp something of eternal significance and value that will refresh my weary heart other than the hopeless one that has attached itself to me like a giant barnacle?
Lord, I need Your perfect insight and not my clouded sinsight!
Scientists tell us the average cumulus cloud weighs in at just over 1 million pounds. 1 million pounds! The average car tips the scales at 2871 pounds so the next time you see an average sized cloud imagine 350 cars floating above your head! Such immense weight seemingly suspended effortlessly above our heads surely is a miracle in and of itself is it not? How is this feat accomplished? Composed of millions and millions of tiny droplets of water, clouds float majestically in the sky suspended by a sustaining upflow of warm air. The cloud’s weight is dispersed so efficiently throughout these tiny particles that despite its immense weight the cloud is held aloft. Essentially, then, the larger more obvious phenomenon known as a cloud is itself composed of millions and millions of smaller particles all working together in perfect harmony to carry the load. Or put another way, there are a dizzying number of smaller miracles tucked away inside the larger more visible miracle. Who knew? Obviously I didn’t.
Sadly, I’ve realized I haven’t fully perceived His ongoing presence in the midst of my circumstances. My attention has been elsewhere. I’ve been focused on THE miracle, or lack thereof so far. In doing so I have been circumstance-centered and not God-centered. I have been tunnel visioned. I have focused my time and energy on my perceived specific larger need. This has caused me to overlook the many smaller miracles that have occurred along the way as I have awaited the fulfillment of THE miracle. I have focused on the forest and have missed the beautiful trees within the forest. Because I have dismissed the “commonplace” I have not recognized Him along the way and in doing so I have subtly undercut my own faith and trust in Him. To overlook these smaller testimonies to His beauty and presence is like not seeing that single bright yellow flower waving in the breeze that stands between myself and the distant purple mountain’s majesty isn’t it? Am I alone in this? Sadly, no.
“They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders that You did among them.” Nehmiah 19: 17a, (NKJV)
Back in the day I once participated in running a few marathons and other long distance events. If I wanted to complete the longer training runs in preparation for the upcoming event I had to stay hydrated so I would place water at certain intervals along my training route. This was especially true for training in the heat of the summer. Keeping that in mind do we really believe our heavenly Father would set us out on difficult paths alone and without His spiritual encouragement along the way? His Word speaks to the contrary:
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NKJV)
“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)
So long as our gaze is solely fixed and intent on THE miracle we run the great risk of overlooking the other ways He provides for us along the way. What a loss it is to miss the “mini” miracles He has so generously sprinkled along the way for us on our journey through life.
“You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, And gave them water for their thirst. Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; They lacked nothing; Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.” Nehmiah 19: 20-21 (NKJV)
The truth is most days I fail to recognize the miracle of His presence and provision in so many ways as I go about my day to day living waiting on THE miracle to finally happen. If you’re like me, then, is it any wonder our hearts become so distressed? Pause for a moment with me and consider each and every breath that gives us life, for example. Or how about the lunch with good friends you just enjoyed? The joy of a hug from a friend or family member? Or the roof over your head and the food on your table? Being greeted by an overjoyed pet after a long day at work? When you think about it this list could go on and on, couldn’t it? When was the last time you stepped aside and paused from your busy day and thanked Him for His greatness, strength, and the goodness of His provision that lovingly embraces you in a myriad of less than obvious ways each and every day? To see these we must be intentional lest they escape us. Let us no longer be blind to such “lesser” miracles because they occur in the arena of what we view as the commonplace. Let us no longer take them for granted without so much as a “thank you, Lord.”
Through Your inspired Word we ask You to open our eyes and our hearts, our very minds and souls to Your presence, Lord, in all the circumstances of our lives, big and small, that our hearts may be strengthened. Grant us Your perfect insight in place of our clouded and imperfect sinsight that we may see with eternal perspective. We praise You for all the miracles that You provide us with on our journey through this life. Each one is no less a miracle than the other in that they all proclaim and testify to Your kind and loving presence in our lives. Forgive us when we overlook them for in doing so we have overlooked You. Indeed, where would we find ourselves without You, Lord? Help us to be ever-mindful of Your generosity and kindness in all things so that we continually give You the rightful praise that is Yours. May we with continually grateful hearts acknowledge that You are our ever-present One True Provision. Refresh our hearts once again with Your nourishment. You, and You alone are our Silver Lining around and in every cloud in our lives. In Jesus’s name…Amen!
“The Lord is my portion, says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him.” Lamentations 3:24 (NKJV)
“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)
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” Psalm 32:8 (NKJV)
“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have then perished in my affliction.” Psalm 119:92 (NKJV)
Lauren Daigle, Look Up Child, from the album Look Up Child
“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have then perished in my affliction.” Psalm 119:92
“What do you think? If a man has one hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine, go to the mountains, and seek that which as gone astray?” Matthew 18:12
Not long ago our friend, Mindi, shared an experience with me about when God sent her life giving hope and encouragement in a most unexpected and unlikely way during an extremely sad and very difficult time in her life.
Some years ago Mindi’s job was cleaning the bathrooms at a truck stop. She described it as “doing a filthy job in a filthy place.” You can only imagine what it must have been like—what she had to deal with day in and day out.
One day, despite the appalling physical conditions surrounding her, she confessed with head bowed low that she was so hungry that she was considering eating half-eaten food that had hopefully been left behind in the trash can in the nasty restroom she was about to clean.
Brushing away the tears of hopelessness in her eyes she opened up the door to the restroom to begin her job when she was completely startled by the unanticipated presence of a bird sitting on the sink in the restroom.
Describing that moment, she said, “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.”
Isn’t it wonderful how stories of hope restored like Mindi’s make us feel not so alone, too? Even when it seems all is lost and we have been forgotten God reminds us in Psalms 34:18 that He is there for us saying, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Echoing Mindi’s experience Rick Warren beautifully observes, “Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days—when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you’re out of options, when the pain is great—and you turn to God alone.” Amen, brother, amen.
In the midst of your brokenness He still lovingly calls out to you, “Where are you?” just as He did with Adam and Eve in the garden. Ever the prodigal child’s Father, He longs for you to return to Him and in so doing run to your side and embrace you, desiring to fill you with hope and joy, all the while wiping away your tears in a beautiful, shared moment of tender worship and intimacy no matter where you might be…even if it’s in a highly unlikely place of worship such as a filthy restroom at a truck stop.
Are you surprised He, the creator of the universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, would choose to show up for you in such a place? Are there valleys so uncomfortably and painfully low in your life that you believe the Lord will not meet you there?
Deep down you think to yourself, “He would never come here…no, not to such a dark, ugly, shadow-filled place as I’m now in.” Let us prayerfully reconsider such thoughts.
In “Within and Without” Ann Voscamp puts it this way: “The secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.” Isn’t this what David is saying in Psalm 23:4? “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.”
The truth is the very opposite of what those negative w-hiss-pers in your head are trying to persuade you to believe about Him: there is nowhere…NOWHERE…He will not go to be with you…to rescue you. Indeed, Jesus declares, in Matthew 28:20b, “And surely I am with you ALWAYS, to the very end of the age.”
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” Psalm 139:7-12
“Yahweh is my shepherd: I shall lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely goodness and loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Yahweh’s house forever.” Psalm 23 (WEB)
Worlds apart in our minds…and in our hearts…are suffering and beauty. So opposite are these two conditions that to intimately juxtapose them so that they are face to face with one another seems all-together not just unlikely but wrong.
Just as oil and water don’t mix likewise are suffering and beauty we say to ourselves. Surely they are so vastly different from one another that they are better and more comfortably comprehended as if they exist on opposite sides of the ocean from one another.
Where there is pain, where there is suffering, there can be no beauty. We are so convinced this is truth such that there can be no other understanding to our way of thinking. After all, have we not seen with our very own eyes and felt with our very own hearts from our personal vantage point in the watch tower known as experience that overlooks the paths we and so many others have trod that this is so?
Try as we might to avoid all the thorns sooner or later we are pierced. No matter how hard we try there are some thorns in this life which simply cannot be avoided.
One day this dark, heartless rider takes us by force, carries us away, and unmercifully thrusts us directly onto the razor sharp point of a thorn. It doesn’t matter why the rider came, it only matters that he did.
Cut, bleeding, and deeply wounded by the thorn’s presence the pain runs rampant throughout our entire being. Pressed up against the crumbling, thorn-covered cliff’s edge precariously perched high above the unyielding rocks covering the valley floor far below our hearts long for mercy and deliverance.
Engulfed by our pain night and day we desperately search the all-too-blurry horizon through tear-filled eyes for signs of sweet, life-sustaining, live-giving hope galloping heroically towards us and again our past experiences remind us, as if on cue, of the great chasm that exists between
If only such a suffocating expanse of hopelessness could be bridged. It’s not like we haven’t tried to make that journey, of course. After all, pain and suffering seek relief, no, it is far more than that…they demand relief, and so countless times and in countless ways we have tried to cross this abyss, all to no avail, all to our detriment. Sadly, in our own attempts to obtain relief we eventually find that all too often the reins we once held now cruelly reigns over us:
(Johnny Cash, Hurt)
But, then God.
What humanity is unable to do the Lord accomplishes. Only He is able to bring these two polar opposites together in such an extraorodinary way so as to create the spirit-lifting rhythm, melody, and soothing notes of harmony that we so desperately seek in the midst of our sufferings. Only He can unite suffering and beauty in such a miraculous way that an even greater beauty of breathtaking signficance and transcendence is revealed.
It is a beauty like no other that lavishes our hearts and souls with the deliciously honeysuckle sweet scent of hope which we so desperately seek in the depths of our sufferings. As surely as the air we deeply inhale after a cleansing summer shower is wonderfully new, fresh, and utterly pleasant so is the message of hope delivered by His grace and mercy that is found in our Savior’s love for us.
Take heart, sister, take heart, brother, Jesus, our infinite Drop of living water overflowing with hope, comes to those who cry out to Him in their lowest and darkest times of need.
“Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (WEB)
“Jesus answered her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 (WEB)
Poised and perfectly balanced on the sharp point of our suffering like the delicate drop of water at the end of the thorn Jesus compassionately offers His own beauty, joy, and hope to us in our time of heartache for He, too, has personally experienced the anguish and misery from life’s thorns, thorns that were ours and not His to bear.
“So Pilate then took Jesus, and flogged him. The soldiers twisted thorns into a crown, and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple garment. They kept saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and they kept slapping him.” John 19:1-3 (WEB)
Laid low in the darkness will we embrace the hope and beauty offered to us by the One, our precious Drop of Living Water, who willingly places Himself right on the very tip end of the thorn that is the source of our anguish? Will we embrace His presence and know that we are not alone no matter how dark the dark, how excruciating the pain?
He has come to breathe life into our breaking hearts for His desire is to set us free, but we must begin to understand that there is a bigger story at work here beyond ourselves. Certainly He understood this in His own life as He stumbled through angry crowds broken and beaten carrying a cross on His way to Calvary, didn’t He?
He trusted His Father to speak life into what appeared to thousands of eyes surrounding Him that day to be a one-way, dead-end street with absolutely no hope. And so must we in the presence of thorns. Only then can we find ourselves in His arms swaying to a melody of joy and undeniable hope that is unknown and foreign to the world. Only then can we find the Beauty of Beauties waiting to be revealed within our suffering. Only then can we experience transformative intimacy with Him.
“But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered for a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” 1 Peter 5:10 (WEB)
The beauty of His precious hope is ever before us. It surrounds us. Even in the midst of our being crushed it is present. Surely, then, the words from that old familiar hymn ring even more sweetly in the warm and radiant sunrise of the wonderful promise of His healing presence in our lives as His precious children:
“This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long,
this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”
Why? Because, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” for then, and only then, is it truly “well with my soul.”
(Francis Blight, My Hope is Built on Nothing Less)