faith rubber meets the rowed

“And not only that, but we glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  Romans 5:3-5 (NKJV)

“I’d rather be in a tiny, broken-down rowboat with only half an oar in the middle of a horrific storm with no land in sight if that is where God wants me to be instead of sitting on a beautiful white sandy beach under an umbrella enjoying the shade and light breeze, sipping on a cool drink if that is not where He wants me to be.”

Not that long ago in a far away and distant lifetime that was my unwavering proclamation.  Times  were good with fewer worries or concerns when those words were uttered.  I didn’t say them flippantly or insincerely mind you.  No, I said them each and every time with confidence in their truth.

At the time my relationship with the Lord was strengthening and growing after years of my neglect so the thought expressed by these words was anything but casual.  Yes, I said these words with firmness because I believed I understood the truth they embodied.  I had personally seen God move in our lives in ways I had never imagined before so there was reasonable cause to say them as my confidence in Him continued to grow.   

And then…circumstances changed practically overnight, and I found myself no longer sitting on the beach enjoying the cool shade of the umbrella.  In fact, that beach is nowhere to be seen in any direction from even the crest of the mightiest storm wave that my uncomfortably small rowboat has now found itself precariously perched upon.

“…In the world you will have tribulation…”  John 16:33, partial (NKJV)

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia:  that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.”  2 Corninthians 1:8 (NKJV)

As carefully chosen as these words were they were lacking true depth and grit.  “How so?” you might ask. 

To answer that question the Lord’s perspective must be given voice.  “Really?  I know you believe what you said, but do you really and truly know from the deepest reaches of your heart and soul that what you just said is absolutely true? It’s vital, my child, that when you utter such words that they convey far more than what you think to be true.  You must know beyond a shadow of a doubt they are true.  They must become living words. They must become words with My breath in them that are capable of speaking life into heartache and suffering.  You have experienced the beach with Me as well as a few storms but have you experienced such a storm as you’ve just described with Me?  Until you do these words don’t carry the full weight of My presence.  When you have experienced the truth in these words for yourself then, and only then, can you passionately and effectively share Me with utmost passion and conviction to others in need.”

 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”  2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NKJV)

How do you know what it is you really believe about God until you find yourself in a situation that tests those beliefs? It’s one thing to say you’d choose God and the beat up rowboat in a storm seemingly hell-bent on destroying you from your easy chair on a magnificently delightful beach, but when push comes to shove and you find yourself actually experiencing such a storm, well, isn’t that when you find out exactly what your faith, your trust in Him, what you actually believe about Him, truly looks like? 

There’s a well known phrase that captures this thought: “Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.”  Indeed.  Each storm that comes our way has value in this regard, but there are those certain storms of storms that take us to places no ordinary storm can.  These are life altaring (purposely misspelled) storms that literally compel you to at long last come face to face with the raw, stripped down guts of your faith. 

Circumstances that are completely beyond your control have a way of making such an improbable and undesirable meeting possible.  After all, how many of us would really be all that comfortable having our faith made completely naked and exposed?  Yet, such a place of desperation where our true foundational faith rubber is brought out of the shadows and into the light by the stark reality of the road being rowed, is absolutely necessary for our own spiritual growth and maturity. 

You say that you know He is faithful, but are you utterly convinced of that?  How can you truly know this unless you yourself have experienced it? How can you speak true life into others who desperately seek hope in their own lives unless you have lived it yourself?

“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.”  Psalm 119:71 (NKJV)

Even now as I write this it’s literally storming outside as if to help serve as an in-the-moment physical reminder of the severity of my circumstances.  The waves and wind relentlessly pound my little boat tossing and turning it around and around as it bobs helplessly up and down. There is no rest.  There is no relief. 

By default I am the supposed captain of this little boat, but it is not mine to steer.  Captain?  Hardly.  No, I am a drenched, weary, often frightened and reluctant pilgrim and no more.  All appears lost as wave after unrelenting wave crash over and into the boat that I’m desperately clinging to with all of my might.  Surely it will sink and take me along with it!  Where can hope be found in this storm?

 “And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’  So He said, ‘Come.’  And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.  But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’  And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.”  Matthew 14:25-32 (NKJV)

Jesus comes to us in the midst of our storms and invites us to let go of the boat we’re desperately clinging to and join Him.  It’s not until we leave the false safety of the boat, join Him, and then return with Him to the boat that the storm abates. 

Tony Evans says that, “Faith and movement go together, and that if there is no movement there is no evidence of your faith.” We must take that first step of faith towards Him as He beckons to us, “Come.”

“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)

Why is this sort of experience so important for us as believers?  While it’s tempting to say it’s about us, the truth is it’s not just about us.  There is far more at stake.

Seriously, how can such a defining, wilderness “moment” be only about us?  Surely there is a higher purpose and calling at work here.  Is it possible you’re the glowing, red-hot block of steel that the blacksmith purposefully hammers into a glistening sword?  “Well, maybe,” you reluctantly say, “But why?”  For the answer listen closely to King Darius’s question found in Daniel 6:19-20 (NKJV), “Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions.  And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel.  The king spoke, saying to Daniel, ‘Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually been able to deliver you from the lions?” 

Friends, non-believers and believers alike all want to know the answer to this question: Is. Our. God. Able? Daniel’s faith in our God Who is indeed able and is worthy of all praise and glory couldn’t help but leave an indelible mark in this world as seen in Daniel 6:25-27 (NKJV): “Then King Darius wrote: To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth:  Peace be multiplied to you.  I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.  For He is the living God, and steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall endure to the end.  He delivers and rescues, and He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”

As tempting as it is to cut the wilderness experience that God is using to shape and mold you short don’t give into the urge to do so.  Would you tell the blacksmith to stop forging the sword before it’s finished?

Resist the impulse to run away never to be heard from or seen again. Instead, embrace Him and together let this storm run its full course believing He has only your best true-self interest at heart.  After all, Jesus knows a thing or two about wilderness experiences.  Could we ask for a more experienced and understanding guide?  Trust Him in this process that has eternal ramifications for not only you, but undoubtedly a host of others. 

As the saying goes, “that’s gonna leave a mark.”  Indeed.  How can it not, and besides, isn’t that the real purpose anyway of such a profound, life altering experience?

What sort of mark on this anxious world will your wilderness faith experience leave concerning hope?  Such precious faith He has now birthed in you can’t help but proclaim hope through your personal experience of God’s unlimited mercy, grace, and love.  It is through your own encounter with Him in your wilderness journey that compels your voice and heart to joyfully sing and reach out to those in need,  “I will lift up my eyes to the hills-from whence comes my help?  My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121:1-2 (NKJV)   

Beauty is in the ayes of His beholders

“And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28, NKJV

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” Psalm 34:1-3, NKJV

A key question for each of us on our journey through life that we inevitably face is how are we going to handle setbacks when they come our way?

As much as we’d all like to experience a Louis Armstrong “nothing but blue skies do I see” sort of life we are not promised that experience as our own lives often times starkly bear witness. In fact, Jesus graciously…yes, graciously…tells us in John 16:33 (NKJV) that we will experience suffering saying, “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.”

It’s gracious because He doesn’t pull any punches and tells us straight up that life is going to be tough at times, but then He also reassures us that not only is His peace available to us, but that we should be of a positive mindset because He has taken the world’s best shot and come out on top.

So, as beholders, as active participants in this life, will we shake an angry fist in an “eye for an eye” sort of downward cascading negative reaction on the road that leads to bitterness when faced with a loss or a setback, or will we look to the Lord for His help and perspective in time of need in an “aye for an eye” sort of way? Will we humbly give Him an aye, a yes, to work with even in our suffering?

“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” Psalm 34:18, NKJV

My friend of several years, Nicole, has a prosthetic eye which she’s had for a longer period of time than our several years long friendship. I don’t know the details as to why she has a prosthetic eye, but I do know her heart’s attitude about it as witnessed by a story she shared with me recently.

Not long ago Nicole sent out a prayer request for a co-worker of hers for their 5 year old daughter needing to have emergency surgery on one of her eyes. It seems the growth behind one of the little girl’s eyes that was initially thought not to be a tumor, turned out to be a tumor after all requiring immediate surgery.

A week prior Nicole’s co-worker, the little girl’s dad, reached out to her about her own experience because he was aware of her prosthetic eye. The family desperately needed Nicole’s first hand advice for their little daughter. Don’t we all seek out those precious voices of experience in such times? After all, words from people “who have lived it” are like gold in times of trouble.

In the midst of their conversation Nicole was able to share her faith in Jesus with this family who didn’t know the Lord. It’s fair to say that the road to this conversation was paved by Nicole’s prosthetic eye.

Am I saying the Lord purposely took Nicole’s eye just for this conversation to occur years after the fact? No, not at all. But, I am saying that Nicole rightly gave this loss to the Lord rather than becoming embittered by it.

You have to surely agree that it’s fascinating that here we have an eye that cannot see according to the world’s perspective, but yet fully sees Him, guiding an eye that can see as the world understands sight, but is nonetheless blind to Him.

To put it another way, rather than embracing bitterness over the loss of her eye, Nicole allowed herself to become a yes, an aye, for Him and His purposes well before she could even “see” how He might be able to use her in this supposedly “broken” condition.

Brokeness, isn’t it amazing what the Lord can do with what a rebellious and angry world judges to be a loss worthy of fist shaking accusations hurled at God for His lack of presence or lack of compassion, but instead has been freely given to Him for His own good purposes in His own good timing? It’s staggeringly beautiful, truth be told.

The Lord desires that our hope in Him abounds even in the midst of our losses and sufferings to the point our ability to help others will soar when we place our brokeness into His hands.

My friend and former pastor, Tim, captures this thought saying, “Ministry is ministering to others right in the middle of your own pain.” Will you now trust Him enough to say “yes” to Him with your life, every bit of your life, even your pain, that He might use you as only He can? Will you allow Him to bring beauty into not only your own life, but other’s lives as well as His willing beholder who says, “Aye, Lord, here I am?”

“The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!” Lamentations 3:24, 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

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens me morning by morning, He awakens my ear to hear as the learned.” Isaiah 50:4, NKJV

“Blessed be the God and Father our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, NKJV

diamond in the rough

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah 1:5 (NKJV)

O Lord, You have searched me and known me., and you know me.”  Psalm 139:1 (NKJV)

Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask him.”  Matthew 6:8 (NKJV) 

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27 (NKJV) 

“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.”  1 Chronicles 28:9 (NKJV)

Our Heavenly Father knows us so much better than even we know ourselves.  He is our Creator, and we are His created.  He knows each of us deeply and intimately both outwardly and inwardly speaking to each of us intimately in our own personal love language through His Holy Word.  In short, He gets us like no one else possibly can.

If He knows us so well, then what exactly does that mean, or should that mean, in terms of my relationship with Him?

Surely if He knows me so well, then there must be much more to experiencing life with Him than the sterile and uncomfortably distant, arms-length moments I’d grown so accustomed to over so many years, right?  Seriously now, shouldn’t one of the signs or hallmarks of a real and vibrant relationship be intimacy?

A few years ago I would’ve jokingly observed that if distance makes the heart grow fonder as the saying goes, then the Lord and I should be really, really close to one another.  Intimacy with God?  Non-existent, obviously, and sad to say something I’d never ever considered to be a real possibility for most of my life.

The truth is that the Lord has always desired a deep, intimate relationship with me, but it was my aloofness and misconceptions about Him that created the distance between the two of us.

Fortunately for me, for all of us, the Lord desires an honest and deep relationship with us and so He has His ways of drawing each of us to Him if we’ll but turn towards Him and not away from Him in those moments. As we at last turn wholeheartedly to Him the door is then finally opened to the possibility of a true One on one “real”-ationship.  What might that look like you ask?  To answer that question I’d like to share with you a moment of intimacy I experienced with Him not that long ago.

Visual imagery and word play have always captured my attention.  It’s the way I’m geared much to the vocal groans of dismay at times of those who know me well.  Even the occasional unsuspecting stranger isn’t spared from my sense of humor that so often revolves around puns and word plays.

A relatively short time ago as I was walking along an all too familiar sidewalk the question as to my own worth was weighing heavily on my heart, more so than usual.  I had lost my job of almost 20 years recently so at the age of 62 I found myself wondering what good the future held.  Indeed, what could be next at my age in terms of a career?  Is there even a next for someone like me?  Next at my age is supposed to be spelled “retirement” isn’t it?  If only that was where I found myself.

So, as I slowly made my way down the sidewalk considering my circumstances the questions  “What do You think of me, Lord?  When You see me what do You see?” spontaneously burst from deep within my heart accompanied by tears rolling down my cheeks.

Remarkably His answer to this new-found longing of my heart was provided a week earlier while walking in the exact same spot.  At that time I had unexpectedly spotted a lost ace of diamonds playing card next to the sidewalk.  To be honest I almost casually dismissed it at the time as it uncharacteristically lay there in the weeds alongside the sidewalk I had walked daily for months.  But the uniqueness of the circumstances at the time caused me to pause, take a quick photo, and then place it in my back pocket without much thought beyond that.  A week later, though, an instant connection of dots was made from His heart to my heart as my Father married this later question of mine to His earlier answer in our own unique, personal love embrace.

So, as I asked that heartfelt question it was immediately answered with a voice in my heart that said,  “Do you remember finding that playing card in the weeds last week? You, My son, are a diamond in the rough, and not just any diamond, but the highest diamond.”  Astonishingly He had provided the answer even before that heartfelt question was ready to be sincerely asked. And why shouldn’t He have been ready with the answer?  Why shouldn’t He be a step ahead of me?  Why shouldn’t He use a wonderful visual word play to get my attention?

The words of Isaiah 65:24 (NKJV) ring ever so much more gloriously in moments like this saying, “It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.”

Is there anyone like our Lord? After all, He’s known me since before I was born even in my mother’s womb.  He knows the number of hairs on my head.  He knows what I’m going to say before I say it.  He knows when I lay down and when I get up.  He knows the number of my days.  I am His creation.  I am known and deeply loved by My Father who not only sees and loves me for who I am in this moment, but who also sees and loves me as I will one day be.

So, that’s the background to this story.  Nowadays whenever I’m given the opportunity I like to tell it in a slightly different way because it’s what I imagine in my mind whenever I revisit this experience.

Jesus and I are walking down the sidewalk together side by side enjoying one another’s company on a beautiful afternoon.  The conversation volleys back and forth between the two of us with delightful ease just as it does with best friends.  There is an easy going sense of comfort and acceptance.

Up ahead He spots the playing card lying there just off to the right of the sidewalk in the weeds before I ever notice it.  As we approach it, He playfully and gently sticks His elbow into my side and with a laugh says, “Hey!  You see that ace of diamonds playing card lying over there in the weeds?  That’s how I see you!”  And then as we both look at the playing card we then turn to each other in one of those good, long eye to eye sort of “I know you and love you” moments good friends often share, belly laugh together in delight, and then continue on our way arm in arm still chuckling about that wonderful opportunity He just had to let me know what He thinks and feels about me…after I go back and retrieve the card, of course.

Surely we are all just as deeply loved by our heavenly Father are we not?

Close off the world’s hustle and bustle for just a few moments and go back to that magical day when as a child you and the soft summer shower raindrops danced as one lost in a moment of absolute delight and celebration of one another.

Now, as you joyfully spin round and round with arms outstretched tilt your head back and open your mouth wide as you did that day long ago as a child.  Let each precious word of truth and beauty found in Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)  gently drop onto your face and into your mouth just like you experienced that magical childhood day.  Not one of His raindrops falls on you without your notice as it caresses your entire being saying,  “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.”

Are we all not diamonds in the rough with amazing God created potential just waiting to be set free and live according to His purposes in this world?  Is it His desire that His beloved children remain unchanged alongside life’s byways silent and lost in the weeds?

No! He desires to transform each of us by tenderly molding and sculpting us with His great, strong, yet oh so gentle, and loving Hands of Mercy and Grace into the wonderful creation He has always had in mind for us since before we were born.  It is not our vision of ourselves, but rather His vision of who we are that is so vital for each and everyone of us to embrace if the chains that bind us are to be removed.  He has come to set you the captive free, you know.

Lord, help me completely embrace Isaiah 64:8 (NKJV).  But now, O Lord, You are our Father;   We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand.”  May I be soft and yielding clay in your creative hands desiring that You shape me according to Your Heart’s desire for You indeed have a purpose for my life. You…me…as His deeply loved children…are all diamonds in the rough in His eyes.  Each of us have great and immense value in His eyes…enough so that He sent His only begotten Son to die for you.  Will you at last finally let go of your own perception of who you are and allow His hands to mold and transform you as only He can from His diamond in the rough into a beautiful, living and breathing creation in the likeness of His one and only Son?  Oh, the plans He has for you!

2 Corinthians 3:18 (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.”

 wrecker for the wrecked soul

And then mercifully appears in the lane alongside you a guiding and gleaming reminder…

wrecker for the soul WP lens flare

                                        

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28 (NKJV)

Hope.  What a precious commodity.  When present it lifts our very soul as if gravity no longer exists.  The blue of the sky seems endlessly radiant filled with twinkling stars of optimism that beckon us to embrace everything we see before us as we eagerly and delightfully ponder and dream about what could be.  Our dreams are no longer bound, but come to life with a voice all of their own.  Not only do we feel unlimited and unrestrained, but we believe in unlimited possibilities as we longingly and confidently gaze at the horizon’s welcoming arms of exhilaratingly saturated colors.   

Sadly,  hope’s immense, life-giving value often goes unrecognized and unacknowledged so long as we have it.  But, oh, when hope is gone or nearly depleted, well, that’s a totally different existence for a hurting and mournful soul.  Even the brightest of sunny days seem completely uninviting as we ponder what could’ve been but has now been seemingly lost forever.   Our world seems to be growing frighteningly smaller by the moment.  The very life we used to hold so dear is being squeezed slowly out of us as each breath becomes an increasingly labored and audible sigh of regret and loss, yet another link in the heavy chain of ever-growing self-pity that seeks to further bind us saying, “Why………….…go…….……..on?” 

Is there not one who will set us free from this sentence of perpetual despair, from this quicksand existence that pulls us further and further down until all but our faces are visible in the gloom of the muck we now call our life?

Surely this loss of hope is what Paul was feeling as he wrote in 2 Corinithians 1:8-9a (NKJV), “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethern, of our trouble which came to us in Asia:  that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves…” (emphasis mine) 

Think about it for a moment:  this is Paul, called by God to miraculously transform the spiritual landscape for Gentiles by proclaiming Jesus as Savior, who in so doing was led to write so much of the New Testament,  and who is now experiencing such despair that he no longer can see a future beyond his next few breaths?  How and why can this be? 

What is the application for our own lives thousands of years later as we struggle to maintain hope when we face struggles that attempt to rob us of all hope as well?  The very next words of v9b-10 (NKJV)  answer these questions saying, “…that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will deliver us.” 

So great was Paul’s deliverance and comfort that he had received from the Lord who is able to even raise the dead, that he felt compelled to talk about it first before addressing his seemingly hopeless, all-consuming former circumstances. 

Immediately preceeding these verses of despair, we read in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NKJV) where he boasts in the Lord proclaiming, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.  Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer.  Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.  And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.” 

Later in 2 Corinthians 12:9-11 (NKJV) Paul again affirms his beliefs when he says, ““And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in my infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

Becoming weak in order to be strong and at the same time rejoicing and praising in such:  Now there’s something the world cannot and will not teach you and if missed or avoided has the potential to create misery and sorrow, or as Paul says, despair, in a person’s life.

Perhaps you’re in a difficult situation similar to Paul’s experience in which you too feel all hope has been lost.  The truth is you have lost hope in hope.  Navigating down the unforgiving and hardened concrete highway of your life you are surrounded by the restless storm of humanity caught up in their own fight for survival.  Each is caught up in their own lives and worlds as they speed by without giving you so much as a second thought. 

Ironically, we are alone in the midst of many, each of us feeling as if we’re a castaway on a deserted island often unnoticed by even those closest to us.  As your eyes desperately seek to make contact with those around you only to be greeted by a blank stare your heart cries out, “Is there not one who can help me?  Will you help me, please?”   Sadly, they are seeing, but not seeing, hearing, but not hearing, and as the reality of this sinks ever deeper into your soul your heart beats a little less enthusiastically with a little less purpose with each missed opportunity of hope.

“I am done…it is over…I am broken and ruined,” you say to yourself.  And then mercifully appears in the lane alongside you a guiding and gleaming reminder there is One who hears each of your cries for help, there is One who knows your pain and suffering because He too has been there, there is One who captures your tears in a bottle and holds them next to His heart for they are dear to Him, there is One who not only seeks to deliver you out of your despair but actually can do so, there is One whom stands by your side and who alone is your rescuer and deliverer for your grieving soul.  

For far too long you realize you’ve been holding onto that last deep breath of yourself as the murky waters steadily rise around you for fear it would be your final moment. 

But what if that last breath you’ve so desperately clung to all of this time if once given up was actually a necessary step towards hope? What if your last exhaled, heaving gasp of yourself rather than signifying the end was the beginning of the path called hope you have longed and wept for so many lonely days and nights ? What if that long, last breath of yourself you just expelled heralded your first inhalation of true life through Him as He intended it to be all along for you? No longer is it your breaths filled with so much hopelessness, but instead His breath of life that sustains you.   

Friend, now that you have Him firmly in sight steadfastedly fix your heart’s gaze on His cross and determine to wholeheartedly follow Him wherever He might lead for true hope can only be found in Jesus, the strong wrecker for your weak and wrecked soul.

“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)

“Therefore we do not lost heart.  Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things that are not seen are eternal.”  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NKJV)

tapping into hope

“The Lord is my portion’, says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him.’” Lamentations 3:24 (NKJV)

A town of about 600 people in Morocco was recently reported as not having water for three months during the summer.  A three month dry spell with no running water is a long time.

It’d be really easy and tempting to just shut the tap off and be done with it, but if you choose to live expectantly then the only logical thing to do is leave the tap open because today might be the day that the water once again flows.   And when it does you want to be ready to capture every sweet drop because there’s no guarantee as to how long it will flow for these people.  It could be on from here on out, but it could be just a momentary surge lasting only a few hours.

Regardless of how long the water flows how terrible would it be if you were to find out later in the day from your neighbor that the water had indeed come on, but just for the morning, so you missed out on this opportunity because your tap was purposefully turned off?

No, this is so important that you need to experience it first hand for yourself.  You don’t need to be found waiting to be told the good news too late to do you any good by your neighbor.

Your neighbor, by the way, didn’t tell you sooner because she was busy in her own house filling as many containers with water as she could at the time leaving you with that woulda, coulda, shoulda sinking feeling.  “Gee, it was so dry before, but now somehow it really feels even more dry,” you say to yourself as your neighbor heads back to her own house for a cool drink.

When times get hard or tough it’s easy to fall into the spiritual trap of pulling back, of giving up.

While it’s true you managed to keep your spirits up for a few weeks by remaining faithful with your devotional and prayer time, but as the “dryness” of your seemingly unanswered prayers continued on day after day you gradually spent less and less time alone with the Lord, until one day you threw your arms up in the air in “what does it matter?” futility, turned the “tap” off, and walked away.

Maybe you didn’t walk permanently away for good, but the wonderful times of closeness you used to feel when you were with Him just didn’t have that same intimacy that they once did.  So now your time spent with Him is much more like a quick 5 minute hit.  You hurriedly walk up to the faucet, give it a quick flick of your wrist, nothing comes out, so you turn it “off” just as quickly as you turned it “on” all the while muttering to yourself,  “Why did I even bother? I knew nothing was going to come out.”

And so you continue on with your day with an ever growing sense of hopelessness.  The very thought of leaving the faucet open all of the time as some of your friends have suggested is simply more than you can bear.  “Why that sort of expectation encouraging me to wait on Him is only setting me up for even more heartbreak,” you say to yourself as you kick the rock on your sidewalk off into the street.  “Besides, they don’t have a clue at all about  what I’m dealing with over here.”

Before you know it you’re spending less and less time with those friends who used to be so close to you.  In his book, “The Making of a Man of God, Alan Redpath says, The burden presses you down to the point where you have begun to doubt God, and even to doubt your friends.  The one always follows the other; when a man begins to loosen his hold upon the promises of God he begins to lose his contact with spiritual friendships.  A chill in our relationship with heaven is always followed by a chill in our relationships down here.  Oh, how readily the sheer pressure of some situation that is absolutely overwhelming throws us completely off balance, until we learn the lesson that God has for us right in the middle of it.”

In our season of dryness, of difficult circumstances, and as believers we all experience them, what lesson is the Lord trying to teach us? Or is the pain of your circumstances so great you prefer Him not to even be present?  If so, essentially you’ve turned the tap completely off.  Unless you invite and embrace the Lord’s active presence into your life regardless of your circumstances you are left to fight a battle you cannot win in your own strength.

Surely there must be a reason, His reason, for this drought in your life, right?  Life quickly becomes meaningless especially in bad or difficult times when viewed from only our own limited perspective.  Such a perspective can find no reason for suffering whatsoever leading one into despair and hopelessness.

One must believe God has a reason for this dry time of trial in your life, otherwise what is one to do?  Where can hope be found apart from Him?  Hope leaves the tap open no matter the circumstances.  It has to, it has no other choice.

Circumstances in our lives that put our hearts right up against the choice to leave the tap open or leave it closed are defining moments in our faith journey.  It’s as if God is saying to us, “You say you trust Me, but do you really?  In the face of trials do you really believe I am good and always have your best interest at heart?”

The faith rubber hits the road like a jet airliner’s tires give up that tell-tale puff of smoke once they touch the tarmac during landing in trying times.  He’s asking if we will embrace His rightful place as our Heavenly Father and give Him the reins to our lives so that He can accomplish His good and perfect will in our lives for His purposes as found in Isaiah 61:3 (ESV), “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.” 

Surely you didn’t think becoming an oak of righteousness would be an easy journey did you?  A heart after His own heart does not, and cannot, magically happen overnight with the wave of some magic wand.  It is a road that calls for perseverance.  It is a road that calls for us to leave the tap open.  Romans 5:3-4 (NKJV), “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance,; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Why do we face various trials?  What is the purpose?  Is there a purpose? His desire is that we become like His Son, our Savior, as found in Romans 8:29 (NKJV) which says, “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.”  Knowing this should our expectations for this sort of life journey to such a glorious destination be much different than Jesus’ own path that He walked while here on this earth?  Praise God that Jesus embraced His purpose and left the tap open all the way to the cross!  He placed Himself second to the Father.  And so must we.

Redpath goes on to say that each of us as His children have a “stone of destiny in every circumstance of life.”  He bases this on the story found in 1 Samuel 20 concerning how Jonathan would let David know of Saul’s intentions toward him, whether of peace, or death.

As the story goes once Jonathan determined Saul’s intentions toward David he would shoot arrows into the field in which David was hiding.  If the arrows came close to David then it was safe for him to come home, but if the arrows were to fly over his head then he must leave in order to live.

As they had planned David hid next to his own stone of destiny known as Ezel (I Samuel 20:19; “the stone that sheweth the way” AV) and upon seeing Jonathan’s arrows fly over his head David knew he could not return home but must leave immediately.  Redpath describes the situation like this, The decision, however, was out of David’s hands completely.  All he had to do was to stand by the stone Ezel and wait for an arrow from heaven unerringly to hit the target-an arrow that would tell him either to go out into the wilderness or back into the palace of Saul.” (emphasis mine)

Are you able or willing to keep the tap open by recognizing at some point in your circumstances that the decision is out of your hands and solely in the Lord’s?  Or as summarized by Redpath, “If I truly belong to Him, if He has filled me with His Spirit and marked me as His, then whatever the pressure upon my life at this point, the issue is out of my hands altogether.”

Please allow me to once again to quote Redpath as this particular writing comes to a closeI think what he says is beautiful and rather than attempting to paraphrase his words, I simply choose to let his heart speak directly to our hearts. “Jesus Christ is our stone of destiny, rooted in a green hill outside Jerusalem.  The burden of the pressure of circumstances, whatever it is, may be rolled away as you bring it and leave it at His feet.  What else can you do?  You are in a predicament, unable to turn this way or that.  It is a glorious position to be in: the government is upon His shoulder and your hands are right off the situation; only He can guide.  All you can do is what David did, as he took his stand at his stone of destiny and waited.

It is a great thing to be in a position like that, when all you can do is to take your stand at Calvary, and wait.  There are so many paths, and naturally some would seem far more attractive than others.  Left to choose our way, what fools we make of ourselves!  There may be many alternatives that seem, humanly speaking, more reasonable and attractive than God’s way.  But there is only one way that leads to the throne, and that is God’s plan for your life and mine.”

We’re all familiar with that television commercial from a few years ago that used to end with “We’ll leave the light on for you.”  My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we struggle to find our way through various trials let’s determine right here and right now that we will choose to leave the tap wide open and not closed because He is indeed worthy and good, and yes, He always has our best interest at heart.

Yes, it’s a risk to our hearts, but consider, if you will, the risk He first took that day on Calvary for each of our own eternal sakes.  He held nothing back…He’s asking us to do the same.  You know it as well as I do, my friend…He would’ve died for you and you alone even if no one else would’ve chosen Him generation after generation after generation.  You are His.  He is yours.  Tap into His heart for it is good beyond measure.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)

meanwhile, behind the seens

Isn’t it funny how sometimes the Lord moves excruciatingly slow from our perspective, but then…

by J Perey

mole cross 2-crop edit

“For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,”  Romans 1:20 (NKJV)

“For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides You, Who acts for the one who waits for Him.”  Isaiah 64:4 (NKJV)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge Him,
  and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord  your God will be with you wherever you go.”   Joshua 1:9 (NKJV)

“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)

Not long ago I was in a very lonely place of discouragement.   It’s easy to find yourself in just such a spot when you find yourself in your 60’s and unexpectedly no longer employed by the company you successfully worked at for almost 20 years.

One afternoon weeks after the layoff in an effort to find some relief from the downheartedness I was feeling I reached out to some people I hoped might provide me with some encouragement.   I thought that perhaps “this time” when I reached out to them it would not be like all of the other times I’d made myself vulnerable to them.  Those times always seemed to result in me finding myself saddled with the additional weight of their judgmental and discouraging attitude.

Sadly, and predictably,  this latest attempt at finding relief and freedom from my heaviness was no different than all the other times and resulted in my feeling even more captive and oppressed than before the conversation began.

“What was I thinking?  What in the world made me think that this time it would be different than all the previous other times?” I said to myself as I blindly stared at the floor in front of me as soon as the conversation ended.  Yet, sadly, I must admit I do.

I went to bed feeling even more beat up than I had before the phone call.  So, as I lay there enveloped in the arms of the dark’s stillness and silence I turned to the One who is always there, the One who has never failed me, the One who truly understands and loves me.  As I lay there in bed with a downcast heart that night I asked the Lord for His encouragement before finally falling asleep.

Isn’t it funny how sometimes the Lord moves excruciatingly slow from our perspective, but then there are other times He moves with such quickness and in such a way that your jaw spontaneously drops wide open all the while leaving you speechless?

I can’t help but laugh outloud at how wonderfully ironic it is that He would playfully use something we all consider so slow moving to answer the nighttime cries of His child’s wounded heart so quickly.

Friends, let me pause here for just a moment before continuing on with this story, and encourage you to truly embrace and rejoice in our Lord’s creative genius that knows no equal who also just happens to possess an equally arresting and absolutely delightful sense of humor with an uncanny sense of comedic timing that translates into an unmatched manner of teaching girded by the tender and gentle rock of His love.  He is the multi-faceted teacher’s teacher and so much more…He is our Father!  The very next morning I was invited into His classroom, no, His living room, to receive just such a immensely kind, generous, personal gift that completely lifted the fog of discouragement that had surrounded me.  He spoke life into me.

The “backstory” leading up to this particular moment of enlightenment is like so many of these in my life.  I’d been drawn for some time to the mole burrows that were being added to my yard on an almost daily basis.  Fascinated by the ever expanding and unpredictable rows of bumps, and zany zigs and zags I tried for several weeks to take a meaningful or interesting picture of them, but could never come up with a photo of any sort of substance thanks to the sheer randomness of the burrowing.  I tried all the various ways of taking a photo from different angles with no success at all.  Click…delete. Click…delete.  Click…delete.

Yet, still I was drawn to the mole’s handiwork and would always do a visual survey of his nighttime activity the next morning.  This unrewarding photographic pursuit continued all the way up to the night marking the height, or perhaps better yet expressed as depth, of my discouragement topped off by that painful sharp knife of a phone call.   And yes, by this time it’s obvious I had coincidentally pretty much given up any hope of my making anything photographically worthwhile happening.  That pursuit was pretty much shaping up to be a dead end to my way of thinking.

But then…the sun rose again the very next morning just like it’s supposed to and as I opened up the blinds on the back door just like I always do I was greeted by an amazing sight that needed no special perspective to see or understand or feel.

The personal hopelessness I was experiencing personified by the mole’s random burrowing that had perplexed, confounded, and held me captive for weeks was now instantly gone replaced by a glorious message of renewed hope as I stood there speechless, gazing at the rugged shape of what was obviously a cross to me.

Moles work tirelessly overnight doing exactly what God has called and created them to do.  Evidence of their work done while we sleep only becomes visible at daybreak.

Let’s face it, moles are painfully slow going about their seemingly random business from our perspective.  After all, moles work in the dark and are well known for having incredibly poor eyesight.

Consider for a moment, though, our perspective of God’s presence in our own lives through this same lens.  Do we not often perceive God’s active involvement in our lives in similar largely blind, impatient fashion?

How easily we can become discouraged thinking He has left us to fend for ourselves because we can’t see His hand moving on our behalf at any given moment.  But then “suddenly” God moves, and  what was once seen as random unrelated events in our lives, exemplified by the mole’s seemingly aimless tunneling that typically wanders about without an obvious purpose, takes on a whole new meaning once illuminated by His light of day.  At that moment we are graciously granted an eternal perspective, His perspective.

Consider that our Heavenly Father is always engaged in our lives regardless as to whether we can see or understand it or not at any particular point in time.  Just because we don’t or can’t “see” evidence of Him working on our behalf at that exact moment doesn’t mean He’s not there for us.

Many times it is not until His handiwork is illuminated the “next day” that we are finally able to see that, yes, He has been striving on our behalf “underground” behind the scenes.  Ah yes, then comes the wonderful morning light of our understanding that boldly proclaims and reveals to us that, indeed, He has most assuredly been beside us all along and that we have never been alone.

As His children we must rest and trust that He is constantly working in our lives behind what is readily seen with the cross of His Son, our precious Savior, in mind whether we realize it or not at the time.  Believe and trust Him to act on your behalf for your good even if you feel abandoned and alone and can’t “see” Him at work.

By faith have you thanked and praised Him for always being there for you regardless of your circumstances at the moment?  Ask Him to open your eyes, mind, and heart to His active presence in your life, and thank Him for all the many, creative and loving ways He communicates to you of His presence that sweetly whispers, “Yes, I Am is right here with you, my precious little child! I Am is trustworthy! Do not be afraid. You have not been forgotten for you are greatly loved such that with an everlasting love and an unfailing kindness have I drawn you to Me!”

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering towards us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV)

“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 or be dismayed.”  Deuteronomy 31:8 (NKJV)

“Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to his power that works in us, to Him be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21 (NKJV)