Breath of Heaven

For many months, our church has been struggling. The hows and the wheres and the whys are not relevant to this story; suffice it to say the church has been slowly dying and those of us who remain have been grieving our once-vibrant Spiritual community. I was ready to jump ship at the end of last year. But as DH and I talked and prayed, we realized God was telling us to stay put.

I didn’t want to hear that. I cried. I would have argued long and hard with Him, but I knew even before I began that it wasn’t worth the breath or time to go on; God would win. God always wins. I felt He was asking us to be a part of His plan for new life, health, and growth. So I went back to church, and a tiny part of me deep inside started to feel a whisper of excitement in anticipation of God doing one of His God-things.

Since that night, I have seen His plan just begin to unfold. Change is slow and painful. More friends have left the church. The lessons God has for us are hard. And yet, He is with us. God has the power of life and Life is stronger than death. Even when hope seems to be dying, we can put our hope in the One who conquered death and lives forever.

These are the words of God to the dry bones, “My Spirit will bring you back to life. I will connect you with muscles and tendons; I will regrow organs and blood vessels and cover you with skin. I will breathe My own breath into you and you will live. Being alive, you will know Me as the Lord your God.” (Ezekiel 37:5-6, paraphrase)

No matter how dead, how beyond repair, how hopeless it seems, God can breathe His life into us, and doing so, He brings us back to life (John 11:21-27). Even when we have walked away from Him, He desires us; He pursues us (Romans 5:6). He calls us His own family (1 John 4:7-10). He offers life more abundant than anything we can picture (Ephesians 3:14-20) and promises to be with us always (Deuteronomy 31:8).

God,

I find it so easy to see hopelessness and desperation as the end. When I can’t imagine a way through, I don’t believe there can be a way. Yet You are beyond all I can imagine. You work beyond my wildest dreams. You are so much greater than I can even begin to understand. Let me rest in the Mystery, Lord. Let me be at peace knowing You ARE.

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Long-term Care

When I was younger, long about high school, I would read or hear the story of the Exodus and all the signs and wonders of the plagues (Exodus 7:1-12:30) and crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-31), followed so quickly by the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:1-6). And I’d be dumbfounded, “How can these same people who saw such miracles ever have wanted to abandon God for this ridiculous idol?”

More recently, I’ve been reading the promises and curses for the people of Israel 40 years later as they are about to enter the promised land (Deuteronomy 28), and I’m getting that same feeling of dismay. God is very clear in promising the good that will come if the Israelites follow Him and the evil that will come if they don’t. Still, having read the rest of the story, I know they choose don’t.

Of course now, 20-some years after high school, I can see a little deeper into the story. God has worked in some amazing and unexpected ways in my life and the lives of those I love. Yet, when I face difficult and uncertain circumstances, it is disheartening how easily I fall into the deception that God must not really want to bless me and perhaps I’d be better off striking out on my own.

Today I’m giving you a choice. You can have life and success. Or you can have death and harm. I’m commanding you today to love the Lord your God. I’m commanding you to live exactly as He wants you to live. You must obey His commands, rules and laws. Then you will live. There will be many of you. The Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to take as your own. (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, NIrV)

Disbelief is exactly what it comes down to, isn’t it? God states His desire very clearly throughout the Bible: He wants to be with us. He wants to love us and to bless us. The issue is my choosing to believe that His blessings are only those things wrapped up in pretty paper and topped with a shiny bow. Or only when He gives me what I want. Or only when He keeps me from being hurt.

Yet, that’s not the way blessings are described in the Bible. James put it this way, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12, NIV). Or how about Jesus’s own words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …. Blessed are those who mourn …. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst …. Blessed are those who are persecuted …. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:1-12, NIV). The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians to take heart, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV). It’s good to bear in mind those troubles Paul said were achieving glory included shipwrecks, imprisonments, brutal beatings, sleeplessness, hunger, and death threats from Jews and Gentiles alike. Those don’t sound much like what I’d want to follow with a hashtag reading soblessed.

God blesses us for our eternal good. He gives us what will be of the most benefit over the long term, even though it may be hard or painful now. In the same way I require my kids to learn math facts or clean up their rooms, even though they struggle and say they’re bored and tell me I’m mean, because I know such knowledge and practice will serve them well later in life, God chooses to be momentarily “mean” to us and require more from us than we feel is strictly necessary to make our lives better in ways we can’t yet fully understand. And on some long days, that is hard to believe.

Lord,

You promise the best to us. You promise more than we could ever ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). But You also require that we trust in Your goodness and love for us. That is hard sometimes, God! When life looks bleak and nothing seems to be going the way I want it to and I’m tired of the lessons You keep leading me through again and again and again, I just want to throw my hands in the air and admit defeat. And perhaps I should. Maybe if I gave up my own determined misunderstanding of Your ways and Your truth, I would find it easier to recognize the eternal glory for which You are preparing me.

Thank You that, in the meanwhile, in the muddle, You never give up on me. You are good. Your love endures forever. Your faithfulness lasts throughout the generations (Psalm 100:5). Amen.

Back and Forth

The end of the year is a traditional time to take a closer look at my life. I find myself considering this past year: my joys, my triumphs, my missteps, my sorrows. And I think about the coming year and what may lie ahead.

When looking ahead, I like to plan. I want to know where I’m headed and have a good set of directions from here to there. With my proverbial map and compass, I don’t simply hope I can make it, but I am confident in my ability to use my tools to navigate the path.

Is it just me or does life not work that way very often? Even when I may have an idea where I’m going, my map gets torn and I misplace my compass. Suddenly, I have no way to know whether I’m even on the right road or moving in the right direction. I start to run this way and that like a squirrel who can’t decide whether there is enough time to cross in front of an oncoming car.

Once again, I’ve discounted my lack of future knowledge. I can plan all I want and waste my time scurrying about when I’ve lost the tools I think I need.  Yet I’m no further ahead than I started out and I’m exhausted to boot. Not only have I lost my confidence, but I no longer have much hope that I’ll actually get wherever it is I need to be.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. (Psalm 62:5. NIV)

So many times, I have put my hope in jobs or friendships or my own thoughts about what will be best for me and things haven’t worked out as I’d planned. I conveniently forget that I don’t really have the whole picture, that God’s ways are higher (and deeper and wider) than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9).

God rarely promises a particular outcome to our life circumstances. He has never asked me to trust that any situation will turn out the way I’ve prayed it will. Instead, He asks me to trust in Him. To believe that He knows what is best for me–even better than I do. To rest in Him and allow His hope to fill me because He is everything I need.

Man, that’s hard!

Lord God,

Thank You for having such great patience with me. You ask me for one simple thing, yet I try everything I can to get out of giving it to You. I want to be the one to make my own plans, to rely on myself. I refuse the comfort that comes from just letting go and allowing You to hold me.

Rather than accepting Your rest, I wear myself out trying harder and harder to do what only You can do: give me a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

Please forgive me for trusting in myself rather than You. For settling in on Your throne in my heart and asking You to make Yourself comfortable on the footrest. Thanks for continuing to offer me rest and peace, even when I’m not really sure I believe You.

Dreams in Winter

I didn’t write this post, but I sure needed to read what Robin Jones Gunn published today.

Where did your dream come from? If it was a whim of your flesh it will not sprout or bear fruit. It was merely pardonable whimsy. But if it was a dream born of ancient truth and planted by the Father, it will arise in due season.

God is at work even though you cannot see His miracle working power beneath the covering of icy disappointment you now wear as a cloak. He will give you beauty for your ashes. He will give you a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  (read the rest on Robin’s blog)

Thank You, God, that You have called us back to You. Thank You that you offer healing for our broken hearts. Thank You for setting us free from the prisons of darkness and despair. You have shown us Your favor, God, and You continue to bless us. Thank You for comforting us in our grief. You promise to replace the ashes of death with Your beauty, to pour out joy over us like anointing oil, to dress us in praises when we have lost all hope (Isaiah 61:1-3).  When life looks like it’s in a downward spiral, God, help me to remember Your promises and to watch for Your glory to appear, just as You have promised.

Glorious Riches

I found myself getting really frustrated with my kids today. It started snowing yesterday, and by morning we had about six inches on the ground. The kids were wanting to go out and play, but I told them they had to clean up the mess they’d made first. As an adult, I know that’s not unreasonable. For a kid, I recognize it’s akin to life without parole. I tried to encourage them to just get to cleaning and we could go out. Unfortunately, they resisted. Instead of doing what they were supposed to, they decided to play inside amidst the mess. That in itself wasn’t too bad, but then my daughter (DD) snuck out to make a snow angel. I caught her just outside the door, covered from hair to boots in fluffy, leaf-cluttered snow.

What harmony had been in the house disintegrated. She huffed off to feed her snit and I sat in front of the computer fuming through mine. After a few minutes apart, we were able to talk through a bit. I realize now, I should have told her why I got so angry. It wasn’t just the disobedience. It’s because I was afraid for her. I don’t want her off playing somewhere on her own without my even knowing she’s gone. I don’t want her to get hurt or worse. She’s starting to get to the age where I want to let her have a little more freedom to be supervising herself. At the same time, I need to be able to trust that she’ll be where she says she will, doing what she needs to do.

Parenting is exhausting. It’s not so much the chasing after them, at least once the toddler years are done, but trying to help them learn to think things through for themselves, to take into consideration risks they may not have thought about, to recognize that parental authority is a good idea because I actually do know more than she does.

God,

I seem to have that same problem with Your authority. I like to think that I know almost as much as You do. I understand the ways of the world, so I can make my own decisions. I step out in great confidence only to fall flat on my face, or worse yet, feel admonished for disobeying when I don’t really understand why what I did was a bad idea in the first place. You seem unfair to me, like You’re keeping me from having fun, punishing me, even.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people. (Ephesians 1:18, NIV)

The thing is, I miss the hope. I miss the glory. I miss the big picture of what is better than I could ever imagine. You want to give me so much more than I can even understand, but because I can’t understand, Your gifts don’t always look better.

Lately, I’ve been reminded of a lyric from an old Amy Grant song, “A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way. Near misses all around me, accidents unknown, though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home.” I want so many things in my life to be just the way I want them. I neglect to consider that Your plans are greater than mine–and sometimes it’s my car that runs out of gas while I’m driving into the path of the reckless one. Thank You, God, for taking care of me, even when it means I don’t get what I want.