The Interstate 5 corridor through California’s Central Valley can seem interminable, especially if one is driving alone. So, to break up the monotony on this trip, I grabbed several old CDs that I haven’t listened to in years.
Cruising along to Carole King’s “Tapestry” album, the Lord was speaking as loudly as she was singing. “I feel the earth move under my feet; I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down; I feel my heart start to trembling whenever you’re around…” and I considered the earth-quaking impact of being in the presence of God.
Then, “Way over yonder is a place that I know, where I can find shelter from a hunger and cold…Talkin’ about a, talkin’ about a, way over yonder is a place I have seen, in a garden of wisdom, from some long ago dream,” and I yearned for heavenly places.
And, self-explanatory, “Where you lead, I will follow, anywhere that you tell me to…I will follow where you lead.”
But then there was, “I’d like to know that your love is love I can be sure of; so tell me now and I won’t ask again, will you still love me tomorrow? Will you still love me tomorrow?” And I realized that this is the cry of many people who are afraid to trust God because they have been bitterly and continually disappointed by others.
God’s Word is true and, yes, he can be trusted!
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you…It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. Deuteronomy 31:6, 8
Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” 1 Chronicles 28:20
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16
…for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5b-6
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…last week, I mean—not the French Revolution.
We rejoiced on Wednesday when our identical twin granddaughters were delivered safely. Just under 4 pounds each, they are tiny-but-healthy little miracles; fearfully and wonderfully made by the hand of the Lord in spite of dire warnings of high risk for many months. Their mother had been hospitalized for 6 weeks before their birth so they could be monitored 24/7.
The next evening my phone rang, the caller ID indicating that it was their other grandmother. Expecting a baby update I quickly answered, only to hear the words that no mom ever wants to hear, “Your son needs our prayers.” Feeling as if my heart had just dropped into my stomach; I listened as his mother-in-law told me how, just after holding his daughters for the first time, Kevin was visiting in his wife’s hospital room when he experienced sudden severe pain as well as numbness and loss of function on one side. He had been rushed down to the emergency room where they were trying to find out what was wrong. Two CT scans later, in the wee hours of the morning, I finally got a call from my son and his voice was the most welcome sound one could imagine. They still didn’t know what was wrong but would do an MRI in the morning. It was finally determined that my 32-year-old son had suffered a stroke as a result of a 2-week-old neck injury that had seemed to be healing—while he was now able to move, he couldn’t walk or use his right hand.
How could this be!!! This young man may be the father of a 3-year-old boy and two preemie girls, but he’s still my baby—and my baby was hurting and there was not a thing I could do about it except pray, especially from 450 miles away. And pray I did; upset and pretty-much begging God for the health of my son. But then that still small voice of the Lord began to speak to me, “Didn’t you give Kevin to me? Didn’t you promise to trust me to take care of him?” And memories of another day started flooding back.
Kevin had gone off to college and, looking for something to fill my empty nest, I had joined the Sweet Adelines and begun singing barbershop. One evening, 5 of us had gathered in my living room to prepare for an upcoming quartet competition—tenor, lead, baritone (me), and bass singers along with a vocal coach; working on our up-tune, a selection that was fun but also complicated as we endeavored to blend our voices into a performance that would be word-perfect, note-perfect and would have great choreography. As The Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam’ struggled to make it out of the station that was my living room, the Lord apparently decided it was a good time to talk to me, and the battle in my mind began to rage as the rehearsal continued—my friends oblivious to my torment.
He whispered, “Give me Kevin.”
“What? Not now Lord. Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“Give me Kevin.”
“Lord, I have to concentrate. Can’t we talk later?”
“Give me Kevin.”
On and on for what seemed like forever but was probably just a matter of minutes; Him repeating over and over the same request and me arguing. But finally I’d had enough and I got honest, “But God, what if I let you have him and something happens to him? What if I really give him to you and you take his life? How can I trust you with my son?”
“Give me Kevin.”
“Aren’t you going to answer me? Is that all you can say?”
“Give me Kevin.”
Finally I really couldn’t take it any longer and I gave in and prayed the hardest prayer of my life, “OK Lord, I give you my son. Even if you take his life, I choose to trust you with him. Kevin is yours.”
And almost before I could complete the thought I heard, “I already gave my Son—you don’t have to give up yours.”
My life was instantly changed and I went from being one of those mothers who worries about every issue in her child’s life to one who never worried—it was nothing short of miraculous. A couple of years later, Kevin was leaving our home to head back to school one evening and as he started out the gate I almost slipped back into that old pattern of, “Be careful honey, and call me as soon as you get there.” But before the words were out of my mouth I was drawn up short with a reminder, “He’s mine!” About 15 minutes later Kevin called from his car, “Mom! I just missed the biggest accident ever!!! By seconds, mom—cars were sliding all over the freeway and one rolled over and over.”
I haven’t worried since, but now—a stroke!!! And again, that gentle reminded of to whom my son really belongs and as I repented for picking up worry and fear, it quickly departed; replaced by peace and faith in my God who holds not only me but my son in His capable hands.
Now, just four days later, my son is at home with his wife and son as they eagerly await the homecoming of the girls in about a week. He needs a cane to walk and will require a lot of rest and physical therapy to regain his balance and fine motor skills, but a 100% recovery is anticipated. And the silver lining is that I now get to go earlier and stay longer to help out as the twins come home.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 136:1-4
How nice it is to be appreciated—to have someone recognize you for a job well done, to receive an unexpected friendship card, to be noticed and complimented. Such moments make us feel good about ourselves and give our self-image a boost. But all too often we encounter situations in which we do the absolute best we can and nobody even seems to notice, much less care. And what of those times when we are called by the Lord to perform a seemingly thankless task? How do we react? Are we more likely to run like Jonah did, or to obey? Perhaps in those times, challenging as they may seem, we should give thanks because things could definitely be worse. Consider the words of Jeremiah, a young man obviously not too sure of himself.
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1: 4-8)
A heavy responsibility for a young man, but that was just the beginning—it did get worse—much worse! Faithful Jeremiah began speaking God’s harsh words of judgment against the nations of Israel and Judah as the Lord directed him, but did anyone listen? Did his audience applaud him for enlightening them with the truth? Not hardly! Instead, the word of the Lord came again, this time with a message most of us would definitely not be eager to hear…
So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips. Cut off your hair and cast it away; raise a lamentation on the bare heights, for the Lord has rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath. (Jeremiah 7:27-29)
And lament he did, as he cried out in prayer for his people and declared,
My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me. (Jeremiah 8:18)
Yet things deteriorated even further as even his family betrayed him.
For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you; do not believe them, though they speak friendly words to you. (Jeremiah 12:6)
Well, surely that’s about as bad as it could get, right? After all this man was honoring God, following His every command regardless of the cost. Wasn’t about time for some positive feedback or reward? Nope! The downhill slide continued.
The word of the Lord came to me: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth. “For thus says the Lord: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 16:1-5)
Any chance we’re still feeling unappreciated? Maybe while we’re still moaning and groaning and feeling sorry for ourselves, we should take go ahead and take a look at a few of the other Old Testament prophets. How about Ezekiel? He had such amazing visions and wrote an incredible prophetic book. Wouldn’t it be great to be so gifted? But perhaps we’d better look a little closer because God warned him right up front that he would be required to preach to an unrepentant crowd. Is this the kind of commission we’d desire?
And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel—not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 3:4-9)
And things went down hill from there for him too! Even as Ezekiel faithfully served God; delivering His message to an unbelieving people, he was often called upon to act out prophecies of the coming destruction of Jerusalem in uncomfortable and undoubtedly embarrassing ways. And then he was required, as a prophetic witness, to stand in his faith to a degree that is unimaginable to us today.
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded. (Ezekiel 24:15-18)
Well, maybe Jeremiah and Ezekiel were exceptions—maybe God’s other biblical heroes were honored, appreciated, and commended for their actions. If they were, it was posthumously! How would any one of us like to duplicate Isaiah’s ministry and walk around naked for 3 years? I have to wonder which was worse, the sunburn or the frostbite—assuming, of course, that the indignity and embarrassment could be set aside.
At that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot. Then the Lord said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. (Isaiah 20:2-4)
Or Moses, who not only had to put up with Pharaoh’s hard heart but then had to wander around a desert for forty years with the constantly complaining and ungrateful Children of Israel.
Or Hosea, who was told to marry a prostitute; to love her, have children with her, and repeatedly forgive and take her back when she repeatedly ran off with other men.
Yep! Next time I’m feeling slighted I think I’d better count my blessings, willingly forgoing the approval of man in favor of the approval of God. Ultimately, the most important words of praise I hunger for are,
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)
How often we take things for granted until suddenly they disappear—jobs, friends, health, finances, and on and on. This week, as laaryngitis ravaged my throat, my voice disappeared and I experienced firsthand the value of speech. I guess I could look at it positively as one way to hold my tongue, staying out of trouble for saying things better left unsaid. I could also seek the Lord for what He might be saying to me, so I looked up scriptures relating to ‘voice’ and was impressed anew by the majesty and power of our God.
Sometimes he speaks so quietly we miss His message, not because he has laryngitis—he doesn’t!!! But because He wants us to listen carefully for His words; to tune out the things of the world and pay attention to Him.
And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:11-13
Yes, the voice of God can be quiet and comforting—even conversational at times—but it can also be frightening. The incredible power and majesty of His voice are indescribable, but Elihu and David gave it a pretty good try. I would imagine that even as they spoke/wrote these words they must have felt they weren’t even coming close to doing Him justice.
At this also my heart trembles and leaps out of its place. Keep listening to the thunder of his voice and the rumbling that comes from his mouth. Under the whole heaven he lets it go, and his lightning to the corners of the earth. After it his voice roars; he thunders with his majestic voice, and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard. God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. Job 37:1-5
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace! Psalm 129
Heeding God’s voice results in blessings, but destruction comes when He is ignored or denied.
If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king. 1 Samuel 12:14-15
As the prophet Samuel encouraged the people of Israel to obey God’s voice, so we are also enjoined to listen carefully.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Hebrews 3:7-15
I was speaking to a neighbor recently, a lady who is not a Christian and who has endured overwhelming trials during her 93 years; yet she still looks 20 years younger than she is, choosing not to dwell on her problems but to just keep on keeping on as long as she’s still here. It’s a philosophy that sounds good on the surface, but the downside is the obvious fact that she is deeply wounded, has no peace, and all of her self-effort has resulted in a nice outward appearance that is nothing more than a mask. In our conversation she repeated the advice, often heard from believers and non-believers alike, “God helps those who help themselves.” What a lie of the devil!!!
Oh, how the enemy must whoop and holler when we fall for that one—when we succumb to our to-do lists and the multitude of responsibilities that we never should have shouldered in the first place; when we think we have to fix circumstances or other people; when we fall into the trap of doing things just because nobody else will—all without first asking the Lord if we’re supposed to proceed.
In our continuing efforts to be self-sufficient and successful, how often we skim over Jesus’ instruction to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” We may think we’re seeking after Him, but is He really FIRST on our agenda? Or, is our ministry, job or family our number one priority? Does our relationship with Him infuse every aspect of our life? Do we pursue intimacy with God with as much fervor as we pursue all of the other things that we think we have to do? Not likely.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:25-34
Have you ever watched the teeming crowds of people at a popular tourist attraction? From Disneyland, to Times Square on New Year’s Eve, to London’s Trafalgar Square, to countless other destinations?
Or, have you ever been stuck in traffic for hours on end wondering where in the world all of these people could possibly be going, and what drama was playing out in each of their lives?
Does it astound you that God knows each of those individuals intimately—right down to the number of hairs on each head? Or that there is nowhere we can go that He is not present?
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Matthew 10:30
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, 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 cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Psalm 139:7-12
There are concepts that should astound us—truths that should revolutionize our lives. How often we forget that the Creator of all that is stands ready to help us, and he knows our issues before we even think to ask.
Even before a word is on my tongue behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. Psalm 139:4
Isn’t it amazing when God shows you something new in a scripture you’ve read so many times that you thought you had the message down pat? It happened to me again this morning as I read about the contributions for, and construction of, the Tabernacle. Moses had come down from Mount Sinai with his face shining from being in God’s presence and he assembled the congregation of Israel to lay out the things the LORD had commanded them to do. Long lists of materials and instruction followed—not too inspiring unless one is digging into the significance of each item, or has a heart for design details. But suddenly phrases started popping out at me…
And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him…All who were of a willing heart brought [gifts]…All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill…All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded…everyone whose heart stirred him up to come and do the work.” (Exodus 35:21, 22, 26, 29; 36:2)
These people didn’t give or serve because they were forced to do so—they didn’t act out of legalistic guilt or obligation—they came freely and willingly as their hearts were touched by God, and they were so generous that Moses had to tell them to stop bringing gifts because more than enough had been accumulated to build the tabernacle.
What an example for us! We need to give and serve out of a willing and joyful heart as God leads us; not because someone has told us it is required. Oh how the LORD loves a cheerful giver!!!
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:6-15)