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)
The first week of nursing school and we were a little scared, excited, and hopeful—all at the same time. Several of my new friends and I gathered around some seniors who would soon graduate and enter the workforce as registered nurses; hanging on every word, listening in awe as they spoke of diseases and treatments that were far beyond our comprehension. Yet, even as we sat spellbound, longing for such wisdom, they began talking about how unprepared they felt to leave the safety net of our school and enter the world of nursing on their own. But how could these smart, efficient women doubt themselves? They seemed so knowledgeable and competent to our untrained minds.
Fast forward just a few short years, as my roommate and I were getting ready to go to our own graduation ceremony, sitting on our beds with those brilliant white caps in our hands—caps that for the first time ever were adorned with the black velvet stripe signifying that we were no longer just students but graduates of the LA County School of Nursing. Our conversation mirrored that of those other seniors—we felt so unprepared; we didn’t know enough; we weren’t experienced enough; and what if we made a mistake that harmed someone? Yes, we were excited, but at the same time overwhelmed—the responsibility just seemed too huge to contemplate.
Recently I came across my photo of a giant chair that is displayed in front of a home furnishings store somewhere in New England. It reminded me of those old nursing school doubts, as well as the many challenges since, when life’s issues seemed beyond me; because as big as that chair is, I know that it’s still way too small for God. He is sufficient to handle all that concerns me, as well as all that concerns everyone else in the world, without even lifting a finger. Nothing is too big for Him.
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” Mark 4:37-41
Yes, who can this be? If He can calm an angry sea with a gentle command, surely He can calm the storms that threaten to wreak havoc in my life. Surely He is big enough. His name is Jesus.
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you. Psalm 55:22a
Sheba joined our family when our son, Kevin, was thirteen. He contributed half of the money to buy her and, for him, it was a very high price—it was all he had. The deal was that Kevin would take care of Sheba but, as often seems to happen, he mostly just played with her and Mom (that would be me) did all the work. Then Kevin grew up—went off to college, graduated, moved into an apartment, got a job—and there was no room for Sheba, so she stayed at home. Oh, Kevin still loved her—called her his dog, played with her when he came home; but one day he told me that Sheba loved me more than she did him—yes, she was always glad to see him, but she followed me around constantly, seldom letting me out of her sight. Why is that? It’s because Sheba was now my dog—Kevin never paid the full price for her but I did. I met all of her needs—I fed her, bathed her, walked her, took her to the vet, scratched her favorite spots, played with her—I was always there for her—every day—and Kevin wasn’t.
To whom do I belong? To my husband? To my son? To my parents? To my extended family? To my friends? Each has paid a high price for me in terms of time, money, self-sacrifice, love; each has given all they know how to give—all they can afford. And each one shares a part of me, just as Kevin shared a part of Sheba. But I belong wholly to the only person who supplies all of my needs; the only one who loves me unconditionally, who never fails me; I belong to God. Heart and soul, mind and body, in work or play or worship, in joy or in pain—in total, I belong to God because he is the only one who has paid the full price of ownership—on the cross—and he can be counted on to be there every time I call on him. Now and forever; loving and accepting; always with me; always patient and kind when I stumble and fall and make mistakes.
Like Sheba constantly keeping me in her line of sight, I must always focus my vision on God. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love and appreciate all of the others in my life—my husband, son, grandson, parents, family, and friends—but none of them, alone or in unison, can do what God has done all by himself because;
…when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 10:12)
You are not your own; you were bought with a price. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a)
“Moving Mountains” is an article that grew out of my journal entries during 2006 when I was fighting breast cancer. It is included in my book, “I’m Still Standing”.
Mountains. How I love the mountains! And I’m not alone—any season of the year will find many heading to there to relax—from mountain climbing or biking to snow skiing or sledding; from swimming in a mountain lake to skating on its ice; from gathering around a campfire on a warm summer night to relaxing in front of a roaring fireplace on a snowy winter night, the mountains are an amazing retreat. Flower-carpeted hillsides in the spring or snow-capped peaks in the winter, they are things of such majestic beauty and grandeur that any description seems inadequate. But mountains also have another side. They are places of terrible danger. Every year we hear of hikers being lost, of people being stranded in the snow with tragic results, of swimming or skiing accidents, of avalanches. Perhaps the difficult, dangerous aspect is why we so often think of the problems or challenges in our lives as mountains that we must climb, ever straining to get to the top. Certainly cancer, or any other disease for that matter, can seem like a mountain. So, as I contemplated my diagnosis and the long and difficult treatment that it would entail, I also contemplated what Jesus had to say about mountains. In his words, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20b, NIV)
How often have I read this verse and visualized a physical mountain on the horizon; questioning or doubting the meaning—assuming that my faith is too weak because I know that the mountain is simply not going to get up and reposition itself no matter what I say or pray. Not that I doubt God’s word; I just don’t expect to see a mountain move.
But what if the mountain is really something in my life that is just too big for me to overcome? What if it’s financial trouble? What if it’s infertility? What if the mountain is cancer—or death? What if it’s a problem that’s so massive that I can’t see any way through or around it? Faith will move those mountains—yes it will—I know it will! In fact, it may appear to everyone else that the mountains are still there—but suddenly, for me, it can be as if they no longer exist. Even death? That’s a biggie. But yes again! Death is impending sooner or later for all of us—but death is only the end of physical life, and none of us is even promised a tomorrow, let alone a week, a month or a year. So if I really believe what God has told us—if I really believe that death is swallowed up in victory and has no sting—then what’s the big deal? The big deal is my own fear—fear of pain, fear of loss, fear of the unknown.
So, what will I do? I can cower in fear in the shadow of the mountain, worried about the very real dangers ahead—worried about the pain of surgery, the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Or, I can worry about what will happen once I get to the top of the mountain—what if I find a mountain range ahead instead of a wide, pleasant valley flowing with abundance? What if I find an uncertain future filled with another illness or metastasis? I have to face those fears head-on and recognize them for what they are—challenges that have been placed in my way by a devious, cruel enemy which can be removed with faith. I get to decide who wins. Fear or faith is my choice. Which will it be? Two reactions that are diametrically opposed; but one leads to anxiety, sorrow and defeat, and the other results in peace, joy and victory. No contest—faith is my only choice.
This is the foundation of my life—God is real—his Word is true—my life is his—he is my refuge, my place of rest, my peace and my hope. Oh, he may deliver me in different ways—sometimes he will take me through a mountain before he removes it. I may come to a mountain and realize there’s a tunnel—a day by day way to keep on keeping on. I can’t see any light at the other end, but I know it’s there and I just have to keep going. Once I’m through, I look back and the mountain has disappeared—vanished into thin air as if it never existed. By faith, the mountain has moved. Or, if it can still be seen, it’s now just a little blip up against a far-away horizon, nothing more than a molehill.
Other times I may have to climb a mountain, encountering one challenge after another along the way—the landslides, storms, wild animals, hunger and pain of life—but I keep on—and finally I arrive at a summit to find a vast panorama of beauty ahead. So I continue on my journey, occasionally glancing back, and once again the mountain has disappeared—it’s shrunk down to the size of the distant hills.
I’ve lost count of the mountains my Lord has moved for me. He’s proven himself over and over, even when my faith was so weak there was hardly any at all—so weak that it wasn’t any bigger than a mustard seed. And so, as I consider the fact that the cancer is something for which I must be treated; as I recognize that it’s not an easy battle; I also realize it’s really a non-issue because my God is the mover of my mountains.