Monday, January 27, 2014

Fear, Minivans, and the Father’s Mercy

"But the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid . . . "
Joshua 11:6

“The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”
--George Mueller

I eat the peanut butter cup and I realize with every bite that I am eating it because I am afraid. I’m not even enjoying it, just eating it because I’m worrying about a given situation and I am using chocolate and peanut butter as a substitute for prayer.

I don’t want to pray; I want to worry—and eat chocolate and peanut butter while I do it. It’s “easier” than praying-at the moment. Harder in the long run, as I allow the fear and distrust in God to build in my spirit the more I choose not to trust in Him. Harder because I’m constructing concrete walls that will eventually need to be broken down by the Holy Spirit of God.

George Mueller said, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”

When I choose to coddle anxiety, to coddle fear, rather than to run to Jesus Christ for protection and mercy, I am setting myself up for failure and discouragement, fear, and distraction—none of which honor God nor bring glory to Him, nor help me in my walk with Him.

I say that I am worrying because I am “concerned” about a problem. But my worry isn’t being channeled into prayer—it’s being channeled into chips or ice cream or excessive self-discipline for the sake of trying to retain control where I perceive that I am losing it.

Let it go . . . “Look to the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap and yet their Heavenly Father cares for them.” “Consider the lilies . . .”--beautifully, elegantly clothed and they took no thought for any stitch of their clothing.

Let it go.

In my own life, the Lord has used the example of George Mueller (and if you have never read about Mueller and his faith-run orphanages, I would commend his writings to you) to encourage me to trust the Lord for daily, practical needs. My husband and I attempt by the grace of God to avoid debt. We live dangerously close to the edge of Western so-called “poverty,” but the Lord always supplies our necessities and we have never been forsaken or destitute.

Recently, my faith was tested and strengthened specifically in areas where I had been fearful and doubtful. The Lord was gracious—two of the areas were in response to specific needs that my family had and that we had been praying about. One was a significantly large material need—for a minivan, and one for an infant carrier that I desired—and that would have been a large expense for my husband and me.

I brought both of these needs/wants before the Lord, and I struggled with trusting Him to provide.

In both of these situations, He mercifully and miraculously provided for us—the minivan came in a way that I least expected it—a large dealership that was trying to make a sale at the very end of the year—we usually never buy our vehicles through dealerships, but hadn’t found anything that fit within our budget for weeks, and so finally decided to try a particular dealership that came to my Mom’s mind and that she recommended to us.

We had a set price that we were working with—and at first the salesman seemed that he wouldn’t budge. I told him that we couldn’t go any higher than the price that we offered—he said that he admired the fact that we were trying to avoid debt and went to talk with his managers.

He came back—they would go a little bit lower, but not as low as we had hoped. I firmly replied that the offer that we had made was the best that we could do, and he made the effort to talk to them again.

They would take it, he came back and said—even seeming a bit surprised himself. We would just need to purchase the car in the few days that remained before the New Year—for the sake of their sales reports. The manager came by and joked with us—he seemed to be in a particularly good mood because of the New Year—and because the Lord had put it in his heart to take the offer that we made in answer to prayer.

I rejoiced in my heart because the answer had come in such an unlikely way—and the minivan was even a color and style that I liked, where I was sure (because of our budget) that it might be a hideous shade of orange, or something along those lines. :-))

And the infant carrier—another answer to prayer—a woman that my sister knew was giving hers to someone who needed it—and so the Lord provided for me, for us. He is merciful . . . and when we step back and actively put our trust and faith in Him, even if our efforts are shaky but genuine, He moves even mountains for us.

This may mean of course that we take active steps of obedience and trust—we cast out our nets, so to speak. But if the night lingers long, and no answer has come, if the net remains empty, I need to be careful that I don’t become fearful that He won’t provide for me and try to work out my own deliverance. Those times when it seems like no answer is in sight are the times that He is using to teach us to wait upon Him, to trust in Him and to have confidence that He is Jehovah-Jireh—the Great Provider.

He will fill the nets, after any hope of human help is past; He will work and move in a “mysterious” way that can only be attributed to His mercy and intervention. The glory then is His alone.

This has happened so many times in my life, especially after I grew discouraged and feared that no answer would be given, that we would be “destitute.” It may be “easier” in the short run to trust in bank books and steady jobs, and insurance policies, but after all of these fail us, it is God—the One who we often forget is the real Provider—who is constant, Who will provide for the needs of those who honor Him.

I leave you with these verses. They have been a great encouragement to me and I urge you to meditate on them and to put your trust in our mighty and merciful Heavenly Father whenever you have a need, whether material or spiritual:

Behold, all those who were incensed against you shall be ashamed and disgraced; they shall be as nothing, and those who strive with you shall perish.  You shall seek them and not find them-- those who contended with you. Those who war against you shall be as nothing, as a nonexistent thing.  For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, "Fear not, I will help you. Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you," says the Lord and your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I will make you into a new threshing sledge with sharp teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and beat them small, and make the hills like chaff.  You shall winnow them, the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them; you shall rejoice in the Lord, and glory in the Holy One of Israel.  The poor and needy seek water, but there is none, their tongues fail for thirst. I, the Lord, will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open rivers in desolate heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.  I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree, the myrtle and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the cypress tree and the pine and the box tree together, that they may see and know, and consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it. 

(Isaiah 41:11-20)

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Faith of Hannah and the Mercy of God

“With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; With the pure You will show Yourself pure; And with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd. For You will save the humble people, But will bring down haughty looks. For You will light my lamp; The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness. For by You I can run against a troop, By my God I can leap over a wall. As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? It is God who arms me with strength, And makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, And sets me on my high places. He teaches my hands to make war, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great.
Psalms 18:24-35

Peninnah was a sour-hearted woman and Peninnah was a “show-off,” and Peninnah paraded her child-trophies before Hannah to provoke her. She had something that Hannah didn’t have and that Hannah wanted and that the Lord chose to withhold from Hannah.

She was a woman “blessed” with many children and Hannah had none—the curse of her time and the agony of her heart. And Peninnah rubbed it in, rubbed it in as much as she could, into the open, aching wound that Hannah bore.

And I read about Hannah, and Hannah didn’t lash out, but rather poured out the burning sorrow of her heart. Before her God, in humble, tearful agony, and her God heard. Heard Hannah’s wordless sobs and hushed throbbing prayers, her cries for mercy. And where she could see no mercy, no loving-kindness, only the gaping hole of an empty womb, the Lord planted a seed of promise. And his name was Samuel—God hears.

Did Hannah ever feel like heaping burning coals of words, bitter words against Peninnah? Feel like hurling insults and scourges of captious remarks against her tormentor? Probably. But she chose instead to cry out, to cry out to the only One who could, who would help her—her seemingly silent God of mercy, who ultimately spoke His will of love towards His child and granted her request.

We come up against situations sometimes, and the Lord allows these situations into our lives to test us and to teach us to put our hope in Him and to trust His merciful judgements.

Someone wounds us, perhaps over and over and over. Perhaps even someone who claims the name of Christ and appears “fruitful” and much-blessed. We are barren. The Lord has withheld something from us, for whatever reason He has deemed fit. Perhaps this person constantly provokes us, subtly delivers stinging remarks, snide insults, or carefully concealed digs. Maybe they try to ruin our reputation, try to hint that the Lord has withheld good from us because of something amiss in our character.

We cry. We pray. We wonder why the Lord doesn’t deal with this person immediately and put an end to such injustice.

Our prayers give way to sighings. We either become more fervent, seeking the Lord and hoping in His mercy, or we wilt under the pressure, growing bitter and depressed towards the person who is provoking us and ultimately towards the Lord who is allowing this thorn in our lives. We have a choice—to become frustrated, subdued, bitter and angry with God and with the one who is hurting us, to lash back and to bite back and to repay evil for evil. Or to put our trust in the God who hears.

We have to ask ourselves and be honest with ourselves before God--Do I want to be hard and cold and rocky? Or do I want the life of the Son of Jesus to shine through me? Do I treat others as I would have them treat me, am I poured out as a sweet spring of grace or a bitter mouthful of arsenic-tainted words and motives?

Someone has wounded me—do I openly or secretly try to wound them back? Someone has spitefully treated me—do I lash back in anger or carefully-concealed coldness? What does my heart speak towards the Father of glory? Am I reflecting the love of Jesus in the way that I am responding to pain and injustice? What does my heart speak towards God?

There are times, I think, when a safe distance can be maintained, if possible, with someone who continually seeks to cause pain and who becomes a distraction from your relationship with the Lord. If someone is trying to hit you on the head with a rock, you run—you don’t wait to negotiate. David found this course of action necessary with Saul (a so-called believer) and Elijah with Jezebel (a heartless pagan).

But there are times when we cannot run from a situation, when we must stand strong and pray and wait upon the Lord. He gives much grace in these situations. And they are hard, but the hardness comes so that we may learn to be soft. Not weak-willed, not passive, but moldable in God’s hand, the hand that will exalt us in due time, the hand that will lead us to the God who hears.

Hannah never strikes me as a spineless, woe-is-me-jellyfish kind of believer. Rather, she is incredibly strong through the strength of her God, steely-willed gazing towards her Maker. The spiritually barren are not those who wait upon the Lord, but rather, those who try to take things into their own hands, to manipulate their own destinies based upon a “practical” understanding of God’s ways, a surface faith in Him that has never dug deep into agonies and need and heart-sobbing and cries for mercy.

Hannah’s faith digs deep and in the end, she is able to look at her enemy, her persecutor and speak these words, words of faith and praise in the God who hears—not from a heart of bitterness, but from a heart of hope and praise:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;

My horn is exalted in the Lord.

I smile at my enemies,

Because I rejoice in Your salvation.

No one is holy like the Lord,

For there is none besides You,

Nor is there any rock like our God.

Talk no more so very proudly;

Let no arrogance come from your mouth,

For the Lord is the God of knowledge;

And by Him actions are weighed.

The bows of the mighty men are broken,

And those who stumbled are girded with strength.

Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,

And the hungry have ceased to hunger.

Even the barren has borne seven,

And she who has many children has become feeble.

The Lord kills and makes alive;

He brings down to the grave and brings up.

The Lord makes poor and makes rich;

He brings low and lifts up.

He raises the poor from the dust

And lifts the beggar from the ash heap,

To set them among princes

And make them inherit the throne of glory.

For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,

And He has set the world upon them.

He will guard the feet of His saints,

But the wicked shall be silent in darkness.

For by strength no man shall prevail.

The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces;

From heaven He will thunder against them.

The Lord will judge the ends of the earth.

He will give strength to His king,

And exalt the horn of His anointed."

I Samuel 2:1-10

Photo Credit: VinothChandar / / CC BY

Monday, January 6, 2014

This Small Glory-Beast

This Small Glory-Beast

By: Alexander Ruggieri

I wanted to share this poem written by my brother-in-law in response to his dog's passing away:

His gentle, faded golden field

        Envelope his earth from nose to heel

Sulking and weary, when once was taut

        Wrinkled and heavy, youth glory naught

                Losing a battle he never fought


His breathing once quick and shrilled

        Hastened spring’s sprints, playfully thrilled

Now slow in winter’s melancholy

        Raspy and weak, no season’s jolly

                Sin-suffering, woe to human folly


His sweet soulful eyes, ever enthralled

        As memories of stares and winks were recalled

Spoke to me, “why?” O, Solomon teacher!

        Why must he die? O, foul is this feature!

                This innocent, iniquity-absent creature!


Pitiless people, putting life to sleep

        Not from their needles, but from sins that all heap

This parable speaks of mystery’s intent

        To uphold the curse forbidden fruit has sent

                While all wonder under Firmament’s lament


Alas, time came to a pause

        Eternal sleep’s coming, to cause

All limbs to linger, live sessions to cease

        His confusion the greatest, his pain the least

                 Last minutes and moments, this small glory-beast


He’s labeled small, yet discovered right before

        The dust of the earth had opened its door

That glorious is he, who declared God’s being

        And beautiful, all inches of nature now fleeing

                Injected the end! Yet Christ in heart freeing


No, not the end of companion’s script

        Even as now, twelve years depart in the crypt

“Not the end,” gently whispered, hovering his ear

        Creation’s redemption, earth’s birth-pains are here

                Satan’s lie of a victory is never to fear! 


He groaned, a historical sound of old

        Awaiting the sons of God to be clothed

He twitched and relaxed, now death slowly seeping

       Christ knows the answer to Creation’s weeping

                This hope!  Redeemed glory!  Death is mere sleeping!

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