The little girl looks up at her father and speaks in her soft little voice. Her father leans down, putting his ear closer to her in order to hear her clearly. He wants to hear every word she has to say because he loves her.
That picture is what we need to see when we wonder if God is hearing our prayers. He is that father, who leans down, bending over and turning his face toward us, intent on hearing every cry of our heart…because He loves us.
Psalm 116: 1-2 I love the Lord, because He hears My voice and my supplications.Because He has inclined His ear to me, Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live. (NASB)
I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy.Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! (NLT)
As a child, it is very important to know that someone is listening, that someone cares about what you have to say. As God’s children, we have the assurance that He is listening to us. What we say to Him is important to Him. And because we know He hears us, we love Him all the more.
Do you remember geometry class? The shortest distance between two points is…a straight line, right? In a basic sort of way, that’s the correct answer. There are situations that are the exception but they can get complicated and we could examine them for a long time.
For the sake of discussion, let’s consider the answer to be a straight line.
So let’s talk about obedience for a moment. If God speaks to you and you know that there is something you are supposed to do, or not do, what do you do? Do you respond instantly and agree to follow God’s direction and obey Him or do you stall and make excuses about why you can’t do what the Lord has asked?
I can tell you what I have found myself doing at times. If you’ve seen the movie The Wizard of Oz, you will remember the scene where Dorothy is in Munchkin Land and is beginning her walk down the yellow brick road. She starts at the center and makes a spiral round and round until she’s finally on the straight road to Oz. Consider for a moment the reverse of that walk, with the goal at the center. What I’ve found myself doing is to start from where I stand, seeing the place God has directed me at a distance in front of me and instead of making the decision to move directly toward the goal, I walk around and around it. Looking at it from all sides, I consider it and gradually move closer to the goal but in a slow spiral. I know I’ll eventually make my way to the center and obey God but I take my time getting there.
But is that obedience? Not really. Delayed obedience really isn’t obedience at all. As a parent, I expect my children to obey my directives without procrastinating. I believe it’s a sign of respect. Doesn’t God deserve that respect from us in every situation? Doesn’t He deserve immediate obedience in all things?
So back to our geometry lesson. The shortest distance between two points? The place where I am and the place God has directed me to go? A straight line.
Obedience is always a straight line.
Just as a servant knows that he must first obey his master in all things, so the surrender to an implicit and unquestionable obedience must become the essential characteristic of our lives.”~ Andrew Murray
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. John 14:15
Recently I had the opportunity to watch a beautiful Florida sunset. I was in Florida with two of my boys. We’d travelled there from Iowa to be with my 96-year-old grandfather who had fallen and was in the ICU. We’d spent many hours with him in the hospital and then helped him transition into Hospice. We had taken a much needed break from a very difficult week and gone to a favorite pier on the Gulf of Mexico to get some fresh air and rest a little.
As I watched the spectacular sunset, I couldn’t help but see the parallel of my grandfather’s life. He is experiencing the sunset of a life well lived. He has no regrets and has been heard to say quite often, “I’ve had a good life. No one has had a life like mine.” But now his life is coming to an end and the sun is setting.
As we watched together, my sons and I, the younger one said, “Mom, isn’t it neat that while we’re watching the sun setting, someone else is seeing it rise?” I thought about that and realized that God was trying to tell me something so simple but so profound.
The end of a life is not the end but the beginning of something new for a believer in Christ. It’s also not the end for those of us left behind, but is the beginning of a new chapter where we can continue the legacy of what we’ve learned from someone we love. We can all choose to leave a legacy to the generations to follow. Each one of us can impact someone else’s life and leave the world a better place because we tried to make a difference. That’s what my grandfather did.
My grandfather’s last words to my sons were, “Remember fellas, family is important. Make it good.” Perhaps they will be heard to say those same words to their great grandchildren sometime in the future. They can choose to follow Christ and impact future generations. Psalm 103:17 tells us But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children (NIV)
God has been showing me that this principle of sunset and sunrise applies to all aspects of life. Whenever there is an end to something, whether it be a relationship, a job, or just a season in one place, there is also a new beginning. Something new always follows.
It’s okay to grieve the end of something but allowing yourself to find hope in the promise of a new beginning is what will bring the healing. I will miss my grandfather so much but I know I will see him again. In that I can rejoice while I begin the next chapter of the life God has given me.
The last part of Psalm 30:5 says Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.
Indeed, joy comes in the morning, with the sunrise of a new day.
Have you ever been to a corn maze? In every direction, all you can see are walls. Walls of corn taller than you are. You move through the paths finding dead end after dead end. Each time you must retrace your steps you wonder if the next choice will be the right one. It’s easy to get turned around and find yourself in the same dead ends over and over again. In a complex maze, it could be possible to wander for so long that anxiety increases to the point of panic.
Our lives are like that maze. We can only see the path we are on. We can only make one decision at a time. We cannot always see whether we are making any progress at all. We just keep moving, hoping we will eventually come out at the right place.
What we don’t want to do is let anxiety or panic take over. What must we do to prevent this? We must make the decision to trust God no matter how tall the walls and how complicated the path. No matter how confused we feel as we wander from dead end to dead end.
You see, God is the designer of the maze. He knows exactly which path we must take to get to the exit. If we could rise above the walls and see it from His perspective we would not be concerned about making it out. We would be confident in each turn because we could look ahead and see the dead ends so that we could avoid them.
But we can’t see our lives from an external perspective. We can only rely on God for guidance. We can also rest in the knowledge that even when we make a wrong turn, we don’t get lost forever. We can always turn around and try again. That’s God’s grace at work. He will patiently lead us along the path and will bring us out of this maze called life when we have completed all he has designed us to do. Each path teaches us something, even the dead ends.
Keep moving and trust God to guide you. Listen to the quiet voice of the Lord, leading you to Himself one step at a time. You really are getting closer every day even though you can’t always see it.
Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30:21
God’s grace is a mystery. How can He continuously offer undeserved grace to us? How can He give us chance after chance to get it right and love us when we fail over and over?
God gives grace for the moment. One moment at a time. He doesn’t give us a stockpile of grace to use at our convenience or at our leisure. He gives it as we need it and only He knows when that is.
For that matter, He doesn’t give us a stock pile of anything. Everything He has for us; grace, peace, wisdom, knowledge…it’s all given exactly in the moment we need it and never before. We can’t save it up for future use. If we did that, we would find ourselves depending on our own ability to ration out the supply as we felt we needed it. We would stop being dependent on God.
Sometimes we think God has left us or forgotten us but He cannot do that. When we ask for forgiveness, He forgets our sin but He has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. He is always with us.
There’s an old song that says “Your Grace is sufficient for me. Your strength is made perfect, when I am weak. All that I cling to I lay at your feet. Your grace is sufficient for me.”
It is in that place of surrender that God’s grace is enough. He can only fill an empty vessel. When you lay all the things you are depending on for your strength at his feet, he can fill you with his perfect strength. And there you will find peace as well.
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
At the end of the 9th chapter of Luke there is a short bit of dialog between Jesus and his followers.
“And as they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” 60 But he said, “Permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 And another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62 (NASB)
In the scriptures, there are references to the third watch. Most scholars believe this is the time between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning. The time most of us are asleep. That is unless we happen to be wide awake. Sometimes sleep is evasive.
I used to have trouble sleeping. I’d wake in the night and the silence in my usually noisy household would be overwhelming. As I lay there trying to do all the things that are supposed to help sleep ( I never actually resorted to counting sheep) I would become more and more anxious and the quiet would become heavier and heavier. I’d think of all sorts of things that only increased the anxiety.
And if I had one long sleepless night, I would find myself dreading the next night. What if it’s the same? What if I am awake again for hours, all alone? The more I would dread it the more likely it was to happen again.
I tried reading, I tried watching a movie, I tried writing. Those things were all fine activities, that I should have been doing in the daytime, not when the rest of the household was in pleasant slumber while I counted the minutes until sunrise. And none of those things helped me sleep.
Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place. I went to God’s Word. I laid my anxiety before Him and asked him for wisdom and for peace.
Here is what he gave me.
Psalm 4:8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.
Proverbs 3:24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Do I still have sleepless nights sometimes? Yes. But now I know that if I am awake, God knows it. He has promised me sweet sleep so eventually I will sleep. In the meantime, I read my Bible and thank the Lord for His promises. I also pray for others who might be awake and anxious as I used to be. Now I believe that if I am awake, I might as well put that time to good use. I use it to pray not only for those who might also have anxious nights but also for anyone God brings to mind. I am not distracted in those moments and I can pray with purpose.
If you are troubled by sleeplessness, spend some time meditating on the verses above. Maybe even commit them to memory. And join me in praying for others who sometimes struggle in the third watch.
Today I was thinking about this question. What does it mean to really follow Christ? Of course it means that we have made that life-changing decision to ask Him to be Lord of our lives. But when we agree to that, we may not fully understand that it means Lord of everything. Every. Thing.
So really, following Christ isn’t just saying yes to Him. It’s saying no to the world over and over and over. Every time we say no to something the world offers we are saying yes to Jesus again. We are reaffirming our commitment to follow Him.
It’s a daily, moment by moment, kind of thing.
The decision to follow Christ is really a collection of daily choices made one decision at a time. Forever.
The scriptures are full of examples showing us that God was intentional in making each of us a unique creation. Just look at the folks in the Bible stories. They are all very different. Each one was created for a specific purpose that God planned in advance.
Sometimes it’s easy to be caught up in the comparison game where we look at others and wonder why we weren’t made more like them. We are not just tempted to look at the outward appearance; we also compare talents and abilities. We might be tempted to ask God why he didn’t make us smarter, more outgoing, more organized, less sensitive, more confident, slimmer, taller… the list goes on and on.
We’ve heard the verses in Psalm 139 often. We may even have them committed to memory. Verse 16 says “Your eyes saw my unformed body;all the days ordained for me were written in your bookbefore one of them came to be.” God had our future designed for us before we were fully formed. He knew exactly what he created us to do.
Jeremiah 1:5 tells us that God already knew what Jeremiah was going to do before he was even created. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah was designed for a special purpose and God was thinking about that purpose when he was creating Jeremiah. Much like a craftsman knows what his project will be used for even as he’s cutting the wood. He doesn’t just cut all the wood the same way. Each project has specific dimensions that are required depending on the final purpose of the finished project.
Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that we too have a specific purpose. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
I believe Dr. Seuss had an understanding of this truth and put it so simply when he said, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
When God was finished making you, He was pleased with what He had done. He sat back and smiled at his creation. He loves who you are!
You have probably heard yourself say at some time in your life, “that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Or “that was a very difficult season (experience, situation, conversation, etc.)”
We all have hard times in our lives. Sometimes after we get through a particularly trying time, we can get discouraged about the future. Or maybe we see the changes in our world and know that life is getting more difficult for us and many others. We can begin to dread the future, thinking that the hard times that are coming will be too much for us to handle. Whether it’s something tragic or a strong temptation, we know we will face more trials in the future. We know we aren’t done. We haven’t arrived. We are still on the journey that marks the life of a follower of Christ. Continue reading “Facing the Trials”