Picky Eaters

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:13

You’ve seen it before. The meal placed before the child whose nose wrinkles in disgust. “I don’t like that!” he says, pushing away the plate. He crosses his arms and stubbornly refuses to eat. After a while, he asks his parents for something he prefers.

What is our reaction when we are given something less than appetizing in life? Do we get angry, play the victim, feel rejected, blame others, and allow our joy to be extinguished? When difficulties darken our door, what is our posture toward God? Do we, like the willful child, reject what we have been given and shout, “I don’t like this”? Maybe we compare our portion with another’s and declare, “It’s not fair!” or wish – even pray – for another serving of a different variety? Perhaps we get stuck asking “why?” Maybe we grow weary or become disillusioned with God because He didn’t meet our expectations or demands.

Maybe we have demonstrated some, if not all of these reactions, but there is another posture we can assume. We can choose to thank God for the trial that He has allowed. He may intend it to sharpen our character and nourish our soul, if only we would ingest it. We can choose to agree that our Father’s ways are higher than ours, and that He knows the very circumstances which produce the greatest beauty in our lives. It may be difficult and painful, but if we accept what are actually the choicest morsels – the handpicked cuts – we will ultimately grow in strength, beauty and grace, and indeed prosper with this heavenly nourishment.

It is easy to thank God for the “good” gifts – the nice things we consider blessings. But today’s verse says that it is God’s will that you be thankful in all circumstances. Maybe God knows something we don’t about the shift that happens in our mind, heart, and body when we are thankful for the tough stuff. Could it be that we have been looking at hardships all wrong, and that they are some of God’s greatest blessings?

The next time you are faced with a situation that is difficult to swallow, or if you are facing one right now, thank your heavenly Father that He has entrusted you with it. He loves you enough to use this challenge to alter your taste buds so your desires line up more fully with His. He is more interested in your character than your comfort. In fact, comfort often befriends complacency, and He loves you too much to let that happen. These less than palatable circumstances shift us out of our comfortable places and have the potential to create a change that may not have otherwise occurred. Although not what you asked for, it just might be what you needed, and the insight you gain just might be what someone else needs to hear in their struggle.

We may not have the faith or insight at this moment to believe our circumstances will change, but we have enough to take just one step. And one step – one mouthful at a time – is likely all that is required. Maybe that first mouthful needs to be words of thanks. Bon appetite!

May you see ways to thank God for the trial He has given you, and be open to where He is leading.

God With Me and Other Happier Endings

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. ~ Deuteronomy 31:8

When I was in grade school, I recall writing a short story (yes, I was stunningly creative even then). I felt exceedingly proud of the gripping plot I had created, but my teacher didn’t appreciate my genius. She informed me that the ending was unsatisfactory. One of the main characters died.

My husband read my last devotional and, being the most honest critic I have, mentioned that I might not have provided a very hopeful ending to my readers – which would imply I normally do! His comment reminded me of that grade school teacher (if you’re reading this, Honey, no offense) who wanted, like most of us, everything wrapped up in a tidy bow.

We all like happy endings. Revisiting the devotional I wrote last week, I wanted to add some disclaimers, not only because I love my husband and value his opinion, but because I should probably stick to the theme of my byline which says, “Words to encourage faith, hope and love.” I can’t promise a neat, tidy ending, but I can expand on “God, My Help” and tell you the things I didn’t tell you…

I didn’t tell you that while my anger toward God was real, it wasn’t the shake-your-fist-at- the-sky sort, but rather the perplexed wonderings of why, the frown of a child whose parent said no, the quiet resignation and turning away of a daughter whose Father doesn’t seem fair, and the silence of puzzling over the new normal after the trauma of loss, while trying to remain a decent human being to those around her (aka: not bite their heads off).

I didn’t tell you about the surprise element in the furnace story either (I’m sure you’ve read Daniel 3 by now because I hinted you should), as if it’s not surprising enough that the fellows didn’t get burnt to a crisp. The Lord was with them in the fire! And He was with me too, as He is with you in your scorching furnace. Even though I felt abandoned because of the perceived lack of leading, I’m beginning to see I was being led but didn’t know it. Or maybe I didn’t want to see it because I prefer a more reasonable climate (furnaces aren’t really my thing). But scorching places refine and make beautiful, even though I felt uglier than ever. And, like the furnace fellows, I too went through the fire and lived to tell about it.

Finally, I didn’t tell you that “the LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Maybe that’s why, despite that I was disappointed and partially prayerless, I had a sense that God understood and was patiently waiting for me. He understood because He was there with me the whole time, at every turn. And He is with you too. He sees to the depth of our being and is faithful even when we aren’t.

Though the” happy ending” isn’t what I imagined and prayed for – there’s a high probability it’s better. I’m just not wise enough to see it yet. And though I may never figure out this side of heaven why God let it happen, it comes back to trust. Once again, God is asking us to trust Him even when we don’t have all the answers. Even now, “God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” (Psalm 54:4) And as it turns out, God is not only my help, He is with me, walking ahead of me, never leaving me, and encouraging me to not be afraid.

Be blessed to know that God hasn’t left you. He is with you, even now.

God, My Help

Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me. ~ Psalm 54:4

It was a tough year for our family. We had to give up our sizable business of nineteen years that my husband, father-in-law and I had created from scratch. It would be difficult to describe to you the emotions I suffered as a result of the loss. Untold prayers offered in complete faith that God could rescue us rained back on my head unanswered, unheeded, seemingly ignored. All I received was directionless, infuriating…

Silence.

And the faith I thought was mine, seemed to crumble as the questions screamed into the silence God left. Out of that came a distinct rumble of anger when I thought my Father left me to navigate without telling me where to go. What happened to the voice behind me telling me, this is the way; walk in it? (Isaiah 30:21) Why the silent treatment now when I so desperately needed to hear – when I had witnessed God do miraculous things before?

Now my prayers were weak, lifeless, barely audible breaths uttered through exhaustion and emotions to a God I couldn’t control, and out of the bewilderment of wondering if my Daddy had abandoned me. What good would more words do now anyway?

But this verse says, “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.”

I needed a wake-up call.

I needed to stop being angry at God and realize that He is the one who sustains me, not our business, not our ingeniousness, or anything else that might bring a measure of comfort and security. I needed to accept that there are times God allows me to walk through the fire even though I prayed I would never have to set foot inside the furnace (see Daniel 3). I needed to stop mourning what I had lost, and be thankful for what I had. Once I figured that out, I wrote a lengthy thank you note.

I suppose we could all use a reminder about who our provider is from time to time. Sometimes we forget that it is the Lord alone who best meets our physical, emotional and spiritual needs. He doesn’t promise to take all discomfort away, but instead promises to help and sustain us through it. He alone provides and often does so in the most beautiful and surprising ways, even if it isn’t how we imagined it would be.

When your plans are upturned, your way fully blocked, your paycheck cut in half, your friends hard to reach, or your health less than optimal, remember God is your help and the one who sustains you.

May you be blessed to see “God is your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

Cave Dwelling

“I cry out to the LORD with my voice; with my voice to the LORD I make supplication. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble.” ~ Psalm 149:1-2 (A prayer of David when he was in the cave hiding from the relentless pursuit of Saul)

Perhaps you’ve never had to run for your life and hide in a cave, but there is a chance you’ve done a bit of cave dwelling in your time.

I know I have.

In this dark place of waiting, while crying out to the Lord, pouring out my complaint before Him (v. 1-2), there have been times when it seems as though all I hear is my own voice reverberating throughout the confining walls.

When it comes to cave experiences, I am tempted to succumb to the pressing darkness, to grow quiet in the dreariness and cold, and become weary “declaring before Him my trouble” (v. 2-3). Waiting of any sort is never much fun, but waiting in the darkness, when you don’t know when it will end, has the tendency to get on your nerves.

Even so, it seems to me that cave experiences may not only be necessary, but transformational. In scenic, wide-open places I have a greater capacity to lose sight of God and “go it alone.” When trouble comes (and it inevitably does), despite my best intentions, I’ve been known to run to other places of refuge.

In seeking the solace of some temporal hiding place we, as David, soon find it fails us. Paradoxically, this is part of the cave experience: the journey to find the true hiding place – the place where we may be changed.

When in the cave, there is the temptation to give in to the villainous lying voice of the enemy’s “I told you so’s.” However, we must remember, as David did, that God is our refuge and our portion in the land of the living (v. 5). David believed that although his physical place of refuge had failed him and no one cared for his soul (v. 4) that God would still deal bountifully with his soul (v. 7).

David hadn’t lost hope and neither should we.

Through distress, disillusionment, discouragement, darkness, when your spirit is overwhelmed within you, take heart! Whatever cave-like conditions you may be presently experiencing, being in the cave is not a permanent address!

It is, however, conducive to inactivity, a promising prayer enabler, and has a way of simplifying things. Despite the darkness – by way of displaced distractions – things eventually grow startlingly clear and conditions become ripe for transformation.

Although difficult, thank God for the cave. It has the potential to be a place where you find yourself sitting, resting, listening, and lingering in the true secret place – longer than you might otherwise – where your enemy cannot find you!

May the cave be a place where afterwards you glance back and realize that, although dark, it was, in fact, a holy place where God sat close beside you.

Grave Clothes

 

 

The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off his grave clothes and let him go.”

~ John 11:44

 

I am undergoing a life-long process of being unwrapped from my grave clothes. Fully embalmed in layers of sin, Jesus found me and saved me from death. The unraveling process is taking quite some time. I imagine Jesus will continue to painstakingly remove the layers until the person He intended is finally and fully revealed.

 

The enemy of my soul would have had it that I remain bound, but Jesus is commanding that my grave clothes – all the former things that bound me, all that was attached to my death – be removed.

 

But I had to die first.

 

It was necessary to come to a place of death before being called out of the grave. It required coming to the end of myself so that God could snatch me from hell’s death grip. I traded death rags for robes of eternal life. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

 

Jesus is leading me away from the dead places, is removing the remnants and stench of death, and has given me eternal life. 

 

But He had to die first.

 

My life, and yours, came at a cost. Jesus took on all the sin of the world and hung on a cross until death to save me – to save you. He suffered so we wouldn’t have to. He died, a substitute in our place.

 

But it didn’t end there. After three days, Jesus rose again defeating death. It is because of this that death is defeated in our own life. By declaring Jesus as Lord and Saviour of your life, and choosing to follow Him, when your physical body dies you will live in heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

 

So don’t be alarmed if you spot linen rags trailing behind me, or one or two detached bits on the ground, it’s merely Jesus’ handiwork, stripping me of the past to give me a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

May you allow Jesus’ gentle touch in your life to remove the weight of unnecessary things.