Too often we let how get in the way of what God has called us to do. For the life of us, we cannot figure out how a thing is going to happen.
You know, too much month and too little money. How will you ever make it to payday?
The school has called you six times this week, and it’s not Friday, yet. How are you going to survive this thing called parenthood?
A spouse that has a taste for too much drink, eyes for another and a passion for gambling. How can God fix this mess of a marriage?
Negative doctor reports and a truck load of confirming symptoms. How on earth can God heal you?
How? That’s God’s business.
Impossible? That’s His specialty.
The Scriptures are full of examples. Consider one – the story of Elijah (1 Kings 18: 23-24, 31-35 ESV) and what we can learn from him.
“Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed.And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.”And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time.And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water…“
You don’t have to be very smart to understand that wood plus water is not a formula for fire. Elijah had the people fill four jars with water and douse the wood. He then had them repeat it two more times for a total of twelve jars of water. Now, we don’t know the size of the jars, but the Scriptures tell us that there was so much water that it ran around the alter and filled the trench that had been dug around it.
You know the people thought Elijah was crazy. First, a “burnt” offering with no fire. And then, wood doused with twelve jars of water. How will God ever answer this prayer?
Elijah wasn’t worried. He knew that the how was God’s business. His business was to be obedient. And when he had constructed the altar and commanded that the wood be doused, he simply prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God…” (1 Kings 18:36-37 ESV)
And God answered as only God can for in verse 38 we read, “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.”
What has God called you to do? That’s YOUR business. How will it happen? That is none of your business; THAT is God’s business!
THIS WEEK reflect on your business for God – what He has called you to do that you are not doing. Mind your business, and get started – on your knees. Look at Elijah’s prayer as an example. Pray, believing and asking God to provide what is needed and that He be glorified, and He will answer as only He can. THAT is His business!
“Once upon a time, there was a village called Smoldering Pines. Smoldering Pines… lay at the foot of the great sleeping volcano, Mt. Discordia. Spoken words in Smoldering Pines take on a physical form. Whenever people talk, their words appear in the air and then fall haphazardly to the ground. Homeowners then rake their discarded words into piles at the edge of their property. Over time, these piles…become fences. Thoughts, like words, can become visible, too. Granted the town does like dangerously close to a volcano. But this isn’t a concern for the residents. After all, Mt. Discordia has been dormant for hundreds of years.”
Bet you can guess the rest of David Hutchens’ story. Listening to the Volcano is a marvelously funny yet thought-provoking fable about many things including the power of our words.
Research says that women speak about 20,000 words a day – some 13,000 more than the average man. That alone ought to caution us because Proverbs 10:19 (ESV) says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Admittedly, I have to agree. Somewhere among that many words we are bound to find some that would have best been kept behind the teeth.
In Hutchens’ fable, spoken words actually materialize into wooden placards and fall to the ground. They mound up into piles and form fences around the speaker. Likewise their thoughts. Guess what? In reality our words and thoughts form fences, too. We do not see them as readily as in Listening to the Volcano, but it might be a good thing if we did because they would be a very visible reminder to us. How powerful if we actually saw that hateful thought, that sarcastic word, that vengeful or vindictive contemplation and that spiteful, spirit-killing word – materialized and lying right before us at our feet. I can’t help but believe we might have some pause before speaking again and that we might be more obedient to 2 Corinthians 2:5 and actually take captive our thoughts.
As wedding presents my maternal grandmother gave me gifts of her wisdom. One tidbit I remember is, “Choose your words very carefully. All the “I’m sorries” in the world cannot take them back. Even if your husband tells you he forgives you, he will remember what you said.” That was good advice for me as a newlywed, and it is good advice for anyone. We can say we’re sorry, that we didn’t mean it or that we weren’t thinking. We can offer a ton of other excuses about not feeling well, misunderstanding and being confused. But once a word is spoken, it’s out there, and you cannot take it back. No one can ever misunderstand a word not spoken! Proverbs 21:23 (ESV) says, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” Another way to think about it might be as my grandmother put it. “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth; that ought to tell you something!” Practice listening and speaking proportionately.
Sometimes we feel pressured to speak. Someone angers us, falsely accuses us, slanders us. This is one that I have struggled with. As a retired school administrator, I’ve had more than my fair share of false accusations – some, stretches of the truth; others, just out right lies. Proverbs 26:4 (ESV) teaches us, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself,” but I had a friend that summarized this lesson with his own adage, “When you argue with a fool, you become the fool.” Ecclesiastes 5:6a (ESV) says, “Let not your mouth lead you into sin,” and Proverbs 17:27 (ESV) adds, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Proverbs 21:23 (ESV) goes further, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” When I taught Junior High School (where there were a lot of hot, angry, teenage tongues) I posted an African proverb on one of my bulletin boards, “Must you turn around and look at every dog that barks at you?” It was a good reminder for my students to ignore the lies, accusations and gossip their classmates spread. More than 25 years later, that is still good advice.
Finally, we sometimes get caught up in conversations and dialogue because we are around others who talk too much. I am convinced that a loose tongue can be caught – something like a cold or the flu! Do you work with colleagues who tell “off color” jokes? Do you have family members that curse like sailors or girlfriends that should be on gossip television? Perhaps you have friends that are super negative – every spoken word is a complaint or a put down; they see (and point out) only what is wrong; their throats are open graves and their mouths are full of curses and bitterness (Romans 3:13-14 ESV). We do not have to be unfriendly, and we need never act superior to others, but 2 Timothy 2:16 (ESV) teaches us to “Avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.” You need only remember this childhood ditty, “Loose lips, sink ships.” They will sink you, too. When we dwell in the presence of these individuals, it is often not long before we sink to their level – we repeat the jokes, begin cursing and spread the gossip.
Words are powerful. Consider the following Scriptures understanding that there are at least a dozen more found in the pages of the Bible. God’s word is never in vain. It always achieves its purpose (Isaiah 55:11). Surely there is purpose in so many Scriptures addressing our tongues and our words.
“Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18, ESV)
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21, ESV)
“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9, ESV)
“By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37, ESV)
“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 29:20, ESV)
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:39, ESV)
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:18, ESV)
THIS WEEK, observe your speech and consider your words. Are you talking more than listening? Do your words heal or thrust as a sword? When you speak, are you building up or tearing down? What do your words reveal about your heart?
Remember, “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36, ESV) Don’t you want to stand before our Lord knowing your words restored, built up and made better?
For weeks I have been partnering with a dear friend, several fellow church members and a hurting mother in prayer for her son. I don’t know the details just that he became suddenly ill and was airlifted to a hospital far away. Regularly mom has texted updates; occasionally we have spoken by telephone, continually we have prayed.
We have prayed fervently. We have prayed specifically. We have prayed the promises of the Scriptures. We have prayed in our hearts and aloud; standing, sitting and on bended knee. We have prayed believing.
This evening mom texted an update that was not good. And for a brief flash of a moment, I questioned all that praying and all those prayers. Doesn’t God see us? Didn’t God hear us? Why this response?
Likely you know instances where prayers for healing were offered and you did not witness healing. Sometimes it even appears that the opposite happens – the condition worsens. Perhaps you’ve had your own questions. If you’ve experienced this, I suspect one of your questions might have been “Why?” followed by “Why bother? Why bother to pray for healing?”
We pray for healing because our Heavenly Father wants us to be whole – in mind, spirit and body. Whenever and wherever there is sickness, there is an opportunity for God to display His glory. He will heal. The struggle comes for us because God does not always move in our timing or in ways that we have imagined. Whatever the illness, we have an image in our minds of what the healing will look like. We also have an idea about when the healing should occur with our thoughts typically being, “No time like right now, God!” We believe that if we believe, we pray and there should be an immediate response and that response should look like just what we asked for. Instead of “Thy will be done,” we are, in truth, thinking more along the lines of “My will be done!”
Sometimes we fault ourselves when prayer appears to go unanswered. The Scriptures instruct us, “Ask, and it will be given unto you” (Matthew 7:7). If we do not receive what we expect, we sometimes assume we have asked incorrectly. Perhaps we did not pray long enough or hard enough or using the right words. Surely we ought always to examine our hearts for doubt and unbelief any time God answers “No” to our prayers. We should ask Him to search our hearts and to reveal any areas of sin or any doubt that we might harbor – knowingly or unknowingly – and to help us deal appropriately with it; then we should continue to pray because not only is praying for healing a privilege, we are instructed to do so (Acts 20:28, James 5:13-20). We are to pray with fervor and boldness. We are to pray believing (John 14:14, Mark 9:23, Jeremiah 33:3, 1 John 5:14-15). Sometimes we worry that if God doesn’t respond just as we have requested, it will appear as failure on our part. But our job as believers is to take a hurting person’s needs to the Lord, to intercede on their behalf and to trust God. He will choose when and how to respond.
The truth that I know for sure is that some of the blessings Jesus purchased through His suffering on the cross will not be fully realized until we are in His presence one day. Sometimes this includes healing. Hebrews 11:6 says, “Those who come to God must believe that God is.” That means that we not only believe that He can and will answer our prayers, we also trust His timing and that His response is the right response. Always He will heal. The healing may be immediate; it may be gradual or it may be ultimate – when we see Him face-to-face.
What, then, are we to do? Take a cue from Luke 18:1 (CEB) – “[Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not to turn coward (faint, lose heart, and give up).”
Didn’t God hear us? Yes. And He will answer. He will heal.
Sometimes I amaze myself by the full blown, all out pity parties that I have – especially when they are about the silliest of things.
Like why God has given me this closet? Yes, I actually had that thought. (I am ashamed and have repented, so you can go ahead and laugh at me. It’s okay.) But I will confess the full thought here because I cannot be the only one.
It just hit me one day. I was trying to put away groceries, but the refrigerator was too full already. Likewise the pantry, so I left some non-perishables on the kitchen counter, determined to deal with them later and sat down to read my mail and pay bills. But there were stacks of papers already on my desk and even some peeking from the pigeon holes, so I just placed the new mail on top of the old stacks. On to the laundry – to fold and put away the freshly cleaned clothing. But the linen closet was already stuffed and the racks in the closet were full. And that is when the frustration set in and the pity party began.
“Lord, what is up with this little closet?! I miss the closets I used to have in my old house! Don’t you remember, Lord? Shelves organizers, drawers, space! Why did you bring me to this place? Why do I have to have these little closets?!” This might be a good time to tell you that I’ve moved into a home built in the early 1900s. The home is lovely, but people obviously didn’t build closets much less BIG closets back in those days.
And then it hit me. This is the closet that the Lord has given me. And that being the case, the problem is not the closet. The problem is the stuff. Hmm. Let’s go even deeper. Might the problem be a lack of self-discipline and self-control?
Stuffed closets, packed refrigerator, overflowing desk drawers, stacks of books and piles of papers. Even my phone’s battery drains because of all the apps I’ve downloaded, the texts I’ve sent and the pictures I’ve taken. Let’s not talk about email inboxes!
It is not the closet (Forgive me, Lord!); it is me. It is my lack of self-control and self-discipline.
Okay, so my closet is overstuffed and my desk is junky. “Is that a sin?” you ask. Well, let’s turn to the Scriptures.
We are instructed by Titus 1:7-8 (ESV) to “be above reproach…to not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.
Galatians 5:22-23 teaches us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,(and) self-control.
It is 1 Peter 5:8-9 (EXB) that most makes clear the problem for me. “Control [Discipline] yourselves and be ·careful [alert]! The devil, your enemy, ·goes around [prowls] like a roaring lion looking for someone to ·eat [devour]. ·Refuse to give in to [Resist] him…”
Overstuffed closets, junky desks and even full mailboxes may not be sins, but the questions that they should raise in us include “Are these things – having them and pursuing more – interfering with my relationship with God?” “Is all my time spent dealing with my stuff?” “Does the clutter of the stuff rob me of peace?”
Proverbs 25:28 says, “A person without self-controlis like a house with its doors and windows knocked out.” (MSG) That kinda summarizes how I felt the day I had the “too little closet pity party,” like the doors and windows had been knocked out and a wind was blowing through the house creating havoc in every room. And therein lay my problem – no peace and no contentment because of too much stuff.
You may be fine with your closets and your stuff, but this week examine your peace and contentment. Determine to take whatever action necessary to deal with those things that rob you of the peace and contentment Paul describes to us in Philippians 4. As for me, I’ve learned to be content with the closet that God gave me!
It’s a balmy 68 degrees outside! What a wonderful mid-February surprise and treat. The forecast for the end of the week announces more February-like temperatures like a Thursday high of 36 degrees. But right now at 4:30 in the afternoon, it’s 68 glorious degrees.
And I am in the house! Stuck creating a test that my students have to take Tuesday. I need to get it posted on Blackboard, so today is the day to create that test.
With it being 68 degrees outside and the sun shining through the window and me on my laptop with notes spread around me as I create a test, you can best believe my mind has REALLY been tossing about the question of why test? Not just my students and not other school students, but us. Why does God test our faith?
God tested the faith of the ancient Israelites by allowing them to experience hard times in the wilderness, “in order to know what was in your heart” (Deuteronomy 8:2).And He likewise tests us.
We think we know what is in our heart. We think we know how strong we are. We think we have a steadfast, immovable, abounding faith. But it is only in times of testing that we move beyond just thinking and come to KNOW. God does not test us because HE doesn’t know; He tests us because we don’t know.
David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23)
Now, my students surely did not ask for Tuesday’s test. As a matter of fact, they have an option to complete another assignment and NOT take the test. A few have informed me that they are choosing this option. Like them, we would sometimes like to opt out of the test, to have a choice to maybe complete another assignment. But like the Psalmist, we should cry out to God asking Him to test us and to show us now – in the good times, in the calm times, in the easy times what is in our hearts – our places of weakness.
When I score my students’ tests, I spend even more time writing feedback so that they know and understand exactly why they received the grade they did. I want them to understand any shortcomings in their responses. THAT is how they learn and how they grow, especially on the interim assessments because THE test is coming – the Final Exam.
We have a Final Exam coming too! My students can look at the Course Syllabus and see the exact date and time of their exam, but we do not know when the end will come. My students have a window of time in which to study and prepare. They may not study every day, but they understand the finite calendar before them.
We do not know how long we have to prepare, so TODAY is the best time for us to prepare. TODAY is the day for us to seek God and to petition His testing so that we will know, understand and grow.
THIS WEEK cry out to God.
(1) Ask Him to search you, to know your heart, to test you and to show you your weaknesses. Be open to and welcome the knowledge of any shortcomings He shows you. (James 1:2, 4). Then ask Him to help you grow in your trust and faith in Him.
(2) If you are in the midst of testing – whether it is from God or testing that He has permitted, do not seek another assignment, but ask Him for what is needed for you to go through. Do not spend time asking Him “why” but rather ask “what.” What would He have you to know and learn from this testing? Identify and recruit prayer partners who will commit to praying with and for you during this season.
It’s February…the month of love! Valentines have been in the stores since the after-Christmas sales. It’s funny how retail runs all the holidays together – Valentines on the shelves while Christmas decorations are still on the end caps; wait another couple of weeks, and we’ll be inundated with Easter flowers and bunnies even though it will still be February. Oh well, I digress. This is NOT what this post is about.
It’s about February, love and heart break.
It’s also about understanding that Broken Crayons Still Color!
Research from the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that emotional pain may be more closely linked to physical pain than scientists previously realized, and heart break specifically registers in the same part of the brain that responds to physical pain. Further, heart break registers sensations much akin to broken limbs. Ever had a broken heart? Then, you didn’t need a study to tell you – it hurts!
Heart break changes you, consumes you. It drains and weakens, crushes and kills – joy and spirit. It separates and isolates. Yes, true heart break leaves you feeling out of sorts, depleted and alone. And were this not enough, heart break leaves you feeling imprisoned in a jail of sorts that surely you will never be able to leave.
But guess who has the key? Yes, our Father, God Himself. He, our King, who sits high and looks low knows what it is to have a broken heart! We (humans) have broken his heart for ages, and we continue to do so on a regular basis much like Gomer in the Book of Hosea (read the first three chapters; Hosea 1:1 – 3:5). Gomer repeatedly breaks Hosea’s heart, yet he loves her against logic and redeems her by taking her back. If you don’t know it, you’ve got to read the story and how Gomer leaves a man who loves her and passes from man to man until she ends up naked on the slave block to be sold!
And who buys her back?
You guessed it – Homer, her husband! But even that is not the BEST part of the story. Hosea pledges his love anew to his newly purchased wife – his wife the betrayer and prostitute, his wife the dregs of society, his wife who was broken. Now, the best part…Hosea’s love broke Gomer’s heart anew AND from this time on Gomer was faithful to Hosea. Gomer was restored!
Are you broken?
Have you loved someone only to realize that they don’t love you in return? Has a love betrayed you? Deserted you?
In your brokenness have you stopped “coloring?” There is a color that only you can paint in this world. But have you ceased to be you? Ceased contributing positively to your work place, to your family, to your friends, to your home? You may be a broken crayon, but you can still color!
Hosea paints for us an image of God’s love for us. We have broken His heart, strayed, turned from Him and sought other loves and lovers, yet He loves us and redeems us from the enslavement of sin. He sees our brokenness and calls us to come to Him in the midst of it. Our inclination is often to run from God and to seek worldly repairs for our broken hearts – drink, work, drugs, social networks. At best, they are temporary. There is no repair, but God. His love is true love – love that will not desert, betray or deny. His love is a love that has a plan for your good (Jeremiah 29:11), that stems from a desire to make you whole, that knows though you are as a broken crayon, you can still color and, thus, it is a love that redeems and restores.
THIS WEEK read Hosea 1:1 – 3:5. Who or what has broken your heart? (It doesn’t matter if the leaving was intentional, accidental or unavoidable as because of death, you may still experience heart break.) Whose heart have you broken? What has been the impact of your brokenness? What temporary repairs have you sought? Your first step is to turn to God; only He can restore you. Ask Him to help you identify the next steps after that.