When Nothing Else Could Help

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6

Sometimes, I write because I feel as though I have received wisdom to pass on about prayer. But sometimes, like today, I write because I need to confess how much I still need to learn (or put into practice)!

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My mother has been in and out of the Emergency Room over the past few weeks. It’s not that she is experiencing actual emergencies–heart attack or difficulty breathing or broken bones or blood clots (though she has been checked for all of these at one point or another). Instead, she is experiencing pain and fear– fear that her pain is related to a larger issue that could be life-threatening. My mother is 88 years old, and there is a reasonable fear that her health is deteriorating and that death is closer than she wants to think about.

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The other day, I received a call from a dear friend and neighbor of my mom to say that she had stopped by to visit Mom and ended up taking her to the ER at the local hospital. Again, Mom was not in medical distress requiring an ambulance– this was not a “life or death” call; but Mom hadn’t slept well, she was hurting, and she just didn’t feel “right.” She had just seen her physician last week, and she had an appointment to see another doctor the next day, but she was afraid.

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I was very much less than gracious about receiving the call. My siblings and I are exhausted, frustrated, and worried. I can’t speak for the others, but I feel guilty about not doing enough, and guilty for doing “too much” all at the same time. My emotions were raw; my gut was churning, and my mind was a complete disaster. I couldn’t think clearly, and I couldn’t “feel” anything. As a “last resort,” I sent out a request via Facebook asking others to pray for my mom– I didn’t feel like I could even do that on my own.

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Of course, there is a power in prayer that goes beyond anything we can comprehend, much less explain. Within minutes, over three dozen people let me know they were sending prayers for my mom. But more than that, I received a call from my cousin–and he had just the words to assuage my false sense of guilt and refocus my thoughts and emotions. As time passed, our friend called with an update–Mom has severe arthritis in her back, and another minor issue that should respond to simple medication. She will still have pain; but now she has one less reason to worry about the cause.

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I can’t say that this is the “end” of the frustration, exhaustion, or even the worry about my mom’s declining health. We are still struggling with various questions and decisions she needs to make for the future.

But this episode reminded me that prayer should not be a “last resort” when facing the unexpected. It’s not that I haven’t prayed about Mom’s health recently– a lot! But in that initial moment of hearing about yet another trip to the ER, my first thought was not to “take it to the Lord in prayer,” but to worry and let my thoughts run everywhere but up.

Thankfully, God is eternally gracious and powerful– willing to give the doctors wisdom in dealing with my Mom, and willing to give me peace and restore my flagging faith. Mom still has to face pain; my siblings and I still have to face the looming reality of life “after” God calls Mom home, and the chaos and uncertainty in the time between now and then. But we can seek Him first, with confidence and hope, rather than letting worry sap our energy and steal our joy. God’s love and grace are more powerful than worry and doubt, fear and guilt.

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I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my earliest memories is of my Mother singing and humming an old hymn as my lullaby. Even as I watch her struggling with end of life issues, I am joyfully anticipating that this season will give way to being “lifted” by Love into eternal bliss. I am so grateful that this song is etched in my heart– even when I need a reminder. So I’m going to listen and let it be part of God’s comforting message to me. And I hope, for anyone struggling with stress, guilt, worry, or fear, that it will be “uplifting” for you today, as well.

The Thief Comes

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:10-11 (ESV)

I know a very wonderful and kind-hearted woman who put out a table with several items she wanted to give away to anyone in need. She set up the table, taped a sign to the front, reading, “Free”, and went about her day. She returned to find that not only were all the items gone, but so was the table!

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I also know many other people (including my husband and I) who have been victims of theft, shoplifting, pick-pocketing, mugging, etc. The world is full of honest people, but it is also full of thieves. One of the worst things about theft is not the loss of “stuff.” It is the loss of security; the loss of trust; the loss of innocence and faith. Theft is invasive, even when it is non-violent and impersonal, like fraud or shoplifting. Theft is almost never random– a thief “comes.” A thief has a plan, and a target. Thieves tend to choose their targets based on two factors– the risk and the perceived “payoff.” A thief will target a person or place where the risk is worth the prize–if a target is low-risk, a thief may strike even for a small amount. A high-risk target may still attract thieves, but they will not take such a risk without a lot of planning.

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Thieves also come unannounced and unexpected. While thieves plan carefully, their victims have little or no warning. Theft is shocking and upsetting. We don’t set aside a time to be robbed, or items that are meant to be stolen. Thieves creep in, or distract and deceive us. It would be very foolish to leave valuables or cash around unattended or unprotected. As my friend found out, even a table left unguarded can be lost.

Most of us take precautions against theft. We lock our doors, put our valuables in a safe or in hiding, and even install security cameras and alarms to alert us to possible theft. We avoid dark alleys and dangerous places. We keep watch.

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We guard our valuables, but how well do we guard our hearts? Jesus compared us to sheep– helpless and vulnerable to predators, including thieves. He warns that the thief– Satan– comes only to steal and kill and destroy. Satan doesn’t want our money or our watch, though– he wants our time, our attention, our desires, and our worship. He wants to steal them, and kill us, and destroy our relationship with the Eternal Lover of our Souls. He wants us to be distracted by worry, greed, fear, pride, addictions, dysfunctional relationships, anger, abuse, emotional entanglements, empty pursuits, and endless doubts and questions.

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Satan doesn’t wait for us to seek him out. He doesn’t give us warning about his intentions. But he does come like a thief. He comes to steal our joy, our faith, our innocence, our rest, our security, our gratitude, our focus, our sense of purpose, and our hope. How much of an effort have we taken to stop him? How much effort do we take to guard what is more valuable than our money– our families, our character, our very soul? We wouldn’t walk down a dark alley with a wad of cash– but will we walk into temptation? Will we ignore warnings, believing it just “won’t happen” to us?

Luckily, we have a Good Shepherd. Even when we, like sheep, aren’t paying attention, and don’t see the enemy, God is still there, laying down His life, so that we can have a more abundant, more joy-filled life. The thief will still come– that’s not just an abstract warning, it’s a guarantee. There will be troubles in life that will threaten to steal all that God intends for us to enjoy. And, if we insist on going it alone, we will become victims of theft– our relationships, our character, our futures– we are at great risk. But if we trust in the Shepherd, we will have the best protection. The thief will still come to attack, but he cannot take what is in the Father’s hand– US!

The thief comes– to take; to destroy. The Shepherd comes– to give; eternal and abundant Life!

More Evidence of Things Not Seen…

I have a story of a miracle that happened this past week.

This has been a difficult year for my husband and I. We had COVID back in February, and between hospital bills and David being unable to return to work for several weeks (and then being able to return only part-time), our finances have been rather tight. God has been faithful throughout, so it was a lack of faith that had me in a panic at the end of the week. Several of our monthly bills come due on the 10th each month, and we had only enough money in the bank to make a partial payment on one of them. David got paid on Friday (the 10th!), but that was still only enough to pay two bills. The one bill I was unable to pay was our health insurance premium– not a comfortable choice with our continuing health issues! We would be behind again, as I had paid last month’s bill a couple of days late. I had no idea when we would have enough money to make this month’s payment.

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So Friday, we got a statement from our health insurance/health share network. I was afraid to open it. It wasn’t our regular monthly statement, and it was on pink paper, which generally means a warning about a past due account, or worse, a cancellation notice. I was sick with worry– so much so that I put the statement aside, afraid to open it and read the worst.

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By Saturday night, I was frantic. I couldn’t sleep, wondering and worrying. I “knew” that God was aware of our situation, and that He was in control. I also knew that another big bill would come due on the 15th– with no money in sight. I cried, and pleaded with God to help me trust Him, and to meet our needs.

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At that point, I heard a clear prompting from the Holy Spirit to find the statement and open it. How could I say I trusted God when I was too scared to even look at the situation? I found the statement and took it into the kitchen to open it and look, without waking my husband. My hands shook as I unfolded the pink paper.

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And as I read, I cried– this time tears of joy and repentance as I read the short note and saw the attached check. Our insurance comes through a health share network. The members of the network pay a base fee each month and can send extra money to help other members in need. Their generosity meant that a check– more than enough to pay our own monthly premium and the other looming bill on the 15th– had arrived just when we most needed it. My fears were turned to praise in an instant as I SAW what God had done, instead of seeing what I dreaded.

God didn’t send us thousands of dollars to meet all our desires. But He sent, through the faithfulness of strangers, enough to meet our needs, and, more importantly, enough to remind us of His power to provide and His grace to meet our spiritual needs.

I know God answers prayer. I know it because the Bible says so. I know it because I have seen it in the lives of others. And I know it from personal experience. I know that, even if that pink notice had NOT been an unexpected miracle, that God was still present, waiting for me to trust His wisdom and timing.

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“Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen”..(Hebrews 11:1). This weekend, what I imagined I saw through the eyes of doubt was really evidence of God’s great faithfulness. I just needed to open the eyes of faith– and open the evidence that was right before me all along!

On This Day…

There is a website, On This Day, that can tell you an interesting or important fact about something that happened on any day of the year throughout history.

http://On This Day – Today in History, Film, Music and Sporthttps://www.onthisday.com

Of course, this site only gives you certain facts from certain years and in certain areas of interest. So its focus is limited to one or two events per day from random years. Sometimes, the dates and facts are important events in world history; other times, they are trivial but interesting details about a sporting match, or a film star.

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I don’t have to consult On This Day today. Something very personal, very important, and very tragic happened on September 1, 1998. My father died. I watched him take his last ragged breath in a hospital bed. I held his hand moments before he died, and I wept with my mother and sister as we tried to take in the great loss. There are many days that are etched into my memory– birth days, death days, graduation days, wedding days–that will never make the pages of history books or web sites. There are other days, “ordinary” days, that pass me by without reference to any memories at all. Many days that mean little to me fill others with joy or pain.

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Yet each day is a gift from God to each one of us. My 24 hours today will be different from yours. Somewhere, this day will be a new beginning of life– elsewhere, it will be someone’s last day. Small things will happen on this day– a cheerful greeting, a burnt slice of toast, shared laughter with a friend, a hug, a stubbed toe–things we won’t remember tomorrow, or things we won’t value in the moments when they happen. Big things will happen, too–joyous occasions and tragic events that may shake families, communities, or even the world. This day may be filled with sunshine or rain, happiness or grief, achievements or disappointments.

God sees them all– He not only sees them, but He shares them with us. Every moment–every place– every person!

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On This Day, you can be assured that God is with you. In joyful moments and tragic circumstances. In fearful situations and quiet moments of routine tasks. In crowds of commuters or in lonely corners. On This Day– and every day– God wants to share all that is on your mind and in your heart. On This Day and in this moment, God is as close as your next breath.

(See Deuteronomy 31:8)

His Eye is on the Sparrow

We had an unexpected visitor to our store the other day…a sparrow somehow managed to get inside our store over the weekend, after we closed on Saturday. We assume it found its way in through a small vent, in an attempt to get out of the heavy rain, and couldn’t find its way back out. We don’t know how long it was trapped inside, but by the time my husband found him, its leg was caught, and it was unable to fly away. It was scared, dehydrated, and weak. My husband gently and carefully extracted its leg, and I got a small dish of water. The sparrow was listless, and its breathing was shallow. We feared the worst. Putting small drops of water on his fingertips and holding it up to the bird’s beak, David finally got it to drink some water. After several attempts, the bird started perking up, and finally flapped its wings and flew off!

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I was reminded of Jesus’s words in Matthew 10: 29-31–Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

Source: https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Sparrows

Sometimes, we pray for guidance, or protection, or safety when we know we will be facing certain trials or long journeys. And we should acknowledge known dangers and our continual dependence on God. But how many times does God guide and protect us without our awareness!? How many times do we, like this little sparrow, find ourselves in an unfamiliar or dangerous situation and wonder whether anyone even knows where we are? We struggle, only to find ourselves caught– helpless and without much hope. God’s eyes are always on us– wherever we are, whatever our circumstances. His love is unchanging and sure. And sometimes, He sends help in the most unlikely ways and times. Sometimes, He chooses to work through US to help the most unlikely candidates– even a sparrow!

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God gave us the opportunity to save this little sparrow– and He gives us opportunities throughout each day to help those around us– to encourage, give, protect, defend, support, and even “save” them as the arms, hands, feet, and voice of God in the world. Similarly, He sends others to cheer us, to warn us, to come alongside us, and to “save” us when it seems like all hope is lost.

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Lord, for today, I pray that you will open my eyes to the “sparrow” moments– whether I am the one offering help, or the one who needs to accept it. May I see my worth, not in my circumstances, but in my relationship to you. May I see others as precious and worthy of care, respect, and love. Thank you for sending a little sparrow to remind me how much you love us all.

IF

If is a very short word, but it can cause a lot of trouble in our thoughts and prayer life. It seems harmless enough, but it can be very corrosive.

  • “If” is a speculative word. We waste precious time and energy on things that didn’t or haven’t happened. What if my circumstances were different? What if I had made other choices in my past? What if something happens to my health? “If” seems to promise a lot of possibilities, but it delivers nothing concrete.
  • “If” takes our focus away from the present. We spend time wondering “what if..” about the future, or “if only..” about our past. And “if” is passive. It causes us to focus on fear and regret, instead of action and accountability.
  • “If” only has two letters, but the first one is “I.” I don’t spend much time asking “if” someone else made the right choices (unless I’m judging them, which is also wrong), or if something good or bad will happen to my neighbors.
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“If” doesn’t have to hurt our prayer life or take over our thoughts, but it must be kept in check. The Bible has a lot to say about letting the “ifs”, “what ifs”, and “if onlys” take over our thinking:

Matthew 6:25-28
Isaiah 35:4
John 14:27
Jeremiah 17: 7-8
Luke 12:28-30
Psalm 59:16
Philippians 4:6-7

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The Bible also uses the word “if” to focus our minds and prayers on action and on God’s promises:

John 8:36
2 Chronicles 15:2
Romans 13:7
Proverbs 23:15
John 13:35
Deuteronomy 4:29
Romans 8:31
Psalm 139:7-8

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There is a lot of power in that little word, “If.” If only we learn how to tame it!

Debt Free!

7“Blessed are those

    whose transgressions are forgiven,

    whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the one

    whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

Romans 4:7-8 (NIV) via biblegateway.com (See also Psalm 32:1-2)

Ask me about my most embarrassing moment, or my greatest failure..better yet, ask one of my friends or relatives! We tend to hang on to our past, especially our mistakes, our hurts, our missed opportunities, and our shortcomings. When I taught public speaking in a local high school, I heard horror stories about why “I can’t get in front of people and talk.” The fear of public speaking rates higher in some studies than the fear of Death! And often, the fear is based on an incident from early childhood of people laughing at a small, but very public mistake. Such moments haunt us.

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As we grow older, we let our regrets live large– those things we “would have, should have, could have” done, or the things we shouldn’t have said, but can never un-say. And even if we try to move on or forget the past, there always seems to be someone who cannot let go, cannot forgive, or cannot forgive. Lives have been stunted and ruined by the ghosts of “what happened” when…

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God is all-knowing. There is nothing we’ve ever done, said, or even thought, that He “missed,” ignored, or “lost track of.” God has total recall over all the centuries and eons of time– past, present, and even future! And yet, God offers to forgive ALL our sins, and to “remember them no more.” God will never bring up “that time when you disappointed me…” God will never look at you with condemnation over anything you have confessed and repented over. It’s not that God will never be able to recall what happened; but He will no longer “charge it to your account.” He has chosen to pay the consequences in His own Blood, so that you can be debt free.

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Imagine if you had no bills. If all your mortgages, utility payments, credit card debt, medical bills–everything that you were responsible to pay– all were stamped “Paid in full.” You never had to worry about interest payments, late fees, repossession, evening phone calls from bill collectors, credit scores, etc. What a weight off your shoulders! Imagine if you had no reason to fear getting in front of a room full of people to speak or sing or give a presentation– no fear that others would judge your every hesitation, or whether your tie was straight, or your hair was mussed, or you stumbled over a word or phrase or tripped on the steps leading up to the podium. Imagine being accepted and embraced by the very one who, by rights, should be your most severe critic.

Sometimes, when we see God as our critic, our judge, or our opponent, we’re not seeing God as He really is– we’re seeing a reflection of ourselves– harsh, judgmental, unwilling to forgive others; unwilling to forgive ourselves. The very first deception of the Enemy was to distort God’s image from Creator and Sustainer to Judge and Tyrant. Yet Satan is called “The Accuser,” not God. God’s Holy Spirit may convict us of Sin– causing us to see that we have done wrong– but His purpose is always to correct and restore us, not to haunt and condemn us. Even the “worst” sins are not beyond God’s ability or willingness to forgive. Jesus forgave His accusers, His betrayers, and His executioners from the Cross!

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Forgiveness is not easy. Sin is real; it has real and terrible consequences. Sin hurts, humiliates, victimizes, and traumatizes. And its effects do not simply vanish if we say, “I forgive.” But hanging on to the pain and anger keeps us from finding and experiencing the healing and wholeness that Jesus offers. Forgiveness does not mean that the sin, or the pain, never happened– God will not “forget” injustice just because we forgive the unjust. Forgiveness means that we no longer need to try to collect the debt from someone else– because God has already promised to pay it back with interest! And forgiving yourself doesn’t mean that your past actions didn’t happen or didn’t cause pain. In fact, whenever there are opportunities to atone for past actions, or ask forgiveness from those we have wronged, we should take them. But where such opportunities are impossible for us, even when we cannot see how such pain could be redeemed or relationships restored, God has promised that we can move beyond our past mistakes and live a new , blessed, and debt-free life.

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When we approach God in prayer, we come as we are– people with past mistakes, very human emotions, including doubt and fear, and unworthy to stand on our own before a perfect God. But it is God who invites us to come to Him– debt free and embraced by His limitless Grace!

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If We Confess…

Many years before he became America’s first President, a young George Washington supposedly chopped down his father’s cherry tree. But young George is not remembered primarily for his action of cutting the tree– he is noted for telling the truth and confessing to the act, rather than trying to cover it up or excuse it or escape his punishment.

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Hundreds of years earlier, King David committed adultery, and later had one of his most loyal warriors assassinated to cover up his sin. But when he was confronted with his sin by the prophet Nathan, David tore his clothes. He fasted and prayed, and confessed everything before the Lord. He accepted the bitter punishment that he had tried to avoid earlier, and he was reconciled to God.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (ESV)

This is a very basic tenet of Christianity, and one that most of us learn early in our journey of faith. But it is also one that we sometimes have trouble trusting fully. We find it difficult to confess our “petty” sins–they seem too little; we find it difficult to confess sins long past– why bring them up now? We find it difficult to own up to chronic sins– shouldn’t I be beyond this by now? And we find it difficult to confess that we know what is “right,” and still choose to go our own way. We haven’t been tricked or misled; we haven’t been ignorant or unaware. We have sinned. And God already knows it. God is already waiting to forgive us and to restore to the “joy of (His) salvation” (Psalm 51:12). But we must trust that God is both willing and able to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That He will not continue to hold our sins over us.

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In the cases of George Washington and King David, we have stories of their failures– one pretty minor, and the other catastrophic. But God didn’t leave them in their failure– that isn’t the end of the story! God’s story is always one of redemption and renewal. King David went on to great victories– and even other failures–yet he remained a “man after God’s own heart.” George Washington endured many trials and setbacks, but God brought him to a place of honor, making him the first of America’s elected leaders, and the one who would be the model of limited power for a limited term of service to the Republic.

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God already knows the worst about each of us. Nothing can separate us from His love. Failing to confess won’t change God’s offer– all it will do is prolong our shame and grief, and delay the peace and forgiveness we crave.

My Father’s World

As I look outside, there are bare branches on the trees, and the grass is covered in fallen leaves. The beauty of early autumn has almost gone, and winter is coming. The air is brittle and chilly, but not as cold as it will be in another month.

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Yet, this is My Father’s world. I trust that winter will come, and pass. Spring will follow, and the trees will once again be covered in leaves and filled with birdsong and new life.

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As I listen to the news, I hear of COVID deaths and hospitals filled with the sick and suffering. I hear of political unrest, and people spewing hatred, anger, and fear for the future. There is chaos and uncertainty, injustice, and pain. There are hurricanes and fires, floods, and earthquakes.

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Yet, this is My Father’s world. He sends rain on the just and the unjust; He brings healing and hope, even in the darkest hours. This world does not belong to any one nation, or political party, or natural disaster, or epidemic. Such circumstances have the power to cause destruction and fear, but they do not have power over the Creator of all things. Their reign is temporary and limited. And ” ‘tho the wrong seems oft so strong,” God is eternally sovereign– nothing that happens today can either take God by surprise, or cause Him to quake.

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I meet with people who are discouraged, angry, bitter, and scared. And I cannot “fix” the world around me with good intentions, or hard work. I cannot give assurance based on my own efforts or my own wisdom. I don’t know the answers, and I don’t have the solutions. I will make mistakes. I will say things that cause confusion, or even offense.

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But this is not my world; and it isn’t the world of those who try to discourage me, judge me, take advantage of me, or manipulate me. This is My Father’s world. And in this moment, I will choose to look for His hand and listen for His voice.

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AMEN!

Holy Terror

It’s the end of October, and tomorrow will be Halloween. Stores and houses around the neighborhood are decorated with frightening figures of skeletons, witches, ghosts, and gravestones. Some of my friends love this time of year, and they look forward to binge-watching movies about zombies or vampires– anything scary, spooky, or terrifying.

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I don’t like Halloween. I don’t like scary movies. But I believe in the value of fright. Life is filled with things–natural and supernatural– that fill us with real fear. And that is as it must be in a fallen world. Sin and death, evil and darkness, fires, earthquakes, violence and plague–they are real and should produce both fear and caution. The Bible is not silent or dismissive of such things. God’s laws warn against evil spirits, calling on the dead, consulting with witches, fortune telling, even giving in to anger, envy, and hatred. God’s laws also provide for hygienic practices to ward off disease and plague.

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And yet, the Bible also gives hundreds of warnings against giving in to fear and letting it control our lives. We are to be cautious and wise where fear is concerned. Over all, we are to remember that God is bigger and more powerful than our fears. God can calm storms, put out fires, even conquer disease and death! There is no power, no force, no terror, that can overwhelm God, or touch those under His protection.

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Terror holds no power in God’s presence. Therefore, if we know God, we can experience no true terror. But where there is no God, terror will reign. It’s like the saying: “No God; No Peace–Know God; Know Peace”. Terror comes with darkness, with chaos, with lawlessness and loneliness.

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There is only one other kind of terror– a Holy Terror. We can be terrified by the awesome Holiness of God. It is altogether more powerful and alien than anything we can even imagine. Even for those who know God, there is the knowledge that God is GOD, and we are not worthy to look on His face or enter into His presence on our own. Normally, when we think of terror, we think of things that are very unholy–evil things; supernatural forces of darkness. Yet Holiness can also inspire terror because it causes us to see our own unworthiness; our own sin and failure. I am reminded of the “face-melt” scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark– Nazis, who have been fearlessly and relentlessly pursuing the Ark of the Covenant, believing that it holds supernatural powers they can use to gain power over life and death, are suddenly and horrifically destroyed when they gaze inside–as they come in contact with the very Glory of God, their terror is absolute, and they are destroyed by its presence.

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This season, may we celebrate that God, in His awesome and mighty power, constantly reminds us that we can “Know” Him without fear; instead of running, cowering, or melting, we can come to Him with confidence and joy! And in doing so, we can face any other terror, knowing that God is with us, and for us, and even filling us with His peace! We need not be filled with Holy Terror– instead, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit!

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