Sometimes, It’s the Little Things…

The other day started out frustrating. I went to the pharmacy to drop off a medicine container for a refill. There was a line. The man in front of me had a dozen questions, and demanded to speak to a specific staff member. By the time I reached the front of the line, I felt as though I was already running late for the rest of the day. I said I would pick up the refill later in the day as I didn’t have time to wait. Then, I went to buy a birthday card for my nephew. When I went to check out, there was no one at the regular counter– I had to use the self-check machine. It asked if I had a “rewards member” number. I entered it, but the machine didn’t register the number. A staff member (who could have checked me out at the regular counter!) helped me re-enter the number. Instead of discounting the price of the card, the machine ADDED to the amount, “rounding up” for a particular charity. I asked the staff member why this happened, and she said that I must have agreed to round up my total. I said, “No,” I hadn’t done so, but she said I must have done so some time in the past, and the machine automatically rounds up every time I make a purchase.

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It’s not that I want to be parsimonious–I like to think I am a generous person. But if I hadn’t typed in my “reward member” number, I would have saved a little money. To be more exact, I would have saved three cents! Now I know that sounds really petty, but sometimes, it’s the little things that really sting. After waiting (not all that patiently) at the pharmacy, this hidden consequence of a past act of generosity, coupled with the inconvenience of using the self-check, really made me angry.

I am reminded of a story in the book of 2 Kings 5 about a man called Naaman. Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army under the powerful king Ben-Hadad. But Naaman had a big problem. He had contracted leprosy. Not only would leprosy destroy his skin and extremities, but it would make him an outcast and a pariah, and ruin his legacy. When he heard that there was a prophet from Israel who could heal him, he pulled out all the stops and went to see him. But Elisha did not come to the door. Instead, he sent Naaman instructions through his servant, and told him to wash seven times in the Jordan River.

Naaman felt insulted and infuriated. Why? It was such a simple solution– no drastic diet, no expensive and painful treatments–just take a bath in the river! But the Jordan River was considered dirty. That’s where the poor and destitute bathed, and where animals drank. Naaman almost lost his opportunity to be cured through pride over such a little thing. Thankfully, he was talked into doing what Elisha had asked, and he was completely healed. He was so grateful, that he asked for some dirt (!) so he could build an altar to the God of Israel who had provided his healing!

So often, God uses the little things to point out what really matters. After my less-than-gracious reaction to a couple of minor inconveniences, I had to step back and take a look at my morning from God’s perspective. The line of people at the pharmacy all had needs, and, like the man ahead of me with questions, each one had a right to service. It wasn’t their fault I was impatient or feeling “late”– and, it turned out, I wasn’t really behind schedule after all. I just didn’t like waiting! And my anger over the self-check machine was out of proportion. I still found a birthday card for my nephew, and I had the ability to go to the store, pick out the card, pay for the card, and I got to spend time with my nephew later that day. And some worthy charity got a whopping three cents!

Sometimes we fail to see the importance of the “little” things in life. And we allow “little” problems to grow all out of proportion. We allow petty injustices to fester; we withhold forgiveness; we get angry over perceived slights, and hand on to pride or envy. We forget to lift up “little” burdens and requests; we are blind to the “ordinary” blessings that fill our lives; we lose opportunities to do the simple things that can help others–a smile, a word of encouragement, a helping hand–we miss out on the miracles that hide among the “little” inconveniences of our day.

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My prayer today is that God will open our eyes to the “little” things in our lives– opportunities, mercies, blessings in disguise– and that we, like Naaman, will find healing and joy where we least expect it!

For more on Naaman, you can check out these links: https://www.logos.com/grow/important-detail-forget-story-naaman/ https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/tackling-the-sickness-of-pride-like-naaman.html

The Greatest of These…

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message)
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Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8;13 (NIV)
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In 2 Peter, the Apostle gives us a list of character traits that we should develop as believers in and followers of Christ. The last two seem similar, but there is a reason both are there, and both at the end. As we follow in Christ’s footsteps, we should develop traits that mark growth in our relationship with God– faith, patience, hope, etc. But we should also show growth in our relationships with other people. We should interact with others as God interacts with us– we should show compassion, forgiveness, concern, generosity, and selfless Love for others. “Brotherly kindness” is what we should be ready to show to everyone– neighbors, strangers, and even enemies, included. “Generous Love” is not just a feeling of deep affection or even good will. The Love we should develop is selfless and giving beyond what we can offer in our own hearts. It is the culmination of all the other characteristics we are developing as we seek to become more Christlike.

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“We love Him, because He first Loved us.” 1 John 4:19– It is Christ’s example of Love, coming from Himself (Father, Son, and Spirit) that teaches us what Love really is, and causes us to be able to love in truth and fullness. Christ came to serve–He did not live for His own whims and gratifications. He gave audaciously, loved lavishly, forgave freely, and lived humbly. The Apostle Paul underlines what Peter says in his letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. We should learn to have faith and hope, but in the end, Love is the greatest characteristic we can develop.

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My one-time choir director once asked us to do this exercise: Write out 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8. Now substitute the word “Jesus” for each instance of the word, “Love.” Because God is Love (1 John 4:8) this is a valid substitution. “Jesus is patient. Jesus is kind. He does not envy,” etc… Think about how Jesus demonstrated what Love is as He interacted with His disciples– including Peter’s denial and Judas’s betrayal– and with those in the crowds. This is our model, and our assignment– this is how we should Love. Now comes the real test…substitute Your name to see how closely your life and actions resemble those of Our Savior. Can you say that your are patient and kind? That you don’t hold grudges or become easily angered? That you always hope? Always persevere? Of course, there will be instances when we don’t live up to Christ’s example– but are we becoming more Christlike? Are we growing in Love? Type this passage out three times– in its original text, with Jesus’s name, and with your name. Print it out and hang it somewhere where you will be reminded, convicted, and encouraged to live out Christ’s Love. If someone else reads it, they should be challenged, as well.

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Bringing this Bible Study back around to prayer– are we praying through these characteristics? Do we come with faith, obedience, understanding and discipline, patience, wonder, compassion and love? Do we expect God to do OUR will, or are we eager to see His will be done? Do we believe that God rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6)? Do we rejoice in the truth, and always hope, even in the moments of pain and injustice? Our prayer life will follow our growth in all these areas. I pray that we are all growing more like Christ each day. Let today be the next step in that growth– turn from yesterday, let God take care of tomorrow, and grow in this moment.

Passionate Patience

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message– emphasis added)
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I’ve seen lots of posts recently about the “-ber” months–September, October, November, December–and the excitement for some as this season comes ’round. September in Michigan is filled with ripening fruits and changing colors. October brings pumpkins, apple cider, and frosty mornings. November is often spent thinking of and planning for Thanksgiving– bountiful feasts and time with family. And December brings the Christmas season– snow, caroling, giving and receiving gifts, and families gathered around trees and fireplaces, sharing old memories and making new ones.

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Part of this season of summer morphing into autumn and “falling” into winter is anticipation. The first apple harvest; the first frost; the first snowfall; those eager moments of wondering what will be under the Christmas Tree…we know they will come, but when, and how?

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My birthday is at the end of November, and as a child, I always loved Thanksgiving. It meant that family would gather, and at some point, they would sing “Happy Birthday” and there would be a cake among all the wonderful Thanksgiving desserts with my name on it! Four weeks later, Christmas would come, and the same excitement filled the house. It was difficult to be patient, but I learned that everything special was worth waiting for. In fact, sometimes, the anticipation is part of what makes such times more wonderful. There is no fun in rushing through precious moments or “ruining” the surprise of what is to come; nor is there any virtue in losing passion for what is possible, just because we can’t see the outcome, yet.

The Apostle Peter gave early Christians a list of attributes and spiritual traits that they should be developing in increasing measure. One of these attributes is “passionate patience.” In other translations, it is also called “perseverance,” “endurance,” “patience,” and “strength to keep going.” I like this wording, “passionate patience,” because it reminds us that patience isn’t just passive and meek. Especially as we work on building our spiritual understanding and alert discipline, patience becomes a powerful trait– one that distinguishes Christians from those around them. Some people are marked by impatience, anger, and dissatisfaction. Others are marked with complacency and resignation. Christians are asked to be passionately patient! Our faith and hope should radiate, even as we endure trials and anticipate God’s movement in the world around us.

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Jesus modeled “passionate patience” in His ministry on earth. Peter was witness to Jesus’ endurance in the face of rejection, unbelief, misunderstanding, and injustice– both to those around Him, and personal injustices. Jesus remained faithful, passionate for the truth, and compassionate toward others. He did not give in to despair, or waste His energy in anger or revenge. He did not make excuses for inaction, but He did not “burn out” in useless activities, either. He confidently did what the Father told Him to do– no more and no less.

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How do I reflect “passionate patience?” When I look around me and see injustice, do I explode in anger? Do I shrug my shoulders in resignation? Do I lose faith and passion? Or do I remain positive and faithful in doing what I know to be right and speaking up for the truth? Do I spread compassion or consternation? Antipathy, anger, or aspiration? When my life circumstances are filled with pain or hardship, do I endure? Do I persevere? Do I thrive? Or do I complain? Do I remain passionately hopeful, or give in to anxiety or despair? Do I wait for God’s strength and wisdom, or do I try to “fix” things in my own power? Do I accept help and guidance when I need it, or resent others’ efforts? Do I spread hope and healing? Or do I spread doubt and gloom? Do I grow bitter or better? I’d love to say that I respond with the kind of endurance, patience, and fortitude that Peter spoke of. And sometimes, with God’s help, I have. But I have much to learn, and room to grow!

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I pray that God’s spirit will help me grow in “passionate patience,” as I actively seek to follow Christ and reflect His love today.

“Wait For It…”

Movies and television shows are breeding grounds for popular phrases that enter the culture and resonate with millions of people.  Just utter the phrase, and nearly everyone in the group “gets” the reference.  A recent American sitcom has made the phrase “Wait for it..” an iconic reference to comedic timing.  It’s often the anticipation of a punchline, a pratfall, an ironic twist, that makes it memorable or noteworthy, and a clever person will use the timing to maximize the humor in a joke or prank.

We have an innate desire to see “what happens” next in life– “Where will I be in five years?”  “Will I get the job?”  “When will the baby come?” “Will she say ‘Yes’?” “Will the tests come back negative?”  The last thing we want at such times is a clever, smug comedian sitting back and using our anticipation for his own entertainment.

man wearing black zip up hooded jacket facing camera
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Often, the wait is exciting, short-lived, and rewarded with relief in the form of a pleasant outcome–She does say, “Yes!”; or the medical test comes back with good news. Sometimes, the anticipation of the “punch line” produces shared laughter. But sometimes, it seems that the “joke” is on us– the wait never seems to end, or the punch line comes with a gut-wrenching punch–we didn’t get the job; the baby comes too early; the plans and the hard work end in disaster and shame.

Some people imagine God sitting in Heaven, smug and distant, pointing at us and laughing, “Wait for it..”  Every time they face disappointment, frustration, oppression, they raise their fists to Heaven and blame their creator for everything they haven’t gotten, every missed opportunity, every setback, every heartache.  “If God really loved me, he would not let me be hurt/sad/poor…”

woman working girl sitting
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But, when God says “Wait for it…”, he’s not talking about a punchline or an ironic twist of fate.  He knows that bad things will happen, but he’s not asking us to wait for those things.  And he certainly isn’t sitting back laughing at our pain and disappointment.  He’s asking us to wait for something better.  Something we cannot even begin to imagine.  A restoration of all things– the dead brought back to life, the sick completely healed, the love we long for lavishly poured out in its fullness.

Anticipation is not part of a joke; hope is not corny or naive– it is built into the very soul of each person.  We long for what we have never experienced, but what we know is “out there”.  In this world, we will be left anticipating, because NOTHING can measure up to what God has in store.  Even the best of relationships, the best of comforts, the best of experiences, will leave us wanting something more.  And this is a gift, even though it can leave us disappointed, restless, and even hurt.  In light of what’s coming, there is no loss or setback so great as to cancel out the hope and the promise that stirs within.

man architecture london kings cross
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It’s because of this that we can pray with confidence in the midst of our struggles, and with abandon in times of frustration and pain.  We live in the finished work of the cross, but the unfinished and ongoing work of renewal and restoration.

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Wait for it..

Blessings Come Down

When I was a small girl, we learned a song in Sunday School. It was primarily about the parable of the “house built on a rock.” (See Matthew 7:24-27) The first verse spoke of the wise man, who built his house on the rock. The second verse spoke of the foolish man who built his house on the sand. But the third verse challenged listeners to “build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The first two choruses spoke of the rains coming down and the floods coming up; the third chorus said that “the blessings come down as the prayers go up.”

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Sometimes, memories forged in childhood come back to tease our thoughts as adults. We had a much-needed but powerful rain storm the other night. While it didn’t lead to floods, it did dump a lot of water on fields that were in great need of moisture. And it reminded me that many farmers and gardeners had been praying for rain. Rather selfishly, my husband and I had been praying for sleep– some of our neighbors had been setting off fireworks for several nights in a row, well into the late hours of the evening, keeping us awake, and terrorizing some of the Veterans in the neighborhood. The rain cut their activities short last night (even as it kept us awake with thunder, lightning, and raindrops on the roof!)

But I was also reminded that prayer works much like the water cycle. Prayers go up, much like dew getting absorbed every morning, or water droplets evaporating in the sun. We don’t see any change. There is nothing dramatic about evaporation or silent prayers in the night. Prayers go up from many different people in any different places with many different needs. And they seem to end up evaporating.

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Sometimes, we look up and see empty skies, and wonder– Did God hear my prayer? Will He answer? The skies seem empty and silent for weeks. And then we see clouds–sometimes dark and threatening– and we wonder again. What is God doing? Where is the rain? Will it bring floods and winds and disaster? What went wrong?

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Sometimes, our prayers seem to bring, not showers of blessing, but trouble and heartache. And yet.. God’s answers may not fit our thoughts or desires. I certainly didn’t want thunder and lightning instead of fireworks– both are noisy and aren’t conducive to restful sleep. But the rain brought much-needed nourishment to flowers and crops. It brought down the super hot temperatures, and lowered the humidity (a little). It even cleaned the dust from my vehicle, saving me from making a trip to the car wash! Of course, these are small effects of a single storm. And the noise of the rain, while loud, finally lulled me to sleep, so in a sense, my prayer was answered. It wasn’t what I had imagined, But the principle is the same. Even in our storms, disasters and tragedies, there are blessings– if we have the heart to look for them. God’s presence can bring us comfort and encouragement even in the darkest night, and in the floods of life.

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Just as the parable and the song remind us– building a life on the Rock of Jesus Christ, including a lifestyle of prayer, will keep us strong and resilient in the storms of life– whether we’re facing raging floods or a simple downpour, we can find hope in the faithfulness of God’s provision. God WILL provide– in His time and in His way– everything we truly need. The sand, dust, and even some of our earthly treasures may be washed away, but, as long as we are built up on the Rock, we will be blessed– sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

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Let’s keep sending the prayers up!

Fixing the Snarls

A few years ago, I got really ambitious and decided I would take up crocheting. My grandmother taught me the basics many years ago, and I thought I would be able to pick it back up and make delightful scarves and mittens and maybe even afghans… Except, when I started a scarf, I ended up with a nice start attached to a horribly snarled up ball of yarn. No problem. I would simply work at the snarl until it melted away, and continue with my scarf. Except it didn’t melt away. I was able to “move” the snarl a foot or so down from where it was, but I couldn’t work it all the way out.

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I struggled with that snarl far longer than I should have, and eventually gave up the project and moved on to making candles (another story for another time). But I learned a painful lesson. I would love to say that I prayed about the snarl and God unraveled it for me, but that didn’t happen. I prayed– yes; but God allowed me to continue in my stubbornness and self-confidence to do battle with a few yards of green yarn for days, when I could have been doing more productive things.

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I have a great need to try to “fix” things– I think most of us do at some level. We live in a broken world, and we know that there are things that are “snarled” all around us–relationships, situations, circumstances–that need fixing. And God has given us opportunities to do good works that can make the world around us better. But it is not our job to “fix” the brokenness in the world. Only God can really “fix” it–even though He may give us work to do along the way.

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And that brings me back to prayer. No, God didn’t “fix” the snarl in my yarn. And He didn’t “fix” my stubborn attitude or my willingness to finish the project another way or ask for help from someone else. God isn’t interested in making our lives (or our projects) easier for us by removing our problems. And God isn’t impressed by our stubborn efforts to “fix” the situations in our lives. God’s ways are not our ways (see Isaiah 55:8-9; and check out https://blackaby.org/gods-ways-are-not-our-ways/.

So many times, we think of prayer as a last resort, as a crutch to fall back on when our efforts seem to be failing, or when we think a situation is “too big” for us to handle on our own. Even in the things of Christ, we tend to plan first, and pray later. Prayer becomes our Plan B. But what if, in the grand scale, prayer was always our Plan A? What if we started the morning, not looking at our planners and calendars, but listening for God’s direction? Even if it meant scrapping our own plans and leaving the “snarls” to God? What if, as our churches planned for programming and outreach, we resolved to do nothing until we had prayed for a month about our goals for the coming year? What if our churches had more people coming to prayer meetings than coming to Family Game Nights or Teen Overnight Parties? In my own life, what if I spent less time writing in my prayer journal than asking God to inhabit my prayers?

In the book of 1 Samuel, King Saul undertook a mission for God– God had chosen him to be King over all Israel, and to lead the nation against the wicked peoples in their midst. Saul led his warriors in battle, and even had success, but God rejected Saul because of his disobedience. Saul wanted victory to confirm his status as a warrior and a king. He listened to God’s instructions– superficially. He even insisted that he had followed God’s instructions– after all, he defeated the enemy! But he didn’t do it God’s way or for God’s glory. God gave him victory in many battles, but Saul was impatient, imprudent, and impudent. Saul ended his reign in shameful defeat because he wanted to “fix the snarls”– his way.

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I’m not saying that my prayer journal is wrong, or that churches shouldn’t do programming– not at all. But it is something to think about, before the next yarn snarl comes along… Am I busy trying to “fix” a situation that I can’t (or shouldn’t) fix, when I should be watching for God’s next assignment? Am I trying to win a battle to prove myself worthy, or am I letting God set the terms and take the Glory that is rightfully His? Am I busy asking God to unsnarl yarn, when He wants to move mountains?

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Be Careful What You Pray For…

When I was a young woman, I prayed for patience. Several well-meaning friends and family tried to tell me that this was a mistake. “Be careful what you pray for,” they said. It was their belief that, if I prayed for patience, God would send situations into my life that would force me to be patient. God doesn’t “give” patience, they warned–He merely teaches us to be patient.

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I wanted more patience, in preparation for marriage and children; I wanted to be a patient wife and mother. But I was unprepared for this reaction of others. DON’T ask God for something good? Isn’t patience (long-suffering) one of the attributes listed as the “Fruit of the Spirit?”(Galatians 5:23-24) Why should I hesitate, or fear to ask God for something that will help me serve Him better?

Looking back, I suppose some of those same friends and family might say, “I told you so!” I’m sure they wanted a happy and easy future for me– one that didn’t include some of the challenges that I have had to face. And in their eyes, I was “tempting fate” to draw attention to my lack of patience. On the surface, it probably looks like that’s exactly what happened. I never had any children; I didn’t marry until I was in my mid-40s, and I have learned patience in many areas through many challenges.

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But that’s just one perspective. What if I hadn’t prayed that prayer? Would God have let me drift through life without “needing” more patience? Would I have “avoided” the years of loneliness and lack of children? Would I have married and had a family and lived happily ever after without having to learn patience? Would my life have been totally different? Or would my circumstances have been the same, except that I never would have learned patience–never sought to become more patient during the same trials and challenges? What kind of life might I have had WITHOUT patience?

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During the years that I was single, I worked full-time in youth-oriented jobs– teaching and serving in the youth department at a library. I learned patience by disciplining teenagers, cleaning up after toddlers, answering the same questions twenty times a day, and dealing with obstinate parents! I suffered with my students when one of their classmates died; and when it happened again the next year. I agonized with my student who chose to keep her baby after those close to her wanted her to have an abortion. And I rejoiced with her when she brought her son to visit me a year later. I suffered the frustration of parents whose children were rebellious, or had learning issues, or had been diagnosed with autism or ADHD. But I also endured the long nights when I had no little ones to tuck in or talk to (and learned to be thankful for the nights I didn’t have to deal with fever and sickness, or arguing–again– about the rules of the house!) But in the course of my work, I connected with hundreds of children and teens. They were never “mine” to hold or scold or say, “I love you”, but they touched my life, and I hope that I touched theirs as well. I didn’t choose my career path knowing that I would never become a “mom.” But I needed (and learned) patience in the process. I learned patience in the years I spent single–and I learned to appreciate my husband in ways I wouldn’t have as a young woman.

Story hour at the library c. 2009.

There IS some truth to the phrase, “Be careful what you pray for.” When we pray, we should pray for things that align with His will– like wisdom, patience, courage, or peace. We should not pray for things that contradict His will– instant popularity, wealth without work, or relationships or circumstances that dishonor Him. We should also be prepared for God to answer in the way He deems best–which may not look or feel like what we desired. It was His best for me not to marry young or have children of my own. He has since blessed me with a wonderful husband and step-children and grandchildren. But He might have chosen not to. And I would still thank Him for the life I have led. It’s been fantastic. I’ve met amazing people, had amazing opportunities, and traveled to wonderful places. I don’t feel like God ever “punished” me for asking for patience– instead, I feel that He has more than answered my prayer. That doesn’t mean that I have learned to be perfectly patient in every situation (just ask my husband!) But God is eternally good and faithful to give us what is in our best interest– if we ask, AND if we trust His answer more than our expectation. (see Hebrews 11:6; John 17; 1 Peter 5:7)

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Don’t be too afraid or too proud to ask God for any good thing. God will not only give you what you need, He will be with you every step of the way as you learn and grow, and develop into the person He wants you to be!

Could You Repeat That?

“Peter, do you love me?” Three times asked. Three times answered. (See John 21) Once for each time Peter had denied his Lord. You’d think the lesson had been learned. But when Peter had a vision filled with food that he refused to eat, it took another three times before he got the message.(Acts 10) We could say that Peter was consistently stubborn. But maybe Peter is not so different from us.

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Fear not. Do NOT be afraid. Be strong and courageous. The Bible is filled with such messages. Over and over, God’s people need reminders to look beyond fear and find faith. Go and preach the Gospel. Go out into all the world. Go make disciples. Love one another. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Pray without ceasing. Run the race. Don’t give up. Ask. Seek. Knock.

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God is not annoyed or afraid of repetition. He uses it when speaking patiently to us. He welcomes it from us in prayer. Sometimes, I feel like I’m “nagging” God about certain things. After all, He already knows my needs, so why am I bringing the same request for the 19th time this month? Except God not only knows about my need, He knows my tendency to get discouraged and distracted. God doesn’t need to hear my request again, but He wants to hear me ask. More than that, He wants to hear me ask with confidence, knowing that He HAS heard and WILL provide– in ways and times I cannot know.

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God hears. God knows. God cares. It’s worth repeating! It’s worth asking– again!

Meaningless?

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;

    I refused my heart no pleasure.

My heart took delight in all my labor,

    and this was the reward for all my toil.

 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done

    and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;

    nothing was gained under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 (NIV via biblegateway.com)
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The persistent theme of Ecclesiastes is that everything done “under the sun” is meaningless–wisdom, riches, hard work, morality, pleasure–it all ends in death and futility. In the end, the author (presumed to be Solomon, the wisest king who ever lived) concludes that the whole “duty” or purpose of mankind is to fear God and keep His commandments, because God will judge every deed and hidden thought.

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Sometimes, it can be difficult to pray when life seems “meaningless.” I was reminded recently of a time when my life seemed pointless and pathetic. I was nearing 40, single and childless. I had a good job, and enough to live comfortably, but I wasn’t a “success” by many people’s standards. I owned a car, but it was getting old. I did not own a home, and I hadn’t taken a vacation in years (although I had traveled for work, and counted that as something). I had a cat. I was a single, frumpy, middle-aged cat lady. And when I prayed, I often asked, “Why, God?” And when I read Ecclesiastes, I got depressed.

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But Solomon is writing about life from a distinctive point of view. He sets out to find a purpose for life “under the sun.” When I was looking at my life from that perspective, everything DID seem meaningless. It was meaningless for me to save up for a house if I had no one to leave it to; meaningless to pursue higher career goals or travel, when I had no one to share it with.

A very wise co-worker noticed my depression and dissatisfaction. She pointed out that purpose, happiness, and satisfaction came from God, but that I had to choose my perspective. God had given me life, and purpose– a job, shelter, comfort, family and friends. I could grump and grouse about what I didn’t have, or the meaning I couldn’t find– OR I could trust that God would reveal meaning and purpose as I kept pursuing Him.

Instead of asking, “Why, God?”, I began asking other questions. “What do You want me to continue doing?” “How can I serve You right where I am?” “Who can I bless and encourage, today?” And even, “How can I use these experiences and feelings to honor You?”

God stepped in and offered me the opportunity to change my circumstances–I became a wife, a step-mother, a grandmother. I left my job–now I make even less money, and I’ve had to learn new skills and deal with new challenges, but I have also learned more trust in God’s wisdom and timing. But it didn’t happen right away. What DID happen was that I gained a renewed sense of purpose and a new focus. I wasn’t doing things “under the sun,” but “under the Son!” Somehow, I had forgotten to look for my meaning and purpose in being a child of God, and had turned my eyes inward.

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It seems like a bone-headed mistake in retrospect, but, then again, even Solomon wasted some of his life looking for meaning and purpose in all the wrong places! And those years were not meaningless or wasted. I learned patience, perspective, compassion, and wisdom to pass on to others who may be in similar circumstances.

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“Father, today, may I focus on the meaning and purpose that can only come from seeking You. You are the author of purpose, of wisdom, and of wholeness. And as You reveal Yourself to me, help me to reflect and share Your wisdom and character to others. Amen”

In My Distress…

This has been a week full of distress.. My husband and I got our second COVID vaccine (even though we recovered from the virus earlier this year), and spent a day bedridden with fever, chills, and body aches. But we recovered. I got word that my great-nephew broke his arm. Someone I know had to take her daughter to the emergency room–Again–with a serious infection. Another couple delivered a stillborn son. Yet another delivered a tiny, premature little girl. Another woman is back in the hospital, and another friend is off work with a lingering illness that remains undiagnosed. And that is just a list of health issues!

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It has been said that when we are in distress– especially with bedridden illness– we are forced to look up. And this gives us the impetus to call out to God. Not everyone will do so. And some will call out in anger or bitterness. But the Psalmist David used his distress to call out to God for help. In Psalm 18:6 he says: “In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”(ESV via bibleref.com) David’s distress was not from illness, but from being hemmed in by King Saul, who had closed in and had David trapped and seemingly helpless–first in a walled city, then twice in the wilderness. (1 Samuel 23) Three times, David’s situation seemed hopeless, and three times, he was rescued from capture and death.

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It is tempting to look out at our circumstances, and lose hope. Even when we know that God hears us and loves us, sometimes his answers are not what we expect. David called out to God, yet he had to face his enemy three times before Saul abandoned his hunt (temporarily!) My husband and I recovered quickly from our reaction earlier this week, but we faced the pain and symptoms three times– during the actual illness, and, less severely with each dose of the vaccine. My nephew will have to be in a cast most of the summer. The tiny baby will be in the neonatal ICU for several weeks, if she survives. Her family will be waiting and worrying and praying. Yet, God DID deliver David in a miraculous way; He brought my husband through a severe case of COVID that involved a stay in the hospital and a related case of pneumonia; He gave life to this precious little baby; He is bringing peace to the family that lost their precious little boy. His timing may not be ours; His ways are not our ways. But God’s ears are always open, and His ways are always good, and His wisdom is perfect.

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Distress can make us impatient and cause us to doubt Our Father’s care. But when we remember God’s faithfulness in the past– both toward us and those we love–we can find the strength to wait and even praise God in the struggle.

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