The Same Music

There is a story of a man who played his violin in the subway. He played a classical piece; and then another. He played for 45 minutes. Trains came and went. People rushed by. A few paused for a moment– some dropped a dollar or two in his open violin case.

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The same man played his violin later that evening in a grand concert hall. He was the featured soloist in a symphony orchestra. People dressed in gowns and suits paid a couple hundred dollars each for tickets to hear him play. They sat spellbound as his music filled the air. This was the same music, played by the same man, on the same violin as before. The only difference was how people listened.

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When we pray, we’re not praying to an audience of rapt listeners. We’re pouring out our heart to our Heavenly Father. And it is music to His ears! Whether we are praying through our tears in a lonely jail cell or a war-torn shelter, or praying in a grand cathedral, or on a yacht in the Mediterranean; whether we are praying in broken phrases punctuated by heartbreak, or singing praises– it is the same music to Our Father’s ears.

Others may judge our words or our lives to be worthless. Others may not bother to listen to us; they may even try to silence us or drown us out. But God is ready to listen even to our weakest whimper, or our loudest scream.

God sends us music in return– the smile of a neighbor; the sunlight breaking through clouds; that unexpected sense of His presence in the middle of the darkest night.

Are we listening? Or are we rushing to catch the next train?

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A Mighty Wind

It’s been very windy here lately. Even when the sun is shining, the wind still makes it feel like winter (which, technically, it still is)! I don’t know that I have ever bothered to thank God for wind. After all, most of the time, we think of wind as being destructive–tornados, hurricanes, typhoons–winds tend to blow things over, knock things down, and they are often accompanied by water in the form of rain, waves, or hail.

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God created wind. He uses it for many good purposes that we may ignore or take for granted:

  • God used winds to dry up the waters after the great flood. (see Genesis 8:1)
  • God used a strong wind to blow locusts into Egypt as one of the plagues demonstrating His power to Pharaoh. He used another strong wind to blow them back out of the land and into the Red Sea. (see Exodus 10: 13-19)
  • God used a mighty wind to blow on the Red Sea, dividing the waters and allowing the Israelites to escape from the Egyptian army that pursued them. (Exodus 14)
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  • God used a wind to blow thousands of quail into the Israelite camp, providing so much meat that they got sick from it! (Numbers 11)
  • God often demonstrates His power, authority, and judgment through wind. (see Amos 4:13; Psalm 78:26; Jeremiah 10:13; Jonah 1 and 4; etc.)
  • God sent His Holy Sprit on Pentecost with a sound like a mighty rushing wind (Acts 2:2)
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Wind moves things. Without at least some wind, the air becomes stagnant, wind-borne seeds cannot find a home, and flying creatures must work harder to stay aloft. Wind can act as a cleanser, blowing away dead leaves and dust so that new growth can occur. Wind moves the waters– from gentle ripples to white-capped waves–pushing along the boats and ships over lakes and seas. Wind bears clouds and brings gentle rains and shade from the harsh sun. Wind can be directed for power in windmills and wind tunnels. Wind can even “sing” as it whistles through bare tree branches or moves wind chimes.

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One of the most unusual uses of wind in the Bible happened to the great prophet Elijah. In 1Kings19:11, God told Elijah to stand on the mountain. Elijah had fled for his life from the wrath of Jezebel and Ahab. He was discouraged to the point of death. God sent a strong and destructive wind, but His presence wasn’t in it. He sent an earthquake, but His presence wasn’t in that, either. Finally, in the stillness, God appeared to Elijah and gave him a message of hope and encouragement. Sometimes, the winds come, not as a judgment, not as a message, but as a signal that God wants us to be still. HE is the mover; HE is the wind– but He is also in the middle of the stillness, if we are ready to listen!

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I don’t know that I have ever bothered to thank God for wind. I take it for granted when it is gentle, and I dislike it when it is destructive– even when it just musses my hair or makes me shiver on an otherwise sunny day. But today, I thank God that He has the power, wisdom, and authority to use wind for His purposes. May He blow away all that is old and stagnant in my life, and move me to see His power at work in the world around me today. Thank You, God!

I Just Called to Say…

Near the end of 2020, my mother took a bad fall and broke her hip. Because of COVID, we were not allowed to visit her while she was recuperating. Thankfully, she had her cell phone and was able to make and receive phone calls. My mom is a very independent sort, but she loves to be “in the know” about all that is happening in the neighborhood and among our family members– births, deaths, hospitalizations, relocations, etc.. But, for all her interest in “what’s new,” Mom is completely computer-illiterate. She doesn’t text, she doesn’t have e-mail, and she knows nothing of social media. She relies on her phone and her desk calendar and notepad. Being trapped in a nursing home for six weeks was torture for her, even though she needed to recover and do physical therapy there. I tried to call her every day, and each time, she would ask, “Do you have any news?”

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Sometimes, I had “news” for her; someone had tested positive for COVID, or a new baby had been born. But most days, I had to tell her– “I just called to say I love you, and I’m thinking of you.” And I could “hear” her smile on the other end of the line as she replied, “well, that means a lot. I just love to hear your voice.”

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I don’t know why, but it struck me the other day how often we pray about circumstances– we “call” on God because we have “news”– situations that we want to bring to His attention– as if He didn’t already know! We pray because we want to lift up someone who is ill or suffering; we pray because we need to make a confession and ask forgiveness; we pray because we are facing an unknown future, and we desire God’s guidance and wisdom. Other times, we pray because we have a specific praise or thanks to offer. These are all legitimate reasons to reach out to God in prayer, and we certainly SHOULD pray in all circumstances, but how often do we call on God just to say, “I love you and I am thinking of you!” In fact, how often do we take the time to disconnect from social media and all the other distractions of our day to really focus on spending time with God?

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Mom is back in a nursing home at the moment…she fell about six weeks ago and broke her leg! She still has no access to the internet, and still doesn’t text, so I call her nearly every day– with or without “news.” And I marvel that God is every bit as eager to hear from me– even me– every day, “just because.” I’m so glad that I still have the ability to talk to Mom; to hear her voice–and yes, even to share the “news.” How much greater my joy that I can talk to my creator; that I don’t have to worry about a busy signal or dropped call; that I can read His words to me any time of day; that His presence–even though I can’t see Him or hear His voice–follows me everywhere. And that He sends special people to call me, or text, or e-mail– “just because.” And no matter how I feel about my circumstances, God is so very glad to hear from me. And you!

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This isn’t a hymn, but the music was running through my head as I wrote this. How often to we hear a ballad or a love song, and suddenly realize that God sings love songs over us?! (See Zephaniah 3:17!)

Of Broken Femurs, Hearts, and Toilets

The past two weeks have been just a bit chaotic for our families. My mother fell and broke her femur, near her hip–not the hip she broke over a year ago, but the other one! Less than twenty-four hours later, my mother-in-law fell–and broke her femur. Each mom ended up in a different hospital for surgery, and in a different rehabilitation facility, located nearly fifty miles apart. Last week, two members of our extended family died on the same day in the same city; their funerals were a day apart in two different parts of the city, but handled by the same funeral home. On the day of the first funeral, we found out that another member of the family died. That same night, our toilet broke. Water poured into our upstairs bathroom, soaking the floor, running into the next room, and dripping down to the floor below. In the middle of all this, I slipped on the ice, fell hard, and bruised my ribs.

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Where was God in all this? He was right there in every situation. God doesn’t disappear when the going gets tough– He is steady, sure, and faithful.

  • Neither of our moms suffered a concussion or any other major damage from their falls. They were able to get treatment and surgery, and they are receiving care and therapy. And, while this is something we might have taken for granted at one time, it is something for which we praise God, because it could have been much more tragic in both cases.
  • We live close enough to both moms that we have been able to help and visit (where we can because of continuing COVID restrictions). Though the facilities are fifty miles from each other, neither is fifty miles from our home. Also, both moms are able to receive phone calls, and we are able to receive updates from the staff at each place.
  • We have close families, and wonderful neighbors and friends– we are not alone in caring for our moms or grieving our loved ones, and there is a network of prayer, support and concern that staggers my imagination! I cannot imagine trying to navigate this without help– again, this is something we might take for granted, but God has been in the details long before any of this happened. Our families, friends, and neighbors represent dozens of church bodies from around the country and the world, as well as a significant group close to home– how marvelous that God allows us to work together as a body in every situation.
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  • Though we have lost three family members in rapid succession, all three were believers! All three left a legacy of faith, love, and hope. We mourn their loss, but we also celebrate their lives with joy and not regret.
  • David HATES plumbing, but he knew what to do to fix the toilet. The damage from the flooding was minimal, all of our towels are freshly laundered, and the toilet works again!
  • My fall could have resulted in ANOTHER broken femur– or a broken arm, concussion, etc.. While it hurts to sneeze or yawn or blow my nose, at least it doesn’t hurt to breathe, and I can move and go about my day, cautiously, but normally.

God allows difficult things to come into our lives– and I don’t have any definitive answer for WHY we have been experiencing so many trials all at once. But I can say this:

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  • Trials make us stop and look and question– and that can be a good thing. God is big enough, wise enough, and sovereign “enough” to handle our tears, our fears, our weakness, and our momentary doubts. In fact, it is in recognizing our limitations that we can focus more on God’s limitless grace and boundless love!
  • Trials bring us closer to each other. Our chaotic couple of weeks are just a drop in the bucket among all the other problems of the world, but so many wonderful people have called or sent messages of hope and encouragement over the past two weeks, my heart is bursting– not with the pain, but with joy and gratitude.
  • Trials teach us patience (see my post on “Be Careful What You Pray For.”) The toilet breaking was my low point this past week– even though it did not directly touch on our health or a loved one. But God sent friends and angels to remind me that this was a very minor problem– even among all the others– and that God was “flushing” away some unnecessary angst if I would just let it go!

There is nothing that takes God by surprise– nothing that causes Him to pause and wonder, “what happens next.” I can praise God in the hospital as I watch my mom cry in pain. I can praise God when my husband finds his mother “alive” (when he couldn’t be sure). I can praise God when I’m flat on my face on the ice, winded and sore. I can praise God when toilet water is soaking my socks. I can praise God when I hug cousins who have lost their parents to cancer or dementia, or age, knowing that God is with us every moment, in every tear, every hug, every shared memory, and every hope that our loved ones now experience what we will also know someday.

I’m ready for 2022 to calm down a little bit. But if it doesn’t, I’m also ready to be broken again– whether through broken legs, broken toilets, or broken hearts. God is in the business of repairing and restoring broken things and broken people. And no one does it better!

Thank You

This morning, I woke up.
I took a breath of clean air.
I opened my eyes.
I heard my clock ticking.
I took another breath.
Thank You!

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This morning, I woke up inside– protected from the rain and wind and cold.
I woke up in a bed.
I woke up with blankets for my body and a pillow for my head.
I woke up, and moved my head, my hands and feet, arms and legs.
I sat up and wiggled my toes.
Thank You!

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This morning, I woke up to hear my husband’s breathing.
I woke up to the knowledge that I am not alone.
I woke up to the knowledge that I am loved.
I felt safe and comforted.
Thank You!

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This morning, I woke up knowing that even if I had none of the things I just mentioned, that I still have reasons to Thank You– Things I take for granted; things I haven’t even noticed; things I have not yet seen.
Thank You for who You are. Thank You for Your Faithfulness; Your Majesty; Your Sovereignty. Thank You for the beauty of sunsets and snowflakes; for the seasons and the centuries; for family and friends; for triumphs and even for the tears that sometimes come my way. Thank You that you are greater, and deeper, more powerful and more tender than all that I know or imagine.

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Thank You!

Hallelujah!

Christmas Eve–people around the world will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Some will meet for evening and midnight candlelight services tonight. Others will begin celebrating tomorrow morning. Some will celebrate with great solemnity; others with great festivity; some, like the monks chorus above, with laughter and frivolity. Even amid continuing pandemic travel and gathering restrictions, families and individuals will celebrate with music, gift-giving, phone calls, small gatherings, reading Bible passages about Jesus’ birth, feasting, sharing memories, and praying.
There are only a few occasions throughout the year that can be said to be nearly universal, but Christmas comes close. Even where it is not celebrated as a cultural phenomenon, complete with tinsel and trees, lights and decorations, it is celebrated by the faithful who thrill with joy at the reminder that God Himself chose to come live with people He created– that He came to share in their day-to-day triumphs and struggles; so much so that He chose to share in our fate: Death. GOD cried out in hunger. GOD shivered with cold, and felt exhaustion. GOD suffered shame and misunderstanding and abandonment. GOD felt agony and struggled to breathe as blood and sweat ran down His brow and into His eyes. And by His coming, and suffering, and dying, HE brought us life and hope, eternal joy and peace! It is the very greatest reason to celebrate– bigger than national holidays or seasonal festivals; bigger than cultural differences and vast distances; bigger than mere tradition or historical remembrance.

Hallelujah!

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For many, this Christmas will be bittersweet– we have suffered greatly; some of us are still reeling from loss and grief. Others are living with fear and confusion about the future. In many ways, our situation is not so different from that first Christmas in Bethlehem. We feel “taxed” by events and circumstances. The world seems dark and dreary and cold. More than ever, we need to listen for the song of the Angels– for “good news of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

And, maybe more than ever in our lifetime, we need to be like the shepherds–eager to seek out the gift of the newborn Savior; Eager to embrace the wonder of Emmanuel; eager to share the hope we find at the manger. Hallelujah! Unto US a child is given; unto US a son is born! (Isaiah 9:6)

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I’ve been writing a lot about Advent and Christmas lately, rather than focusing on Pursuing Prayer. But they are part of the same whole. I pursue a life of prayer precisely because Jesus came in the flesh and lived and died and rose again. I believe in the power of prayer because Jesus modeled how to pray– even as He faced betrayal and death. I believe in the gift of prayer because Jesus prayed for me long before I was ever born (see John 17). I pursue prayer with confidence because Jesus keeps His promises.

Hallelujah!

November Poem

God is:

Worthy
Omnipotent
Never changing, the
Desire of the Ages
Eternal
Revered
Father
Unlimited
Light

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Jesus is:

Forever faithful
Accessible
Incomparable
Trustworthy
Hope for the hopeless
Full of
Unending
Love

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I am:

Grateful
Redeemed
Aspiring to be like Christ
Trusting that I am
Empowered by His Spirit to
Forgive others, even as I am
Unworthy of His unending
Love

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We are:

Transformed
Humble
Able to do “all things” through Christ
No longer slaves to Sin
Known by our Love for each other
Fruitful
Upheld in the power of His
Love

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Ceaseless Praise

Have you ever thought that right now, somewhere in the world, someone is singing praises to God? Someone is praying somewhere in the world at every moment of every day. There is not a solitary silent moment in the universe, where God is not receiving the worship He deserves. In fact, Jesus told some angry Pharisees, when they asked Him to rebuke the people of Jerusalem, that if they (the people who were shouting praises) were to be silent, the very rocks would cry out! (See Luke 19: 37-40)

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In fact, “the whole earth is full of His Glory” (Isaiah 6:3). From the smallest insect to the giant creatures in the seas; from the smallest of dust motes to the stars in the galaxies, all of creation sings, shouts, shines, and testifies to the Majesty of God.

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We don’t hear this constant praise. Nor do we smell the aroma of constant prayers that rise up “like incense” to the throne of Heaven. But our prayer should be that Jesus would be as close as our every thought, word, and action throughout the day; that in everything we think, say, and do, we would be participating in the eternal and glorious worship of the One who is worthy. And that our prayers and praise would blend in harmony with all the others in the great “Song of the Redeemed.”

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Prayer and praise should not be a single activity undertaken for a minute or even an hour a day. It should be as natural as breathing or blinking. And while we are in the flesh, and may not physically “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) we can ask God to “take our moments and our days–let them flow in ceaseless praise!”

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Out of the Same Mouth

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 

James 3:5-10 NIV via biblegateway.com (emphasis added)
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‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.’

Epictetus (Greek philosopher)
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Have you ever made a tape of you speaking, and played it back to listen to yourself? Or have you had someone remind you of what you said earlier in the day or week? Have you been astonished to hear what came out of your mouth (or how someone else interpreted your words)? James, the brother of Jesus, had much to say about the dangerous power of an untamed tongue. “Fire”, “poison”, “corrupt”, “restless”, “evil”, and “deadly” are harsh words, but we should heed James’ warning.

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Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing…
Out of the same mouth come worship and complaining…
Out of the same mouth come encouragement and gossip…
Out of the same mouth come blessings and bitterness…
Out of the same mouth come hymns of heaven and threats of hell…

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And it’s not just our mouths, anymore. I see (and have seen it in my own feeds) posts on social media that make me wonder if the person posting is aware of what they posted just minutes or hours before–rants and boasts, complaints and smug condemnation sprinkled with Bible verses about Peace and Love, and pictures of puppies. We copy and paste, write and speak “in the moment” out of the emotions and thoughts that we allow to govern us. And while we may forget our momentary outbursts and random sarcastic comments, others do not. God does not ignore them, either. He can and will forgive them, but He isn’t “fooled” by our gracious cover-ups and flowery quote boxes.

When I pray today, I need to “listen” to what I’ve been saying lately. Do I need to deal with hidden anger or resentment? Do I need to confess (both to God and to someone else) about gossip? Do I need to reconsider the way I speak about my relationships and my achievements (and failures!)?

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The same mouth that praises God should be speaking life, peace, healing, and hope to those around me. The same mouth that promises to follow Christ, should promise to reach out to those for whom He died. The same mouth that gives thanks for Salvation should be eager to share the Good News.

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The tongue is powerful–whether as a weapon or a tool; whether controlled or out of control. God wants to teach us to use it as a tool for good. Not just when we pray, or worship, but every time we use it!

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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