Stormy Faith

Here’s what I know:

I don’t know what’s going to happen with this move that is right now set to happen between Tuesday and Wednesday.

I don’t know where we are going to live because we haven’t found anyone who will rent to us due to our current circumstances.

I don’t know how there can be so many people praying for us and yet I know nothing about what happens next.

Ocean

Here’s what else I know:

I know God’s ways are not my ways nor are His thoughts my thoughts.

I know nothing is impossible for God.

I know God created the heavens and the earth and the oceans and he placed the stars in the sky.

I know God cares deeply for me and will never abandon or forsake me.

I know my faith does not depend on my feelings or my circumstances.

Even so.

Fear battles faith with every flaming arrow the enemy has in his quiver and doubt swirls like a storm only Jesus can quell as He did for His disciples on the Sea of Galilee.

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Matthew 8:23-27

The storm is fierce and my faith is not only little, like the disciples, it is shaky at best.

Even so.

God is faithful even when He seems silent; and I will trust Him and I will wait on Him. I will say yes, even when He says wait a little longer. I will say yes, even if He says no.

Though every ounce of my limited, broken, bone-weary, and fear-filled humanity cries out, “No!” and, “I can’t!” and, “I won’t!” and, “Where are you?” and, “Why, God, why?!” I will trust Him. I will look back at the places from which I have come and recall the ways He has provided and that He has always met me where I am. I will remember His faithfulness.

I will say, “Yes.”

I will.

No matter what, I will say, “Yes.”

Rejoice Always?

Habakkuk

This verse, read independent of its surrounding verses, speaks of joy and worship and delight in the Lord. And yet, when taken in context, it is an even richer testimony of faith and giving thanks in all circumstances, especially circumstances that appear less than, that appear intended to undermine our hope and our trust in God’s promises.

Here is the verse in its full context:

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (For the choir director: This prayer is to be accompanied by stringed instruments.)”  Habakkuk 3:17-19 NLT

Read in the context of these surrounding verses, the fact that the writer exclaims his vow to rejoice in the Lord as well as to be joyful takes on a much different interpretation, doesn’t it? It’s one thing to rejoice in the Lord because He is the Lord; it is another thing altogether to rejoice in the Lord despite circumstances under which we typically would not give thanks or be joyful. Under circumstances, in fact, that might cause us to shake our fist at the Lord rather than to give Him thanks.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty. Did you catch that phrase? Even though.

Of course, the things described within these verses do not hold as much meaning for us as they did for the writer, but we have our own lists of things that are equally important to us, don’t we? Things that define who we are in the world and to the world: our job; our income and finances; the home in which we live; the cars we drive; the successes we’ve had; the accomplishments of our children. The list of what matters to us and what defines us is long.

And from within the comfort of the things on these lists, it is easy to give thanks and be joyful. But, what if that list of things begins to dwindle? What if the even though statements the writer makes in these verses were applied to us and our list of riches and blessings?

Even though I lose my job and do not know what tomorrow brings;

Even though our income is cut or our finances take hits because Wall Street falters and stocks plummet and we thought we had it all figured out;

Even though we lose our home and our cars and we all we can do is declare bankruptcy;

Even though all we see is loss and emptiness and failure and fear, God is with us still and therefore we can rejoice and, yes, even be joyful.

God is our refuge and He is sovereign and He knows the number of hairs on our head. God is with us, still and always. Because He loves us and He cares intimately for us.

If we turn to Him, He is our strength. If we turn to Him, He will raise us up and lead us on paths of righteousness and we will see His goodness. Achievements and financial stability and carving out a niche for ourselves in this world are good things; but they don’t define us and they do not provide us ultimate security.

When we become a child of the One True King, we become so much more than a list of the things we have collected. We become an heir to the promises of the eternal, sovereign God. We become an heir to His righteousness and His kingdom. In other words, we are defined by His love, His grace, His delight in us.

Even though I have not all I thought I would or should, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

I pray that these words will remind you today how much you are loved and that the God who created the world cares intimately for you.

The Faith of Struggle

IMG_8977Do you believe these words?

Yesterday I wrote that faith sometimes is as excruciating as it is hope-filled. When life is moving at the status quo, faith requires little from us.

But when life is moving at the pace of chaos and unpredictability, filled with unknowns and struggle, faith can slip through the fingers of what once seemed our tightest grasp. In moments like that, it can take everything we are to trust God and lean on faith rather than our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

And yet, God’s words stand. Always. His words remain steadfast; they are as true in the muck and mire of life’s circumstances as in the joy and delight and easier moments. Maybe even more so, because we need their truth more in darkness and struggle than in light and calm.

Because isn’t that when we tend to turn to His words and reach out for His promises and seek His presence? When life is at its least predictable? When our circumstances would have us believe that all is hopeless is when God’s faithfulness is our greatest lifeline.

So why do we go it alone? Why do we have such a strong need to figure it all out? Why do we choose to struggle, to battle the raging storm rather than seek refuge?

God stands at the ready, waiting for us to call on Him.

What are you facing today that you insist on figuring out on your own?

What if you stopped struggling and said, “I can’t.” How much stronger would you be in your weakness? How much freer?

What if rather than trying to figure it all out, you anticipated how God was going to work it all out for your good (Romans 8:28)?

I don’t know about you, but one thing I’ve found to be true always is that the greater my faith, the less my fear. When I am willing to give up the struggle and to cast my cares on God and let Him fight the battle while I rest in Him, I have nothing to fear. Fear comes when I am trusting in my own abilities which, honestly, do not stand the test of time.

Are you facing giants or storms in your life today? Know that God stands ready to be your refuge and, if we let Him, He’ll work wonders in our lives we cannot begin to imagine.

Pressing Forward

I remember the first time my daughter played in the snow. We were living in New England and she was not yet one. New England was experiencing some intense snow storms and at the time, the snow was taller than my daughter.

The softness of the snowy surface gave her pause. Each step sank into the snowfall that covered the driveway and she looked to us for the assurance she needed to take each step.

Eventually, she climbed up on the sled we’d dug out from my parents’ garage and she thrilled at the ride that carried her over the snow.

We have since moved to North Carolina and snow storms are fewer and farther between. And my daughter is now 8, so the snow is no longer taller than she is. Even so, she marvels at the crisp clean white covering that overlays our yard and her steps still sink slightly into the soft surface.IMG_9037

But now she thrills at running through the snow as much as riding over it on our sled. She loves trekking through the unmarred surface and making her own paths through the fresh snowfall. It brings her such delight.

And as I watch her, I know that God is standing with me, watching her and whispering Truth to me: I am still His child, a daughter of the King. A child of the One who created me and created the snow that swirls and that faith that surrounds and uplifts me. He is with me when the path is not yet clear and before I have taken that first step.

Like my daughter when she was one, those first steps through the unknown give me pause and cause me to seek His assurance. But when He leads, my feet move on a firmer footing; though they may sink slightly, He is there to remind me that He is my God and I can trust Him.

And, so, I step and I trust and I delight in the journey (even when everything outside of my faith suggests otherwise).

God Help Me Not Help Them

Five-Minute Friday: Try. A single word prompt. Write without overthinking or editing. And go:

I am a fixer. Perhaps it is more honest to say that I am someone who likes to be in control (okay, I’m a control freak). But, really, I am a recovering control freak. Please, God, help me not help them today.

Nothing, not even that prayer, changes the fact that I cannot help myself: I want to help them (read: I want to control them, or at least try to).

IMG_4824When someone in my family is trying to do something and it’s not going as smoothly as I think it ought: opening a jar, zipping up a jacket, tying a shoe, replacing batteries; really, it doesn’t matter. Whatever someone in my family is trying to do, I want to help. And by help, I mean, I want to do it for them.

But I mean it in the best possible way when I reach in and take over.

I mean it in the best possible way when they look at me with that look.

I mean it in the best possible way when I step in and don’t allow them to figure it out for themselves, when I don’t allow them to try.

In some ways, I think this is what I want God to do for me.

I want Him to step in; I want Him to intercede and to take over before I have the chance to screw things up. Again.

Yes. I want to try. I want to do it myself. I want to figure it out. Because that’s who He created me to be in some ways. But I know my track record. And I know He does, too, you know? We both know I’m probably making the wrong choice, not doing it right, making a mess of things.

I want Him to stop me.

I want Him to protect me from myself. I don’t want to learn. I just want to be able to do it right the first time.

So I want Him to be more like, well, more like me. To be a fixer. To be the One who steps in and stops me before I make such a mess that the clean up will take far longer than either of us can anticipate.

But, that’s not how God works. He’s the God of free will and choices.

And, slowly, oh-so-slowly, that’s what He’s teaching me.

I’d be lying if I said I’m not a slow learner.

IMG_4450God doesn’t work that way – stepping in and taking over – and He doesn’t want me to, either.

And so I take deep breaths and let my husband be the one to handle the task at hand and let my seven year old try and try and try until she gets things the way she wants them. I stand by and let my five year old try to measure the flour or the salt or the vanilla; I let her try and break the egg; I let her try.

I try to let them try when I want to do.

But instead, I wait. I watch. I itch to step in, but I let them try.

And when I step in too soon? God gives me another chance to try again.

Stop

(This post is part of Kate Motaung’s Five-minute Friday at Heading Home. She gives us a word and we write for five minutes. This week’s word: Try)

The Ebb and Flow of Dreams

IMG_6476God-given dreams and purposes will ebb and flow. Their rhythms will include rests among the beats of building and refining and tinkering.

Consider the moment when Jesus comes upon Simon (Peter) and his brother, Andrew and the building rhythm as Jesus prepares them for what He is about to do.

Simon and Andrew are exhausted; they are cleaning their equipment so they can get some rest. But Jesus has other plans for them in this moment:

“He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.” (Luke 5:3, The Message)

Things start small. They are in the shallow waters and close to the shore. Simon’s role is simply to keep the boat steady and a safe distance from the crowd on the shore that was probably creeping into the waters to their ankles, their shins, their waists, wanting to be close to Jesus.

We don’t know what Simon is thinking, but given that he’d been fishing all night, he may simply have been lulled into restfulness with the rocking boat and the sound of Jesus’ voice.

And then Jesus steps things up, turning His attention to Simon:

“When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.” (Luke 5:4, The Message)

It’s time to move out to deeper waters. I’m guessing that this is the last thing Simon is expecting and the last thing he wants to do. At this point, if I’m him, I’m ready to head home and have some breakfast and maybe even get a nap.

But that’s not what Jesus wants from him. And Simon gets to choose: put out into the deeper waters or refuse:

“Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” (Luke 5:5, The Message)

Have you ever thought anything like this? Lord, I’m tired. I don’t really want to. Do I have to? Can’t I just get a break? Haven’t you seen how hard I’ve been working?

Maybe Simon thought similarly. Even so, he relents. It’s Jesus and there’s something about Him, so Simon does what He asks.

“It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.” (Luke 5:6-7, The Message)

Though Simon and Andrew fished all night, they caught nothing. Their efforts brought no reward. But when Simon follows Jesus’ advice, when he heeds what Jesus tell him to do, Simon reaps a catch greater than anything he and his brother hauled in.

Simon and his friends were awed by what happened. And who wouldn’t be. What had just happened? Who was this man and how had they reaped such an overflowing bounty?

Eventually, they return to the shore. Eventually, Jesus calls them to follow Him. Eventually, they are no longer ordinary fishermen; they are disciples.

And their lives as His disciples will ebb and flow with the same rhythm of work and rests.

We are not meant to work tirelessly always everyday.

We are meant to rest. To sabbath. To get away with Jesus to be renewed and readied for the next task.

Sometimes we will be on the shore.

Sometimes we will be in the shallow waters, keeping the boat steady.

Sometimes we will put out to the deep waters where the bounty of blessing is overflowing.

And we will always need to return to the shore to rest and to fellowship with Jesus over a meal as we look out over the sea and discuss what comes next.

Where are you today? Me? I’m on the shore for some much-needed time with my Savior.

Desperate Measures Bring Great Delight

IMG_6464One of the things I love about a good story is the ability to take me out of my here and now and put me into the events facing the protagonist. Even more, I like to step into the hero’s shoes, identifying with her and seeing myself in the story, sharing a sense of camaraderie with the main character.

I solved mysteries with Sherlock Holmes. I started a revolution with Katniss Everdeen. I stood in the galley with Scout and watched Atticus Finch’s closing argument. I learned the magic of words with Liesel in a basement in Germany.

And I betrayed Jesus by a fire outside the high priest’s house in Jerusalem.

That last one is Peter, one of Jesus’ inner circle disciples and one of the people I so often closely identify with when I read about Jesus’ three-year ministry in the gospels. Peter was bold, impetuous, outspoken and sometimes acted without thinking things through.

But there are days like today when I feel like I’m stuck behind the crowd struggling to be heard or to see what’s coming or to do something bold. There are days when I feel more like Zacchaeus than Peter; but usually only the part where he can’t see. That’s too often where I stop the story: feeling desperate and feeling defeated.

But that’s not where Zacchaeus’ story ends.

Zacchaeus’ story is one of tenacity and ingenuity and delight.

1-4 Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.

5-7 When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. (Luke 19:1-7, The Message)

I love the way The Message describes Zacchaeus: He wanted desperately to see Jesus.

But there’s a large crowd separating Zacchaeus from the thing he desperately desires. Even so, Zacchaeus isn’t stymied. He runs ahead on Jesus’ route and climbs a tree so that he’ll catch a glimpse of this man about whom Zacchaeus has heard so much. And I’m betting that he would have been satisfied with that brief glimpse.

But Jesus gives Zacchaeus so much more than he could have possibly imagined; He invited Himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’ home.

Can you even imagine? An audience with the King of Kings when all you were hoping for was a glimpse of Him as he passed by the crowd beneath your sycamore tree?

Because that’s how God works, isn’t it?

Maybe you’ve forgotten that recently as you’ve faced one setback after another. Maybe you’ve forgotten that as you’ve struggled and fought to save your marriage or you’ve faced past due bills and a negative bank account. Maybe you’ve forgotten that as you’ve lost sight of the God-given vision for your life, your marriage, your relationships, your finances, your purpose.

But He hasn’t forgotten you. When you are desperate for Him – desperate to see Him, to feel Him, to hear from Him, know that He hasn’t forgotten you.

What’s in your way? What’s keeping you from seeing Him? Take your lead from Zacchaeus and get to a place where you can see Him even just a little bit. Watch for Him. Anticipate Him. That’s all Zacchaeus did. He put himself in a place where he could see Jesus. Jesus did the rest.

Jesus looks up and declares, Today is my day to be with you.

Don’t ever doubt that Jesus speaks these words to you every day. We may not always hear them because the crowd of our fear or our doubt or our worry or our troubles or our struggles have cut us off from Him. But take heart. When we are desperate for Him, He is eager to find us and to give us more of Him than we can ask or imagine.

May your story today be one that provides you the kind of delight that brought Zacchaeus scrambling down from his perch in the tree hardly believing his good fortune.