When, not if…

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.—To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.  O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.  Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame—From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy.

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.  All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies—The name of the LORD is a strong fortress; the godly run to him and are safe.— For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!

“I have declared and saved, I have proclaimed…Therefore you are My witnesses,” says the LORD, “that I am God.”

Is. 43:2-3 ESV; Ps.25:1-3 ESV; Ps. 61:2-3 NKJV; Ps.25:99-10 ESV; Prov.18:10 NLT; Rom. 10:13 ESV; Is. 43:12 NKJV

Days don’t always unfold as we anticipate.  Mine hasn’t.  The unforeseen inevitably intrudes, disrupting our best laid plans and defying our peace of mind. I woke from sweet dreams anticipating sweet things to come–a grandbaby’s visit, a family camping trip coming up, and another delicious summer’s day. I sat down to a simple lovely breakfast with my husband… Then I saw the waiting messages on my phone. Multiple messages. Jarring, disheartening, calling for decisions and wisdom…

It has been life-giving in light of these things to dwell for a bit in the Word, in the reality of an eternal Saviour who is working out long-range plans in and through and around us, most of which are in fact way over our heads! But there is no need to panic.  His Spirit quietly leads me to the Rock that is higher than I, higher than the turmoil of unanswered questions and life-in-limbo.   This God is an impenetrable fortress. We are safe even before the details are ironed out and the issues resolved. And we walk through them as witnesses to God’s power to salvage all for His glory.

–LS

What shall I ask for?

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.”  And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”— Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”  But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”— And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.”

That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” ... “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.”

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.—If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. —Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.—They soon forgot His works; They did not wait for His counsel,  But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, And tested God in the desert.  And He gave them their request, But sent leanness into their soul.

Mark 6:22-24 NIV; Mark 10:35-38 NKJV; Mark 10:51 ESV; II Chron. 1:7, 10-12 NIV; I Jn. 5:14-15 NIV; Jn. 15:7-8 ESV; Jn. 16:24 ESV; James 4:2-3 ESV; Ps. 106:13-15 NKJV

God is a good King.  He invites His children to present their requests. He delights to do us good all the days of our lives. He repeats to us the question Jesus asked James & John, and the blind man.  What do you want me to do for you? 

A godless king once offered this favor to a dancing girl that pleased him.  She turned to her mother for wisdom: What shall I ask for?  And her request was a shameful one fueled by hate and passion.  It led to John the Baptist’s death.  To whom will I turn for counsel?  What shall I ask for?

I’m repeating often these days David’s words in Psalm 25, not just to commit them to memory, but to ingrain them in my heart.  This is what I want my King to do for me–

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.  O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.  Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.  Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.
Ps.25:1-5 ESV

Only when He teaches me to want His ways more than my own, will my requests bring Him glory and advance His Kingdom.   This is the path of fruitfulness and overflowing joy!

–LS

For further reading see: What Can I Do For You?

Postponing Joy till I am fully satisfied…

“When I awake, I will be fully satisfied,
for I will see you face to face.”
Ps.17:15

Fully satisfied. I read the words with a deep sigh.  Satisfaction is an elusive commodity.  We are designed to find it in relationship with our Creator, but even then, as long as we’re earth-bound, there is a sense of distance, of incompleteness. But JOY is a commodity for the here and now, a by-product of God’s Holy Spirit at work within those who have believed on Jesus to bridge the gap to God–“whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory…” I Pet.1:8 NKJV

A few years back I was thinking about my own lack of joy and asked this question:

What unfulfilled wants hinder me from being fully satisfied with God and worshiping Him with a joyful heart? In other words: What excuses do I make for postponing joy?

It was as if I had made joy contingent on being fully satisfied in this lifetime with my own list of essentials.  This led to a cross-examination of my beliefs about ‘effective’ prayer, and a look at Hezekiah’s story as well as a mini book review of A Praying Life. I invite you to join me for these upcycled ponderings ( :

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I’ve been thinking about my strategy for getting what I want—prayer. And I’m asking myself just how long I am going to postpone joy…Until when?

Until my will is done, my kingdom come?…

Until the accuser is silenced and I no longer have to live with his taunts: “what if your God does not come through”?!…

Until faith is sight and what I long to see is in hand?

Just how long will I postpone joy? For as I do I declare that God’s promises are not enough, His love is insufficient, and His present work is substandard… Who am I going to trust if not Him? Shall I trust my own efforts to somehow do something that will work? Or am I operating on the premise that someday I will come up with the ‘right’ prayer, the magic bullet that will convince God to act posthaste? If only I could learn to pray more… fluently? more ‘spiritually’? more persuasively? more consistently! More what?!

I read the Lord’s Prayer, my model. It does not sound like a marshaling of all my bravado to storm heaven’s gates or to vanquish the foe with powerful mantras. It’s quite simple really… Our Father, let your name be made much of and your will done without exception and without objection in everything that concerns me…and give me what I need to live today, forgiveness most of all and grace to do it like You do…and come to my rescue when I’m tempted. Keep me out of the Evil One’s net, because You are the all-powerful, all glorious King for now and always… In fact it doesn’t even sound like it’s about my ‘power in prayer’ at all, but about relinquishing my will to His, daily submitting my needs to Him for whatever provision He wishes to make and just keeping my sights set on who He is, my Father and the Almighty King!

I get confused about this sometimes. Lots of times. Until I find I am doing little more than chewing the fingernails of my soul in restless unease. I become obsessed with ‘my part’ in dispatching duties that have spiraled beyond my know-how and can-do. There are too many loose ends, unmet ideals, broken pieces, looming disasters. And I can’t handle it. I pray, but in distracted, distrustful, poorly composed little bursts that sound more like ‘oh dear, oh dear, oh dear’, than ‘Father, you are great and you are good and I thank you for Your loving oversight of all that concerns me.’

Meanwhile, praise is non-existent, thanks is meager and joy is postponed. What then is left? Condemnation, guilt, temptation to distraction—be it a chocolate bar or a good book—and avoidance of further failure by withdrawing from present opportunity. And of course, anxiety, cloaked as ‘godly concern’, mind you; but recognizable by the unease that it generates—the opposite of rest.

My sister reminded this week of a winsome book on prayer called, A Praying Life. I actually discovered it last summer to my relief and refreshment. I had even written a review and tucked in some ‘best of’ quotes. And I had resolved that my prayer life would be different, better, more practical, more real… But something has slipped.

Here I am again. Obsessed by what I can’t change. Driven to ‘do something’. Desperate to ‘make prayer work’… and repenting of my dogged determination to have what I want now, to see before I believe, to distrust the One who holds everything in absolute control and manages all my concerns with loving intention… I am loathe to take my eyes off the situations that alarm me but there is no effective prayer until this is done. As long as I focus on the problems I will hear the enemy’s taunts instead of God’s assurances and I will have wobbly knees and quailing heart.

I’ve been reading about Hezekiah, in novel form and in the Bible. The Assyrians were coming. They were utterly fierce and unfeeling enemies. They were powerful, unsurpassed in strength. They trashed every nation they assaulted. They never lost. And they were coming to destroy Hezekiah’s nation, just as they had the northern Kingdom of Israel. He had done nothing ‘deserving’ this. In fact he was well along in reforming the Kingdom of Judah, ridding the land of idols and returning the people to Temple worship of the one true God. And then ‘after these things and these acts of faithfulness’ wicked Sennacherib of Assyria is invading. He taunts Hezekiah saying: “On what do you rest this trust of yours?” (Is.36:4) “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”Is.37:10

And when he can’t unnerve the king he resorts to using propaganda to demoralize the people: “Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD by saying, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us’…. Make your peace with me and come out to me.” (Is.36:15,16) What’s a king to do? What am I to do when my enemy taunts and tempts me to doubt God’s care?

Hezekiah’s was a terrifying prospect! (Read Austin’s historical fiction: Song of Redemption if you need help imagining it!) Normally a king would call for reinforcements, allies, HELP from somewhere, but Hezekiah prayed very matter-of- factly and was instructed not to be afraid but to wait and see what God would do (Is.37) How easy is that? Not very.  It’s kind of like: ‘In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world’. Good cheer? But, but…

But what’s wonderful about this story is that Hezekiah actually listens to Isaiah’s message from God and he in turn is able to strengthen the people to have courage: “With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” (II Chr.32:8) And God goes to bat for them and the Assyrian army wakes up dead. Well, a whole pile of them do. The rest go home! (Is.37:36-38)

That’s how I want to respond in the face of fear– not terrorized beyond usefulness but confidently presenting my petitions to God, listening for His direction, and waiting with expectation for what He will do. Then the battle is his, not mine. And then joy need not be postponed.

“Behold, this is our God;
we have waited for Him, that He might save us.
This is the LORD, we have waited for Him;
Let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” Is.25:9

Paul Miller outlines in his book that if prayer is going to be a living connection with God we’re going to have to be honest with Him about where we are in our thinking. No pretending. He gives a peek into his own prayer time on one occasion:

“I am not confident of your deliverance.”

“Until you do save us, give me the faith to wait.”

“My inability to wait on you comes from thinking salvation comes from me…”* (Miller,255)

And I see myself reflected in his words. But I also find that God knows what I need to hear. These are some of His words to my heart this week. How can I keep postponing joy?

Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. Jn.15:5

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. Jn.15:9

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. Jn.15:11

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. Jn.15:16

God calls me to joy. He invites me to abide in His love. He guarantees the flow of sap as long as I stay connected. He invites me to ask and see what He will do. He reminds me He is love, and this is enough.

My calling is to retain bold confidence that He is able to keep what I commit to Him. I can trust Him with everything that troubles me. I can count on His salvation whether I see it in its full glory yet or not. And best of all I can rejoice in the Lord.

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning…
O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
 Ps.130:3-7

“Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” Deut.33:12

How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him,…But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me. Ps.13:2-6

–LS

Can I whet your appetite for Paul Miller’s book? Here are some quotes that speak to me…

Anxiety wants to be God but lacks God’s wisdom, power, or knowledge. A godlike stance without godlike character and ability is pure tension.” (70)

“The great struggle of my life is not trying to discern God’s will,
it is trying to discern and then disown my own.”
 (157)

“Until you are convinced that you can’t change your child’s heart, you will not take prayer seriously.” (167)

I often find that when God doesn’t answer a prayer, he wants to expose something in me. Our prayers don’t exist in a world of their own. We are in dialogue with a personal, divine Spirit who wants to shape us as much as he wants to hear us. For God to act unthinkingly with our prayers would be paganism, which says the gods do our will in response to our prayers.” (168)

For more, check out the full review with quotes here.

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*Miller, Paul E.  A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World.
NavPress, 2009, 279pp.

Upcycled from “Postponing Joy”, July 7, 2012

He is my shield

He is the Rock; his work is perfect.  Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong;  How just and upright he is! —And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.—To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.  O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.—And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.—No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

He is my shield, the strength of my salvation, and my stronghold… I will call on the LORD, who is worthy of praise, for he saves me from my enemies.—“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”—My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

Deut.32:4 NLT; Mt. 11:6 ESV; Eph.6:16 ESV; Ps. 25:1-2 ESV; Mt.6:13 ESV;  I Cor.10:13 ESV; Ps.18:2 NLT; Gen.15:1 NKJV; Ps. 73:26, 28 ESV

God’s ways are perfect, always just and fair, never wrong. But oh how easy it is to take offense at them, especially if I was hoping that my commitment to His ways would guarantee me a life free of crises. Alas, bad things happen to faithful servants. That’s when the darts fly, flaming darts insinuating that perhaps God is not to be trusted.  Is He really just and good?  Why then do His servants suffer so?  Why must a quadriplegic also suffer pain, and even cancer?  That seems so unfair, so unkind. Why must a dedicated missionary friend get a brain tumor? And another develop a life-threatening heart condition?

And if these faithful servants are not exempt how can I be certain I will not face things as bad or worse? What does it mean that God is my protection, my Rock, my Refuge if I am not actually guaranteed protection from danger and disease, from injury and cancer, from lifelong struggle in this body?

The short but hard-won answer is found in Asaph’s words in Psalm 73. I paraphrase: God is with us–He Himself is our portion forever.  It is good to be near God. What else matters?

 I’m pondering these things as I confront my own fears and false confidences.  My flesh and my heart may indeed fail me, but God will not.  To Him I lift up my soul.

–LS

She has done what she could

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head…And some scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.”—

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow… poor as she is, has given everything she has.”—For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.—’Yes,’ the king replied, ‘and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.’

Then the LORD asked him, “What is that in your hand?”
“A shepherd’s staff,” Moses replied.

And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it.  But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”–so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand… Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow.  Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh.

But Moses pleaded with the LORD, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” Then the LORD asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say…and be sure to take your shepherd’s staff along!

…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love—the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable—Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. …It is the Lord who judges me… [the Lord] will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God—But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Mk.14:3,5-6, 8 ESV; Lk. 21:3-4 NLT; II Cor.8:12; Lk. 19:26 NLT; Ex. 4:2-4,6-7,10-12,17 NLT; Eph 4:15-16 ESV; I Cor. 12:22 ESV; I Cor. 4:2-5 ESV; Acts 20:24 NLT; Mt. 25:21 ESV

What is a woman to do?  She could not stop the religious leaders from plotting to kill the One she loved.  It wouldn’t be long now. Tensions were mounting.  Nothing she could say would make a difference.  But she could worship still.  She could declare how highly she valued  this One who had come to demonstrate the heart of God for sinful people…So she did a beautiful thing and I imagine the scent of that pure nard accompanied Jesus through the scourging and thorns and mockery.  Did the aroma remind him of the joy set before Him in bringing many sons to glory? Did it remind Him that some had believed? Some had loved…She had done what she could, and it was a  beautiful thing to Jesus.

The poor widow’s mite dropped in the temple treasury wouldn’t pay for much temple maintenance but in God’s sight it came from a heart of gold and was worth recording for all the ages to come.

Moses’ indignation wasn’t sufficient to rescue his people from Egypt, but when God had his attention, a shepherd’s staff and a willing mouth were enough…

What is a woman to do? I cannot single-handedly halt the course of evil in the world, but I can pour out what I have–my time, my talents, my passions, and my very personality–in worship.  What is in your hand?  That is enough when yielded to God’s direction.

Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.

–Keith & Kristyn Getty

[If you are viewing this post by email you will need to click through to my blogsite to listen to this beautiful song. This can be done by clicking on the post title or by using this link: http://ponderings.theskeltons.org/2017/07/29/she-has-done-what-she-could/]

–LS

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Rom.12:21 ESV