Through It All

But now thus says the Lord , he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 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….
Isaiah 43:1‭-‬3

Did you have to memorize the prepositions as a child? I did. It was a long list of modifying words we would to sing to the tune of “Yankee Doodle” and further define as “anything a squirrel can do to a tree.”

And as I was reading the above verse in Isaiah the other day, it was a preposition which caught my attention: through. To go through (and yes, a squirrel can travel “through” the trees) means to go from one side to another–not around, not under, not over, not behind–but through.   To go through something is essentially to inspect it all from front to back.  You can’t go through something without seeing its beginning, middle, and end.

So as this preposition leaped off the page into my heart, God reminded me of something important:  God doesn’t promise to keep us out of trouble; He promises to get us through it.

Through the waters.

Through the rivers.

Through the fire.

God didn’t tell Moses to go to the edge of the Red Sea, turn around, and wait for the Egyptians to overcome them (even though some Israelites complained that such was the case). God didn’t just wipe out the Egyptians with a breath, enabling the Israelites to go another direction (although that would have been awesome to see). No.  Instead God chose a path that would showcase His glory in a way that would lead the Israelites to bow in thanksgiving and worship.  That path was through the waters. God commanded Moses to lift up his staff and stretch out his hand; then “…the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground…” (Exodus 14:22).  God led Moses and the Israelites through the waters; yet the waters did not overwhelm them.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (also known as Rack, Shack, and Benny for you Veggie Tales lovers), didn’t get out of being thrown into the fire. They stood their ground in refusing to bow to anyone or anything else except God, but the victory did not come until after they went through the fire; it was through the fire God reached the heart of the king.

In the Old Testament, the Valley of Baca was also known as the Valley of Weeping.  So what did David say in regards to the valley?  As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools (Psalms 84:‬6).   Did you catch that?  As they go through the valley.  The valley of weeping becomes bearable for those who trust in the Lord. Yet it is not bearable because they avoid it; it is bearable as they go through it.

In the well known Psalm of David, Psalm 23, David praises God that even when he goes “through the darkest valley,” he will fear no danger, for he knows God is with Him and will comfort him (Psalm 23:4).   Why will he fear no danger?  Because God will keep him from the dark valley?  No. He fears no danger because God is with him, leading him and comforting him as he goes through.

And of course our greatest example of walking through suffering on this earth, is Jesus.  Peter reminds us of this in his letter:  because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).  Think about it.  God sent His Son Jesus to this earth for a purpose: to seek and to save those who are lost (Luke 19:10).  Yet, even though Jesus prayed as any man would for God to take away the cross, Jesus also knew it was necessary.  Jesus knew the only way to victory over sin and death was through His death, burial, and resurrection.

Furthermore, Jesus Himself reminded us as He walked this earth, In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

In the world we will have tribulation.  He didn’t say “you might.”  He didn’t say “you will avoid.”  He said “you will have trouble.”  Knowing Jesus does not protect us from sickness, death, persecution, failure, and famine.   Plans will fail.  People will reject us.   Our hearts will grieve.  The path of life we travel will be bumpy, curvy, and lined with thorns.

But take heart!  God has overcome the world!  He will carry us through!   We may live in a broken, flawed, and sinful world, but we also serve a God who redeems us, knows our names, and promises that as we pass through this world with all its trouble, He will be with us.

He will be with us.. He will never leave us nor forsake us.

As God spoke to Joshua, He speaks to us now: “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Wherever you go.

Whatever you go through.

No struggle we may endure could ever negate God’s goodness and sovereignty. If God Himself had to suffer through His Divine plan to save us from sin and death, then who are we to think we will get around it?

Yes, sometimes God fights the enemy while we are still and watch in awe and wonder. Others times, however, He fights the enemy by giving us His strength, His wisdom, and His guidance to walk through the battle.

So where are you today?  Do you see a valley before you, a valley apparently inevitable and seemingly full of despair?  Are you on the edge of the valley, looking down and hoping for a way around it?  Maybe you’re in it, surrounded by mountains, unsure the way to go.  Or maybe you are climbing out; you see that light, you see that mountaintop right before you.  You see the end.

Whether you are at the beginning, middle, or end of your journey, let me encourage you in this: it is a journey through.  This world–with its pain, heartache, destruction, and uncertainty–is not our final home.  It is not our final home.

And remember this my dear friend: God is with you!

God is with you before the valley.

God is with you in the valley.

God is with you as you leave the valley.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
(Deuteronomy 31:8)

 

 

The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
(Psalm 95:1-2)

A year ago today I found myself on the side of the road believing I had lost everything.  Of course, in reality, I had not lost everything–it just felt like it.  At the time I was broken; I was hurt.  It was days after we had returned to Virginia from Ohio.  I was unsure the future for my children, and it looked doubtful I’d get back the job I had held so dear to my heart.  It appeared as if the very people who had said they’d miss me when I moved rejected me when I returned.  A life I at one point thought was within my control was at that moment completely out of my control.  And I did not know what to do.  I felt lost, alone, and without hope.

But God.

I want you to remember that saying today:  but God.

  • But God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
  • But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
  • But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).
  • But you, O God my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!” (Psalm 109:21).

Last year as I was on the side of the road not wanting to get up, God was there. I may have felt lost and alone, but God was there.  Just as God is with me today as I stand on the other side of despair, He was with me on the road last year, reaching out His arms of love to comfort me.  If I had been listening closely to Him during those moments last year, I would have heard His still small voice whispering in my ear, “I love you, Katie.  I’ve got this.  I have plans for you greater and more abundant than you could ever hope or imagine.  I am working all this out for My good and for My glory.  Just surrender.  Surrender to Me.”

He was there then.

He is here now.

He always will be.

And as I stand here now on the brink of another move–a move that is really happening–I look back with thanksgiving for the journey God brought me through.

It wasn’t easy–probably one of the hardest years of my life–but in addition to learning that sometimes the worst experiences in our lives can become the launching pad to a glorious future, I have learned an important truth: God calls us not only to thank Him for what He has done, but also to thank Him for who He is.

Sure, thankfulness comes easily when we consider people, possessions, health, and favorable circumstances–when we consider the “things” in life that make life enjoyable.  To be thankful is to appreciate what we have been given, and on some occasions, like this past year, what we have not been given.  Yet I believe God also calls us to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.

What is the difference between being thankful and offering the sacrifice of thanksgiving? I believe it comes down to our focus.  When my  heart is thankful for God’s goodness evident  in my life, my focus  is on what God has done.  When I offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, my focus is on who God is, regardless of any external evidence present in my life.

Let me explain. The other day as I got on my knees to pray, my heart was immediately overwhelmed with thankfulness.  The thankfulness, however, was not because of anything specific within my life.  There was nothing apparently new to be thankful for.  In fact, my future was actually somewhat threatened by unexpected news.   My thankfulness at that moment was actually to God for–well–being God.  I just knelt beside my bed in adoration and thankfulness that He is God. Yes, God.  No matter what is going on in life, God is still God.  Last year at this time, even though I felt my life was at its worst, God was still at His best.  God was still in control–even when I was not.

God is God.  And as God, He calls us not only to thank Him for the great things He has done, but also to thank Him for who He is.

Look at Psalm 95.  The verses above encourage us to come into His presence with thanksgiving and to enter His courts with praise.  For what reason? Health?  No.  Prosperity?  No.  Relationships?  No.  Psalm 95 doesn’t call us to thank God for what He does for us; it calls us to thank God for who He is. Go ahead and read with me the reason we are told to enter His presence with thanksgiving:

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the
Lord is a great God,
    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
    the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.
(Psalm 95:2-7) 

We enter His presence with thanksgiving because He is God–a great God–King of all gods.  He created the earth.  He created the sea.  He created me.  He created you.  We are to enter His presence with thanksgiving, not because of what is going on, but rather because of who He is.  Circumstances do not change who God is; circumstances may glorify God, but they are not the reason He is worthy of our praise.  He Himself is worthy of our praise because He is God.  I AM is, whether or not life appears to align with His goodness.  Regardless the place I find myself–regardless of the mountain that is before me–regardless of the pain, the grief, the sadness–God is good.  And God is God.

Man will never remove God from His throne.

And for this I am thankful.

You see, the sacrifice of thanksgiving is not about who we are or where we are; it is about who God is.  God is above all, over all, and in all.  Even in our darkest moments, God is there. Last year, when I found myself on the side of the road wondering what had happened to my life, God was there.   A month ago, when the house we thought we should get was stolen out from under us by no fault of our own, God was there.

God is not just there when life is good and things are going our way.  God is there through the darkness as well.  We may not understand the darkness. We may not understand the grief.  But we can know and be thankful for the truth–the truth that God is God, God is good, and we are His children.

So are things going your way and life seems to be going well right now? Then by all means, thank God for His goodness present in your life.   Yet I also encourage you to take a moment to bow before Him and just thank Him for being Who He is–for being God.  Because if He did nothing else visibly good in your life from this point forward, He is still worthy–still worthy of praise and thanksgiving.

Are things not going well?  Are you reading this and thinking to yourself, “What do you know?!  I am grieving! I’m struggling! I am hurt!  I am alone!  I’ve lost everything important to me!”

Let me encourage you today, dear friend. First, you are right in that I do not know exactly what you are feeling at this very moment.  But God does.  Every aspect of grief, every heartache, every pain, every struggle–God Himself experienced through His Son Jesus.  God knows.  He knows the path you are traveling.  He knows where this path will lead.  He knows.  And He cares.  And He is working all things out according to His ultimate plan.  As a good friend once encouraged me, God is working His “perfect plan in an imperfect world.”

So please remember this important truth:  God is God; you are His child.  He is orchestrating every moment, even the horrific ones, for His good and His glory.

So praise Him. Follow the directive of 1 Thessalonians 5:18,  and “Be thankful in all circumstances….”  Get on your knees this very moment and praise Him.  Thank Him for being who He is in spite of the circumstances you find yourself enduring.  And as you thank Him, trust Him. He is faithful. Trust that He sees you, sees your heart, and sees your sacrifice of thanksgiving.  And what God sees in secret, He will reward in the open–if not in this age, then definitely in the one to come.

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
    to one who orders his way rightly
    I will show the salvation of God!
(Psalm 50:23)

God’s Cedar

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
    they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
    they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the Lord is upright;
    he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
(Psalm 92:12-15)

Imagine yourself for a moment walking through a forest of aromatic, expansive, and beautiful trees.  Each tree reaches to the heavens yet spreads its branches wide as well.  And as you close your eyes and breathe in, the smell of balsam fills your senses and soothes your soul.  With each step you take through this forest, your body and soul and spirit are refreshed, renewed, and reenergized.   The cares of the world pass away; you are at peace.

Now imagine instead of walking through a forest of trees, you are traveling through life.  Each tree is a person–a follower of Christ flourishing as a cedar of Lebanon.  Each word, each thought, and each action not only reaches into the heavens, spreading out like a blanket, but also releases a fragrant aroma–the aroma of Christ.

Imagine a world covered in a forest of God’s cedars.  Imagine a world abounding with the aroma of Christ.

Imagine.

Now believe.

For this is not a dream; it is truth.  And it is possible.

How do I know this?  God’s Word.  God Himself says in His Word that the righteous will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

The righteous will grow.  The righteous will flourish.  The righteous will spread out their branches from generation to generation.

Like the cedars of Lebanon.

The cedars of Lebanon are aromatic, durable, highly desirable, noble, thick, tall, pleasant, fragrant, delightful to walk by, not subject to decay, not to be eaten by worms, beautiful, solid, and free from knots.  And the branches spread out horizontally.  In the Old Testament, because of their durability, cedars were used to build.  Solomon even built the temple using cedar wood. (Find the source of this info here and here)

Wow.

Could you imagine what would happen if each follower of Christ was durable, desirable, noble, strong, pleasant, delightful to be with, not given to sin or decay, beautiful, and free from inner turmoil?!  Could you imagine if every follower of Christ not only reached up to the  heavens but spread their branches out across the earth as well?!

The world would never be the same.  Never. Be. The. Same.

So I ask you today. Are you flourishing?  Are you exuding the fragrance of Christ?  Are you pleasant to be around?  Are you reaching up and reaching out?  Are you growing like a cedar?

If so, keep reaching.  Keep planting yourself in God’s Word.  Keep those roots reaching toward the river of life.  Keep those arms outstretched in love for God and for people. Keep on keeping on knowing God is using you not only to draw others into His presence but also to build His eternal kingdom. As God’s cedar, “you are God’s field; God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9).

If not.  If you feel your branches are weakening, your leaves wilting, and your roots yearning for water.  Do not fear.   Reestablish yourself in Him and in His righteousness. Dig your roots deep into His Word.  Water yourself in prayer, in Bible study and in fellowship.  Stretch out your arms to heaven in worship, and reach out to the world in love.

And as you do–as you surrender yourself to Him and to His righteousness–you will find yourself once again flourishing–once again growing  and thriving like a cedar in Lebanon.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand,
and it gives light to all in the house.
In the same way,
let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

(Matthew 5:14-16)

 

Acknowledge Him

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

God’s Word is indeed living and powerful, for as I read the above verse the other day–a verse memorized, quoted, and claimed by many Christians–God spoke to my heart something new.

I’ve always read this verse through the eyes of trusting in Him–through the eyes of looking to Him for wisdom in all circumstances.   And I still believe this is an important truth evident in these verses.   We as Christians must trust in Him and lean on Him for the understanding.  Yet the other day God moved my focus from “trust”  to “acknowledge.”   In all my ways, I am to acknowledge him.

So what does “acknowledge” mean?  Here is the list of definitions from Dictionary.com

  • to admit to be real or true; recognize the existence, truth, or fact of:
  • to show or express recognition or realization of:
  • to recognize the authority, validity, or claims of:
  • to show or express appreciation or gratitude for:
  • to indicate or make known the receipt of:
  • to take notice of or reply to:  (Find it here)

When God calls us to acknowledge Him in all our ways, He isn’t calling for lip service.  He isn’t calling for some perfunctory prayer.  He is looking for true heartfelt recognition.  He’s calling for His children to fully recognize His existence, His presence, His authority, His power, and His goodness.   We are not only to look for Him in all circumstances; we are to acknowledge Him in all of them as well.  Acknowledge that the timing of the check in the mail could only be from God.  Acknowledge that the apparent setback must have an eternal purpose in God’s kingdom.  Acknowledge that what the enemy means for evil, God can use for good.  Acknowledge that struggles may be the very means by which our faith is strengthened.  Acknowledge God in all our ways.  Give credit where credit is due.  Ascribe to God the value He deserves.

He is God!

Nothing surprises Him.  And nothing comes to us that did not pass through His sovereignty first.

Therefore I encourage you today to watch for and acknowledge God in all the details of your life, even the unpleasant ones. God never promised us an easy life, but He did promise that as we seek Him, we will find Him.  So  acknowledge Him–recognize His existence in every aspect of your life.  And as you do–as you seek Him, you will begin to see Him in every aspect of your life.  You will see Him making those paths straight before you.  You will see Him making streams in the desert.  You will see Him making ways where there seemed to be no way.  You will see Him.  You will know Him.  You will trust Him. You will acknowledge Him.  And He will direct your paths.

 

He’s Coming!

He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
(Matthew 28:6)

“He’s coming! He’s coming!” These words still echo in my mind years after I first heard them spoken by a precious little girl. At the time we were watching Homeward Bound, the movie about the adventures of two dogs and a cat as they traverse the wilderness to get back home to their family.  Near the end of the movie, the oldest dog falls into a pit. As the scene then switches to the family playing in their back yard, the  audience is left in uncertainty regarding the faithful old dog’s ability to make it those final miles home.

Yet suddenly the family and the audience hear something: barking.  The hearts of both the movie family and audience rejoice as one dog comes over the hill, and then the cat follows. But then… then… nothing.  As quickly as our hearts soar with relief they plummet to despair.  Where was that old faithful dog?  What happened?!  Could it really be that after such a long, hard journey, he died before making it home? Did he die alone in that pit?

It was during this moment of grief, of hopes seemingly shattered, that the words “He’s coming!” could be heard from the mouth of the little girl sitting next to me. “He’s coming!” she kept repeating excitedly.  “He’s coming!”

You see, the little girl next to me had seen the movie before, so she knew the ending. She knew that after the pause–during that silence–as the young dog owner in the movie and the audience held their breath, as time appeared to be standing still at the thought that maybe, just maybe what they had hoped and believed was going to happen, would not actually happen–she knew that old dog would come limping over the hill and be welcomed home. She knew he was coming. She wasn’t grieving; she was anticipating. For she knew the one the family and audience thought was dead was indeed alive.  The silence and pause that caused the audience to grieve and wonder “Could it be we were wrong?” was only the time needed for the dog to make it up that final hill.   The dog never stopped moving; he continued to come.  Even when our physical eyes couldn’t see his movements, he was coming.  He was coming!

And it is the words of the little girl that have echoed in my heart in recent weeks as God reminds me in the silence He is there.  In the silence, He is working.

Reflect back to Easter–the time of year we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior.  Thursday of that week we remember the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ agonizing prayer, and the arrest. Friday we reflect upon His death, upon the Son of God’s sacrifice for our sins. Sunday we rejoice together that Jesus is alive. In fact, we encourage everyone to continue rejoicing in His resurrection every day of the year.

Yet what about Saturday, the day between the death and the resurrection? What about the stillness of that day? Take a moment and return with me to that day…the day of waiting…the day of wondering…the day of weeping…the span of time between the death and the resurrection…between the shock of shattered dreams and the realization of new beginnings. Imagine what the disciples were thinking? Were they wondering what happened to the One they thought was the King? Wondering if they were wrong in believing Jesus was the One foretold in Scripture? Wondering how it could be that they were on one side of the tomb and the One they thought would save them was on the other?

Could it be they were wrong?

No.  They were not wrong–just a bit mistaken.  For regardless of the number of times Jesus warned them He’d be put to death and be buried before rising again, they misunderstood His message…and His timing.

What the disciples did not fully realize was that in the silence of that Saturday, God was moving.  He wasn’t just moving, He was battling on their–and on our–behalf.  For we must remember that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Jesus didn’t just have to die for our sins; he had to defeat death.  It wasn’t solely his death that saved us; it was His resurrection from the dead.  In 1 Corinthians 15:16-19, Paul reminds us all, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

This means the apparent silence between the death and resurrection was actually the time it took to win the war.  In the stillness of that Saturday, God was moving!

And on Sunday, He came!

So I ask you, are you in the silence of that Saturday today?  Are you wondering if those desires in your heart will actually come to pass?  Are you questioning if you really heard from God about the direction you are going?  Are your circumstances screaming, “Forget it!  It’s over!”? Well, let me encourage you,  it’s not overHe is coming!  God has not abandoned you.  God has not abandoned your dreams.  He will never to leave you nor forsake you.

Do not grieve, my friend; anticipate. Be still knowing He is God.  The silence of today is merely the time needed for heaven’s will to become tomorrow’s reality.  The silence of this moment is not the end; it is the beginning.  So keep on keeping on, my friend!  He is coming!

.

 

 

 

Surrendering Faith

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Hebrews 11:1

Know what I love about faith? It doesn’t have to see to believe. The world may appear in direct opposition to what the heart desires, but faith sees beyond the now and focuses on the eternal. Faith doesn’t doubt when desires and expectations are delayed or seemingly rejected. Faith doesn’t doubt the goodness and wisdom of the Giver of all good things even when life appears all but good. Faith keeps going–keeps believing–for faith knows He who promised is faithful.  That truth is worth repeating:  He who promised is faithful.

And since He who promised is faithful,  a person of faith recognizes that an unanticipated failure, a sudden roadblock, or an unexpected setback does not indicate a broken promise, but it could indicate a misunderstanding of its fulfillment.  Abraham is a great example of a man of faith not doubting the promise, but definitely misunderstanding God’s fulfillment of it.  Abraham’s misunderstanding led to Ishmael, but in God’s timing, the true promise arrived with the birth of Isaac.  God kept His promise; He just fulfilled it differently than anticipated.

Which leads me to the point of this post.  Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that while our hearts may plan our ways, it is God who determines and establishes our steps.   This means faith and surrender must go hand in hand. 

Now at first you might wonder how faith and surrender go hand in hand, since by the world’s definition, faith tends to be associated with strength and surrender with weakness.   If I have faith in something, I trust its power and strength; if I surrender to something, I am giving in to its power and strength.

Yet the integration of trust and surrender form a steadfast faith in God, for true faith comes when we surrender in our belief.

Look again at Hebrews 11:1.   Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.  When we hope for something, we hold on knowing it will surely come to pass.  Faith fully believes what we hope for will come to pass.  As I said above, there are no doubts or fears when it comes to faith. Nevertheless, in this belief, in this wholehearted trust that God will do what He says He will do, we must also surrender.  We must surrender OUR ideas as to how and when God will fulfill what HE has promised.  We must have faith in God’s promise but surrender to the way He chooses to fulfill that promise. We must surrender to the truth that God’s ways are higher and greater than our finite minds could ever comprehend.

As people of faith, we must not only BELIEVE God will do what He has promised but also SURRENDER the timing and actual fulfillment to Him as well. 

So do you have a dream that doesn’t appear to be coming to pass?  Does your life appear in direct contrast to what you’ve been praying for? Are you beginning to feel weary in your waiting? I encourage you to keep on believing.  Hold fast to your faith!  Remember, He who promised is faithful. Yet as your grab the hem of your Savior’s garment and remind Him of His promises, surrender to His sovereignty as well. Get on your knees before God and pray as Jesus did before He paid the ultimate price for us: “not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew  26:39).

In doing so, you are not giving up, but rather you are letting go.  Letting go of your timing, your expectations, your plans.  And letting God be God.  And when we let God be God–when we cease striving–God moves.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20-21)

 

God Has A Plan

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.
(Exodus 13:17-18)

Why? Why God? How many times have I cried out to God, “Why?!” Why did You let this happen to me? Why did You send me here?  Why do I face such hardship when I pray for Your will every day?  Why is what I see with my eyes not aligning with what I know with my heart? Why?!

Yet as I worked through Exodus several weeks ago, God reminded me over and over again, it is not about the why; it is about the who.   Who is my God?  In whom do I put my trust?  In whom do I put my hope?  In whom do I take refuge?

Day after day God faithfully reminds me of the words of David:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:11)

As long as I keep my eyes on the Who,  I do not need to understand the why.

Think about puzzles for a moment.  What links each piece with the one next to it?  The variety of rounded edges protruding from each piece, right?   If every piece of the puzzle were smooth, the puzzle would be impossible to put together and impossible to keep together.  With puzzles, it is indeed the imperfect and often awkward shape of each piece which enables the puzzle to come together and remain together, thus creating a beautiful, lasting image. So too the seemingly awkward wilderness pieces of our lives are all working together for good; each piece has a place in the creation of God’s masterpiece. What may appear as useless wandering may be the very center of God’s plan. He knows the where and why of every “piece” of our lives, even if we don’t.

As far as Moses and the Israelites, it was after 10 plagues, plagues aimed at revealing God’s sovereignty to Pharaoh and the Egyptians (and the Israelites!), God led the Israelites out of Egypt.  Yet as we read above, the apparent dream come true quickly appeared to have become a nightmare. For God did not guide the Israelites by way of the land of the Philistines; He guided them by way of the wilderness.

Did you catch that? The wilderness.

Why? Did He want to see them suffer?  No.  Did He not love them?  No, He loved them; He loved them very much.  In fact, it was actually because He loved them He sent them into the wilderness.  Why? He knew their hearts. He knew at the first sign of affliction they’d return to slavery.  Oh how many of us would dare to admit there have been moments in our lives we wanted to or actually chose the “ease” of slavery over the pain of freedom’s journey.  For the Israelites, although the land of the Philistines (and the battle that would surely come with it) was nearer, the pathway to freedom was through the wilderness. God knew the Israelites would not go into battle on their own, yet He also knew a battle–a battle He knew He would be the One to fight–was necessary to achieve true freedom.

Yes, God knew an important truth: true victory comes not through peace, but through war.  God also knew that the battle did not belong to the Israelites, but to Him.

Before God could fight the battle for the Israelites, however, God had to first divinely position them.  So He strategically placed them between the sea and the soldiers.  Could you imagine being the Israelites?   You flee Egypt only to be then stuck between the sea and the Egyptian army.  As you’ll read if you delve into the whole account in Exodus, the Israelites were not thrilled about the situation.  They actually complained about it. What they soon realized, however, was that with God fighting the battle,  the wall looming before them became the wall of protection around them.

The way of the wilderness was indeed the pathway to freedom.

And so I encourage you today. Do you feel as though you are in the wilderness?  Do you not understand why your are walking the path you are on? Have you reached the edge of the water with the enemy closing in behind you?  Instead of wondering how and why you got to where you are,  and instead of lamenting the awkwardness of the pieces in your life, surrender to the One who not only knows where you are but also knows where you’re going. God knows how it all fits, and God will never–never–leave you nor forsake you.  It may just be that the very wall before you is indeed not a wall at all, but rather the pathway to victory.  The pathway to freedom.

…Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
    I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
(Isaiah 43:1-3)

Hope

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
(Psalm 20:7)

I am a dreamer.   I dream of conversations that may or may not ever happen. I dream of future events I would love to see transpire.  And give me a hint as to the path I could be headed, and in no time I will have the perfect–or what I envision to be the perfect–path laid out in front of me.    And as a dreamer, I hope.  I hope that what I dream will indeed become reality.

Yet a couple of months ago, I found myself e-mailing a friend actually asking her to pray I would stop hoping in my dreams for a bit.  Why? I had become a bit leery of hoping because I did not want to feel the let down that comes with shattered dreams.  I was afraid if I put my hope in this one direction, I’d be hurt if it went in another.  I was tired of not having a place to set my sights.

And that is when God began speaking to me an important truth.  For as I bowed in prayer to Him and shared my heart, He spoke three words to me:  hope in Me.  Hope in Me.  These very words were spoken several times by David.

Hope in God.

Think about it.  Are we to place our hopes in jobs?   Nope.  In people?  Nope.  In where we live?  Nope.   Jobs vary, people fail, and places change, but God never changes, never fails, and is with us wherever we go.  Therefore, our hope must remain in God.  In God alone.

So now here I am a couple of months beyond that moment when I was afraid to hope, and my hope remains.  My hope, that is, in God.

And God has yet to (and never will) let me down.

Has He done everything the way I would have anticipated?  Nope.  Not in the least.  Yet what He has done has exceeded what I had and could ever have dreamed up on my own.  Things I thought were setbacks were actually stepping stones–stepping stones along God’s perfect path.

I am not sure where you may be in your journey as you read this.  But from one sojourner to another, I encourage you to fix your eyes upon and place your hope in God.   Whether you think you know where you are going or wonder where you are going, set your sights on God.  Set up camp under the shadow of His almighty wings.  He will direct your paths. And even more, He will do infinitely more than you could ever hope or imagine on your own.

“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God”
(Psalm 146:5)