David was no stranger to caves. But this cave was more than a place of shelter for a tired shepherd boy. It was a place where he would learn resilience- how to relate to God in times of deep loss and confusion. How to steady his feet on God's promises and forge ahead with hope. Here are some ways we can learn, like David, to practice soul-care in the cave:
Read: Jeremiah 23:23-24
Scripture Focus: Genesis 28:15-16
Big life change can often bring about a sense of confusion or feeling lost. When the familiar things in life are replaced by the unfamiliar, God can seem distant and unconcerned. That was certainly how I was feeling two years ago after moving to the bustling metropolis of Istanbul, a city of over 15 million people.
Me, my wife and our two children had moved into a small apartment in a bustling part of the city. It was at the crossroads of two busy streets. The traffic noise was like nothing I had ever experienced, and it seemed to be constant throughout the day and night.
The call to prayer rang out from several different mosques in our neighborhood. I was feeling a bit lost and distant from God. I was thousands of miles away from the spacious house I had been living in for the past seven years, complete with a large garden and fruit trees. Unfamiliar surroundings. New sights and sounds. I was beginning to wonder, “Lord did I hear you right? Are you really in this move?”
Just then I heard God’s whisper through the scriptures, “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jer. 23:23). I realized that He was encouraging me to trust Him with the change and uncertainty I was feeling. I could never escape his sight and his presence, even in this faraway and unfamiliar place. In fact, during the days and months that followed, His nearness became more real to me than it ever would have been if I had chosen to stay in my comfortable surroundings.
Thought for the Day: God is nearby in faraway places.
Prayer: Lord, help us to trust you with the uncertainties of transition. In lonely and uncomfortable surroundings, may you be our constant companion and ever present help.
I still do a lot of writing the old fashioned way, by hand. I realize that must sound very archaic, and it's one of the reasons why most of my musings don't turn up in this much-neglected blog! I just completed my last entry for this year in my journal, simply because there were no more empty pages! Time to start a new one. The following contains my ramblings from today's entry as I reflected on the events of Matthew 4....
I wonder if the devil came in some physical form when he came to tempt Jesus...
I wonder if angels have ever come to "attend" to my needs...
I wonder if Zebedee was ever angry with Jesus for taking his two sons and leaving him with all the work...
I wonder (and pray) if there can be a new move of God's power to sweep over modern day Syria, multiplying thousands upon thousands of Christ followers...
It just seems fitting to close this journal with questions, since mostly that is what I have for my Lord. The events of this year have once again confirmed my inability to figure things out, to have the answers. Too often, my questions come out of frustration and doubt. I'm reminded, however, of the potential to flip these moments into wonder. The Advent season is a great time to begin this practice, to leave the questioning and complaining behind (Chances are, we won't find the answers anyway!) and turn them into wonder. My prayer today is for expressions of wonder to permeate my being as I celebrate the first advent of Christ and look forward to his glorious return.
I love the idea of being led by the Spirit into green pastures and quiet waters. These are moments when I experience God's presence and favor. Sometimes these moments are repeated day after day, becoming seasons of rest and fresh revelation from the Lord. I know Who is in control and I'm confident that He is taking care of every need. In a sense, I'm being pampered.
Yet what about the times when the Good Shepherd leads us into desert places? Those dry and lonely places where He seems distant and unconcerned? This often happens during periods of transition. Could God be preparing me for something, slowly and patiently working on my character and strengthening my ability to resist temptation? Is He possibly moving me into a new area of ministry and greater influence?
In preparation times the fundamental need is for our resistance to be built up. Our ability to resist and overcome evil is connected to our capacity to do good. And so Jesus was "led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." - Matthew 4:1
Forty days of being led by the Spirit. Forty days of temptation. My common perception has been that the temptation occurred strictly at the end of the 40 days. But Luke's gospel states that Jesus was tempted for forty days (Lk 4:1). One trial after another, one long season of dryness and difficulty. Ever feel this way? I have. Could it be that this is no accident? What if God has designed this season for a purpose, specifically for your long-term benefit and growth?
I confess, sometimes I need a change of perspective before I can truly learn to cooperate with God in the desert places. Rather than seeing my dilemma as a form of punishment, I've needed to embrace it as His provision. Don't get me wrong. I'll take the green pastures and quiet waters any day. But I'm learning to trust God's leading and purpose in the desert places as well.
After David was settled in his palace, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent.” Nathan replied to David, “Whatever you have in mind, do it, for God is with you.” - I Chronicles 17:1-2 Upon reading the above passage and the verses which follow, I was struck by my tendency to think and plan without taking the time to get the big picture. From a position of comfort and security, I start thinking I know what God needs and when he needs it. I start making plans and ask God to bless them. That's called presumption!
- Presumptuous thinking and planning often start with good intentions. David wanted to build a house that would honor God's name. But did God ever say he wanted a house, let alone that David would be the one to build it? David's motivation was good, but he lacked the broader perspective of what God was doing through the generations and with a whole nation. He lacked vision. He need God's perspective.
- Presumptuous thinking and planning is often rooted in comfort and security. David was settled in his palace. Comfort and security have a way of dulling our senses. The danger is to equate good times and good feelings with God's blessing and favor. I'm not saying that God doesn't desire to bless and give good gifts to his children; He certainly does. But King David was reminded that God's plan went far beyond his own personal comfort and present state of feeling blessed.
God was quick to remind David that He doesn't operate on a need basis. He doesn't need anything. Instead, He works to accomplish His vision for the sake of the people He loves and for the blessed future He envisions for them. He desires to communicate His vision to us so that we have the ability to partner effectively with Him.
Once God had spoken, I believe a burden was lifted from David's shoulders - the burden to do something for God which we often carry with us. The burden to please by doing something for Him rather than being with Him. That day I believe King David traded his self-induced, short term, presumptuous thinking for God's long-term vision. And just maybe, the king slept a little better that night as he reflected on God's words...
“‘I declare to you that the Lord will build a house for you..." - I Chronicles 17:10b
Hard Work, Low Pay, Miserable Conditions. This was the slogan of the CCC (California Conservation Corps) in the 80's when I signed up. At twenty years of age, no direction in life, and a love for the outdoors, somehow it appealed to me. By the way, I just took a peek at their website. The slogan remains the same except that they've added "and more" at the end. I wonder what "more" could possibly be?
Jacob experienced his share of hard work, low pay and miserable conditions. In recounting his time of toil to his father-in-law Laban he states, "This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times...." - Genesis 31:40-41
Jacob the deceiver had finally met his match in the person of Laban. Laban treated him unfairly, squeezing as much as he could possibly get out of his son-in-law. It seems that that Jacob needed to have this experience of hard work under cruel conditions for his own personal growth and maturity.
Nevertheless, God's favor and blessing was upon Jacob. With the exception of some jealousy and rivalry between his wives, Jacob prospered, revealing that God's hand was clearly upon him. I've read this story many times, but this time I noticed something different - a connection between hardship and blessing, perseverance and reward. God's blessing often comes as a result of years of difficulty, enabling us not merely to survive, but to thrive in the furnace of testing. In the process He works on our character and disciplines us when needed, as He did with Jacob, until we have the capacity to be faithful stewards of that which He entrusts to us. And ultimately we are rewarded for our faithfulness.
As Jacob processes his long and often difficult history with Laban, he continued, "But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands..." (Genesis 31:42). I'm thankful that we can know God's favor in the midst of challenging times. Whatever we might go through - hard work, low pay, miserable conditions - these can become opportunities to experience God in deeper ways. Today, I choose to lift my eyes to a God who is able to leverage my present circumstances to fulfill His greater purposes.
For Reflection: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." - Genesis 50:20
"Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them." - Exodus 14:19
God's presence, manifest in the pillar of cloud, went before and in front of the people. This reassured them that He was leading. It gave them confidence, a visible reminder that God was on their side. But all of that changed when God's presence moved from out front and above to behind the people. I wonder if this re-positioning of God was disconcerting to His people? Could they feel an unexplainable change? Did they sense something was different?
I love it when God seems to be out front and above, guiding and overshadowing with His presence. But I'm still learning to trust Him when He moves to the background and goes behind. I'm realizing that even in these times He is actively relating to me, just in a different way.
Prayer: Like the Israelites, sometimes I feel trapped between a merciless sea and a threatening army. Lord, give me Your perspective when I look in the rearview mirror of life. Give me a glimpse of your constant presence. And may I be reassured, knowing that You are working to bring about a great deliverance.
In response to an angry and thirsty mob of complaining Israelites, Moses knew what to do first. Even better,he knew Who to consult. He and his brother Aaron went to meet with God, and He gave them specific instructions. "The Lord said to Moses, 'Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.'” -Numbers 20:7-8
I wonder...did Moses receive God's instructions and depart from that place of meeting without dealing with his anger and frustration? If so, it proved to be a costly mistake.
God told Moses to speak to the rock; instead, he struck it twice - I'm assuming in anger. Moses took a forceful, heavy-handed approach rather than choosing to simply speak and trust God. God redeemed the situation and did the miracle anyway. But it cost Moses dearly. He would be forbidden to enter the promised land. Why? "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me....". Ouch!
I think God loves to place challenges before me so that I can learn to trust him. And I don't think I'm alone. This is one of the ways he meets us in our situations. And when we meet with him, inviting Him into our struggle, he is always ready to help. In the most difficult times, there is nothing we can do (or should do) other than trust Him. In Moses' case, speaking to the rock required more patience and trust and less action on his part.
Can I trust God to work through my speaking as well as my doing? All around us people are pushing and shoving, hitting and hurting in order to make things happen. Some of us have been taught that this is the way to get ahead, to succeed in life. Is it?
Lately I've been feeling a need to push less and trust more. And somehow this will bring honor to God and ensure a joyous homecoming.
Prayer: God, this challenge is requiring me to trust You more. Help me not to force my way through it or try to escape it. But may I learn Your ways in the midst of it. In the process, may You be honored in the sight of those within my sphere of influence.
*Reflections taken from Numbers 20:1-13
On one occasion some Pharisees and Herodians questioned Jesus about whether or not it was acceptable to pay taxes to Caesar. Although Jesus knew their intention was to trap him in his words, He took the opportunity to point out the difference between earthly obligations and heavenly ones. "Then Jesus said to them, 'Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.' And they were amazed at him." (Mark 12:17) His reply was a rebuke to his would-be accusers who cared little about pleasing Caesar and were sorely misguided in their efforts at pleasing God.
While Caesar's likeness was imprinted on a coin, God's fingerprints can be recognized on all of His creation, especially us who are made in His image. Giving ourselves to Him unconditionally and with total surrender points to an acknowledgement of God's claim of ownership on our lives. We are His image bearers and we belong to Him. And contrary to what many think, real freedom comes from living in the light of these truths.
Prayer: Lord, I give myself in wonder and amazement that I'm made in Your image and belong to You. Thank you for the freedom this acknowledgement brings into my life. Help me to walk your path of freedom today.
"Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said" (Joshua 14:12).
Forty-five years after laying eyes on his inheritance, Caleb confidently comes to Joshua with a request to make good on God's promise. God had promised something humanly impossible for Caleb and his descendants. Was Joshua secretly hoping that in his old age Caleb would have forgotten? Not Caleb. At 85 years of age, he was ready to lay hold of his promise.
What was happening during those 45 years in between? I imagine Caleb helping his brothers take possession of their inheritances, raising a family, and working the land. As they wandered in the desert, He watched the original band of spies slowly die in their unbelief. Only he and Joshua were left. I imagine Caleb with a habit of speaking to the mountain on a daily basis, a mountain he would some day claim as his own. So, approaching Joshua with this request was simply a formality. It was, in fact, already his.
Once Caleb got the go-ahead from Joshua, he still had the difficult task of driving out the inhabitants of the land. There was a progression: Caleb spoke to the mountain and he trusted God. And behind the scenes, God was lining things up until the day Caleb would go in and conquer.
I'm learning the trust God more these days. One of my "mountains" has been establishing effective financial partnerships for our overseas work. I've been speaking to this challenge in prayer frequently. I need to pray and trust more. I have 45 years of total life experience under my belt; Caleb had 40, then he waited 45 more years until he was 85. Then the real work began. Should I be encouraged?
Prayer: Lord, you know my heart. You know how difficult it is for me to wait and to maintain perspective. Remind me that every mountain I face is an opportunity to grow in trust and patience, and to sharpen my skills along the way.
There's something about faith when lived out with tenacity, boldness and sincerity. It takes on a life of its own, influencing others in its wake. That's how a legacy of faith gets passed down through the generations. Of Caleb, we're told that "he followed the Lord wholeheartedly." (Joshua 14:14). That's impressive, especially when we understand the longevity of his wholehearted devotion. I love to imagine the impact this must have had on those around him. At one point, Caleb's own daughter approached him boldly with a request, "...Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs. (Joshua 15:19). She wasn't afraid, even in a man's world, to ask and believe for big things. Could it be that she learned from watching her father all those years that God is hilariously generous - if only we will ask?
Caleb's nephew, Othniel, became the first judge of Israel. And he was himself a valiant warrior (see Judges 3:9). I wonder if he too had been inspired by observing the faith of his uncle....
Prayer: Lord, shape in me a spirit like Caleb's, that I might wholeheartedly pursue You and the gifts You have for me. And help me to pass down a heritage of bold and tenacious faith to those within my sphere of influence.
*From reflections in Joshua, chapters 14-15.
We normally perceive the Apostle Paul as bold, courageous and somewhat independent. He was not one to let anything stand in his way, let alone some fellow Jews and an earthly king who were trying to take his life. I've often wondered about the placement and point of 2 Corinthians 11:33 which states, "In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands." What's the significance, particularly in relationship to the rest of the chapter? At first glance this doesn't seem to match up with Paul's boast of weakness. But let's have another look.
The truth is that Paul understood and acknowledged his weaknesses. In fact, this is a striking picture of a man who had come to the end of his rope and needed a new one, a rope with a basket on one end and strong hands on the other. He was "let down through a window in a basket."!
A basket, a rope and someone else's hands to grasp and lower Paul down to safety. I imagine Paul curled up in a fetal position inside this basket. By no means is this a visual picture of strength and courage! Visualize this man of faith in a basket and you begin to understand the interplay between courageous faith and times of weakness. One could say that living out of a sense of weakness takes more courage compared to living out of a feelings of strength.
Prayer: Lord, today I feel weak and vulnerable. I need a basket, a rope and some strong hands to carry me through my trial. Thanks for helping me and bringing me safely to the other side.