Fractured

Anxiety, as I’ve experienced lately, can become my default mode. But He cares for you. 

Cast all your anxiety (merimna) on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries (merimna) of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. Matthew 13:22 

Both of the above verses about worry or anxiety use the Greek word μέριμνα, transliterated merimna. J.D. Walt has this to say about this word: 

“The word is transliterated ‘merimna’ and sounds like it spells. It carries a meaning of dividing and fracturing a person’s being into parts. Anxiety, in a very literal sense, pulls us apart. It dis-integrates our very sense of self by attacking our core sense of security. 

So how do we deal with anxiety?  

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 

Is it as simple as telling God what we are anxious about? It sounds good, but all too often when we are anxious we tend to worry our prayers rather than casting our anxiety on God. Anxiety must actually be displaced within us. The little word, ‘because,’ tells us how this displacement works. It brings us to the four most important words in today’s text: 

He cares for you.  

Did you hear that? 

He cares for you.”

J.D. Walt https://seedbed.com/swing-thought-2/ 

Merimna means care, anxiety, “properly, a part, separated from the whole,” “worry (anxiety), dividing and fracturing a person’s being into parts.” It dawned on me that it is the opposite of the “all” I wrote about recently – loving God with all. When we let our hearts and minds be pulled apart by worry into parts it separates us from God. We need to cast it all unto God and love-worship Him with all. 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:36-37). 

The Greek word that Jesus used in quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, translated “all” three times in the verse, is holos (ὅλος). It is the root of the English term “whole.” It means whole, complete, entire, “properly, wholly, where all the parts are present and working as a whole – i.e. as the total, which is greater than the mere sum of the parts.” 

Worry, then, is the opposite of this “all.” Worry fractures me into parts separated from the whole. Loving the Lord with all – all the parts present and working as a whole – is the opposite of being fractured into parts by anxiety. Anxiety robs God of my all-love. It means I am reserving some of my love – worship – for that which I worry about. Do I really trust God whole-heartedly? Anxiety, as I’ve experienced lately, can become my default mode. But He cares for you.  

The Greek word translated “cares” above is meló (μέλει) and means to be an object of care. I love that! “To be an object of care.” As Louie Giglio says “you’re on Heaven’s radar.” Even when we can’t feel it or see it or hear it. Even when it seems we have been abandoned and forgotten. 

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 
Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care (meló) if we drown?” Mark 4:37-38 

“Don’t you care?”  

How many times have I asked this question, roiling in my anguish and doubt? But he said he cares for me, and has demonstrated that love.  

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares (meló) nothing for the sheep. John 10:11-13 

So not being fractured, but being whole, means following the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for me. As Henry Nouwen wrote, it means trusting in God’s love. 

“It’s a question here of trusting in God’s love. The Greek word for faith is pistis, which means, literally, ‘trust.’ Whenever Jesus says to people he has healed: ‘Your faith has saved you,’ he is saying that they have found new life because they have surrendered in complete trust to the love of God revealed in him.” — Henry J.M. Nouwen 

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. 1 John 4:16 (NLT) 

God wants me to be whole. I become whole following the Good Shepherd – trusting – loving with all, complete, entire, as one. Letting Him lead and guide me, bind up my wounds, rescue me, hold me close. Christ in me and I in Him, making it possible. His all, my all. 

Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:11 

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6 

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:22-23 (ESV) 

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 

“Did you hear that? 

He cares for you.” 

Photo, Fractured, by Brett Jordan https://flic.kr/p/8f8EHy  

His Right Hand is Free

If God is holding me by my right hand I can’t use it.

Yet I am always with you; 
you hold me by my right hand. 
You guide me with your counsel, 
 and afterward you will take me into glory. 
Whom have I in heaven but you? 
 And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 
My flesh and my heart may fail, 
 but God is the strength of my heart 
 and my portion forever. Psalm 73:23-26 

When I was meditating on these verses I realized that if God is holding me by my right hand I can’t use it. And since I am right-handed anything I tried to do with my left hand would be awkward and malformed.  

The right hand in the Bible is a symbol of strength. Also, “The right side of a man is the side on which God ‘marches’ when assisting him in battle (Isa. 63:12; Ps. 109:31; 110:1, 5) and it is the right hand which God grasps as a symbol of election (Isa. 41:13; 45:1; Ps. 73:23).” i  

Wow, what amazing grace! He has grasped my right hand; He has chosen me! But, if my right hand is in His, I basically can’t do anything in my own strength. I would have to take my hand out of His. That explains my frequent urge to do just that – shake Him off and do it myself. Fearful that things are taking too long, that I’m missing out, afraid He has forgotten me.  

But His word assures us that He will never forget. Yet, I am always with you. He will never leave us or forsake us. And think of this: though His left hand is occupied holding on to me, His right hand is free. And so, “though my flesh and heart may fail” God is my strength and help. He is fighting for me with His mighty right hand. 

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Psalm 138:7-8 (ESV) 

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13 

Lord, keep my right hand in yours

iJewish Virtual Library “Right and Left” 

Photo, free download from Piqsels

Standing There

“He stands in my place, where I should stand and cannot.”

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7:55 

At this, [Mary Magdalene] turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. John 20:14 

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:26-27 

There for me the Savior stands,
shows His wounds and spreads His hands:
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps, but loves me still! — Charles Wesley

“’Where does he stand?’ He stands pro me. He stands in my place, where I should stand and cannot … At this place I cannot stand alone. Here Christ stands in the centre, between me and myself, between the old existence and the new.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center (emphasis original) 

If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31 

When you’ve played out  
Your last chance  
And your directions  
Have all been lost  
When the roads that you look down  
Are all dead ends  
Look up  
You could see if you’d just look up  

You’re on the verge of a miracle  
Standing there  
You’re on the verge of a miracle  
Just waiting to be believed in  
Open your eyes and see  
You’re on the verge of a miraclei 

— Rich Mullins 

For He stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them. Psalm 109:31 

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:19-20 (ESV) 

You’re on the verge of a miracle … 

Salvation

i Richard Mullins, from Verge of a Miracle lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group 

Photo of door by Jack Bair

Air Plant

The Presence of God. That is where I will truly live, abide, dwell.

I used to love plants, seeing them grow and bloom. I loved having plants inside the house with me too. Our previous home was like the Garden of Eden. We could grow anything because of the rich black dirt outside and a sun room inside for house plants. But, when we moved to our current home, surrounded by trees, nothing seemed to want to grow. The soil is extremely acidic outdoors. A nut tree even makes it toxic. And it is too shady indoors for most houseplants.  

So, I’ve watched one plant after another fail to thrive, or wither and die. Many seeds refused to come up at all. Houseplants, too, valiantly tried, but most were spindly and struggling. After a while I gave up on trying to force things to grow where they were not meant to grow.  

Then I discovered air plants. I love them! They don’t need soil at all and they thrive even in low light. They absorb the water and nutrients they need mostly right from the air. Today when I was looking at one God said, “That’s what you are like. You have been trying to be what you are not, to put down roots where you were not meant to grow. But your life, your roots are in Me, in my Presence.”  

This reminded me of the Michael W. Smith song, “Breathei.” 

This is the air I breathe 

This is the air I breathe 

Your holy presence living in me 

Yes! The Presence of God. That is where I will truly live, abide, dwell. He is my air, life, light, sustenance. Help me Lord not to try and put down roots in the hostile, deadly dirt of this world, looking for something – love, acceptance, meaning, identity, peace – that only you can provide. Help me to remember I am a foreigner here, not meant for this toxic soil. Let your holy Presence be my very breath. Let me be an air plant breathing in You, breathing out your love. 

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11 (ESV) 

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. Psalm 84:5 

I am a stranger on earth … Psalm 119:19 

The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Job 33:4 

i Full lyrics here: https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/michaelwsmith/breathe.html 

Photo by Sheila Bair 

Not Chicken Hearted

Does the heart empowered by the Presence of God stand and love no matter what?

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5 

According to Barnes Notes on the Bible, the word translated “downcast” means to sink down under the weight of sorrow; to be depressed and sad. The word translated “disturbed” means literally, to growl as a bear, to be agitated, troubled, or anxious in mind, to moan internally. I’ve done a lot of both growling and moaning lately. 

That last part of this verse says in the Hebrew: I will yet praise him for the salvations of his face. 

“For the help of his countenance – literally, ‘the salvations of his face,’ or his presence. The original word rendered help is in the plural number, meaning salvations; and the idea in the use of the plural is, that his deliverance would be completed or entire – as if double or manifold.”i 

It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. Psalm 44: 3-4 

  
The Psalmist, like me, was downcast, depressed, despairing, trying to inspire and encourage his soul to wait, to be patient, to hope expectantly. Ah, that is hard. Charles Spurgeon commented on this verse: 

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? As though he were two men, the psalmist talks to himself. His faith reasons with his fears, his hope argues with his sorrows. These present troubles, are they to last forever? … Why this deep depression, this faithless fainting, this chicken hearted melancholy?” — Charles Spurgeonii 

“Chicken hearted melancholy.” That made me laugh, and reminded me of the 1961 exercise song we were forced to sing as part of President Kennedy’s Youth Fitness Program: “Give that chicken fat back to the chicken and don’t be chicken again!” Maybe what I should be singing now is, “Give that chicken heart back to the chicken and don’t be chicken again!” 

Ruth in a recent blog from Planted by Living Water (https://plantedbylivingwater.wordpress.com/2018/03/24/antithesis-of-love-1-corinthians-13/ ) listed the antithesis of love as defined in 1 Corinthians 13:7-8.

This anti-love:  

  • runs from difficulties,
  • is unbelieving, cynical, and suspicious, 
  • feels there is no hope, and 
  • gives up. 

Is the opposite of love to be chicken hearted? Does the heart empowered by the Presence of God stand and love no matter what? Is it like the Ukrainian President refusing to leave the city under siege and reassuring the people after the long, dark, terrifying night, “I am here.” iii 

The psalmist commands his failing soul to hope, which means to wait expectantly for the promised salvation. That is the opposite of despair, isn’t it? As my pastor asked in his sermon this past Sunday: am I walking around in anxiety or anticipation? A lot of times I walk in anxiety, but “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” I think it is time for me to stand on the Rock, grab onto His hope and pray. And that is only possible by the salvations of His Face, the Light of His Face, for He loves us.   

Lord, let it be! Help me to stand and keep loving in the light of your Face. Work in me persevering faith and expectant hope, no matter what is going on around me. 

“A loss of the present sense of God’s love is not a loss of that love itself; the jewel is there, though it gleams not on our breast; hope knows her title good when she cannot read it clear; she expects the promised boon though present providence stands before her with empty hands. For I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. Salvations come from the propitious face of God, and he will yet lift up his countenance upon us.” — Charles Spurgeon 

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24 

I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. 

iBarnes Notes on the Whole Bible, by Albert Barnes 

iiTreasury of David, Charles Spurgeon https://archive.spurgeon.org/treasury/ps042.php  

iiiUSA Today on Twitter https://twitter.com/USATODAY/status/1497635825860820993  

Image in the Public Domain

To Be Conversant

I think that this continual conversation pleases God – even if I am struggling and wrestling with what is happening in my life.

Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. Genesis 5:24 

Noah walked with God. Genesis 6:9 

What does it mean to “walk with God”? The Hebrew word is halak (הָלַךְ). It means to go, to come, to walk. It means to walk along, to walk apace, to walk forward, to walk on continually. But the part of the definition that I love the most is: to be conversant.  

Enoch and Noah were conversant with God.  

Gotquestions.org answers the question of what it means to walk with God this way: 

“Walking with God is not an activity reserved for a select few. [Not just an Enoch or a Noah, but me and you!] God desires all of His children to walk with Him. What happens when we walk with someone? Imagine that you and a close friend are enjoying a walk down a country lane. You are in close proximity. You talk, laugh, listen, and share your hearts. Your attention is focused on this person to the exclusion of almost everything else. You notice the beauty around you or an occasional distraction, but only to point it out to your companion. You share it together. You are in harmony, and you both enjoy the peaceful camaraderie. Walking with God is like that. When we enter into an intimate heart relationship with God through faith in His Son (Hebrews 10:22), He becomes our heart’s greatest desire. Knowing Him, hearing His voice, sharing our hearts with Him, and seeking to please Him become our all-consuming focus.” https://www.gotquestions.org/walk-with-God.html (my note added)

When I first gave my life to the Lord, I was part of a small congregation that was renovating a building to use as a church meeting place. One afternoon as I was working there not far from one of the pastors, I heard, what sounded to me, like him mumbling and talking to himself. It was pretty loud and it startled me, and I was a little embarrassed for him until I moved a little closer and realized he was not talking to himself, but to God. Not really praying, like we think of formal prayer, but just conversing with God about the work and each little problem that came up.  

That really impressed me and I have tried (when I remember!) to emulate this continual conversation. I think that it pleases God – even if I am struggling and wrestling with what is happening in my life. I believe it is a way of remembering Him, of acknowledging our need of Him, of recognizing His abiding, boundless, never-ending, unchanging, relentless, compassionate Presence with us. It is also, I think, what Paul was talking about when he said to pray continually. 

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 

“… do you know what it is to pray continually? Old Brother Lawrence, who wrote The Practice of the Presence of God, said ‘If I’m washing dishes I do it to the glory of God and if I pick up a straw from the ground I do it to the glory of God. I’m in communion with God all the time.’ He said, ‘The rules tell me that I have to take time off to go alone to pray, and I do, but such times do not differ any from my regular communion.’ He had learned the art of fellowship with God, continuous and unbroken.” — A.W. Tozer i 

Washing dishes, cleaning toilets, shoveling snow – whatever and wherever. Because of what Jesus did for me on the cross, I have entered within the veil, into the Holy of Holies, into His Presence, and I can know God, be with God, walk with God continually. And that is His passionate desire. 

“There is no manner of life in the world more sweet or more delicious than continual conversation with God.” — Brother Lawrence

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him [or know him], and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV) 

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 (ESV) 

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 (ESV) 

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 

As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 2 Corinthians 6:16 

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:8-9 

iWorship: The Missing Jewel of the Evangelical Church https://www.hsraadio.net/raamat/Tozer-Worship%20The%20Missing%20Jewel.pdf 

Image free download from Pixabay

They Took Him Along

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:35-41 

Reading this verse, I was stopped, and maybe a little amused, at the phrase “they took him along.” I think it is a curious statement. They brought Jesus along, or so they thought. Jesus had been in the boat all day teaching the crowds. So, they brought him along just as he was already in the boat. They brought him along as the Teacher, but did they bring him along as Lord? When it was time to go, they got in the boat with him and started off – right into a huge storm. While they began fighting for their lives, Jesus slept.  

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 

I think Jesus was sleeping for a couple of reasons. One, I’m sure he was exhausted. But also, he wanted them to discover that he is in control and sees what is happening, even when it seems he is asleep and doesn’t care. And that you don’t just take him along with you. As J.D. Walt wrote, Jesus needs to be at the helm of our boat, not the stern. 

I am with you. I am not distant or far from you. I am in the boat, sleeping. The problem is not that the storm is raging all around you (though that is a problem). It is that the storm has gotten inside of you. These waves may do irreparable damage, but I will redeem it. What the enemy meant for evil I will turn to good. I AM THE PEACE OF GOD, the one who sleeps in the storm, and though I am with you, I will come closer. Welcome me to come within you, from the stern to the helm. — J.D. Walti 

Lord you are my peace. When the storm has gotten inside of me and I am fighting for my life and struggling, seemingly all alone, help me to see that I have put you behind me in the stern. That I have “taken you along.” Help me to put you before me as Lord, to follow you whom the wind and waves obey. To trust you to turn this evil into good. You are the One who cares. 

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 

This Just In! We Interrupt This Series for a Word from Our Sponsor https://www.seedbed.com/this-just-in-we-interrupt-this-series-for-a-word-from-our-sponsor/?mc_cid=6ff101d8c2&mc_eid=27234cb1e3 

Image, Gandalf’s Gallery, Ludolf Backhuysen – Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee [1695], https://flic.kr/p/22qS8Sx  

When You Pass Through the Waters

Choosing love, choosing possible, most-likely, suffering, means choosing over and over.

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. Isaiah 43:2 (ESV) 

I noticed it says “when” you pass through the waters and the rivers and “when” you walk through fire. Not if. Right now, is a “when” time for me. Both parents in Hospice. Exhausting caregiving. And I am sure that there are others of you reading that are up to your neck or smelling the smoke too. I would like to share with you some writings that have encouraged me. 

“I’m no sage. I don’t pretend to have this all figured out, but I know this: some live well, some die well, but few love well. Why? I don’t know if I can answer that. We all live, we all die – there is no get-out-of-jail-free card, but it’s the part in between that matters. To love well … that’s something else. It’s a choosing—something done again and again and again. No matter what. And in my experience, if you so choose, you better be willing to suffer hell.” — Charles Martin, Where the River Ends 

Yes, when you choose this Way. When you walk through the fire. When you follow in his steps. 

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21 

Besides descending into hell after his death on the cross, Jesus suffered a great deal of hell while on earth. We are commanded to follow in His footsteps, but we need to do it with His mindset. Becoming nothing. Being a servant. Pure love. 

Against my own best intentions, I find myself continually striving to acquire power. When I give advice, I want to know whether it is being followed; when I offer help, I want to be thanked; when I give money, I want it to be used my way; when I do something good, I want to be remembered. I might not get a statue, or even a memorial plaque, but I am constantly concerned that I not be forgotten, that somehow I will live on in the thoughts and deeds of others. 

But the father of the prodigal son is not concerned about himself. His long-suffering life has emptied him of his desires to keep in control of things. His children are his only concern; to them he wants to give himself completely, and for them he wants to pour out all of himself. 

Can I give without wanting anything in return, love without putting any conditions on my love? Considering my immense need for human recognition and affection, I realize that it will be a lifelong struggle. But I am also convinced that each time I step over this need and act free of my concern for return, I can trust that my life can truly bear the fruits of God’s Spirit.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son  

So, choosing love, choosing possible, most-likely, suffering, means choosing over and over. A “lifelong struggle.” And as Marshall Segal writes, it must be tenacious. 

“In other words, the deepest patience comes from a humble and hopeful joy in God above all else. That means that real patience is not only inconvenient, difficult, and wearying, but, humanly speaking, impossible. The kind of patience that honors God is so hard that we cannot practice it without help from God. It grows only where the Spirit lives (Galatians 5:22–23) … Paul does not charge the church to admonish the weak, but to help them, and the word for help here can also mean to hold firm or be devoted. There’s a tenaciousness in this help, a clinging to the weak, even after months or years of inconvenience and sacrifice. Where does that kind of patience come from? From knowing that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” … Those who know how painfully and helplessly weak they are apart from God are more ready to endure the weaknesses of others. They don’t resent helping for the hundredth time, because they gladly trust and submit to God’s plans, including the weaknesses he has placed around them.” — Marshall Segal https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/patience-will-be-painful  

Tenacious, gladly trusting, and, as Henri Nouwen writes, unhesitating.  

“Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause. When those you love deeply reject you, leave you, or die, your heart will be broken. But that should not hold you back from loving deeply. The pain that comes from deep love makes your love even more fruitful. It is like a plow that breaks the ground to allow the seed to take root and grow into a strong plant. Every time you experience the pain of rejection, absence, or death, you are faced with a choice. You can become bitter and decide not to love again, or you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love 

All this is indeed “humanly speaking, impossible.” But we have a Helper. 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 

The carvings had faded, but I ran my fingers through the grooves I could reach. ‘When you pass through the waters …’ The passage continued but my arm was too short.” — Charles Martin, Where the River Ends 

Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save … Isaiah 59:1 

I will strengthen you and help you … 

I will be with you. 

P.S. And look what just came out as I was about to publish this! “Faith under fire becomes a furnace of transformation.” There is Another in the Fire

Image by Jackie, Noreaster April 16, 2007 https://flic.kr/p/GSsv8  

Sandstorm

This is where I am in the valley. I can’t see, can’t even open my eyes to try.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (ESV) 

I was meditating on this verse lately and found this revealing commentary: 

“The valley of the shadow of death . . .–This striking expression, to which the genius of Bunyan has given such reality, was probably on Hebrew lips nothing more than a forcible synonym for a dark, gloomy place. Indeed, the probability is that instead of tsal-maveth (shadow of death), should be read, tsalm-th (shadow, darkness), the general signification being all that is required in any one of the fifteen places where it occurs. It is true it is used of the ‘grave’ or ‘underworld’ (Job 10:21-22). But it is also used of the ‘darkness of a dungeon’ (Psalm 107:10), of ‘the pathless desert’ (Jeremiah 2:6); or, possibly, since it is there parallel with drought, of ‘the blinding darkness of a sandstorm,’ and metaphorically of ‘affliction’ (Isaiah 9:2), and of the ‘dull heavy look’ that grief wears (Job 16:16).” — Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers 

“The blinding darkness of a sandstorm.” Wow. While I can relate to all of the above metaphors, this speaks to me right now. This is where I am in the valley. I can’t see, can’t even open my eyes to try. I am being sand blasted and refined in pitch darkness. All I can do is cling to the One who will never leave me, and fear no evil from His unfailing love.  

for you are with me … 

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The God Who Hears

Being heard infers being known, an understanding on a deep level, an intimacy down where the real me is.

The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?” 

“I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied. 

The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.” 

And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.” 

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” (Genesis 16:7-13 NLT) 

When I last read this passage, I noticed something. Even though God assures Hagar that He has heard her cry of distress and even instructs her to name her baby “God hears” (Ishmael), Hagar latches onto the fact of being seen. “You are the God who sees me.” I understand that she was lost and abandoned in the desert, and probably terrified, and that being seen or found would have been a relief. Still, God said “I heard you.” 

Being seen is comforting when the “see-er” is God, however, being seen for me, as a woman, has not been a happy or comfortable thing. I guess it’s because I have had too many bad experiences. Too much objectifying. Too much harassment. Too much uncomfortable “appreciation” or criticism of my looks. So now, being seen communicates just looking at the outside to me. I know God wouldn’t do that. I know that when God sees me, he is looking into my heart, the core of my being. But still. 

Hearing, being heard, communicates something different to me than being seen. Being heard infers being known, an understanding on a deep level, an intimacy down where the real me is. Isn’t that what we say to someone when we want them to know that we acknowledge their experience, their struggle, their pain? We say, “I hear you.” I would rather be heard than seen any day.  

And the amazing thing is that God wants to be heard too. I think being heard, and letting us know that He hears us, is important to God because He loves us and wants a close relationship with us. The greatest commandment, the Shema, asks to be heard, and the cry is echoed down through time. 

Hear O Israel! (Deuteronomy 6:4) 

Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. (Isaiah 55: 3) 

He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:9) 

Praise God! He is the God who hears me! And I want to incline the ears of my heart to hear Him. 

Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. Isaiah 65:24 (ESV) 

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Micah 7:7 

In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Psalm 18:6 (ESV)

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