God’s Sigh

As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you … Isaiah 66:13 

The Hebrew word translated “comfort” in this verse is nacham. It means to be sorry for, to be moved to pity, have compassion, console, to sigh, to comfort. The meaning of this kind of comfort was vividly demonstrated to me recently. 

I have been taking care of my newest baby granddaughter. It is so frustrating to be so little and not able to communicate your pains and needs. Recently, she was crying and would not stop. Nothing I tried helped – she refused the bottle, toys, singing, walking around and bouncing, even dancing with her didn’t help. Finally, I just entered into her grief and frustration. I groaned and sighed with her, saying, “Oh poor baby! Nobody knows her problems; nobody understands!”

Almost immediately she relaxed against me and fell asleep on my shoulder. I was amazed. But when I read the above verse God reminded me of this. It was the sighing with her, the pity and consolation, the joining in, the participation with her suffering that comforted in the end. It is the way that God, the great Comforter, participated and participates in our suffering. Henry Allen Ironside describes it this way: 

“As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (verse 13).

Compare chapters 40 and 61 for GOD’s plan and design for His people. The Hebrew word translated “comfort” in this verse is from a root meaning “to sigh!” It says, “As one whom his mother sighs with, so will I sigh with you.” We know how a loving mother enters into the sufferings of her children. Taking the little one in her arms she sighs with him as he sobs out his grief upon her bosom. So does GOD feel for us in our trials. Of old He said concerning Israel when they were in Egyptian bondage, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people. . . I know their sorrows; and am come to deliver them.”  

He is ever the same in His concern for His afflicted children. His great heart of love is moved with compassion as He beholds the ravages that sin has made and the sufferings that it has entailed upon all mankind. Yet we are so slow to refer our troubles to Him, thinking of Him as a stern Judge rather than a tender, loving Father.

H.A. Ironside, Expository Notes on the Prophet Isaiah 

Henri Nouwen in his book about the great painting of Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, describes the welcoming father as a type of our Father God, who is like both a father and a mother to the returning son. 

The Father is not simply a great patriarch. He is mother as well as father. He touches the son with a masculine hand and a feminine hand. He holds, and she caresses. He confirms and she consoles. He is, indeed, God, in whom both manhood and womanhood, fatherhood and motherhood, are fully present. That gentle caressing right hand echoes for me the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her baby at the breast, feel no pity for the child she has home? Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you. Look, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” … Day and night God holds me safe, as a hen holds her chicks secure under her wings.

Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son 

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37 

Let us not be slow to refer our troubles to God. He is, yes, a righteous Judge, but also our loving Father. Let us return to Him, “sob out our grief,” and find rest on his mighty, gentle shoulder. 

Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forever. Psalm 131:2-3 (NASB) 

Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. Isaiah 49:3 

May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Psalm 119:76 

I, even I, am the one who comforts you. So why are you afraid of mere humans, who wither like the grass and disappear? Isaiah 51:12 (NLT) 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1 3-4 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Revelation 21:4 

“Day and night God holds me safe …” 

 

Photo by Jack Bair 

Brokenhearted God

Brokenhearted God
Who comforts the comfortless
Let us comfort you
We whose hearts are broken here on earth
Let your tears fall
And join with ours
Let them form that mighty justice river
Let it water the brokenhearted earth
Along with the blood of the sufferers
The blood of your Son

 

But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40

 

Bible verses from the New American Standard Bible

Image in the Public Domain

My Testimony During My COVID Struggle

A dear friend of mine has been struggling through COVID-19 illness for many weeks. Yesterday she posted this wonderful testimony of her experience of God’s love and faithfulness through it all. I asked her for permission to share it here because it is so uplifting and encouraging – no matter what your current struggle is.

My testimony during my COVID struggle:

My Father has given me three very intense and personal experiences with Him to make sure I KNOW with every cell and every part of who I am, how deep His love is for me, how He has compassion for me and how He SEES me with no condemnation but PURE LOVE.

  1. Jesus is sitting right beside me at the table He has prepared for me, in the presence of my enemies. Sitting right next to me, laughing with me, enjoying me, eating with me… MY BEST FRIEND who SAVED me. Every door to my heart is open to Him and He is fully with me. I feel His joy in me, His friendship with me and His complete love for me.
  1. My Father God is sitting right beside me. His face shines on me with PURE JOY. I saw Him beside me and saw Him turn His face and look directly into mine. He fully SEES me, and I am UNDONE. Pure love. Pure joy. Pure compassion. With NO CONDEMNATION.

I am undone. On my face before Him with just that brief glimpse of total love for me. When the veil is removed, and I get to spend eternity with Him face to face how can I stand? For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.

  1. This life is precious and sacred because God is WITH me and IN me. With everything that is in this world and this life that would beat me down and cause me to give up and give in… I push into Him. Wanting only deeper love for Him and a deeper KNOWING Him.

Death means FULL JOY, FULL LIFE, FULL LOVE. A full knowing and understanding of the love and joy He has in me and for me. And it means I will be fully with Him with no veil and no barriers ever again.

For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.

Whether I am healthy or sick. Whether I grieve or experience pure joy in His presence. Whether I am overwhelmed by life, or am sitting with Him on the beach at Lake Michigan at sunset. Whether I am alone, or in the presence of a husband and family He blesses me with. Whether I feel very far from Him, or I feel Him in me and with me. Whether I can’t catch my breath, or peacefully breathe in His presence through the Holy Spirit.

NOTHING in this life will EVER separate me from the love of Jesus, my LORD and SAVIOR, who rescued me from running after sin, and rescued me from death.

HE IS EVERYTHING to me. EVERYTHING.

I am uniquely His. Here on earth and into eternity.

 

 

 

Image copyright by Jack Bair

 

The Hands of the Loving Potter

The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; from His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works (deeds, actions). Psalms 33:14-15 (NASB)

These verses are a comfort and hope to me. God’s gaze is on me. He sees me. He understands why I do the dumb things I do. And he is fashioning, forming my heart. Strong’s Concordance defines this forming as squeezing into shape as a potter does with clay. It feels like squeezing too.

And the psalmist says that God sees all the sons of men; he is forming the hearts of all, everyone. This forming is being done where we cannot perceive, deep inside the hidden place. Those people we look askance upon, doing things that, to us, are incomprehensible – their hearts are also being fashioned by the hands of a compassionate, merciful God. I like how the Pulpit Commentary puts it:

“The hearts of all men are in God’s keeping, and his gracious influences are exerted to ‘mould’ them aright. Some hearts are too stubborn to yield themselves up to his fashioning, and refuse to take the impress which he desires to impart; but all, or almost all, owe it to him that they are not worse than they are.”

Yes, that’s for sure. We all stubbornly resist at times, but he does not give up on us. And neither should we give up on each other. This is a gracious hope for me. That God is working in the hearts of those for whom I am praying. That the hands of the loving potter are at work though I may not be able to see it.

If there are ones for whom you have been praying, maybe for a long time, do not give up. Let us wait in hope. Let us keep loving. Let us keep praying. Let us trust that the hands of the loving Potter are upon us all.

Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You. Psalms 33:20-22

 

 

Image from https://floridaclayartstore.flclaypotteryequipmentceramicsupply.com/

Engraved on His Palms

(Today I would like to share an entry from 3-Minute Devotions with Charles Spurgeon¹ that has meant a lot to me.)

“Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.”— Isaiah 49:16 KJV

No doubt a part of the wonder which is concentrated in the word “Behold,” is excited by the unbelieving lamentation of the preceding sentence.

Zion said, “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my God hath forgotten me.” How amazed the divine mind seems to be at this wicked unbelief! What can be more astounding than the unfounded doubts and fears of God’s favored people?

The Lord’s loving word of rebuke should make us blush; He cries, “How can I have forgotten thee, when I have graven you upon the palms of my hands?”

We know not which most to wonder at, the faithfulness of God or the unbelief of his people. He keeps his promise a thousand times, and yet the next trial makes us doubt him.

He never fails, yet we are as continually vexed with anxieties, molested with suspicions, and disturbed with fears.

“Behold,” is a word intended to excite admiration. Here, indeed, we have a theme for marveling. Heaven and earth may well be astonished that rebels should obtain so great a nearness to the heart of infinite love as to be written upon the palms of his hands.

The name is there, but that is not all: “I have graven your person, your image, your case, your circumstances, your sins, your temptations, your weaknesses, your wants, your works; I have graven you, everything about you, all that concerns you; I have put you altogether there.

Will you ever say again that God has forsaken you when he has graven you upon his own palms?

Lord, You have written my very existence on the palms of Your hands. I am forever grateful for Your love. I will trust in, rely on, and lean into You today—and always! Amen.

(A full sermon by Spurgeon on this topic can be read here Neither Forsaken Nor Forgotten)

¹ Published by Barbour Publishing Inc. Used by permission. Copyright 2015.

Photo by Jack Bair 2019, all rights reserved.

 

 

The First and the Last

He was there at the beginning and he will be there at the end, he has gone before us on this road. And all along the way he walks with us. Stretching out under all the great expanse of history are His Everlasting Arms as he carries his children.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:17 (NIV)

I have read this verse many times but this last time it literally vibrated in my spirit like a giant bell, like a mighty shout, like the sounding of the shofar. The answer to the cry of a desperate and fearful heart.

Being at the end of the year in my One Year Bible, I am reading Revelation. And, it caught my attention that Jesus calls himself the First and the Last three times in Revelation. When the Lord repeats something it is important, so I looked further into it and found that this declaration is also made three times in Isaiah (see them all below). Four of the six times it is accompanied by the admonition, “do not fear” or “do not be afraid.” Once it is preceded by, “Listen to me.”

Isaiah 41:4 says it slightly differently and wonderfully.

Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD—with the first of them and with the last—I am he … So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed (gaze about in anxiety, look away), for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:4, 10 (NIV emphasis mine)

This is the ringing cry I hear: Listen to me. I am the first and the last. I am He. I am the only God. I am the One who looks out for you, helps you, loves you. The One who is always with you. Do not gaze about in anxiety. Look at me. Do not fear.

And it came to be as a revelation, a clear vision, in my heart – not just in my head. He was there at the beginning “delighting in mankind” (Proverbs 8:30-31)  and he will be there at the end, he has gone before us on this road. And all along the way he walks with us. Stretching out under all the great expanse of history are His Everlasting Arms as he carries his children.

As a baby in arms, looking up into the eyes of her father, does not see where she is going, Lord I do not know where we are headed here in this hard and pain-filled place. But, I will rest and trust in your loving arms and fix my eyes on You.

You both precede and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Psalm 139:5 (NLT)

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27 (NIV)

 

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Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD—with the first of them and with the last—I am he … 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 41:4, 10 (NIV)

This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God … Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one. Isaiah 44:6, 8 (NIV)

Listen to me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last. Isaiah 48:12 (NIV)

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:17 (NIV)

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! … Do not be afraid …” Revelation 2:8-10 (NIV)

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End … Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Revelation 22:13, 20 (NIV)

 

Image, Safe by Barbara W https://www.flickr.com/photos/barbasia/15537309689/

 

He Remembers

The LORD remembers us, and he will surely bless us. Psalm 115:12a (NLT)

This verse has been a comfort to me. Going through a hard, dark time; feeling forgotten, left behind. He remembers us! He remembers you beloved. He cannot forget about you.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! Isaiah 49:15 (NIV)

In the desert, in the wilderness, in the valley of depression and pain and brokenness, God has not forgotten you. He sees, he hears, he knows. Every tear you shed is precious to him.

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

Cling to the assuredness of his unfailing love in the dark place. The light will shine again for you. The Lord remembers us, and he will surely bless!

His love never quits (it is forever, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, always, continuous, unending, through eternity). Psalm 136:23b (MSG)

 

Image in the Public Domain

 

 

The Brokenhearted

Jesus’ heart was broken to bring life to the world. We follow in His brokenhearted footsteps.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)

I received this verse three times in two days recently. My sister sent it to me as a comforting prayer. A favorite blogger wrote about the verse the next day. The third time I heard it was later that day at the funeral of a young mother, taken too soon. She was only 39. She leaves behind a grieving husband and two small daughters.

Jesus applied these verses to himself in Luke so we can see them as prophetic words of the Messiah. This verse was quoted by Jesus when he got up in the synagogue to read the scroll. But when he read the passage, he left out some parts. For one thing, He stopped at “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” and left out “the day of vengeance of our God.” He came the first time to proclaim favor, the Good News, the freedom of captives and release of prisoners. The day of vengeance would come later when he returns the second time at the last day. I understand that.

But I’ve always wondered why the part about binding up the brokenhearted was left out. We are brokenhearted down here. We need – so many need – binding up. But the passage in Luke leaves out the promise to the brokenhearted. Why?

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:16-19 (NIV)

Commentators and theologians have argued about if this omission was a mistake, added back in by scribes later, or was in the original. Many later manuscripts include the phrase “to heal the brokenhearted” but in the earlier, important ones it is lacking. I don’t think it was a mistake, though I can understand wanting to put it back in. I want to put it back in. But I think Jesus left it out on purpose, just as he left out the “day of vengeance” part. This world that we are in is a place of broken hearts, of too-early deaths, tragedy, a place of tears and trouble. That will not change until Jesus comes back.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33 (NIV)

For some reason we are “filling up the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1:24). Jesus’ heart was broken to bring life to the world. We follow in His brokenhearted footsteps. Somehow our brokenness is like that broken alabaster jar filling the house with fragrance (Mark 14:3), and like the life-giving springs bubbling up in the dark valley.

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rains! Psalm 84:6 (NLT)

Those other brokenhearted ones, who come after us, receive life and comfort from our brokenness if we keep walking; if our broken hearts, all our broken hopes and dreams, are squandered on him as fragrant offerings.

Ann Voskamp has conjectured that maybe we are made to be broken. It sure seems like it. “We are made in the image of God. And wasn’t God’s heart made to be broken too? Wounds can be openings to the beauty in us. And our weaknesses can be a container for God’s glory.”[i] A container for the fragrant, precious, glory of God. But it seems that the container must be broken for the glory to be shared.

I think we have to wait for the binding up part, but it will come. Someday, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4 NIV) and he will show us how all of those bottles full of tears that he has been collecting (Psalm 56:8) became pools of blessing.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.   2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV)

Image of tear under a microscope: “Psychic tear: This tear is harvested after an emotional response,” by Maurice Mikkers, https://medium.com/micrograph-stories/imaginarium-of-tears-10263c866ee1

 

[i] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life.

The Invitation

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort

who comforts, consoles, encourages, strengthens, calls us near, invites us to come

in all our troubles, anguish, burdens, persecutions, tribulations, pressures, distress

so that we can comfort, entreat, call near those in any trouble

with the comfort, the invitation we ourselves have received from God

Come

come into being, arise, come forth

find your place, become known

follow

Come!

 

 

From 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

Definition of parakaleó (translated comfort)

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance
From para and kaleo; to call near, i.e. Invite, invoke (by imploration, hortation or consolation) — beseech, call for, (be of good) comfort, desire, (give) exhort(-ation), intreat, pray.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
to call to one’s side, call for, summon
to beg, entreat, beseech
to console, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to comfort

Love is My True Identity

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.  -Thomas Merton

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3: 3 (NASB)

And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:5 (NLT)

Yes, Lord, fill my heart with your love. Let your love become my true identity, my name, my character. Let my life be hidden in you Jesus, let me live in love. May the world only see you and how much you love them when they look at me. May the words I say, the prayers I pray, the thoughts I think, the healing touch of my hands be yours – for you are Love.

 

Image copyright Jack Bair 2019