All there is

When despair has obliterated ordinary prayer, when the psalms fail and all words are stupid and meaningless, the mantle of loneliness surrounding me becomes a mantle of dark and wordless love. This darkness reveals the paradox of prayer: in the absence of God, all there is, is God. 

Suzanne Guthrie 
Grace’s Window 

Immeasurable Peace

Wow, I love it when God does this! These came almost one right after another in my inbox today. A message for all of us.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus had moments where He would withdraw from the crowds because He needed to fix His entire being on God. Our souls find clarity and peace when we step away from the world so we, too, can be with our Heavenly Father. We will undoubtedly encounter the healing our souls and even bodies need when we sit still in His presence. — blogged by Estera Marian, Eyes of My Heart  https://theyesofmyheart.com/2021/02/26/rest-for-your-soul/  

Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: “May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country, or relationship fulfill my deepest desire”? But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burnout. — Henri Nouwen 

May I ask you, what is that thing that is pressing against you? That thing that causes pain, brings tears, and appears as though it can never change. Just want to share that God is able, nothing is too hard or impossible for the Almighty and Sovereign God. Please allow me to encourage you to look up and know that God loves you and is with you in this season. — blogged by Beholding Him Ministries   https://beholdinghimministries.org/2021/02/26/trust-god-in-the-hard-place/  

Jesus knew the disciples needed the kind of peace that would see them through any and all situations. He told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you” … Jesus added, “not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). This wasn’t going to be the so-called peace of a numb, zoned-out society. Nor would it be the temporary peace of the rich and famous, who try to purchase peace of mind with material things. No, this was the very peace of Christ himself, a peace that surpasses all human understanding. 

When Christ promised the disciples his peace, it was as if he was saying to them and to us today: “I know you don’t understand the times you face. You don’t comprehend the Cross and the suffering I am about to face. But I want to bring your heart into a place of peace. You won’t be able to face what is coming without having my enduring peace in you. You must have my peace.” — David Wilkerson, “Immeasurable Peace,” World Challenge Daily Devotional 

Naked Intent

Back then I would sneak out of choir practice and go sit in the dark sanctuary.

“This is what you are to do: lift your heart up to the Lord, with a gentle stirring of love desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts. Center all your attention and desire on him and let this be the sole concern of your mind and heart … And so diligently persevere until you feel the joy in it. For in the beginning it is usual to feel nothing but a kind of darkness about your mind, or as it were, a cloud of unknowing. You will seem to know nothing and to feel nothing except a naked intent toward God in the depths of your being … But if you strive to fix your love on him forgetting all else, which is the work of contemplation I have urged you to begin, I am confident that God in his goodness will bring you to a deep experience of himself.” — The Cloud of Unknowing, chapter 3  

“… a state of naked faith, sustained by God alone in our absolute abandonment to Him …” — Jeanne Guyon, Union with God 

Sunday at church we sang the doxology.  

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!i 

I have been singing it since I was a child in the children’s choir at the Methodist Church. Suddenly, as I sang, I was in that place beyond time singing it again as that child who didn’t really know what she was singing. The child who wasn’t sure what or who was a “Holy Ghost,” the child who looked up at the stained-glass window depicting Elijah, Jesus, and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration and was sure, as she sang those lyrics, that she was looking at a picture of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I didn’t know much, but I had a “naked intent toward God” as the unknown monk wrote, the “naked faith” described by Guyon. It was a faith beyond reasoning or logic, a faith that totally bypassed intellect because there was no real knowledge of the scriptures at that time.   
 

Back then I would sneak out of choir practice and go sit in the dark sanctuary – literally and intellectually in the darkness, in the cloud of unknowing – and wait on God. I didn’t know I was doing that; I didn’t even have any words for a prayer. Almost holding my breath, I would just be there. There was just that naked intent, that yearning and thirsting after God. And he gently met me there, though I could not fully comprehend him.  
 

I have come a long way since then. I have studied the Bible for many years and have a lot of head knowledge now. But still I know that what God wants, what he looks for, what delights his great heart is that naked intent toward God, that hunger and thirsting after Him from the depths of my being. My essence seeking after His essence. Let me just be there. 

My soul longs for You, as a parched land. Psalm 143:6 

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Matthew 11:25-26 

And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 (NASB) 

For more on the “naked intent” toward God see a previous post https://wrestlingwordblog.wordpress.com/2018/09/20/a-naked-intent-toward-god/

Photo, detail from Coloured Reflection by Ben Keating, https://flic.kr/p/GHzQ3T  

Center of the Storm

I stood there beside him, and because he was there with me, so brave and calm, all the fear evaporated.

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and ask him more directly to give you joy, peace, and a pure heart. Purity of heart means a heart where God is the center of your attention. Take a simple sentence like “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want,” and repeat that quietly during the day until the truth of it enters the center of your being. You will always continue to have feelings of depression, anger, and restlessness, but when God dwells in the center of the storm, the storm is less frightening and you can live with trust that in the midst of all of the darkness you will be led to a place of joy and peace.—Henri Nouwen

This quote brought me back to my childhood. Our new house was the last built on the block, and beside and before us to the west were empty fields. That was the direction the storms came from and we could watch them awesomely and terrifyingly racing towards us. Dark sky and writhing, black clouds, and spectacular lightening.

Most of the time my mother would herd us down into the basement to ride out the storm. I know that was the safe place, but there was a lot of fear in that because we couldn’t see what was happening, only hear the roar of the wind and the crash of the thunder, and the ominous warnings coming over the radio.

But sometimes I snuck up to the open garage where my Dad stood watching it come and overtake us. And I stood there beside him, and because he was there with me, so brave and calm, all the fear evaporated. We shared the awesomeness and the glory and the majesty of the storm together. I was in the center of the storm. But I was with my Dad. I was never afraid of a storm again.

Nouwen’s suggestion of meditating on the word in these times is a good one. You may feel overwhelmed with what is roaring about you right now. But your Father is always there with you in every storm. Sneak away now to stand with him. Fix your eyes on Him. Be still and know.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. Psalm 56: 3

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

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

I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until this violent storm is past. Psalm 57:1 (NLT)

 

More encouraging verses can be found here: Fear Bible Verses

 

Image, Storm by texaus1 https://flic.kr/p/R41Zbp

 

Except

I’m fighting down fears right now. But that “except” is there, holding me on the Rock.

I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt. Joshua 24:4

This unassuming sentence is tucked into a long account of the history of God’s people at the end of Joshua’s life. But the verse jumped out at me this last time I read it. At first it would seem that Esau got the better end of this deal. God gave Esau the hill country of Seir, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt – and we know what happened to them there.

Esau missed out on 400 years of slavery and 40 more years in the desert wilderness. He became very rich and great, with many chiefs. Genesis 36 is the account of Esau and his greatness, his many descendants, and their many chiefs. Esau had “kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king ruled over the Israelites” (Genesis 36:31).

A commentary on Genesis 36 notes, “As F. Delitzsch says[i], ‘secular greatness in general grows up far more rapidly than spiritual greatness.’ In other words, the progress of the world far out distances the progress of the righteous who are waiting for the promise.”[ii]

Yes, it would seem that Esau got the better deal. Except. Except Esau also missed out on:

  • Deliverance from slavery
  • Redemption by the blood of the Passover lamb
  • Miraculous rescue from the enemy
  • Pure water from the Rock
  • Bread from Heaven
  • Hearing God’s voice from the mountain
  • Comfort and protection of the cloud and the pillar of fire
  • The giving of the Word of God
  • The refining as silver
  • The testing as gold
  • Learning dependence on God alone

I know that I would have been right there with the panicked Israelites heart and soul as they grumbled against Moses saying, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” (Exodus 17:3) … “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:5).

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I would have been with them because I’m fighting down similar fears right now. But that “except” is there, holding me on the Rock. Except, I want to be part of the Story.

Esau didn’t just miss out on the hunger and the thirst, the fear and uncertainty, the hardship and the trials. He also missed out on being part of the great Story of Salvation. Esau missed out on being part of Jesus’ story. The Story of the Savior.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Matthew 2:15

Lord, bring me out. Bring me through. Bring me into the wilderness with you. Write me into your great Story of Salvation.

Jesus
Write me into Your story
Whisper it to me
And let me know I’m Yours

–Rich Mullins

 

Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. Hebrews 12:16 (MSG)

[i] Franz Delitzsch. New Commentary on Genesis, 2:238.

[ii] NetBible Study Notes

Image by Jack Bair, all rights reserved

To the Vanishing Point

Yet I am always (continually, perpetually, constantly, like the daily sacrifice) with you;

you hold (grasp, take hold, seize, take possession of) me by my right hand.

You guide me (guide tenderly, lead me away captive, conduct me along the path) with your counsel (plan, purpose),

and afterwards you will take (get, fetch, lay hold of, seize, acquire, buy, bring, marry, snatch, take away, receive) me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire (delight in, take pleasure in, bend down to) besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail (be spent, be used up, waste away, be exhausted, come to an end, vanish, perish, be destroyed),

but God

But God!

is the strength (the Rock, refuge) of my heart and my portion (allotment, possession, territory, inheritance) forever (everlastingly, unending future, to the vanishing point, eternally, without end).

Psalm 73:23-26

 

Image in the Public Domain

Very Present Help

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

God is our strong refuge from the storm,

our hope, our trust, a place of refuge, shelter from rain or storm, from danger,

a helper in time of trouble, adversity, affliction, anguish, distress, tribulation

He is found to be — vehemently, exceedingly, speedily, mightily, greatly present,

He comes forth to meet us in our trouble with muchness

He is able

He is with us

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Psalm 23:4

 

Knots in the Cord

We may cut the cord ourselves by giving into fear and doubt, but each time we come back He binds us to himself again, tying another knot, shortening the cord, drawing us ever closer.

Surely there is a future (or a reward), and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 23:18 (NASB)

I was intrigued to find that word translated “hope” in the above verse is the Hebrew word tiqvah (תִּקְוָה), and that it literally means “cord.” Figuratively, it means expectancy, hope, a thing that I long for, but literally it is a cord. It is the same word that is used for the scarlet cord the Israelite spies told Rahab to tie in her window in this verse:

“Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.” So she sent them away and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord (tiqvah) in the window. Joshua 2:21 (NIV)

Her scarlet tiqvah was a literal cord, but it was also a hope and expectation of salvation. I think hope is like a cord because it is a firm attachment to God, like an umbilical cord, from which we draw the strength to keep going, to keep growing.

Tiqvah comes from the Hebrew word qavah (קָוָה) which means to wait, look for, hope, expect, but also means to bind together. We are bound to God through our faith and hope in him, and he promises that he will not cut the cord, our tiqvah. I can cut the cord myself, and I have many times, by giving into fear, despair, hopelessness and doubt. But each time he has proven himself ever faithful again, and each time I come back to his loving arms. And each time he reties the cord, tying another knot, binding himself to me again. And each time those knots of love and grace shorten the cord, drawing me ever closer to his heart.

The New Testament calls this hope an anchor of the soul. You don’t throw an anchor overboard without attaching it to your boat with a rope or a cord. And the other end of the cord has been knotted firmly for us by our Lord Jesus in the Holy of Holies, the very Presence of God.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV)

Yes, Lord I choose to tie your anchor to my little, drifting, tossing boat. I choose to hope in your word, hope in your promise, hope in your name, in your very character. Give me strength to hope no matter what is happening around me. I come back to you again. Forgive me for the doubts and fears. Tie another knot in the cord. Draw me ever closer to you.

I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them. Hosea 11:4 (NKJV)

For the law made nothing perfect, and now a better hope has taken its place. And that is how we draw near to God. Hebrews 7:19 (NLT)

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:5 (NIV)

 

Image is free from Pixabay

Door

Did you ever notice that our doors are closed, but the door of heaven stands open?

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” Revelation 4:1 (NIV)

Did you ever notice that our doors are closed, requiring Jesus to knock on them, but the door of heaven stands open? Jesus has opened the way into heaven, into the very Presence. He longs to have fellowship with us. Let’s open the doors of our hearts, the doors of those secret places, those closed-off hurting places, and let Him come in and heal and love and redeem and repair.

I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My lover is knocking: “Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one.” Song of Songs 5:2a (NIV)

 

Image by Jack Bair

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/