The Desert

Our dry, gasping, desperate wilderness experiences are meant to lead us from the cacophony of this world to a place where we can hear God speak to us, commune with us, teach us, name us.

Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor [Valley of Trouble] a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. Hosea 2:14-15 (NIV)

That phrase translated “speak tenderly to her” is literally in the Hebrew “speak to her heart.”

God wants to speak to our hearts. The Hebrew word translated desert is midbar (מִדְבָּר). It means desert, uninhabited land, wilderness. But is also means mouth. It comes from the word dabar (דָבָר) “to speak, commune, talk, name, teach.” It was in the wilderness where God spoke to Moses and taught the Israelites.

So I took them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them My statutes and informed them of My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live. Ezekiel 20:10-11 (NASB)

Our dry, gasping, desperate wilderness experiences are meant to lead us from the cacophony of this world to a place where we can hear God speak to us, commune with us, teach us, name us. The place we can remember who and whose we are. The place where we can return to our first love. The place where we can look up and see again the door of hope.

The amazing thing is that the word midbar also means pasture, in the sense of a place where cattle are driven for grazing. Jesus said:

I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:9 (NLT)

Jesus the door of hope. Jesus our salvation. Jesus the Word of God speaking to us. Jesus our pasture or sustenance.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4 (NIV)

Lord, may my Valley of Trouble become for me a Door of Hope. Open my ears that I may hear you speaking to me here in this desolate, wilderness place. Feed me, teach me, woo me, name me again.

Yours

Child of God

Lamb of your flock

Bride

Beloved

But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food. Job 36:15-16 (NIV)

Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me. Isaiah 65:10 (NIV)

 

For more about the wilderness see Highway to Your City

Image of sheep in pasture by Sheila Bair

God is Not Silent

God is speaking to all of us with that still, small voice. Easy to ignore. Easy to deny. Easy to turn away.

God is not silent. It is the nature of God to speak. The second person of the Holy Trinity is called “The Word.” The Bible is the inevitable outcome of God’s continuous speech. It is the infallible declaration of His mind.– A.W. Tozer

God is always speaking to us. It’s just that most of the time we don’t like what he is saying. “Wait” (ugh!), “Hope” (yet!), “Forgive” (I can’t – or won’t), “Love” (but what if they don’t love back? What if I am hurt, mocked, ignored?). What God has said and says is in his Word – the Word written, and the Word made flesh. But even if you have never read the Bible, he is speaking to you. He is speaking to all of us with that still, small voice. Easy to ignore. Easy to deny. Easy to turn away. Frederick Buechner put it this way:

But he also speaks to us about ourselves, about what he wants us to do and what he wants us to become; and this is the area where I believe that we know so much more about him than we admit even to ourselves, where people hear God speak even if they do not believe in him. A face comes toward us down the street. Do we raise our eyes or do we keep them lowered, passing by in silence? Somebody says something about somebody else, and what he says happens to be not only cruel but also funny, and everybody laughs. Do we laugh too, or do we speak the truth? When a friend has hurt us, do we take pleasure in hating him, because hate has its pleasures as well as love, or do we try to build back some flimsy little bridge?  Sometimes when we are alone, thoughts come swarming into our heads like bees—some of them destructive, ugly, self-defeating thoughts, some of them creative and glad. Which thoughts do we choose to think then, as much as we have the choice? Will we be brave today or a coward today? Not in some big way probably but in some little foolish way, yet brave still.  Will we be honest today or a liar? Just some little pint-sized honesty, but honest still. Will we be a friend or cold as ice today? … And the words that he says, to each of us differently, are be brave . . . be merciful . . . feed my lambs . . . press on toward the goal.[i]

In every little choice we make all day long God is speaking. Do we join in the gossip? Do we turn our eyes away and walk by the pain and the need? Do we hide our brokenness and put on a happy mask? Or do we comfort others with the comfort we have been given. Do we surrender to the cleansing fire of his passionate love for us, or cling stubbornly to self-justification?

God is love. And love continually speaks. It cannot be silent for it has been sent out into the world to accomplish something and it cannot, and will not, and has not failed. His love spoke from the cross and speaks on through eternity. And what is Love saying? “I love you!” “My love is always with you” “Give my love away.”

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. John 15:12 (NASB)

“… be brave . . . be merciful . . . feed my lambs . . . press on toward the goal.”

 

 

Image of sound waves from clipart-library.com

[i] Frederick Buechner. The Magnificent Defeat. 1985.

Beat a Path

Both of these seek-words are two-way streets. We and the Lord are seeking each other.

Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually. Psalm 105:4 (NASB)

There are two different Hebrew words translated “seek” in this verse. The first one is darash– דָּרַשׁ, and means to resort to, frequent or tread a place, seek, seek with care, seek diligently, enquire, require.

“To frequent or tread a place” makes me imagine seeking out the Lord so often as to make a path. My husband likes to take a machete and create paths through our woods. He puts little benches along the way to sit and meditate and enjoy the beauty. As soon as the paths are established, they are followed by our woodland friends. We often walk along the trails with the footprints of deer, coyote, fox, raccoons, squirrels and possums. Hopefully, the paths we tread to God might show the way for others.

But the paths must be maintained. If you don’t walk on them for a while they return to their natural state. Sometimes my husband has to use a chainsaw to remove fallen trees and limbs. He blows the leaves in the fall and mows tall grass. Making and maintaining a path to the Lord requires similar diligence and effort — frequenting it daily, keeping it clear of debris, tripping roots and thorny vines.

The second word translated “seek” is baqash– בָּקַשׁ. It means to seek to find, to seek to secure, to seek the face or Presence of God, to desire, demand, require, exact, ask, request. Note that both words include the meaning “require.” At the end of the path we tread we find the place of His presence and there we ask, present to him our desires, requirements, requests, and sometimes foolish demands. And we listen and he opens our ears and hearts to also hear his demands, desires and requirements of us.

Both of these seek-words are two-way streets. We and the Lord are seeking each other.

Jesus said he came to “seek and save” the lost. He comes daily seeking us out, knocking on the door of our hearts. And we are commanded to “seek the Lord … seek His face” continually and diligently. We are instructed how to do this in another verse using both seek-words.

But from there [from a place of captivity and idol worship] you will seek (baqash) the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for (darash or tread frequently the path to, seek diligently for) Him with all your heart and all your soul. Deuteronomy 4:29 (NASB)

The other two-way street is the “require” part. We and God both have requirements of each other. But Jesus assures us that the burden of his requirements is light (Matthew 11:30).

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

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)

Our requirements of God are also simple: Everything.

Life, food, water, the air we breathe, shelter, grace, mercy, the strength to keep going, the ability to love and forgive. For all that God requires of us he gives the grace, even the very desire to seek him in the first place. A.W. Tozer wrote that, “We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. ‘No man can come to me,’ said our Lord ‘except the Father which hath sent me draw him.’”[i]

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Psalm 42:1-2 (NIV)

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.” Psalm 27:8 (NLT)

Come! Let’s beat a path into His Presence, and there find the strength from the Lord to go on.

[i] Tozer, A.W. The Pursuit of God. Wing Spread Publishers, 2006.

 

Image copyright 2019 Jack Bair

Running from His Heart

God’s love and purposes were, and are, relentless. You might say he is one-track when it comes to the salvation of the world.

The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the [presence of the] Lord by sailing to Tarshish. Jonah 1:1-3 (NLT)

I don’t know why this always makes me laugh. OK, I do know why. Go ahead and put your name in the blank:

But ____ got up and went in the opposite direction in order to get away from the LORD.

See what I mean? We all have done it. We have all tried to run away from God, with the emphasis on the word tried. In Jonah’s case, God was sending him to the city of Nineveh to call them to repentance, and Jonah didn’t want to do it. God said to Jonah, “Get up and go.” Instead, Jonah got up and ran; the word means “to bolt.” God told Jonah to get up or arise. Maybe, as a prophet of God, he was on his knees worshiping in the Presence and received this call. His reaction wasn’t exactly what God had in mind.

It seems nearly every person in the Bible called by God to do something started their reply with an excuse. But, I can’t talk very well (Exodus 6:30). But, I am too young (Jeremiah 1:6). But, I am too weak and unimportant (Judges 6:15). Except Jonah, he just bolted. Apparently, David tried to escape God too.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-10 (NIV)

David concluded that it is impossible to run from God. After all, His very name is Immanuel, God with us.

There are always so many reasons why not to answer the call to get up and go. When we look only at ourselves, we see weakness, sin, fear and doubt. But there may be just as many excuses when we look at God. As in Jonah’s case, he didn’t want what God wanted: the salvation of thousands. Especially these particular thousands. “Knowing well the lovingkindness of God, he anticipated that He would spare the Ninevites on their repentance, and he could not bring himself to be the messenger of mercy to heathen, much less to heathen who (as the Assyrian inscriptions state) had already made war against his own people, and who as he may have known were destined to be their conquerors.”[i] Another commentary explains, “he feared God’s compassion would spare the Ninevites on their repentance, and that thus his prediction would be discredited.”[ii]

So what were Jonah’s reasons for bolting? Prejudice, personal pride, and self-preservation. Prejudice: the Assyrians were Gentiles, reprobate, the enemy. Pride: he had a reputation to maintain. He had been publicly calling down horrible judgements on these people. Self-preservation: the Assyrians had attacked Israel before and were prophesied to do it again (Hosea 9:3; Hosea 11:5).

But God doesn’t care about any of that. Jesus showed us what God is like and what he expects us to be like. Jesus loved everybody the same. Jesus was completely humble. Jesus determinedly and obediently walked right into his own death. God’s love and purposes were, and are, relentless. You might say he is one-track when it comes to the salvation of the world. After Nineveh repents Jonah exclaims, “I knew you were going to do that God!” (Jonah 4:2). That always makes me smile too – Jonah knew God was going to save those people because he knew God well enough to know who God is, what God is like, and to know God’s heart. We may not be so honest with ourselves as Jonah, but when we run from God isn’t that what we are running from? His heart? His relentless love? His good, life-giving, excruciating purpose for our lives?

Kurt Bennett points out, “There’s only one place in the bible where we see God running.” That place is the picture of God shown in the parable of the prodigal son. In it, Jesus describes a loving father running toward another fugitive. If you are running from God and his call for your life, turn around and run back. You will run right into His relentless love.

Grace that chases me
O relentless Love
Morning faithfully
Brings mercy to me
Your sweet mercy

—James Mark Gulley, Stephen Gulley

 

[i] Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

[ii] Pulpit Commentary. Hendrickson Publishers

 

Image in the Public Domain

 

Excavation

I’m sure God feels like it has been an excavation project to get through to me.

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire (take pleasure in, delight) to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:6-8 (NIV)

In the old testament if a slave came to love his master and wanted to stay and serve him for life, the master would bore a hole through his ear as a sign.

But if your servant says to you, “I do not want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. (Deut. 15:16-17 NIV)

The words in Psalms 40 prophesy the coming Messiah, the one who came to be the Servant Savior, “my ears you have pierced … I delight to do your will.”

God doesn’t long for our sacrifices and all the offerings required by the law, but our love and surrender (not all those who say ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom). He wants us to hear his voice and know him, to delight to serve him. The word translated “pierced” in the Hebrew means “to dig, excavate, dig through, to bore or open.”

I think it is kind of funny that it means “to excavate.” I’m sure God feels like it has been an excavation project to get through to me. One of the meanings of excavate is to uncover buried remains – perhaps remains of my first love? The burning passion to do His will? Digging down through the many rocks and bitter roots, to the buried remains of my first love, down to the “fountains of my soul” as Charles Spurgeon wrote in his commentary[i] on Psalm 40:6-8.

Our Lord was quick to hear and perform his Father’s will; his ears were as if excavated down to his soul; they were not closed up like Isaac’s wells, which the Philistines filled up, but clear passages down to the fountains of his soul. The prompt obedience of our Lord is here the first idea. There is, however, no reason whatever to reject the notion that the digging of the ear here intended may refer to the boring of the ear of the servant, who refused out of love to his master to take his liberty, at the year of jubilee; his perforated ear, the token of perpetual service, is a true picture of our blessed Lord’s fidelity to his Father’s business, and his love to his Father’s children. Jesus irrevocably gave himself up to be the servant of servants for our sake and God’s glory.

Yes, Lord, I need you to excavate me. Let the fountains of my soul burst forth again with your spring of Living Water. Grant me grace, each day, to irrevocably give myself up to be your servant. I will delight to do your will.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7 NASB)

I delight to do Your will, O my God. (Psalm 40:8 NASB)

[i] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Psalm 40 http://archive.spurgeon.org/treasury/ps040.php

 

Image in the Public Domain

Point of View

As I have been visiting the jail and coming to know the ladies there, God has been speaking to me about how important our point of view is. He showed me that there are two ways to look at people. One is from the viewpoint of Hell and our Accuser (Revelations 12:10). One is from the viewpoint of Heaven, where we are seated with Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6-7).

If you are looking from the viewpoint of Hell, you are looking up at people and can only see the dirt on the bottoms of their feet. If you are looking from the viewpoint of Heaven, you are looking down at people and you can see the hand of God resting on their heads. 

I start to see faintly the hope and passion for the end of their journey, a glimpse of eternity. If I follow God’s gaze I begin to see as He sees.

… and [God] raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show (point out) the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6-7 (NASB)

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work (poem) of your hand. Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)

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

 

 

Every Evil Attack

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 2 Timothy 4:18 (NIV)

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory. Psalm 73:23-24 (NIV)

For months I had felt the urge to go on a road trip. I thought God was prompting me to go to a women’s conference. I asked friends and family to go with me to various conferences, but nothing worked out. Then out of the blue I was given a brand new pair of perfect fitting hiking boots (my old ones had literally fallen apart), and a couple of weeks later my son asked me to go with him to Yellowstone National Park. What a glorious gift! I knew this was what God had been preparing me for.

I had some qualms. First, I have always been afraid of the grizzly bears and wildfires “out west.” My niece was just then a few miles from the Carr fire in Redding, California. To be honest, I was also afraid of things going wrong – again. My son has had a lot of challenges in his life. Born premature, he suffered from severe asthma growing up. He also has a learning disability and endured bullying and misunderstanding from students and teachers. More recently, he had been beat up by a couple of teens playing the “knockout game,” been diagnosed with more severe health issues, and consequently lost his job. The year before he had tried a Yellowstone trip only to have it cut short when his car broke down. While his advice to me when I had my panics was, “Don’t worry about it” (with a Rocky Balboa accent), he had to fight off defeatism. So, I asked God for a verse or two to cling to, and he gave me the above verses. I particularly hung on to “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack,” thinking of the bears. What I didn’t know was that the “attack” God was thinking of was not to be a physical one.

As we traveled, we prayed together Psalm 73:23-24, that the Lord would hold us by our right hands and guide us with His counsel. The trip out was wonderful – beautiful scenery (we saw a waterspout coming down from a big, white thunderhead surrounded by a rainbow, antelope in endless grasslands, and miles of sunflowers) and sweet fellowship. When we arrived at Yellowstone, we were greeted by two things: a small forest fire started by lightning (https://yellowstoneinsider.com/2018/08/07/new-yellowstone-fire-emerges-bacon-rind-fire-keeps-growing-albeit-slowly/), and a sign at the campground announcing that grizzlies frequent the site. Did I mention that we were tent camping? I could almost hear God chuckling. But, we drove in and immediately got a place to set up our tent, though we had no reservation. I clung to 2 Timothy 4:18, especially the first part – tried not to think about the “heavenly kingdom” part.

Every day we had a wonderful time praying together as we drove through amazing scenery. Once, overcome in the Holy Spirit, my son had to pull over as he prayed. We kept praying Psalm 73, that God would hold us by our right hands and guide us with his counsel, and things went well. We got places to park in crowded parking lots where long lines waited just as someone was leaving. Geysers erupted as though just for us. We had good weather, no rain, we didn’t hear anything more about the fire – and we didn’t see any grizzlies. It was glorious. But after a few days I felt a warning from the Lord that a time of testing was coming and to be ready.

The first thing that happened was that Derek’s GPS died and he ran out of minutes. We had been relying on the lady in the phone to tell us where to go and we had no maps with us. All I had was a little 10-year-old flip phone and no way to charge it, so it was fading fast. Our next destination was Mount Rushmore, but as we headed East with no map and no place to buy an atlas, we both were fighting off fear and not a little panic. We prayed Psalm 73 out loud and asked God to continue guiding us. And God continued to give us little gifts along the way. We found ourselves driving right past Little Bighorn, a place we had wanted to see but seemed too far out of the way on our previous route. So we stopped in. We got a little more direction there from a park ranger and found our way to Mount Rushmore. At that park we picked up a little one-page handout that got us on the road again heading East, and I noticed going right through Wall, South Dakota, and the famous Wall Drug store, another place I had always wanted to visit. We decided to stop there for the night.

Wall Drug was very cool, but when we came out and got in the car it would not start. My son chose now to tell me that he had been having trouble with the starter. We tried some things and a couple of helpful men on the street took a look, but they just shook their heads and, yep, pointed to a possible problem with the starter.  I called my sister for prayer, but my phone ran out of power just as I finished telling her the problem. And there we were. Almost a thousand miles from home and no phone. It occurred to me that God was slowly taking away from us everything that we had been relying on, leaving us with only Him. I was immediately in my paralyzed PTSD panic mode and my son started to sink into a familiar “what’s the point?” mentality, a feeling my husband had identified as futility.

The Sheriff deputies assured us they wouldn’t tow the car and pointed us to a repair shop that would open early the next morning, so we loaded up and walked to the motel. I knew we needed another word. I told my son to ask God for a verse to hold on to and he opened up the Bible. In just a few seconds he looked up and said to me, “Mom, repeat this after me.”

We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:20-22 NIV)

With tears I sang it back to him, for these were words to a song that God had given me when my son was a baby. I had offered it to the music ministry at church, but it had never been used and had lain dormant all these years. “God meant it for now, Mom,” he confirmed. My son’s faith was boosted. Mine not so much – too many bad things had happened – I was having a real hard time.

The next morning, we got up early to walk to the auto shop and wait for the mechanic to arrive. On the way my son decided to try once more to start the car. He put the key in the ignition and then stopped and looked up at me. “Mom, do you believe?” I admitted my struggle, but I had to make the decision to put faith in God’s Word and fight off fear. “Yes,” I told him. He turned the key and it started. I knew I was watching a miracle happen – and not just the car, in my son. We drove over to the repair shop where the mechanic told us we could wait around for a couple of weeks for a part, or drive all the way home without turning the car off. At first, in the cool of the morning, we thought, sure we can drive 16 hours straight if we take turns. Well, that didn’t happen. We had to turn it off a couple of times, but, as we trusted in Him, God was “our help and our shield” and we got home the next day with no problems.

When we returned my sister told me that, while praying for us, God had given her a vision of two big, strong men, dressed in black, attacking us by the car. She thought it was a physical attack and prayed for our safety and help. But those two big strong men were fear and futility. Faith is something, I learned, for which we must fight.

Fight (struggle, compete for the prize, contend with the adversary) the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12 (NIV)

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:5 (NASB)