Don’t Stop Looking

Blessings are hard to find sometimes. If you assume they are few and far between, you will not see them even when they are right under your feet.

We just got back from a camping vacation. I chose to bring as a beach-read Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, a great true story of the rowing crew who won the 1936 gold medal in the Berlin Olympics. In it, there is the story of how Joe Rantz, one of the rowers, used to find and present four-leaf clovers to his fiancée. She was amazed at how he could just squat down, and, after searching for a while, always find one. His reply struck me. “The only time you don’t find a four-leaf clover,” he liked to say, “is when you stop looking for one.” 

Really? I was skeptical. I don’t believe in luck or magic, but finding four-leaf clovers has been a challenge to me since I was a kid. Kind of like winning at Solitaire. Even so, I can count the number I have found on one hand. So, I decided to put his assertion to the test. There happened to be quite a few clovers right around our camper (which I had already searched in passing).  

I squatted down and started really looking, passing my hands through them. And there, almost immediately, I found one! A four-leaf clover – I couldn’t believe it! I ran to show my husband who was shutting down the camper to leave. But then I thought, maybe that was just a coincidence. I squatted down again, and there was another one! “The only time you don’t find a four-leaf clover is when you stop looking for one.” 

You know, finding four-leaf clovers is a lot like looking for blessings. My life has been hard lately. It has been easy to overlook the many blessings around me. Maybe God is saying to me, don’t stop looking until you find one. Maybe your life has been stinky, hard, and seemingly hopeless. Or maybe, it has just been filled with same-old, hum-drum, three-leaf-clover days. The blessings are hard to find sometimes. But I realized something: if you assume they are few and far between, you will not see them even when they are right under your feet. But if you assume they are there – expect them – and don’t stop looking until you find one, you will begin to see them all around. 

Before we left the campground I walked down to the stinky, gross, but unavoidable outhouse one more time. On the way, I heard a toddler singing at the top of his lungs. I couldn’t understand a word he was singing, but the joy translated perfectly and made me smile. 

Another four-leaf clover. 

How Long

Hope, it seems, is hardwired into our souls.

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Psalm 13:1-2 

If you have ever gone through a very long, dark night of trial and bewildering hard times, you may have felt forgotten; you may have cried out with David, “How long?” Actually, the Psalms record multiple times this question was asked of God. Other people in the Bible too, like Jeremiah (4:21) and Habakkuk.  

How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Habakkuk 1:2 

Even Our Lord himself expressed this sentiment, though I don’t blame him. I am sure that dealing with someone like me for even three and half years would seem like an excruciating eternity.  

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” Mark 9:19 

But sometimes our hard times do stretch out for very long times, even into decades, and we cry out with David, My soul is in deep anguish. How long, LORD, how long? (Psalm 6: 3). Yet, even then, there is a hope we can’t seem to shake. 

“There are times when in our despair we cry, ‘God hath forgotten me.’ yet somehow the conviction rises, ‘No, I am not forgotten forever.’ The soul is in that condition which Luther knew so well. — hope itself despairs, and despair nevertheless begins to hope. In our dejection we think there is no hope, yet we feel in our souls that God cannot forget, and so we begin to question Him, ‘How long shall it seem as though Thou forgettest us forever?’” — McConnell, Moody, and Fitt (emphasis mine)1 

Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Psalm 42:9 

“Hope itself despairs and despair nevertheless begins to hope.” Hope, it seems, is hardwired into our souls. Zechariah called us “prisoners of hope.” Hope, no matter how hard we try to get rid of it, is tenacious. It pops back up, poking through the hardened covering of our hearts or, at least, humming relentlessly beneath it. Sometimes hope feels like an invasive species that though it is poisoned, chopped down, and yanked up, just keeps coming back. Its roots run deep and are pervasive. Hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12), yet hope does not shame us.  

And hope does not put us to shame (disgrace, shame down, shame of one repulsed, shame of hope deceived) because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:5-6 

I think it depends on what and who you are hoping for and in. Because, real hope, the hope that is hardwired into us, is hope in God. Hope that He is always doing something, even when we can’t see it. That is where hope and faith in what we do not see are intertwined. After Habakkuk complains to God in the above verse that God is not listening, not helping, not saving, how does God answer? 

The LORD replied, “Look around at the nations; look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it. Habakkuk 1:5 (NLT) 

… Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” John 5:17 

So, in the end, the pain of “how long” can be endured through His grace and love if I remember that God has not forgotten me and will not put me to shame. He will not repulse me or deceive me. His promises are faithful and true. He is doing something amazing right now that I cannot see, but will see someday. 

I would have despaired had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Psalm 27:13 (Amplified Bible) 

My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 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 42:10-11 

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 

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Luke 12:6-7 

Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. Zechariah 9:12 

1Alexander McConnell, William Revell Moody, Arthur Percy Fitt, Record of Christian Work, Volume 39, 1920 

Image in the Public Domain, Dead Sparrow by Marc Franz, 1905 

How Long?

“Hope itself despairs and despair nevertheless begins to hope.” 

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Psalm 13:1-2 

I can so relate to David’s wrestling right now. It does feel like God has forgotten or turned His Face away from me at times. Yet, this quote by Martin Luther from a commentary on Psalm 13 arrested me.

“Hope itself despairs and despair nevertheless begins to hope.” 

“There are times when in our despair we cry, ‘God hath forgotten me.’ yet somehow the conviction rises, ‘No, I am not forgotten forever.’ The soul is in that condition which Luther knew so well. — hope itself despairs, and despair nevertheless begins to hope. In our dejection we think there is no hope, yet we feel in our souls that God cannot forget, and so we begin to question Him, ‘How long shall it seem as though Thou forgettest us forever?’” — McConnell, Moody, and Fitt (emphasis mine)1 

“Hope itself despairs and despair nevertheless begins to hope.” 

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 

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid [don’t be alarmed, don’t run away, don’t fear or be in awe of, and therefore reverence your enemy] … Luke 12:6-7 

Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. Zechariah 9:12 

1Alexander McConnell, William Revell Moody, Arthur Percy Fitt, Record of Christian Work, Volume 39, 1920 

Photo by Derek 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

Grab on

He sees me down here in the muck. He will not abandon or forget me. He is encouraging me to grab on to the hope.

I led [drew] them with cords of human kindness, with ties [ropes] of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. Hosea 11:4 (NIV) 

The past week or so I have awakened with a picture in my mind of a rope or cord hanging down in front of me. I started to pay attention to it after the third or fourth time. You know from my last couple of blogs, that I am going through a rough place. So, I thought maybe God was saying something to me. 

As I meditated on it, I was reminded of the rope lowered to pull Jeremiah up out of the muck at the bottom of the empty cistern where he was being held prisoner (see Jeremiah 38). Trapped, helpless, rejected and left to die, though he had obeyed everything God had commanded him. Alone in the darkness and the muck, a rope was lowered. He reached out and grabbed it. 

And then as I thought more about it, I remembered Rahab tying the scarlet cord in her window (Joshua 2). It hung there as a hope before her face when she looked out the window and as a sign of that hope to those without. With fear turning her home into a dark inevitability, with this huge destroying army approaching, the cord may have seemed like a fragile hope. Yet, she clung to that hope. 

I am there with both of them.  

Jeremiah’s rope and Rahab’s cord are two different words in the Hebrew – both hiding wonderful treasure.  

Jeremiah’s rope is the Hebrew word chebel (חֵבֶל). Besides meaning a rope or cord made of strands twisted together, it means a measuring line, an inheritance (as measured), and a company (as if tied together). 

It also means the pains of childbirth. I can relate to all these meanings. But maybe especially the childbirth one. Do you ever feel like the whole of life is a birthing? A painful birthing of hope, of faith, of this “company” we are a part of? Am I – are we – being made part of this rope twisted together that can be lowered down to others in the darkness and the muck? 

And she [Rahab] tied the scarlet cord in the window. Joshua 2:21 

Rahab’s scarlet cord is the Hebrew word tiqvah (תִּקְוָה).i It amazingly means expectation, hope, “a thing that I long for.” When Rahab tied the cord in the window it was in hope that she and her family would not be destroyed.  

One of the meanings listedii is “things hoped for,” as in Romans 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” 

The scarlet cord in the window is a picture of the blood of the Passover Lamb on the doorposts, a foreshadowing of the blood that would be shed for us on the cross. The hope, the assurance we have if we grab on. 

Jeremiah and Rahab both grabbed on. They both clung fast. I think God is saying to me to grab on to that rope and let Him draw me up and out. He sees me down here in the muck. He will not abandon or forget me. He is encouraging me to grab on to the hope. As in the beautiful image in the verse above in Hosea, He is drawing me with human kindness. Jesus became human and suffered so He can empathize and help. 

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. Hebrews 2:18 (NLT) 

God wants to draw me up with cords of love. He wants me to let Him lift me up and press His cheek to mine. 

He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. Psalm 40:2 (ESV) 

I will exalt you, LORD, for you lifted me (drew me up) out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, LORD, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit. Psalm 30:1-3 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 

iRead more about tiqvah here Knots in the Cord  

iiSee Bible Hub entry for Strong’s Hebrew #8615 https://biblehub.com/hebrew/8615.htm

Image, Rope by Helder Mira https://flic.kr/p/8owJBe

Shake Us Forward

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said … “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? Job 38:1, 12-13 

From the place where morning gathers 
You can look sometimes forever ’til you see 
What time may never know 
What time may never know 
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world 
And shakes us forward and shakes us free 
To run wild with the hope 
To run wild with the hope 

–from Calling Out Your Name by Rich Mullins 

Lord, shake us forward, out of our caves and entrenchments. Shake us down from our high places and babbling towers. Shake us free from our resistance and resentments, our pain and regrets. Shake us out into the wild wind of your love and promise and hope. 

Image, BREAKING NEWS – EARTHQUAKE! by Michael https://flic.kr/p/8cP1vw  

Always

Continually, continual, daily, regularly, constantly, always …

Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Psalm 71: 3 

From my birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you. Psalm 71:6 

But as for me, I shall always have hope; I will praise you more and more. Psalm 71:14 

The Hebrew word tamiyd is used three times in Psalm 71. In the above verses, the word translated “always” and “ever” is tamiyd. It means continually or continuously, constantly, perpetually, evermore. I can continually go to God, praise God, and have hope in God. Yes! And you know why? Because of the other meaning of tamiyd.  

According to the Encyclopaedia Judaic, “Tamid is an abbreviated form for olat tamid (daily burnt-offering), and refers to the daily (morning and evening) sacrifices as set out in Exodus 29:38-42 and Numbers 28:1-8.” i

Tamiyd (or tamid) is the regular, daily sacrifice, the fire of which was never to go out (Leviticus 6:12-13) until the Lamb of God, Jesus, the final sacrifice for sin would come (Hebrews 9:15-27).   

But he [Jesus] has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Hebrews 9:26b 

The word also refers to the Bread of the Presence, the shewbread or showbread, which was placed weekly on the golden table in the Tabernacle.  

“The word [tamiyd] is used alone to designate the daily burnt offering in Dan 8:11-13; Dan 11:31; Dan 12:11. Num 4:7 refers to the ‘bread of continuity’ meaning the bread that was always there.” — Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.ii  (emphasis added) 

The Bread that is always there. Jesus, always right there with us. As close as our breath and the beating of our hearts. Hallelujah! 

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” John 6:35 

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20 

Continually, continual, daily, regularly, constantly, always, at all times, all day and all night, constant, perpetual, endless, forever, ever, evermore.iii 

Because of the Lamb of God who was the final sacrifice for sin, the Lamb slain before the beginning of the world, whose passionate, fiery love for us never goes out, I can always go into the Presence of God. 

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. Ephesians 3:12 

Because of the Bread of Life who is always there with us, I can ever praise him 

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. Hebrews 13:15 

Because of Jesus who daily bears our burdens and ever lives to make intercession for us, I can always have hope 

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  Hebrews 10:23 

My Rock of refuge to whom I can always go, may your fire never go out in me. 

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 

Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually (tamiyd). 1 Chronicles 16:11 

i Encyclopaedia Judaic, Jerusalem, 1971 Keter Publ. House Ltd. 

ii Hebrew word studies in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vols. 1- 2, edited by Laird Harris, Gleason Archer and Bruce Waltke, Chicago: Moody Press, 1981. 

iii Some of the ways that tamiyd is translated in NetBible. 

Mercy

This week, through the blogs and devotionals that I follow, came a clear message from God of mercy and hope.i Keep praying! 

“… Jesus declared: “The fields are ripe for harvest. And there is still time for laborers to go forth.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Holy Spirit has fled the scene, leaving behind a withered harvest. God’s Spirit is still at work, convicting, wooing and drawing the lost to Christ, including those in apostasy.” — David Wilkerson (1931-2011) 

The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him. Daniel 9:9 

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach 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 … Isaiah 61:1 

“Every ransomed man owes his salvation to the fact that during the days of his sinning God kept the door of mercy open by refusing to accept any of his evil acts as final.” — A.W. Tozer 

i (Special thanks to Beholding Him Ministries! https://beholdinghimministries.org/

Photo by Jack Bair

Yet God

I am reblogging this post from a while ago. Still true. Always my heart.

Image, Baby’s hand, by Fruity Monkey on flickr https://flic.kr/p/99tqDR

Wrestling Word

“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” (Psalm 73:23 NIV)

“Yet” is my favorite word in the Bible. That may seem weird, but what comes after “yet” in many verses so often is a startling declaration of the faithfulness of God, of faith, hope, or of steely resolve to persevere. Many times, these are some of the most beautiful and inspiring verses in the Bible.

What comes before David’s declaration above in Psalm 73 is his expression of frustration and anger at the seeming injustice of God, saying at one point, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.” (Psalm 73:13-14). His doubt and bitterness increase to the point of acting “senseless and ignorant” like a “brute beast” before God.

Yet!…

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Rock of Joy

Lately, my heart has been heavy, so heavy, with grief and pain for a lot of reasons – personal to global. Having a real struggle with that joy thing. Crying a lot, crying out to God. Then, all in one morning, the following blogs and daily devotionals show up in my email. A gift of grace and mercy. Emmanuel.  

Perhaps you are burdened with some sort of heavy grief. It could be over someone dear to you who is suffering, in trouble, or hurting. It could be a son or daughter who is backslidden, slowly sinking into the death of sin. Or it could be a loved one facing a severe, looming financial crisis. I say to all: Jesus Christ is moved by your grief. — David Wilkerson https://worldchallenge.org/devotion/burdened-heavy-grief?ref=devos  

The Oxford Dictionary defines anxiety as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Psychiatry defines anxiety as “a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.” Anxiety is common to humanity; it lives on a spectrum and we know it when we feel it. But what is it, really? Here’s my take: anxiety is the felt experience of being unaware of the presence of God …  “Do not be anxious about anything.” Translation: be aware of the presence of God in all things all the time. — J.D. Walt 

Are you telling me that when I sing “Joy to the Word, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King” that I am proclaiming Jesus as King and Ruler of MY life? That “Let every heart prepare Him room” actually means room in MY heart? Are you wanting me to believe that every heart that dies to self is a heart that will sing? — blogged by Beholding Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2020/12/18/i-adore-selah/ 

To magnify God is to look closely at him and take careful notice of his actions and attributes. Mary, the mother of Jesus, did exactly that. We read an example in the account of her visit to Cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56) … For ten verses (Luke 1:46-55), Mary magnifies the Lord, examining the reason for her joy (vs. 46-49) and looking closely at God’s attributes and actions (50-55). Never mind her relative poverty, the misunderstanding and derision of others, or the uncertainty of the future. Mary focused on God who was working a miracle within her. — Nancy Ruegg https://nancyaruegg.com/2020/12/17/marys-joy-our-joy/  

How do I choose life? I am becoming aware that there are few moments without the opportunity to choose, since death and life are always before me. One aspect of choosing life is choosing joy. Joy is life-giving but sadness brings death. A sad heart is a heart in which something is dying. A joyful heart is a heart in which something new is being born. — Henry J.M. Nouwen 

In Psalm 30:5, the psalmist says joy is found on the other side of suffering — weeping lasts the night, ‘but joy comes with the morning’ … it is just as true that my night of weeping would give way, in due time, to a tearless joy. That’s what I think the psalmist means when he says that joy follows sorrow. There are waves of sorrow and pain and loss that break, big waves that break, over the unshakable rock of Christian joy, and these waves submerge the laughter in the surging. You can feel it: the surging surf of weeping that wells up unbidden from your heart. But they don’t dislodge the rock, and the waves recede in due time, and the rock glistens again in tearless sunlight … The rock of joy is submerged in grief, but it is not dislodged, overthrown, or removed. — John Piper https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/does-joy-come-after-suffering-or-in-it  

Image, Rocks and Surf in Iceland by Timbu https://flic.kr/p/SwwxzG

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