It Takes Time to Grow

“My times are in your hands.”

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 13:2 

Sometimes it feels like it takes forever to heal, to change, to mature, to overcome. Sometimes I feel like I will never grow up out of my trauma. I struggle with the same dark thoughts, negative self-talk, unbelief for years. I cry out with David, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” The following verses and quotes have encouraged me in the past weeks. If you are struggling and feel like it is taking way too long, may they bless you too. 

Believe Him in the darkest hours. See His faithfulness emerge rock solid. Now we see His truer essence. Now we know faith in our Savior – from faith to faith. Joy! Things take the time they take. ~G.W. https://collinsgw.wordpress.com/2022/03/21/mystifying-dismay/  

“God still speaks today through dreams, visions, prophecies and we can make the mistake of thinking they are “now” words for this present time or the immediate future. We have to learn to submit the timing to God. The fulfilment may actually be for years in the future. We need to practice patience while we wait … It takes time to grow.” — Eagle Sight https://eaglesight.blog/2022/04/08/joseph-hero-of-the-faith-4/  

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4  

The real mystery of grace is that it always arrives in time. — Ann Voskamp 

But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand … Psalm 31:14 

“God has absolute control over time and what David realized when he uttered those words [My times are in your hand] is this: that God has absolute control over the times in our lives. He’s never late. He’s never premature. He has a time for every situation, every circumstance. If we will just commit our lives totally into His hands, we’ll find that our times are in His hands. What a relief from pressure, from strain, to know that God has control over the time element in our lives. Our times are in God’s hands.” — Derek Prince 

I have to keep reminding myself that God’s timing is always right and healthy for me, as I keep trusting and walking with Him. Some seeds take a very long time to sprout and grow. And some have to struggle up through a lot of rubble. Sometimes they seem dead, but life is coming – I have to wait for it. In the mean time …  

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73.26 

Wait for the Lord; 
Be strong and let your heart take courage; 
Yes, wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

Image, free download from Pixabay

The Soul in Paraphrase

I love this poem by George Herbert, 17th century poet and clergyman. There are so many wonderful analogies in it. Prayer as a plummet sounding the depths of God’s love, a siege engine against the Almighty like the widow “crying out to God day and night” (Luke 18:6).

Prayer (I) by George Herbert (1593-1633) 

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,  
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,  
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,  
The Christian plummet1 sounding heav’n and earth  
Engine2 against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,  
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,  
The six-days world transposing in an hour,  
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;  
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,  
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,  
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,  
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,  
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,  
The land of spices; something understood. 

1 A piece of lead attached to a line, used in sounding the depth of water, a plumb bob or a plumb line. — Wiktionary 

2 “’Engine against th’ Almighty–’ writing in the early 17th century, Herbert wasn’t talking about a diesel engine, or even a steam engine. The engine in this line is a siege engine. Prayer is laying siege to God.” — Daniel Stanley https://cultusandculture.com/2016/07/28/engine-against-th-almighty/  

Image by Sheila Bair

When You Pass Through the Waters

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

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2 (ESV) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will strengthen you and help you … 

I will be with you. 

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

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

The Dirty Work

(As part of the “sandwich generation” I have been called recently to a lot of caregiving. While I love deeply those I am called to serve, I am not always very willing and cheerful about it. That is why I am eternally grateful to my fellow bloggers this week for faithfulness to share their encouraging words.) 

“When you love someone you will do anything they ask; such is the case in relationships amongst young couples and even in old couples where the flame of love still burns strong. I have no problem admitting I love my wife and would do anything for her, to help her or make her happy. But sometimes our loved ones or those we respect will ask us for something which is difficult, something we would prefer not to do. Sometimes that loved one asking something of us that is difficult is God our Father.” — (blogged by Alan Kearns, Devotional Treasures https://devotionaltreasure.wordpress.com/2022/01/22/when-obedience-is-hard/

“You know, being a caregiver of any sort can be exhausting.  Being a mom…a homemaker…the one responsible for the needs of whomever is under our care…has its many moments of humbling work. Special needs or other health issues certainly add to the mix a new level of care. And a new level of seemingly lowly service … Even as Christ followers, we envision that the far-away mission field is more glorious and honoring than the dirty work we often do within the walls of our own home.” — (blogged by Patty hesaidwhatks https://hesaidwhatks.blog/2022/01/21/glamorless-glory/#like-6593

(Ah, yes, the dirty work!) 

“When Mary was not nursing her son, she placed Him in an unused feeding trough (of wood or stone) right next to her…But a feeding trough! Let us never be surprised at the humility of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks (Question 27) Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist? Its answer begins: ‘Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition…’ Its scriptural proof text for that ‘low condition’ is Luke 2:7. In a feeding trough, needing a mother’s breast and a change of diaper. How very incarnate the incarnation is! And yet what encouragement is here. For if Christ stoops so low, to such a ‘common’ level, does this not sanctify all that seems common and ordinary and unimpressive in the lives of His people? To be quaint and go back a few years–the weaver laboring at his loom, the farmer putting up hay, the mother cleaning her oven, or the teacher tutoring her ‘slower’ student in reading, the accountant preparing tax returns, the pastor reading in his study, the doctor diagnosing a perplexed patient. Jesus’ feeding trough suffuses all the glamorlessness of our callings with a touch of His humble glory.” (Dale Ralph Davis, “Luke 1-13: The Year of the Lord’s Favor”, pp. 46-47, blogged by Patty hesaidwhatks, same as above) 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 — (blogged by Beholding Him Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2022/01/21/hope-for-today-faith-produces-perseverance/

(I love this one by Tozer!) 

The cross is rough, and it is deadly, but it is effective. It does not keep its victim hanging there forever. There comes a moment when its work is finished and the suffering victim dies. After that is resurrection glory and power, and the pain is forgotten for joy that the veil is taken away and we have entered in actual spiritual experience the Presence of the living God.” — A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (blogged by beingcreatedinhisimage https://deepcallstpdeep.wordpress.com/2022/01/21/removing-the-veil/

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (blogged by Beholding Him Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2022/01/22/leaning-on-the-everlasting-arms-2/

(Thank you Lord for your grace, your grace, your amazing grace!) 

Image copyright by Derek Bair

Even If

You cannot say 

“but” or “except” 

to God’s Word 

for you will be sitting down 

at the dusty, choking side  

or veering off  

on the rocky, deadly way 

You can only say 

“yet” and keep going 

but not alone 

You can only say 

“even though” 

but hand in hand 

You can only say 

“even if” 

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NLT) 

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. Daniel 3:17-18 

… sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:10 

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. Psalm 73:23 

Image by Sheila Bair

The Fellowship of the Unashamed

The guest pastor at our church this past Sunday had us all repeat the following amazing commitment to Christ. It is the text of a note found on the desk of a young pastor in Zimbabwe, Africa, after he was martyred for his faith. You may have read this before. It was quoted in a book by Brennan Manning called The Signature of Jesus. Manning wrote, “Perhaps the only honest measure of authentic faith is my readiness for martyrdom. Not only my willingness to die for Jesus Christ and the sake of the gospel, but to live for him one day at a time.”   

I think that last part may be the hardest. That daily thing. But I think that there is encouragement and hope to be found in those who have gone before. This message from the young martyr is so inspiring and challenging and wonderful that I wanted to share it with you. I know that there are at least one or two sentences in this declaration that will touch each of your hearts. Mine was “I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, rewarded.” Praise God! 

I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made– I’m a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.  My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals. 

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, rewarded. I now live by faith, lean in His presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and I labor with power. 

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions are few, my Guide reliable, my mission is clear.  I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. 

I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. 

I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ.  I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me… my banner will be clear! 

My Eyes Are Fixed

This past month my father and I endured COVID.

But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign LORD; in you I take refuge … Psalm 141:8 

This past month my father and I endured COVID. I have spent hours in the emergency room, in isolation, away from loved ones, and then away from home caring for my parents. I have had many sleepless nights, constant stress and worry, and even lack of food. I have whined and crabbed to God and cried a lot. I have found out how weak I am, and how much I need His strength for anything – especially to love and to serve. But praise to our loving caring God for his patience and care! And a big thanks to my fellow bloggers for your faithfulness to write what the Lord gives to you. 

“Look at Jesus and only Jesus. The waves and winds are there but don’t look around. Look to Jesus. When I look around me, I will sink because fear consumes me. But when I look to Jesus, I have peace. I have salvation! When Jesus taught me this, right that moment, I felt complete peace. I felt fear drawing away. Instead, fear was replaced with peace and confidence in Jesus.” — Deborah Agustin, Stop Looking Around https://lifehub.home.blog/2021/06/22/stop-looking-around/  

“‘So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what we see is eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4:18). When we begin to look at the unseen, we perceive the reality that there are no delays in God’s operations. In fact, we get to realize that in the spiritual realm, everything is accelerated, compared to the physical realm. That is why Christians find it difficult living in the present world because we have already beheld the end in the spiritual realm. Our supernatural view then clashes with the natural, which is painstakingly slower and disturbingly different from the spiritual.” — Mulyale Mutisya, Appearances of Delay https://carolynemutisya7.wordpress.com/2021/06/21/appearances-of-delay/  

By faith [Moses] forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.  Hebrews 11:27 NKJV 

“In this one short verse we discover the essence of endurance: seeing Him who is invisible. How do we see that which is invisible? What faculty enables you and me to see it? The answer is faith. Faith is related to the unseen. Faith is a sure conviction concerning things not seen (see Hebrews 11:1). If you and I are going to hold out, the unseen world will have to be more real to us than the seen.” — Derek Prince, Endurance Through Focus 

“If you’re not already walking through a trial, you will soon. As you do, resist the temptation to hide your flaws or your sin. Fight the desire to pretend everything is okay. You’re surrounded by other broken people (like me!) who long to help you. And each one of us is strengthened not by our own gumption but by the gentle hand of a Mighty God. 

 It is good news that should cause us to proclaim with David: “I love you oh Lord, my strength” (Ps. 18:1).” — Hannah, For When You Feel Broken https://agratefullifelived.wordpress.com/2021/06/10/for-when-you-feel-broken/  

And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. Hebrews 12:1-2 

Image in the Public Domain

Those Who Knew Him

There was only one thing that could have kept them standing there with him that terrible day.

When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. Luke 23:48-49 

There were two groups of people that day witnessing the death of Jesus on the cross. The Greek word translated “sight” above is theoria, which means spectacle or something to be viewed. It comes from theoreo – to be a spectator. So, there were the spectators. We are very familiar with being a spectator to tragedies these days. We do what they did, mostly, “beat our breasts” at how horrible it is – then walk away and go on with life. 

But those who knew him …  

Then there were the ones who knew him. The word “knew” here does not mean just to know about Jesus, but it means to be well known. They knew him well. They were the ones who had followed him from the beginning. The word comes from a Greek word that is even used for married intimacy. These were the ones who had sat around the campfire with him and told jokes, seen the sparkle in his eyes, heard him call their name, been electrified at the probing questions, felt his touch as he washed their feet. 

But those who knew him … stood. 

At a distance, helpless, in despair, not knowing what was happening. But they stood with him to the end. The women followed his lifeless body to the very end, to the tomb. 

The word translated “stood” is histemi in the Greek. It means “to cause or make to stand … in the presence of others, in the midst, before judges, before members of the Sanhedrin … to make firm, fix establish, to cause a person or a thing to keep his place … [I love this one!] to be kept intact (of family, of a kingdom) … to stand by or near, to stop, stand still, to stand immovable.” 

Soon they would receive the power from on high to go on. But just then, when things were darkest, all they could do, all there was to do, was stand. 

Their leader was being executed. They themselves, therefore, were on a very dangerous blacklist. The fear and the doubt must have been oppressive. There was only one thing that could have kept them standing there with him that terrible day. They knew him – it all comes down to knowing him. 

I can deeply empathize with them. All those wonderful words and promises nailed to a cross and spit upon and dead. All the expectations and dreams bled out, the last breath gasped. Joy suffocated. Hope buried in a tomb. Sometimes the days are very dark. 

Yet (!) I too have heard his voice calling my name. I, too, have looked into his eyes, and felt his touch and the breathtaking power of his unfailing love. I know whom I have believed, and I know that – even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it – he has given me power, not my own, to stand and to endure to the end. 

Family of God, you who are of His Kingdom – you who know him – when you feel lost in the darkness, when fear and doubt overwhelm, when you are tempted to walk away – he will keep you intact, he will cause you to stand, make you firm, fixed, immovable. Fix your eyes and heart on him. Strive to know him and follow him deeper each day. Cling to him. And when there is nothing else you can do, stand. 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:13 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1-2 

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11 

Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. 2 Timothy 1:12 

For those who don’t yet know Him, come!   Salvation

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

Forgetting What is Behind

“Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.”

I have been struggling mightily with guilt and regret over past sins and their consequences that cannot be undone. And I have asked God to forgive me again a thousand more times, but still there is the torture. The past week or so especially I have cried out to Him. And then today this happened in my inbox. Blessed, blessed assurance (thank you so much all you wonderful, faithful bloggers!). Please, if you have been struggling too, may this minister to you.  

‘Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead’ ~ Philippians 3:13 

Paul stated this after a discourse of putting ‘no confidence in the flesh’ (Philippians 3:3). Paul came to the realization that perfection is not a thing to be obtained, but a thing we set our eyes to. Jesus says, ‘the Spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak’ (Matthew 26:41). Paul realizing that he has not yet taken hold of perfection while in the flesh continues to say; ‘I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:14). Only in forgetting what is behind, can one press on towards perfection. King Solomon admonishes, ‘Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you’ (Proverbs 4:25). Because by forgetting what is behind and looking on ahead, we see perfection. We see the Perfect One.  — blogged by Mulyale Mutisya, https://carolynemutisya7.wordpress.com/2021/01/01/forgetting-what-is-behind/  

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert (Isaiah 43:19).”  –blogged by Beholding Him Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2021/01/01/blessed-new-year/  

So what are we to do? First, we must send the foxes back to where they belong: in their foxholes. And then we must open our minds and our hearts to the voice that resounds through the valleys and hills of our life saying: “Let me show you where I live among my people. My name is ‘God-with-you.’ I will wipe all the tears from your eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone” (Revelation 21:2–5). — Henri J. M. Nouwen 

 
“The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you! He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid–do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8 
 
As we launch out into another year, there is little visible prospect of a smooth and pleasant voyage. To the natural eye, the clouds are dark and fierce storms seem imminent. The very uncertainty of what the morrow may bring forth, fills many with uneasiness and trepidation. 
 
But how different should be the state of God’s children! An all-sufficient Object is presented to the eyes of their faith, from which unbelief derives no comfort. The poor worldling is concerned with what lies before him–but it is the blessed privilege of the believer to be occupied with Who goes before him–the One who is his Captain, his Guide, his Forerunner. “The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you!” What a difference that makes! O that writer and reader may be enabled to lay hold of this grand Truth as we enter another period of time, and keep it steadily in mind throughout the coming days!    
 
“Do not be afraid–for I have ransomed you. 
I have called you by name–you are Mine! 
When you go through deep waters–I will be with you. 
When you go through rivers of difficulty–you will not drown. 
When you walk through the fire of oppression–you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. 
For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!” Isaiah 43:1-3  

– Arthur Pink, “New Year’s Comfort” 1943, blogged by Steve Rebus https://steverebus.com/2021/01/01/as-we-launch-out-into-another-year/  

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)  blogged by Beholding Him Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2020/12/31/hope-for-today-gods-plans/  

You shall not go out with haste,…for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.  Isaiah 52:12 

Security from Yesterday. “…God requires an account of what is past” (Ecclesiastes 3:15). At the end of the year we turn with eagerness to all that God has for the future, and yet anxiety is apt to arise when we remember our yesterdays. Our present enjoyment of God’s grace tends to be lessened by the memory of yesterday’s sins and blunders. But God is the God of our yesterdays, and He allows the memory of them to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual growth for our future. God reminds us of the past to protect us from a very shallow security in the present. 

Security for Tomorrow. “…the Lord will go before you….” This is a gracious revelation— that God will send His forces out where we have failed to do so. He will keep watch so that we will not be tripped up again by the same failures, as would undoubtedly happen if He were not our “rear guard.” And God’s hand reaches back to the past, settling all the claims against our conscience

Security for Today. “You shall not go out with haste….” As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, forgetful delight, nor with the quickness of impulsive thoughtlessness. But let us go out with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays hold broken and irreversible things for us. It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ. 

Leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him. — Oswald Chambers, from My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition 

The uphill climb that is still ahead is not daunting, because I know that the darkness cannot maintain its grip on children of the Light (1 Thess. 5:5) … So press on, yes, but not into oblivion. Press on in faith because those who trust in Christ have a greater hope than this world has to offer. His name is Jesus, and He came to set you and I free.  — blogged by A Grateful Life Lived  https://agratefullifelived.wordpress.com/2020/12/31/hardest-year-of-my-life/#like-2787  

Photograph by Jack Bair

Wineskin in the Smoke

Like David, I must choose hope.

Kaph 

 My soul faints with longing for your salvation, 

    but I have put my hope in your word. 

My eyes fail, looking for your promise; 

    I say, “When will you comfort me?” 

Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, 

    I do not forget your decrees. 

How long must your servant wait? 

    Psalm 119:81-84a 

For years I have been reading that phrase “though I am like a wineskin in the smoke” and wondering what it means. It has been an enigma to me. But now I am starting to get an idea. Maybe, sometimes you have to be there in the dark smoke to finally understand.  

Each of the sections of Psalm 119 start with one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This section starts with kaph. 

“Jewish writers state that kaph means ‘bent.’ It has a dual symbolism, standing for the palm of the hand serving as a container and, at the same time, as a measure for what it holds. Ibn Ezra states that kaph means ‘result through mental and physical effort.’ While yod stands for the hand indicating power and possession, kaph denotes productivity and accomplishment.” — Mick Mills, David Michael, Messiah and his Hebrew Alphabet. [emphasis mine] 

David used kaph as a word in Psalm 139:5: You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand (kaph) upon me. “You have laid your kaph on me” – You are doing, producing, accomplishing something in me! 

The first word of this section of Psalm 119, kalah, starts with the letter kaph. Kalah means to be spent, be used up, to waste away, be exhausted, fail. My soul faints. My eyes fail. But it also means to come or bring to an end, to complete, finish, to accomplish, fulfill, bring to pass. On our side we are exhausted, spent, we have failed and are failing. On God’s side, he is bringing us to the end of our own strength, he is finishing, accomplishing, fulfilling his purpose and promise in us, bringing his Word to pass. 

What does that have to do with wineskins in the smoke? 

There are two things that I have found. Nomadic peoples would hang their skin-bottles in their tents which were full of smoke and they would become, over time, black and dried out, shriveled, and useless. Many commentators conclude that David is lamenting that he feels like such a skin in the hot, blinding smoke – suffering, helpless, waiting. (See, for instance, Spurgeon in The Treasury of David https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=spur&b=19&c=119&v=45

But there is another beautiful meaning here. Hanging skin-bottles over a fire, or in a smoky place, was an ancient method of refining the wine inside of them.i 

  “A bottle in the smoke. One object amongst the ancients of such exposure was to mellow the wine by the gradual ascent of the heat and smoke from the fire over which the skin was suspended; and thus the words teach us the uses of affliction in ripening and improving the soul.” — Ernst Friedrich Karl Rosenmüller, quoted in John Mason Neale, Richard Frederick Littledale, A Commentary on the Psalms 

“And in that custom the psalmist finds an illustration of the meaning, and of the mercy, of the afflictions to which he has been exposed. They have been sent to act on him like the warm smoke on the wine – to refine, mellow, and ripen his character; and because, under them all, he has refused to part with his faith in God and duty; because he has been true to God and God’s statutes, they have had their intended and proper effect upon him.” — Rev. Robert Tuckii  

How long must your servant wait?  

Yes, it’s the waiting that makes it so hard. I’m not good at waiting even for good things, let alone waiting in the suffocating smoke of misery, not knowing what is going to happen, how long it will last, helpless, not able to change or affect anything. Like David, I must choose hope. 

“To wait with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is choosing to hope that something is happening for us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God molds us in love, holds us in tenderness, and moves us away from the sources of our fear.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen, Radical Waiting 

“What seems to be in mind is a long waiting-time, which was also a time of suffering and strain. The watching for God was prolonged; no response seemed to come; much had to be borne while he was waiting; he seemed to get dry, shriveled, and blackened, like the wine-skin in the chimney that had waited so long (and seemed to get tired of waiting, even as he did) for the moisture and refreshing of being used, and filled again with wine. But the question of supreme importance was this – What was he doing during this hard waiting-time?” – Rev. Robert Tuckiii  

What was David doing in the waiting? I have put my hope in your word … looking for your promise … I do not forget your decrees. He believed, because he knew God, he knew that all the time he was hanging there in the dark, hot, choking smoke – God was working, God was accomplishing his purpose, God was fulfilling his promise.

Lord help me do that too. When I’m hanging there, when despair and hopelessness swirl around me like the strangling, blinding smoke – give me that grace. 

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working 
Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working 
You never stop, You never stop working 
You never stop, You never stop working 

— from Way Maker by Osinachi Kalu Okoro Egbu 

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

Photo, free download from Pixabay 

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