When God Stretches Us

Now the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, those who depend on His faithful love. Psalm 33:18

I’ve been thinking about the growth process of a Christian.  Growth seldom feels good.  Like growing pains in our childhood, it can be a painful experience.  It doesn’t seem to get any easier with experience, either.  In fact, it seems to be even more difficult, at least for me, because as we age, we develop mindsets that we believe are scriptural, yet which are actually based on church, denomination and family traditions and accepted beliefs rather than on the Word of God.  It has led me to question a few things about what the Lord uses to grow us, especially if we welcome His work in our lives and pray for His will to be done in us.

So…when I pray and ask the Lord to help me walk by faith and not by sight, am I asking for more trouble in my life?  More trials?  Is this an open invitation for Him to give me opportunities where I can only walk by faith because absolutely nothing I see with my eyes makes any sense?

When I ask Him to make me more like Yeshua (Jesus), am I asking Him to bring difficult, hard to love people into my life, because He loves difficult, hard to love people?

When I ask Him to give me His heart of compassion, am I asking Him to open my eyes to the pain and difficulties in the lives of those around me, even though it hurts so much to see people suffering, because He has compassion on them and wants to minister to them through me?

When we pray for His kingdom to come, and His will to be done, is this what we’re signing up for?

Yes, I think so.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18

It has been a rough week. I have felt like I’ve been standing near the shore in shallow water, while wave after wave after wave has knocked me down. I get back up only to be knocked down again. Over and over. A car repair, an air conditioning repair, another car repair, another air conditioning repair, a contractor issue, a personality clash, added pressure at work, family and friends experiencing illness and life threatening issues, another car repair, a relationship strain…

Lately, I have not been walking by faith or by sight. I haven’t been walking at all! I sat down in the mud and had a pity party. I barely prayed, other than to ask the Lord to FIX THINGS, AND FIX THEM QUICKLY!

Yeah, kind of like a toddler’s tantrum. I am not proud of that at all. I wouldn’t even tell you about it except that I know I’m not the only one out there experiencing these things.

Beloved, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12

That’s not my normal way of handling things. If I’m having one of “those” times, it usually doesn’t last more than a day, two days tops. This one lasted an entire week. I didn’t even have communion with the Lord, which I try to do a few days a week, because I knew I would have to confess my bad attitude and repent. Sigh.

Today I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. The unleavened bread had sat on my table for days, and seemed to taunt me. In reality, it was beckoning me.

Come, be made clean again.

Come, renew your mind.

Come, lay that burden down.

Come, walk in peace again.

Come, be restored.

This time, I couldn’t resist, and I felt the heavy burdens roll off of my shoulders as I spent time with the Lord, confessing, repenting, and being forgiven and loved on. I felt hopeful again, for the first time in days.

How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord, his God. Psalm 146:5

Beloved, if you are going through this now, don’t stay there like I did. It’s just not worth it. Bring it all to the Lord and tell Him how you feel. Let Him pick you up, clean you up, and set you back where you belong.

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps firm. Psalm 40:2

I can only guess what the Lord is going to teach me through this, but one thing I know, He is faithful, and when all is said and done, I will look back on this time and be thankful for it. That is always His way.

Father, please forgive us for wanting the fruit without the pruning. Please help us to see things through Your eyes, with Your perspective. Help us not to lose hope, but to continue to walk with You in peace and unity. In the name of Your son, Yeshua, I ask these things. Amen.

 

Perception vs. Reality

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Psalm 32:8

Did you ever see the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?  In one scene, Indiana Jones must cross from one side of a large cavern to another.  There is a steep drop, blackness so dark that you can’t see the bottom.  He refers to the quest as the Path of God.  It seems an impossible task, and requires a step of faith.  His faith is rewarded as he lands on a solid, yet invisible (from his perspective) bridge, which enables him to walk across easily.  When he reaches the other side, he tosses dirt on the bridge so that he can easily find his way back.  As the camera angle changes, however, you can see that the bridge was there all along, clearly visible from another point of view.

Indiana Jones would never have known the bridge was there if he hadn’t stepped out.  It certainly didn’t make sense.  Based on what his eyes could see, it was foolish.

Isn’t that the way life seems sometimes?  Haven’t you felt like Indiana Jones, knowing that to move forward, you have to take a step into the unknown?  You wish for just a little dirt on the path so you can see where to go.  You want to grasp someone’s hand to walk along side you, but deep in your heart, you know that this is something you have to do yourself.

The process of reaching that point can be difficult.  It’s easy to give in to fear and refuse to move forward.  Staying where you are is comfortable, for a season, but then, like a treasured piece of clothing from your younger days, it just doesn’t fit anymore.  You have to move forward, like it or not, and take the leap of faith.  You land, get your bearings, and it’s at that point that your faith truly becomes your own.  You realize that though you can’t see Him, the Lord has been leading you all along, just as He promised.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand. Psalm 37:23-24

That movie scene reminds me of a dream I had awhile back.  In one part of the dream, I opened what appeared to be a closet door.  Inside was blackness, so dark that I couldn’t see anything except for a couple of feet of a rope bridge suspended over nothingness that led into the darkness.  All of a sudden, one of my dogs walked onto the bridge, expecting me to follow.  I quickly called him back and closed the door.  I have wondered about that dream many times, and I believe it is very much like the Indiana Jones scene.  In my dream, at least I could see the bridge, but I couldn’t see where it led and wanted no part of finding out, even with my trusted companion.

I believe I finally understand the meaning.

I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes and trusts in Me [as Savior—all those who anchor their hope in Me and rely on the truth of My message] will not continue to live in darkness. John 12:46

Jesus is the Light of the world. After His death, burial and resurrection, He ascended to heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father. If He is seated in heaven, how is He then a Light here on earth?  He is a Light through us who believe in Him and have surrendered our lives to Him.

I have lived, for the most part, a pretty safe, comfortable life.  I don’t do things to get myself in trouble, try to be kind and encouraging to others, and try to please the Lord, who loves me and gave Himself for me.  Those are all good things, right?  But am I not also called to be a light in the darkness?

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Ahhh, and that’s where the trouble within me lies.  If I don’t step out of my comfortable, predictable little bubble, how can I be a light?  Instead, I must venture out, and learn to navigate in the world around me, comfortable or not.  Not to walk in darkness, but to be a light in the darkness.  Not to be afraid of the darkness, but to know that His Light overcomes the darkness.

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. Psalm 139:7, 11-12

We are never out of His sight, never out of His reach, and never alone.

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness. Psalm 33:18

In looking up the verse above, I found that the Hebrew word translated lovingkindness is chacad, which means merciful. I really like the Amplified Bible version, which translates the verse this way:

Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear Him [and worship Him with awe-inspired reverence and obedience], on those who hope [confidently] in His compassion and lovingkindness. Psalm 33:18

The Lord is merciful, loving, compassionate, and kind.  He is wise, and knows the end from the beginning.  He knows how to lead His own, and His compassion requires that I – that we – be the light that He has called us to be.

There is an old song sung by musical duo Harvest, entitled, “Send us to the World.”  Here is the chorus:

If we don’t believe then how will they know?

How will they hear, if we never go?

Oh, Lord, send us to the world!

If we don’t believe, then how will they see?

How will they know that they can be free?

Oh, Lord, send us to the world!

Two bridges.  One unseen but there nonetheless, and another seen but leading into the darkness.  One led to the other side, where he found what he needed.  The other outcome wasn’t certain, but would have been taken with a trusted, faithful companion, had I had the courage to step out and bring light into the darkness.

We must remember that we do not walk alone, and we do not go unprotected.

You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

May we have the courage to walk where He leads, to be lights in the darkness, and to bring the message of hope, freedom and redemption to people who don’t know the Giver of those things.  Jesus would.  Jesus did.  May we walk by faith, and not by sight, and so please Him.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the certainty of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6

 

Freedom

I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out Your precepts. Psalm 119:45

♫♪♫ “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom…” ♫♪♫

This chorus has been on my mind quite bit lately.  I don’t know the whole song, just that line, but it doesn’t matter.  I sing it over and over again, joyfully reminding myself of that I am truly free.  The song is from a letter that the Apostle Paul, who called himself a bondservant of Jesus Christ, wrote to the Corinthian Church.  Paul knew a lot about freedom.  He knew that he didn’t deserve it. He knew what he had been rescued from, and he threw himself upon Jesus, offering his life to the One who had rescued him.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17 

With each note, I am declaring that I am no longer bound to my old ways of thinking and living, but have a new life in which I am free to express my love for my Savior and my thankfulness to Him.

Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath. And when He stood up to read, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then He rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him, and He began by saying, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21

Yet we do have an enemy, the same enemy that was in the garden with Adam and Eve.  Like us, they chose to believe the lies that he whispered.

Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree of the garden? Genesis 3:1

But that wasn’t what God had said.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  Genesis 2:16-17

He told them not to eat from a particular tree.  The enemy twisted what God had said, but Eve didn’t have it completely right, either.

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ” Genesis 3:2-3

I wonder at this point if Eve even understood what death was.  She had not seen anything die.  The Bible clearly says that sin and death came into the world through the sin in the garden.

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Genesis 3:4-5

She chose to believe the lies and ate, and her husband, who was there when the instructions had been given, also ate.  Their eyes were opened all right, but not in the way they expected.  They were instantly aware of their sin, and they were filled with shame.  For the first time ever, they hid from the Lord who had walked with them in the garden.  Their relationship with Him, and each other, was broken.  They hid, and we’ve been hiding from God because of our sins and mistakes ever since.

Even then, the Lord had compassion on them.  He shed the first blood, right there in the beautiful garden, to make clothing for Adam and Eve.  Even then, the Lord had a plan.  Death, both the physical and the spiritual, would be overcome.  People would offer sacrifices as a temporary measure, but one day, a Savior would come who would be the final, perfect sacrifice.

According to the Law, in fact, nearly everything must be purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  Hebrews 9:22

Because Jesus shed His blood for us, we can sing songs about freedom, because we have been set free from everything that separated us from God.  But still the enemy whispers, and we often choose to believe him.

“You’re not smart enough.”

“You’re not good looking enough.”

“How could God ever love YOU?”

“You only live once, so you’d better get all you can now!”

“You deserve it.” (whatever IT is, and whatever the cost)

Just because someone chooses to follow Jesus doesn’t mean that the enemy whispers any less, in fact, I believe he whispers even more, because now they’re a threat.  He will bring up the past, distract us, and try to get us to focus on “being good” instead of spending time with Jesus.  He certainly doesn’t want you to start telling people about your newfound freedom.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

So how can we keep from listening to the lies?  Is there a way to block them out, or make them less effective?  Yes, there is.

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“We are Abraham’s descendants,” they answered. “We have never been slaves to anyone. How can You say we will be set free?”

Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:31-36

The Word of God is filled with so many truths and promises that we can fill up on.  The more we know the truth, the less we believe the lies.  The lies won’t stop coming, but we’ll have the weapon of truth to fight with. Spend time with Jesus.  My prayer is that you will come to know the freedom that Jesus offers, and that with that freedom, you will seek to set others free.

For you, brothers, were called to freedom; but do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Rather, serve one another in love. The entire Law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Galatians 5:13-14