Listen! Listen

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I grew up in a delightful family. My home was filled with lots of love. I remember spirited games of chess and canasta and paddleball (think racquetball on an outdoor court). We enjoyed good food, frequent guests, and plenty of laughter. Some of the laughter was over the same jokes enjoyed time after time.

When a new and uninitiated guest joined us, my dad would ask, “What’s that coming out of your nose?” After a moment of embarrassed confusion on the part of our visitor, he would continue, “Air! There’s air coming out of your nose!”

Then sometimes he’d say, “Listen! Listen!” After an awkward pause, he would add, “Somebody’s saying ‘Listen!’” We always laughed.

The other day, as I was thinking about my dad’s funny lines, the one about listening struck me in a new way. Taken more seriously, it comes out this way:

Listen! Listen! Because there’s always someone out there practically begging that you listen!

I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately. Some of my hurting friends need me most as a prayer partner and a listening ear. In fact, I often have to remind myself that they need my ear but not my mouth, my empathy but not my advice.

Pride can lead us away from the smaller tasks the Holy Spirit hands us. Becoming a compassionate listener isn’t very glamorous. In fact, it’s a ministry of the nearly invisible. It falls into the “He must increase; I must decrease” part of the Christian walk. But it is powerful. It is a silent language of love. Today I want to encourage you to allow a part of your busy life to be eaten up by the gift of an attentive ear, because if you listen, listen, you will almost certainly hear someone crying out, “Listen!”

Defying Gravity

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Last year, after listening to the music for quite some time, I finally saw Wicked on stage. Since I grew up watching Wizard of Oz once a year on television (our only option back in the dark ages of video technology), I enjoyed the new spin on an old story. One song still sticks in my brain and pops into my thoughts on occasion. Actually, it’s only one line that keeps on repeating itself. In my imagination, I can hear Elphaba declaring that she will try defying gravity. More than once, as I’ve trudged up my stairs feeling low, I’ve heard those three words resound within my thoughts. I want to try defying gravity this year too.

Before you think me crazy for wanting to fly, let me tell you exactly what I mean.

My grandson is so delightfully quick to laugh. I suspect you and I were the same way as toddlers. When does that fade? And why? I know that Nick is unaware of the difficulties adulthood will bring, but he also knows little of the joys that await him. He laughs in the present moment.

We live in a world that fixates on the grave details of life, and not just the ones that are facing us today. We mull over the pain of the past and our fears of the future, often for no good reason at all. Matthew 6:34 says, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Actually, I like the King James Version of that verse even better, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And as we face the “evil” of each day, how often do we falsely imagine ourselves facing it alone, forgetting the One who goes before us and stands behind us?

Here is how I want to try defying gravity. When heavy concerns come into my brain, I want to take them to my Lord in prayer without pause. When I catch myself frowning with furrowed brow, I want to lighten my countenance in a way that confirms the song God has put in my heart. And when I am tempted to join a discussion centered only on the failures of man or the bleak landscape ahead, I want to either walk away or change the course of the conversation. Who would have thought the Wicked Witch of the West could remind me of such important truths? This year, I hope you will try to defy gravity right along with me.

 

Fight Fear by Beth Smith

coat-of-arms-1762562_1280-swordsWe all have fears, but it’s easy to think, “Our fears are rational. Theirs, the fears we see in other people’s lives, just come from a lack of faith.” That isn’t right. We should never make light of others’ fears, for we haven’t lived their lives – haven’t experienced their sufferings or traumas.

I’ve experienced God’s love and faithfulness many times, and I’ve surrendered many fears to Him. I have one, though, that I give to him and take back over and over again. I am afraid in fast, heavy traffic. I struggle with an irrational, gut fear that we’re going to be in a wreck. You may be thinking, “How childish! How very unspiritual of her! Why doesn’t she just trust God?” Believe me, I’m working on it.

May I give you the background of this fear? The night before my eleventh birthday, my beautiful sixteen-year-old sister was killed in a horrible automobile accident. Five of the seven people in the car died instantly. Tragic. But people recover emotionally from much worse, and I recovered from the loss of my sister. My parents, however, kept pictures—8 x 10 inch black and white glossies—of the mangled car in which my sister died. They kept them in our family photo album. I saw that wrecked car thousands of times.

Have I evoked your sympathies? Are you thinking, “Well, then, that’s okay? She has reason to be afraid.” If so, stop it. Don’t sympathize with me. Help me to change with your reminders from God’s Word. We don’t have to be fearful, no matter what our flesh, the devil, or our experiences tell us. We don’t have to panic in the face of our fears. We have God’s power. We can fight fear with faith.

We can push aside the mental pictures, the thoughts, the dread, and the ugly fear.

  • “God has not given us a spirit of fear (timidity or cowardice, of craven and cringing fear), but He has given us a spirit of power and of love and of a calm and well balanced mind and discipline and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7 AMP).
  • In God have I put my trust and confident reliance; I will not be afraid” (Psalm 56:11 AMP).
  • You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship whereby we cry ‘Abba Father’” (Romans 8:15).

We don’t have to be slaves to our fears. I heard a Bible teacher on television say that fear is an acrostic for “False evidence appearing real.” Isn’t that very often the case with our fears? We have God as our Father. We can run from the fears into his loving arms, where we will find peace and hope.

Exhausted but Still in Pursuit

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Many of you know the story of Gideon. The Lord told him to go and fight the Midianites, promising victory. As a sign of this promise, the Angel of God instructed Gideon to put an offering of meat, bread, and broth on a rock. Before departing, the angel touched the offering, causing fire to rise from the rock and consume the food. Somehow, that miracle wasn’t enough to convince Gideon to follow instructions. He asked for two more signs. First a threshing floor remained dry all morning, while a fleece of wool was soaked full of dew. In a second test, the fleece was dry while the ground around it became wet.

Finally persuaded, Gideon amassed an army, but it was too big. Ours is the God of the impossible. A large army might have taken credit for the Midianite defeat, claiming that victory was by their own strength. The crowd had to be reduced. First Gideon told all who were fearful to go home. (And twenty-two thousand did just that.) Then he took the remaining ten thousand down to the water and watched them quench their thirst. Only those who drank by lifting their hands to their mouths, three hundred in all, were allowed to stay and fight.

God in his compassion assured Gideon of His plan one more time by allowing him to overhear a Midianite relating a dream and its interpretation—sure defeat of the Midian army by the hand of God through Gideon. Then Gideon did as the Lord commanded. By the blowing of trumpets, the breaking of torch-filled pitchers, and mighty shouts of faith, he and his band of three hundred secured the victory, pursuing their enemy army as they fled.

That’s enough of a story right there, chock full of important lessons:

·       God directs.

·       He asks the impossible.

·       He does the miraculous.

·       He is gracious when we ask for confirmation of his will.

That’s all I ever learned about Gideon until yesterday, when I read the rest of the story. Judges 8:4 teaches that, “Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it.” There were more battles to be fought. The whole trumpet and jar thing was just the beginning. Eventually, but certainly not immediately, “Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years” (Judges 8:28).

Are you in the middle of a battle today, one that seems incredibly long and drawn out? Are you in a place where you are exhausted, yet must keep up the pursuit? I hope you will look at the story of Gideon and be reminded that, while God does indeed keep his promises, he may ask us to press on beyond what looks reasonable to us. May he give you the grace and strength to keep up the pursuits he has assigned to you this week!

 

Generosity

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Would you agree with me that God is generous? While we don’t need to go any further than the gift of his Son to see his magnanimous nature, certainly the beauty of nature, his constant provision, and the hope of heaven further prove the point. We are called to be like him, which leads to the question, “Are we generous?” Am I? Are you?”

We live in a “me first” world, where more (for ourselves) is always (supposedly) better. The Bible teaches us to live counter to that culture.

  • It’s better to give than to receive.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Seek first the kingdom of God.

A truly generous life requires introspection. Gandhi said, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Stop and think about that for a moment. Are there parts of our lives where even a tiny tweak toward simplicity might free up time or money that would make a great difference in someone else’s life? How much are we willing to do without for the sake of someone else?

Perhaps a trial is in order. Lent is coming (but any space on the calendar will do.) I’ll be giving up my beloved hot tea for several weeks. During that time, I’ll calculate the funds saved by that small sacrifice. Later I’ll send them to an organization that provides clean water in another country.** Will that small sum make a difference? Yes, it will, not to many, but to some. And some is far better than none.

Care to join me? Perhaps you’ll choose a different sacrifice, another beneficiary. Maybe you will be led to tweak your use of time instead, freeing up precious moments to serve or befriend wherever you are led. Let me encourage you, though: God wastes nothing. Whatever your sacrifice, he will use it. And you will be blessed.

‘Hope you’ll let me know how it goes!

**And if you choose clean water as the need you will help meet, consider reviewing one of these websites:

thewaterproject.org

charitywater.org

water.cc/h2oproject

saveadrink.org

The Waiting Game

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As I write this, I am in the middle of a rough month. Multiple friends and loved ones are facing deeply painful circumstances, and I am hurting with them. I’m praying for healing, wisdom, provision, direction… I’m also asking the Lord for encouragement, for them, primarily, but for myself as well. I don’t know yet how our Loving (but sometimes hard to understand) Lord is answering those prayers in the lives of my friends, but here are three ways he has encouraged me in just the last 24 hours.

A text: It read, “Thank you for praying for us. We will be fine!” That hurting friend’s proclamation of faith lifted my spirits.

A reunion: We went out for breakfast while out of town. The manager roamed among the tables, making sure her customers were satisfied. She paused at my table, and our eyes locked. We both froze for a moment, silent, thinking. Then we burst into hugs and tears, finally recognizing one another as dear friends who had lost touch for a decade. She gave Steve and me a brief recap of her life, ending with these words, “The last year was very difficult, but now I know why. It got me here (to a good place and a great job).”

A quote: I opened my web browser, and these words, saved in an old search, popped up, “Nothing touches the child of God without first passing through the will of God.” While I’ve been unable to find a reliable source for that quote, it’s very close to this one by Hannah Whitall Smith, “Not a trial comes except by His permission.” In other words, I believe, if we have heartache, our Lord has allowed that heartache. And if he has allowed it, surely he will see us through it.

And so, I have cried tears of both pain and of hope today. I’ve heard his still small voice say yet again, “Trust me.”