It Doesn't Matter How Things Seem

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A few days ago, Jason and I were tracking a storm via two different weather apps on our phones.  Our goal was to find a window of opportunity to take Barnabas out for a short hike without getting caught in a storm.  Both apps were giving us the same information:  a storm was brewing and would be passing through within a half hour or so.  A single glance out the window caused me to believe the reports.  It was dark and ominous looking.  Yup, I had no trouble accepting a storm was on its way, and from the looks of things, the downpour would hit soon.

Then, the strangest thing happened.  Within five minutes or so, the clouds dispersed, and the sun shone brightly in the sky.  Well, so much for that.  We rechecked the weather apps, but their forecast remained the same.  I looked out the window again at the clearing sky and squinted against the bright sunlight, convinced the weather forecast was—once again—way off base.

Suddenly, I heard a noise and glanced out the window again.  It was pouring.  The sun was still shining, but rain fell in buckets.  I stood with mouth agape wondering if I was imagining the kooky weather, but I wasn’t.  First, it looked like it was going to rain but didn’t.  Then, it looked like it wasn’t going to rain, and it did.  Sounds a bit like life, doesn’t it?

Often, the things that look good aren’t, and vice versa.  The job that seemed like a dream turned out to be a nightmare.  That perfect someone wasn’t so perfect after all.  The vacation we looked forward to for months came and went, and we feel less relaxed than we did before we left.  The diet that promised amazing results made you crazy for weeks, and in the end, you felt worse and had gained weight.  What’s up with that?

The psalmist David could relate.  In Psalm 40, he pours his heart out to God about the troubles he’s facing.  He begins the psalm in enthusiastic praise to God, but as disappointment surges forth, his prayer takes a different turn, and we see how David thought things would be different for him.

I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart. I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest. I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation. Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Lord: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.
— Psalm 40:8-11

David gives an account of all the things he’s done right.  “I’ve done your will.  Your law is in my heart.  I’ve preached to others about you.  I’ve not kept your works to myself, but I’ve declared your love and goodness to others.  I’ve done all these things for you, Lord, so why are you punishing me?  Why are you withholding your mercy from me?  Don’t I deserve better?  I don’t get it.”

Preach it, brother David!  I feel your pain.  When we’ve done the right things and expect the “right” results, and things fall through, it’s easy to get discouraged and confused.  Things seem like they should go a certain way, but seldom do they ever go the way we think they should.  And that gets frustrating!  To us, dark clouds mean rain and the presence of the sun signifies the absence of rain, but God sees things differently.  After all, He created the sun, the rain, and all of creation, so He controls them.  He can do whatever He wants, just as He can in our lives.

I’ll admit, sometimes it seems wrong—cruel even, but that’s when we have to remember that it doesn’t matter how things look or seem.  It’s the truth that matters, and unless we learn to cling to that truth in life, we’ll forever be disappointed.  This is a lesson I’m learning firsthand, and let me tell you, it isn’t easy.  But through it all, I believe God is increasing my faith and teaching me to believe beyond what these eyes can see and this mind can comprehend.  And that means I’m becoming more like Him.  For that, I’m incredibly grateful God doesn’t work things out the way that makes sense to me.

When My Soul Needs Water

I apologize for not posting any devotions last week. I assure you it was not my intention, but I found myself in need of some one-on-one time with the Lord to work through some of my disappointments and frustrations. To quote George Mueller, “I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord but how I might get my soul into a happy state and how the inner life might be nourished.” So, I sat with the Lord day after day, setting forth the business of nourishing my soul, which ironically ties in to today’s devotion.

Last week, Jason and I were taking Barnabas out to a nearby heritage preserve for an evening walk/hike. As we drove, the Xterra began acting strangely. At first, it hiccuped a few times, then the temperature sky-rocketed. Uh oh! Since we weren’t too far from the house, Jason decided it was best to turn back so we could assess the problem. Unfortunately, the vehicle had other ideas. It hopped down the road—a process known as “limp mode” according to Jason. We had no idea what the problem was, but one thing was sure—the Xterra was NOT happy. Suddenly, there was a loud pop and an explosion of liquid from under the hood. Jason pulled over into a small pull off as I did my best to calm Barnabas. . .and myself.

It turns out, somehow and somewhere, the Xterra had dumped all of its water. It was running dry. That’s why the temperature was so high, and that’s why it refused to move smoothly.  It was dehydrated. Empty. Lacking that which it needed to run properly. Fortunately, the excessive rain of late had formed puddles in the ditch nearby, and we were able to fill the radiator with enough rainwater to get us home. (Talk about showers of blessing!) As to why the vehicle is losing water, we still don’t know. It’s scheduled to go into the shop next week. (Yay! More car repairs!!!)

Oddly enough, the more I thought about the situation, the more I realized I could relate to the Xterra. It seems as if I’ve been operating in limp mode for some time now. I knew something wasn’t right, but I guess I kept hoping my sad thoughts and irritability would just go away.  Of course, that never happens. But I felt too busy to deal with the issue. I knew I needed some time to sort things out, but I rationalized there were too many other things to do. I told myself to buck up and do life. But I wasn’t doing life, and the Xterra’s breakdown helped me to see that I, too, was dehydrated. Spiritually dehydrated. Empty. Lacking that which I needed to run properly.

Sure, I did my daily Bible reading and prayer time, but honestly, I think I was just going through the motions. My heart wasn’t in it. I needed more. I needed to immerse myself in the water of the Word and keep drinking until my dry soul felt renewed and refreshed. So, I spent last week doing just that. I poured my heart (and a lot of tears) out to God. I read the Bible. I journaled. I sat still in God’s presence and savored just being with Him. And you know what? I feel like a different person. Am I all better? Probably not. Will I go into a funk again? If I’m not careful, yes. But that’s not the point. The point is, I recognized a need and did what had to be done to meet that need, and in doing so, I remembered how valuable and vital God’s Word is. I may not be running on all cylinders, but I’m out of limp mode, and for that, I praise the Lord. Limp mode is miserable, but nothing a little water from the Word can’t fix.

Is your soul dry today? Are you going along in limp mode? Do you find yourself too busy to care for your spiritual needs? If so, I urge you to take time to nourish your soul. Get away with God. Immerse yourself in His Word. Pour out your heart to Him and spend time basking in His presence. Take a day or two or however long it takes for your soul to be renewed and refreshed. I assure you, it’s worth it. You know what they say—sometimes you have to come apart and rest awhile, or you’ll just come apart. Don’t let that happen to you. Refreshing, living water is within reach.  

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.
— Psalm 63:1-7

Seeking Great Things

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In yesterday’s devotion, I laid my heart bare about my current season of life and how I found peace in learning some new things about having joy in the journey. If you didn’t get the chance to read it, I urge you to do so because, in today’s devotion, I want to pick up where I left off and share with you a couple of other Bible passages the Lord has used to encourage my heart. Let’s begin in the book of Jeremiah.

The word that Jeremiah the prophet spake unto Baruch the son of Neriah, when he had written these words in a book at the mouth of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, unto thee, O Baruch: Thou didst say, Woe is me now! for the Lord hath added grief to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest. Thus shalt thou say unto him, The Lord saith thus; Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land. And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the Lord: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.
— Jeremiah 45:1-5

As you can see from this chapter, Baruch had an “I” problem. Woe is me. My grief. My sorrow. I fainted. My sighing. I have no rest. Poor pitiful me! Unfortunately, I hear my own cries and complaints echoing in my ears, so truth be told, I’m no better than Baruch. I’ve been so wrapped up in my personal disappointment and discontentment that I’ve failed to see the needs of those around me. As the Lord put it in the passage above, I’ve been seeking great things for myself. “Who cares about anyone else? So what if people are lost and going to hell? I’m not happy with the way things are going. Poor pitiful me!”  I cringe as I type these words. Though these thoughts have not been in the forefront of my mind, they’ve been there nonetheless as has been proven by my actions and my self-consuming prayers. God, forgive me!

Before I go any further, let me say I truly believe God wants to bless us. He gives us far, far more than we deserve. But God never promised us a happy life. He never assured us we’d never suffer or feel disappointment or grief. In fact, He promised just the opposite (John 16:33). The point I want to get across is, God is not cruel. Life is hard because we live in a sin-cursed world. It’s not God’s fault. It’s ours. But despite that, God goes above and beyond to provide for our needs and even many of our wants because He’s a good, loving Father.

That being said, we saw in yesterday’s devotion how even Jesus became fearful and overwhelmed at the prospect of His crucifixion and all that it entailed. While He was willing to do His Father’s will, He wasn’t exactly happy about the circumstances. It wasn’t a joyful season of life to experience.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
— Hebrews 12:2

This is a familiar verse, but don’t overlook the words used to describe Jesus’ emotional state. He endured the cross. He despised the shame. Endured and despised. Boy, can I relate to those words? I’ve been enduring a lot lately—going through the motions of doing what needs to be done and trying my best to do so with a good attitude. And I’ve despised the person I’ve become through this season. Cautious. Critical. Cynical. That’s not me. That’s not who I want to be.  

But I want you to notice another phrase within that verse: “for the joy that was set before him.” Not the joy He was experiencing by obeying the Father. Not the joy He felt at laying down His life and suffering agony on the cross. Not the joy of being a good Son. It wasn’t a present joy; it was a joy to come. The joy of defeating Death and Hell. The joy of holding up the keys of Hell in victory. The joy of being reunited with His Father. And last, but certainly not least, the joy of living in eternity with us.

Unlike Baruch, Jesus wasn’t seeking great things for Himself. He was seeking great things for us.  Jesus wasn’t so consumed with His own suffering that He turned His back on others. Instead, He used that love and compassion to keep Him moving forward when everything within His earthly body cried for Him to turn back. He envisioned a brighter day—not for Him, but for us, and that vision gave Him the strength to suffer. Yes, He endured. Yes, He despised. But in the end, He rejoiced, and He will continue to rejoice.

Lord, please help me be more like Jesus and less like Baruch. No matter how difficult the season or how weary I become, please help me keep my focus on others and not myself. Let my love and compassion for them drive me to obedience and surrender. And help me remember there is a brighter day coming!