March 17

“Be thou there till I bring thee word.” Matthew 2:13

Oh restless heart, that beat against your prison bars of circumstances, yearning for a wider sphere of usefulness, leave God to order all your days. Patience and trust, in the dullness of the routine of life, will be the best preparation for a courageous bearing of the tug and strain of the larger opportunity which God may some time send you. (Streams in the Desert)

My wife and I are fairly easily entertained, and best of all, our favorite amusements do not cost an arm and a leg. It helps that we enjoy the same things. My wife will fill a bag of travel essentials, then we pile into my Jeep Rubicon and head for who-knows-where, making it up as we go. Typically, these discretionary jaunts take us to small towns whose appeal is their own version of Main Street with a handful of second-hand stores or antique shoppes. We never spend much, but hunting hidden treasure is incidental to the joy of companionship. Hand-in-hand, we prove over and over again that what matters most is not where you are or what you are doing, but the one you are with on the journey.

Resist temptation to favor bursts of ecstasy over a quiet lifetime with God; grand glimpses are no substitute for life in the trenches. Routine is not our enemy, discontentment is; we fulfill the potential of this day when we are satisfied with the Shepherd of our soul. Christ is an enduring companion, not occasional cheerleader. Accept His hand as you take the next ordinary step, and you will know more joy than you ever dreamed possible.

“I’ve often wrestled with the inclination to lose sight of the value of this instant while straining to predict the next and strategize accordingly, but I am learning that what happened or did not occur yesterday pales in significance with what I do right now; life does count, and this very moment matters enormously. Mercy is at hand in abundance when I allow myself to detect the weight of glory in the mundane and ordinary. Grace is now and grace is here; grace is always present tense” (D. Fowlkes)


March 16

“For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Hebrews 12:10 | KJV

In one of Ralph Connor’s books he tells a story of Gwen. Gwen was a wild, wilful lassie and one who had always been accustomed to having her own way. Then one day she met with a terrible accident which crippled her for life. She became very rebellious and in the murmuring state she was visited by the Sky Pilot, as the missionary among the mountaineers was termed. He told her the parable of the canyon.

“At first there were no canyons, but only the broad, open prairie. One day the Master of the Prairie, walking over his great lawns, where were only grasses, asked the Prairie, ‘Where are your flowers?’ and the Prairie said, ‘Master I have no seeds.’

“Then he spoke to the birds, and they carried seeds of every kind of flower and strewed them far and wide, and soon the prairie bloomed with crocuses and roses and buffalo beans and the yellow crowfoot and the wild sunflowers and the red lilies all summer long. Then the Master came and was well pleased; but he missed the flowers he loved best of all, and he said to the Prairie: ‘Where are the clematis and the columbine, the sweet violets and wind-flowers, and all the ferns and flowering shrubs?’

“And again he spoke to the birds, and again they carried all the seeds and scattered them far and wide. But, again, when the Master came he could not find the flowers he loved best of all, and he said: “‘Where are those my sweetest flowers?’ and the Prairie cried sorrowfully: “‘Oh, Master, I cannot keep the flowers, for the winds sweep fiercely, and the sun beats upon my breast, and they wither up and fly away.’

“Then the Master spoke to the Lightning, and with one swift blow the Lightning cleft the Prairie to the heart. And the Prairie rocked and groaned in agony, and for many a day moaned bitterly over the black, jagged, gaping wound. But the river poured its waters through the cleft, and carried down deep black mould.

“And once more the birds carried seeds and strewed them in the canyon. And after a long time the rough rocks were decked out with soft mosses and trailing vines, and all the nooks were hung with clematis and columbine, and great elms lifted their huge tops high up into the sunlight, and down about their feet clustered the low cedars and balsams, and everywhere the violets and wind-flower and maiden-hair grew and bloomed, till the canyon became the Master’s favorite place for rest and peace and joy.”

Then the Sky Pilot read to her: “The fruit—I’ll read ‘flowers’—of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness–and some of these grow only in the canyon.” “Which are the canyon flowers?” asked Gwen softly, and the Pilot answered: “Gentleness, meekness, longsuffering; but though the others, love, joy, peace, bloom in the open, yet never with so rich a bloom and so sweet a perfume as in the canyon.”

For a long time Gwen lay quite still, and then said wistfully, while her lips trembled: “There are no flowers in my canyon, but only ragged rocks.” “Some day they will bloom, Gwen dear; the Master will find them, and we, too, shall see them.”

Beloved, when you come to your canyon, remember! (Streams in the Desert)

“This is a God who lets people wander and wait. Who cultivates beauty and life and growth in the silent emptiness of a prison cell or a desert or a lifetime of infertility. This is a God who seems to be working on an entirely different understanding of time, who moves in an infinite abundance of days and moments and seasons.” ~Addie Zierman

Instead of resisting Him, resolve to live in rhythm with Sovereign God. There is an eternal difference between resignation and surrender. The disenchanted throw their hands in the air, turn their face to the clouds, and curse the futility of it all. Disciples bow their heads and open their hearts, and thank God for His great love that refuses to allow them to remain the same.

March 15

“Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.” (Isaiah 41:14-15 | KJV)

Could any two things be in greater contrast than a worm and an instrument with teeth? The worm is delicate, bruised by a stone, crushed beneath the passing wheel; an instrument with teeth can break and not be broken; it can grave its mark upon the rock. And the mighty God can convert the one into the other. He can take a man or a nation, who has all the impotence of the worm, and by the invigoration of His own Spirit, He can endow with strength by which a noble mark is left upon the history of the time.

And so the “worm” may take heart. The mighty God can make us stronger than our circumstances. He can bend them all to our good. In God’s strength we can make them all pay tribute to our souls. We can even take hold of a black disappointment, break it open, and extract some jewel of grace. When God gives us wills like iron, we can drive through difficulties as the iron share cuts through the toughest soil. “I will make thee,” and shall He not do it?

Christ is building His kingdom with earth’s broken things.(Streams in the Desert)

If you grew up in a Baptist church like I did, you gleaned much of your theology from the Baptist Hymnal. Contemporary choruses and praise tunes have largely replaced hymns in church, but I keep a couple of old copies near my Bible and incorporate into private worship and study. I learned this from A. W. Tozer who writes:

“For purposes of inward devotion, there is only one book to be placed before the hymnal, and that of course is the Bible. I say without qualification, after the Sacred Scriptures, the next best companion for the soul is a good hymnal. . . . After the Bible, the hymn book is next. And remember, I do not say a songbook or a book of gospel songs, but a real hymnal containing the cream of the great Christian hymns left to us by the ages.”

I am old enough to have used The Broadman Hymnal, and have sung my way through three newer editions. Some improvements have been made in the later versions, but I will never forget a change I encountered when singing

“Alas, and Did My Saviour Bleed” in the 1975 revised edition. Perhaps you recall that old hymn. One line was as follows:

”Alas! and did my Saviour bleed,

And did my Sovereign die?

Would he devote that sacred Head

For such a worm as I?”

In today’s hymnals, it reads “For sinners such as I.” This appears a subtle attempt to water down harsh wording by replacing it with a more palatable substitute. More contemporary hymnals have weakened it even further by altering the line to read “for such a one as I.” I do not know the minds of the editors, but I do know that I do not need any help softening the blow of disobedience in my own mind. I am adept at minimizing the seriousness of my own sin; therefore, what I need most is a strong dose of honesty. The truth is that I am a worm, but therein lies the glory of the Gospel. Christ accepts me as I am, not to keep me there, but to transform me into what I could never be on my own.

March 14

“The people kept their distance, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.” Exodus 20:21

God has still His hidden secrets, hidden from the wise and prudent. Do not fear them; be content to accept things that you cannot understand; wait patiently. Presently He will reveal to you the treasures of darkness, the riches of the glory of the mystery. Mystery is only the veil of God’s face.

Do not be afraid to enter the cloud that is settling down on your life. God is in it. The other side is radiant with His glory. “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” When you seem loneliest and most forsaken, God is nigh. He is in the dark cloud. Plunge into the blackness of its darkness without flinching; under the shrouding curtain of His pavilion you will find God awaiting you. (Streams in the Desert)

“We worship God through our questions.” ~Abraham Joshua Heschel

I enjoy waking early, but rarely do much more with the stillness than accompany morning coffee with meditation. These are not moments for doing so much as being; reflection fuels response. One particular winter morning not long after Popi was released from his confused confines of clay, I shoved aside the sermon that insisted on intruding and allowed myself to settle on daydreaming about heaven. It feels somehow natural to think about death while peering through glazed windows at weighted skies and naked trees. A gray and barren horizon makes it suddenly a strain to remember warmth and light and hope, as recent as the day before. What complicates such mornings for me is that considering the endlessness of days creates honest inner turmoil hastened by a barbed question—will life end with death? Years ago, as a young pastor, I meticulously recorded funerals officiated in a massive blank-lined volume bound for such a purpose (perhaps thinking that by writing names in a book, I might grant them immortality), but I have long since abandoned the practice. I have lost count of how many times I have stood behind podiums or beside coffins pronouncing hope that we are presiding not over an end, but an endless beginning. Reciting dog-eared scriptures for the comfort of those lagging behind in the run to see Jesus, I sincerely deliver discourses on the eternal, but always with a twinge of wonder. Can such platinum hope prove true? Will I one day blink in death only to find myself transfigured? Is it possible that my own gray horizon might yield to light grander than anything I’ve read about or imagined? Mystery invokes exploration. Do not consider me a skeptic; instead, number me among those who cannot honestly declare we have no questions, but journey with confidence that we are embraced by the Answer. (Excerpt from Ordinary Glory: Finding Grace in the Commonplace, by Dane Fowlkes)

March 13

“They sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and astounding are your deeds, Lord God, the All-Powerful! Just and true are your ways, King over the nations!” Revelation 15:3

The following incident is related by Mrs. Charles Spurgeon, who was a great sufferer for more than a quarter of a century:

“At the close of a dark and gloomy day, I lay resting on my couch as the deeper night drew on; and though all was bright within my cozy room, some of the external darkness seemed to have entered into my soul and obscured its spiritual vision. Vainly I tried to see the Hand which I knew held mine, and guided my fog-enveloped feet along a steep and slippery path of suffering. In sorrow of heart I asked,

“’Why does my Lord thus deal with His child? Why does He so often send sharp and bitter pain to visit me? Why does He permit lingering weakness to hinder the sweet service I long to render to His poor servants?’

“These fretful questions were quickly answered, and through a strange language; no interpreter was needed save the conscious whisper of my heart.

“For a while silence reigned in the little room, broken only by the crackling of the oak log burning in the fireplace. Suddenly I heard a sweet, soft sound, a little, clear, musical note, like the tender trill of a robin beneath my window.

“’What can it be? surely no bird can be singing out there at this time of the year and night.’

“Again came the faint, plaintive notes, so sweet, so melodious, yet mysterious enough to provoke our wonder. My friend exclaimed, “‘It comes from the log on the fire!’ The fire was letting loose the imprisoned music from the old oak’s inmost heart!

“Perchance he had garnered up this song in the days when all was well with him, when birds twittered merrily on his branches, and the soft sunlight flecked his tender leaves with gold. But he had grown old since then, and hardened; ring after ring of knotty growth had sealed up the long-forgotten melody, until the fierce tongues of the flames came to consume his callousness, and the vehement heart of the fire wrung from him at once a song and a sacrifice. ’Ah,’ thought I, ’when the fire of affliction draws songs of praise from us, then indeed we are purified, and our God is glorified!’

“Perhaps some of us are like this old oak log, cold, hard, insensible; we should give forth no melodious sounds, were it not for the fire which kindles around us, and releases notes of trust in Him, and cheerful compliance with His will.

“’As I mused the fire burned,’ and my soul found sweet comfort in the parable so strangely set forth before me.

“Singing in the fire! Yes, God helping us, if that is the only way to get harmony out of these hard apathetic hearts, let the furnace be heated seven times hotter than before.” (Streams in the Desert)

Home renovation shows are quite popular on television, and I confess my wife and I enjoy them. Our favorite is one filmed in our home town by a couple who often take on projects others would consider hopeless. At the end of each program they pull back large screens to reveal the finished product, a stunning climax of unexpected proportion. The more dire the structure’s original condition, the more pronounced is the transformation that follows. Neglected and abused dwellings become surprising showcases of creativity and ingenuity.

No one but a misguided ascetic seeks out pain and hardship, yet trials have potential for calling forth the best in us. Adversity is the grand reveal; suffering discloses the heart in a way nothing else can. May the next fire I encounter or ignite release imprisoned music from this old oak’s inmost heart!

March 12

“So Moses extended his staff over the land of Egypt, and then the Lord brought an east wind on the land all that day and all night. The morning came, and the east wind had brought up the locusts! and the Lord turned a very strong west wind, and it picked up the locusts and blew them into the Red Sea. Not one locust remained in all the territory of Egypt.” Exodus 10:13,19

See how in the olden times, when the Lord fought for Israel against the cruel Pharaoh, the stormy winds wrought out their deliverance; and yet again, in that grandest display of power—the last blow that God struck at the proud defiance of Egypt. A strange, almost cruel thing it must have seemed to Israel to he hemmed in by such a host of dangers—in front the wild sea defying them, on either hand the rocky heights cutting off all hope of escape, the night of hurricane gathering over them. It was as if that first deliverance had come only to hand them over to more certain death. Completing the terror there rang out the cry: “The Egyptians are upon us!”

When it seemed they were trapped for the foe, then came the glorious triumph. Forth swept the stormy wind and beat back the waves, and the hosts of Israel marched forward, down into the path of the great deep—a way arched over with God’s protecting love. On either hand were the crystal walls glowing in the light of the glory of the Lord; and high above them swept the thunder of the storm. So on through all that night; and when, at dawn of the next day, the last of Israel’s host set foot upon the other shore, the work of the stormy wind was done. Then sang Israel unto the Lord the song of the “stormy wind fulfilling his word.”

Now you see only the mystery of this great sorrow; then you shall see how the threatening enemy was swept away in the wild night of fear and grief. Now you look only at the loss; then you shall see how it struck at the evil that had begun to rivet its fetters upon you. Now you shrink from the howling winds and muttering thunders; then you shall see how they beat back the waters of destruction, and opened up your way to the goodly land of promise. (Streams in the Desert)

I confess I am terminally near-sighted. I largely view circumstance through the rose colored lenses of self-preservation; what hurts or disappoints at this moment supersedes consideration of any higher purpose or good. Immediate thought of personal comfort and reputation disavows Providence, and leaves me hollow and more self-absorbed than before, but when I alter the order to consider first what God is saying or doing, my horizon expands and I recognize God at work.

I read this morning that in North Korea, believers can be banished to labor camps where prisoners are forced to stand on their toes for twenty-four hours in tanks filled with water up to their noses. They are stripped and hanged upside down while being beaten. Food rations leave inmates on the brink of starvation, so many prisoners hunt rats, snakes, and frogs for protein. Has God forsaken them, or is He at work even now to reflect in them His glory? Would I be able to look beyond the hurting winds to see what God is doing in me? I cannot explain God’s sovereignty or grace, but cling to both for strength for today and hope for tomorrow.

March 11

“After Moses the Lord’s servant died, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: “Moses my servant is dead. Get ready! Cross the Jordan River! Lead these people into the land which I am ready to hand over to them.” Joshua 1:1-2

Sorrow came to you yesterday, and emptied your home. Your first impulse now is to give up, and sit down in despair amid the wrecks of your hopes. But you dare not do it. You are in the line of battle, and the crisis is at hand. To falter a moment would be to imperil some holy interest. Other lives would be harmed by your pausing, holy interests would suffer, should your hands be folded. You must not linger even to indulge your grief. (Streams in the Desert)

Most complications result from unforced errors on my part, but from time-to-time adversity affects me that is beyond even my ability to orchestrate. When problems materialize, be they health or relationship related, the most natural response is to question, “Why?”—an endless rabbit hole that rarely leads to any beneficial conclusion. The better response to adversity is “What now?” Without minimizing the suffering I feel and fear that may continue, I turn resolutely to the Father. What should I do? Should I do anything at all? I will not waste my life wandering the wilderness of regret; I choose to move toward the light my Father shines on the next step.