August 9: Grief

“Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee who passing through the valley of weeping, make it a well.” Psalm 84:5-6

Comfort does not come to the light-hearted and merry. We must go down into “depths” if we would experience this most precious of God’s gifts—comfort, and thus be prepared to be co-workers together with Him.

When night—needful night—gathers over the garden of our souls, when the leaves close up, and the flowers no longer hold any sunlight within their folded petals, there shall never be wanting, even in the thickest darkness, drops of heavenly dew—dew which falls only when the sun has gone. (Streams in the Desert)

“Grief” is from the Latin words gravare meaning “make heavy,” and gravis meaning “weighty.” It assumed the contemporary meaning of “mental pain, sorrow” from c. 1300. My own first encounter with grief that I remember came through the death of Grandma Richey. My mother’s mother was a quiet but steady stream of loving influence, even though she was no stranger to calamity. A child of poverty, she was placed in a convent to keep her from starving. Katie somehow later ended up married to a barber, but tragedy followed hard times. Her husband died in an automobile accident on the way home from a hunting trip, leaving Katie to raise five children through the Great Depression—three sons and two daughters, one of whom suffered from such emotional disturbance that she took her own life. To my knowledge, Grandma Richey never spoke about the deprivation she knew all-too-well; instead, she managed to instill in me a curiosity and appreciation of nature, as well as love for the Creator. She gave me my first Bible. Hers was my first funeral to officiate as a preacher-boy on my first college Christmas holiday. Forty years later I still grieve her loss.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, grief holds potential for good. The curious phrase “good grief” first appeared in print in 1900, but it became especially popular since the late 1950s from its frequent use by Charlie Brown, one of the characters in Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip, Peanuts. Charlie wielded the expression as one of dismay and exasperation, but the truth remains that grief may be good if it deepens our understanding of God’s mercy and faithfulness. When I balk at descending the dungeon of self-pity, I discover depths of divine love never before imagined.

Although deprived of eyesight in his youth, George Matheson graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1862, and became a parish minister in Edinburgh. In addition to his parish ministry, Dr. Matheson wrote several hymns, one of which is found in many hymnals to this day. He wrote the hymn one summer evening in 1882, and later stated: “It was composed with extreme rapidity; it seemed to me that its construction occupied only a few minutes, and I felt myself rather in the position of one who was being dictated to than of an original artist. I was suffering from extreme mental distress, and the hymn was the fruit of pain.”

O Love that will not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,

I yield my flickering torch to thee;

My heart restores its borrowed ray,

That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day

May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain,

That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,

I dare not ask to fly from thee;

I lay in dust life’s glory dead,

And from the ground there blossoms red

Life that shall endless be.

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August 3: Derring-Do

“Stay alert, stand firm in the faith, show courage, be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13

“Do not pray for easy lives! Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle.”—Phillips Brooks

We must remember that it is not in any easy or self-indulgent life that Christ will lead us to greatness. The easy life leads not upward, but downward. Heaven always is above us, and we must ever be looking up toward it. These are some people who always avoid things that are costly, that require self-denial, or self-restraint and sacrifice, but toil and hardship show us the only way to nobleness. Greatness comes not by having a mossy path made for you through the meadow, but by being sent to hew out a roadway by your own hands. Are you going to reach the mountain splendors? (Streams in the Desert)

Something about dreams both define and deny us. They define in that they uncover ourselves at the most honest level—what we want most, the raw and uncut version. But they deny us in that a dream never acted upon calls into question a large measure of that which I think makes me “me.” Left long enough in the Land of Oz with no mooring to Kansas, I regress to a wispy shadow of intention. Great courage is always required to move from here to there. The greater the distance betwixt the two, the higher is the demand for an intrepid spirit. God grant each of us the lion’s courage, the tin man’s heart, the scarecrow’s brain, but most of all, the derring-do of Jesus of Nazareth that catapults beyond the plains of dreams and onto the summit of fearless abandon.

“We have no right to judge where we should be put, or to have preconceived notions as to what God is fitting us for. God engineers everything; wherever He puts us, our one great aim is to pour out a whole-hearted devotion to Him in that particular work. ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.’” (O. Chambers)

August 2: Mountain Highways

“And I will turn all my mountains into a road,and my highways shall be raised up.” Isaiah 49:11 | NRSV

God will make obstacles serve His purpose. We all have mountains in our lives. There are people and things that threaten to bar our progress in the Divine life. Those heavy claims, that uncongenial occupation, that thorn in the flesh, that daily cross—we think that if only these were removed we might live purer, tenderer, holier lives; and often we pray for their removal.

Meet thy trials in Him. There is nothing in life which harasses and annoys that may not become subservient to the highest ends. They are His mountains. He puts them there. We know that God will not fail to keep His promise. “God understandeth the way thereof and knoweth the place thereof. For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven”; and when we come to the foot of the mountains, we shall find the way.—F. B. Meyer (Streams in the Desert)

I prefer shortcuts and quick fixes, but neither play a role in kingdom growth. God intends His kingdom to grow inside of us as well as in the world. Before we arrive at “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” we must be on intimate terms with Father, and relationship results from the crucible of testing. St. Paul understood this when he cried out: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10 | NRSV). We never love what we do not endeavor to learn. Every mountain is an opportunity to expand our knowledge and love of the Father. Self-reliance builds callouses, but tough times strip away independence, leaving me vulnerable and teachable.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29 | NRSV)

“God does not give us overcoming life: He gives us life as we overcome. The strain is the strength. If there is no strain, there is no strength. Are you asking God to give you life and liberty and joy? He cannot, unless you will accept the strain. Immediately you face the strain, you will get the strength.” (O. Chambers)

July 31: Balance

“David cared for them with pure motives; he led them with skill.” Psalm 78:72

When you are doubtful as to your course, submit your judgment absolutely to the Spirit of God, and ask Him to shut against you every door but the right one…Meanwhile keep on as you are, and consider the absence of indication to be the indication of God’s will that you are on His track…As you go down the long corridor, you will find that He has preceded you, and locked many doors which you would fain have entered; but be sure that beyond these there is one which He has left unlocked. Open it and enter, and you will find yourself face to face with a bend of the river of opportunity, broader and deeper than anything you had dared to imagine in your sunniest dreams. Launch forth upon it; it conducts to the open sea.—F. B. Meyer (Streams in the Desert)

David shepherded his people with integrity of heart and skillful hands. This delineates the necessary balance we all must negotiate on a daily basis. Simply put, we are defined by how well we maintain equilibrium between character and ability, personhood and performance. As scales tip too far toward “doing,” I emerge as a shallow expert obsessed with “how-to” but oblivious to “why.” In short order I find myself running on empty. Reverse the scale and I am toxically self-absorbed with no kingdom influence. Introspection apart from surrender is a dead-end street; the world is not a better place with me at the center of the universe. Integrity of heart engaging skillful hands is what we are after. A lifetime of godly influence requires equal attention to both sides of the scale.

July 26

“For we through the Spirit by faith wait for the hope of righteousness.” Galatians 5:5 RV

There are times when things look very dark to me—so dark that I have to wait even for hope. It is bad enough to wait in hope. A long-deferred fulfillment carries its own pain, but to wait for hope, to see no glimmer of a prospect and yet refuse to despair; to have nothing but night before the casement and yet to keep the casement open for possible stars; to have a vacant place in my heart and yet to allow that place to be filled by no inferior presence–that is the grandest patience in the universe. It is Job in the tempest; it is Abraham on the road to Moriah; it is Moses in the desert of Midian; it is the Son of man in the Garden of Gethsemane. There is no patience so hard as that which endures, “as seeing him who is invisible”; it is the waiting for hope…. I shall reach the climax of strength when I have learned to wait for hope. ~George Matheson (Streams in the Desert)

A common misnomer in Christian circles is the adage: “Pray as if everything depends on God; work as if everything depends on you.” Such thinking could not be further from the truth; it is, in fact, heretical. The truth of all matters is that it should never enter the mind of a believer to do anything exclusive of the Father. Work done in isolation from Holy Spirit power is less than anemic; it is tragic.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God,the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31 | NRSV)

Those who know the Father benefit from perpetual grace, meaning they also know they could never work on their own, nor would they want to do so. Better to wait for hope in the light, than run headlong into darkness alone.

July 24

“Then believed they his words; they sang his praise. They soon forgot his works; they waited not for his counsel; but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” Psalms 106:12-15

We read of Moses, that “he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” Exactly the opposite was true of the children of Israel in this record. They endured only when the circumstances were favorable; they were largely governed by the things that appealed to their senses, in place of resting in the invisible and eternal God.

In the present day there are those who live intermittent Christian lives because they have become occupied with the outward, and center in circumstances, in place of centering in God. God wants us more and more to see Him in everything, and to call nothing small if it bears us His message.

Here we read of the children of Israel, “Then they believed his words.” They did not believe till after they saw–when they saw Him work, then they believed. They really doubted God when they came to the Red Sea; but when God opened the way and led them across and they saw Pharaoh and his host drowned–“then they believed.” They led an up and down life because of this kind of faith; it was a faith that depended upon circumstances. This is not the kind of faith God wants us to have. (Streams in the Desert)

Prayer and faith must align or our prayers are nothing more than wishes in the wind. My prayer list seems endless—the health of a prematurely newborn grandchild, a friend’s adult son whose life hangs by a thread following a home explosion, my wife’s illness that doctors and medical tests have failed to diagnose, our neighbor and house church worship leader facing heart surgery for 100% blockage of three arteries. If not careful, I content myself with offering benign requests, motivated more by duty than expectancy. Prayer is no time for trite and hackneyed platitudes—high sounding but milquetoast petitions. Scripture demands a bold approach to intercession.

“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 | NRSV)

Intercession requires ardor and endurance. God lead us to pray, and deliver us from merely wishful thinking. Transform pipe dreams into dauntless declarations of God’s goodness. Reach out and grasp the hem of His garment and hold on for dear life.

“Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” ~St. Augustine

July 21

“Let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece.” Judges 6:39

There are degrees to faith. At one stage of Christian experience we cannot believe unless we have some sign or some great manifestation of feeling. We feel our fleece, like Gideon, and if it is wet we are willing to trust God. This may be true faith, but it is imperfect. It always looks for feeling or some token besides the Word of God. It marks quite an advance in faith when we trust God without feelings. It is blessed to believe without having any emotion.

There is a third stage of faith which even transcends that of Gideon and his fleece. The first phase of faith believes when there are favorable emotions, the second believes when there is the absence of feeling, but this third form of faith believes God and His Word when circumstances, emotions, appearances, people, and human reason all urge to the contrary. Paul exercised this faith in Acts 27:20, 25, “And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.” Notwithstanding all this Paul said, “Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer; for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” May God give us faith to fully trust His Word though everything else witness the other way. (Streams in the Desert)

The final stage of faith is by far the greatest challenge because it calls for courage of the highest degree. I would much rather rely on myself than trust in God; surrender requires courage. Trust demands I relinquish control, and losing control is what I loathe most. The life of faith is not necessarily a wild ride, but it is an epic adventure. God grant the derring-do to lay our fear at the feet of the Father and leave it there.

“As long as we have a self-righteous, conceited notion that we can carry out Our Lord’s teaching, God will allow us to go on until we break our ignorance over some obstacle, then we are willing to come to Him as paupers and receive from Him. ‘Blessed are the paupers in spirit,’ that is the first principle in the Kingdom of God. The bedrock in Jesus Christ’s kingdom is poverty, not possession; not decisions for Jesus Christ, but a sense of absolute futility — ‘I cannot begin to do it.’ Then Jesus says — ‘Blessed are you.’ That is the entrance, and it does take us a long while to believe we are poor! The knowledge of our own poverty brings us to the moral frontier where Jesus Christ works.” (Oswald Chambers)