June 19

“Grain is crushed, though one certainly does not thresh it forever. The wheel of one’s wagon rolls over it, but his horses do not crush it.” Isaiah 28:28

Many of us cannot be used to become food for the world’s hunger until we are broken in Christ’s hands. “Bread corn is bruised.” Christ’s blessing ofttimes means sorrow, but even sorrow is not too great a price to pay for the privilege of touching other lives with benediction. The sweetest things in this world today have come to us through tears and pain.

“God has made me bread for His elect, and if it be needful that the bread must be ground in the teeth of the lion to feed His children, blessed be the name of the Lord.”__St. Ignatius (Streams in the Desert)

Beware the trap of placing need above Christ. We are not after humanitarian effort; we are pursuing a love relationship with the Triune God. As a matter of course, our hearts awaken to all manner of human suffering; we intervene because God is love. When we operate in reverse, we place band-aids on the terminally ill. Christ is everything; love Him supremely and you will lay your life down to alleviate suffering wherever you encounter it.

“Our Lord’s first obedience was to the will of His Father, not to the needs of men; the saving of men was the natural outcome of His obedience to the Father. If I am devoted to the cause of humanity only, I will soon be exhausted and come to the place where my love will falter; but if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve humanity though men treat me as a door-mat. The secret of a disciple’s life is devotion to Jesus Christ, and the characteristic of the life is its unobtrusiveness. It is like a corn of wheat, which falls into the ground and dies, but presently it will spring up and alter the whole landscape” (O. Chambers).

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June 18

“Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13

This is God’s word of encouragement to us to lift up the hands of faith, and confirm the knees of prayer. Often our faith grows tired, languid, and relaxed, and our prayers lose their force and effectiveness. The figure used here is a very striking one. The idea seems to be that we become discouraged and so timid that a little obstacle depresses and frightens us, and we are tempted to walk around it, and not face it: to take the easier way.

There are many ways of walking around emergencies instead of going straight through them. How often we come up against something that appalls us, and we want to evade the issue with the excuse: “I am not quite ready for that now.” Some sacrifice is to be made, some obedience demanded, some Jericho to be taken, some soul that we have not the courage to claim and carry through, some prayer that is hanging fire, or perhaps some physical trouble that is half healed and we are walking around it.

God says, “Lift up the hands that hang down.” March straight through the flood, and lo, the waters will divide, the Red Sea will open, the Jordan will part, and the Lord will lead you through to victory. (Streams in the Desert)

I am struck by clarion chords of delight that accompany Paul’s praying. The Apostle’s vertical climb was joyfully congruent with his horizontal connections. Persistent intercession proceeds from meaningful relationship. In other words, I will never wrestle with endurance over that with which I am only casually acquainted. Relationship is critical in both directions; I pray passionately for those I care deeply about, and I pray to the Father with the degree of intensity consistent with what I believe of Him to be true.

I am not arguing for what Thomas Merton argued against: “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.” I am effective in prayer to the degree to which I am personally invested. What seems clear to me from Scripture and personal experience is that disinterested prayer may be the most decisive descent into violence.

June 17

“Then there was a voice from above the platform over their heads when they stood still.” Ezekiel 1:25

People so often say, “How do you get the voice of the Lord?” Here is the secret. They heard the voice when they stood and let down their wings.

We have seen a bird with fluttering wings; though standing still, its wings are fluttering. But here we are told they heard the voice when they stood and had let down their wings.

Do we not sometimes kneel or sit before the Lord and yet feel conscious of a fluttering of our spirits? Not a real stillness in His presence.

How much time is lost by not letting down the wings of our spirit and getting very quiet before Him! Oh, the calm, the rest, the peace which come as we wait In His presence until we hear from Him! Then, ah then, we can go like lightning, and turn not as we go but go straight forward whithersoever the Spirit goes. (Streams in the Desert)

It is impossible to discern the voice of God when obsessed with my own. Self-centeredness is more devastating than one might suspect; the self-absorbed life is a godless life. When I define my own universe, the Creator is relegated to nothing more than tule and lace; He is mere adornment rather than the One I adore.

“The first thing God does is to give us a spiritual spring-cleaning; there is no possibility of pride left in a man after that” (O. Chambers).

A great many evils spread like cancer when the center shifts. Prayer becomes an attempt to manipulate rather than a path to intimacy. Ministry morphs into erecting my own kingdom rather than that of the Father. Instead of lifting Jesus so that He draws the world to Himself, I promote myself and people turn away to seek a more remarkable model. Selflessness tunes my heart to the harmony of Almighty God, and allows space for Him to work and receive all according praise.

June 15

He named the second child Ephraim, saying, “Certainly God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering. Genesis 41:52

The summer showers are falling. The poet stands by the window watching them. They are beating and buffeting the earth with their fierce downpour. But the poet sees in his imaginings more than the showers which are falling before his eyes. He sees myriads of lovely flowers which shall be soon breaking forth from the watered earth, filling it with matchless beauty and fragrance. And so he sings:

“It isn’t raining rain for me, it’s raining daffodils;

In every dimpling drop I see wild flowers upon the hills.

A cloud of gray engulfs the day, and overwhelms the town;

It isn’t raining rain for me: it’s raining roses down.”

You indeed see the rain. But do you see also the flowers? You are pained by the testings. But God sees the sweet flower of faith which is upspringing in your life under those very trials. You shrink from the suffering. But God sees the tender compassion for other sufferers which is finding birth in your soul. Your heart winces under the sore bereavement. But God sees the deepening and enriching which that sorrow has brought to you.

It isn’t raining afflictions for you. It is raining tenderness, love, compassion, patience, and a thousand other flowers and fruits of the blessed Spirit, which are bringing into your life such a spiritual enrichment as all the fullness of worldly prosperity and ease was never able to beget in your innermost soul. (Streams in the Desert)

I recall vividly the angst of drought in East Africa, and the hopelessness that accompanied failed rainy season after season. Rain is life in Africa. I drove through clouds of dust on dirt roads lined with wilted crops and dying livestock. I wept with villagers in the northern frontier district as we walked around corpses of emaciated cows and donkeys. I remember just as clearly the day the rains returned. They began slowly with intermittent pinging on our metal roof, quickening into steady sheets that swept across the parched land, reviving all in its wake like CPR to a fallen man. We were so overjoyed, my daughters and I skipped outside and danced figure-eights in the downpour until we were water-logged.

Every difficulty holds potential as a blessing for the child of God. With each successive trial we encounter new degrees of God’s love and fresh awareness of Providence. Problems require us to look outside ourselves, and push us into the arms of a loving Father. We fade into useless independence apart from the rain.

June 14

“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:32

Christian, take good care of thy faith, for recollect that faith is the only means whereby thou canst obtain blessings. Prayer cannot draw down answers from God’s throne except it be the earnest prayer of the man who believes.

Faith links me with Divinity. Faith clothes me with the power of Jehovah. Faith insures every attribute of God in my defense. It helps me to defy the hosts of hell. It makes me march triumphant over the necks of my enemies. But without faith how can I receive anything from the Lord? Oh, then, Christian, watch well thy faith. “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Streams in the Desert)

We enjoyed a visit last night from a grand daughter while her mother took her sister to riding lessons down the “S” curve and up the blacktop from our home. Hannah B walked in wearing a purple toboggan adorned with Disney ‘Frozen’ patch, t-shirt, shorts, and rainbow colored sandals; our family’s very own Punky Brewster. The toboggan was more than slightly out-of-place as it was warmer than 90 degrees outside when she arrived.

Hannah likes to draw, so our first order of business was to walk hand-in-hand outside to my office located in the north end of our barn, in order to gather the necessary art supplies. I went inside for paper, and on the way out my grand daughter touched the rough barn-wood door and collected a splinter in the end of one of her pudgy fingers. I learned on the spot that splinters and Hannah cannot casually co-exist. I attempted to calm her by assuring her in between sobs that I am a professional splinter remover. She wasn’t buying it. Each time I maneuvered tweezers near the black speck in her fingertip, she wailed and jerked her hand away. She obviously did not trust that I held her best interest at heart, and preferred the splinter to my rescue efforts. I finally did what all self-respecting grandfathers do in just such a situation—I sent her to her grandmother.

Much later, long after Hannah had left for home (with blue masking tape around her finger) and my wife was in bed, I sat on our front porch and contemplated life and the universe to the gentle swaying motion of our glider rocker. I smiled and shook my head in the dark as I thought of Hannah’s revulsion at my efforts as first-responder, but admitted out loud to no one in particular that I recognized in her reaction my own faith failures. I confess I do not know God well enough to believe He always chooses what is best for me. Distrust is a powerful force that repels the One who loves me most and wants only good for me. I am unwilling to endure momentary discomfort of removing unnecessary habits and hurtful attitudes, preferring to wrap my fears in masking tape rather than trust a loving Father to tenderly take away the toxic things that conjure pain and poison my heart. Trust results from nothing less than intimate knowledge of the Father’s perfect love.

June 10

“And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

“In one thousand trials it is not five hundred of them that work for the believer’s good, but nine hundred and ninety-nine of them, and one beside.”

—George Mueller

How wide is this assertion of the Apostle Paul! He does not say, “We know that some things,” or “most things,” or “joyous things,” but “ALL things.” From the minutest to the most momentous; from the humblest event in daily providence to the great crisis hours in grace. . . all things “work together.” It is a beautiful blending. Many different colors, in themselves raw and unsightly, are required in order to weave the harmonious pattern. Many separate tones and notes of music, even discords and dissonances, are required to make up the harmonious anthem. (Streams in the Desert)

Following three weeks away from home, it was especially satisfying to be surrounded by family for an afternoon at our daughter’s home and pool. The water was garden variety H2O with the correct Ph balance, but to me it felt more like a healing spring—washing away layers of fatigue built-up over the past few months. During a brief break in the action, I surveyed the family scene and was struck by this personal application of Romans 8:28. I am not sure there is such a thing as “normal” family, but if there is, my place in ours is, at the very least, complicated. My wife and I each once sang our own version of the blues that morphed into a joyful harmony when God brought us together. That granted admission into a family in which I inherited two step-daughters, two step-sons-in-law, and one step-grandson. Time and love erased the prefix; I emerged as Papa to them all.

On this afternoon in the sun, to my left swam a namesake grandson and oldest grand daughter, while the eldest grandchild held center court from a chaise lounge adjacent to the hot tub. In front of me swam grand daughters in stereo—one stared at me behind the poly carbonate goggles we purchased earlier for her from the Five Below store; the other moved in pulsating circles around me like a frog. She is special to me in that she and I share the same designation—“adopted.” Adult “children” formed the backdrop for this aquatic American Gothic snapshot, and the panorama was—in a word—satisfying.

Where we are and who we are is the accumulating effect of a divinely orchestrated ebb and flow. Although convergence awaits eternity, at any given moment in time we are a complex masterpiece forged on the providential anvil of disappointment, bewilderment, mercy, and redemption. Recognize your past as one crammed full of spiritual markers that outline your path of discipleship, and you will face forward resolutely to embrace what awaits with grit and determination. Regardless of all sensation to the contrary, God is weaving these moments of pain or ecstasy into a larger tapestry of grace.

June 9

“Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” Psalms 37:3 | KJV

There is one text that will take all the “supposes” out of a believer’s life, if it be received and acted on in childlike faith; it is Hebrews 13:5, 6: “Be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”

The eagle that soars in the upper air does not worry itself as to how it is to cross rivers. (Streams in the Desert)

Every day matters; our daily challenge is to choose what matters most. To be completely honest, that choice has changed for me over the years. I have often wrestled with the inclination to lose sight of the value of this moment while straining to predict the next and strategize accordingly. What I am learning as I enter my senior years is that if we knew what tomorrow held, we would faint at the task at hand. Grace is now and grace is here; grace is always present tense.

An author that I am just now getting to know has something helpful to say about this present tense narrative of grace: “To make bread or love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger—these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone. In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life” (Barbara Brown Taylor).

As long as my focus strays to later, I am slightly less inclined to relish this instant. I need deliverance from frenetic obsession with what is to come, and so I may embrace instead the breathing and feeling and thinking and seeing and knowing—right now. “Whoever you are, you are human. Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it” (Taylor). There is grace to be had in abundance when I allow myself to detect the weight of God in the mundane and ordinary. The moment I do, my soul takes flight.