April 19

“Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” Exodus 14:13

These words contain God’s command to the believer when he is reduced to great straits and brought into extraordinary difficulties. He cannot retreat; he cannot go forward; he is shut upon the right hand and on the left. What is he now to do? The Master’s word to him is “stand still.” It will be well for him if, at such times, he listens only to his Master’s word, for other and evil advisers come with their suggestions. Despair whispers, “Lie down and die; give it all up.” But God would have us put on a cheerful courage, and even in our worst times, rejoice in His love and faithfulness.

Cowardice says, “Retreat; go back to the worldling’s way of action; you cannot play the Christian’s part; it is too difficult. Relinquish your principles.” But, however much Satan may urge this course upon you, you cannot follow it, if you are a child of God. His Divine fiat has bid thee go from strength to strength, and so thou shalt, and neither death nor hell shall turn thee from thy course. What if for a while thou art called to stand still; yet this is but to renew thy strength for some greater advance in due time.

Precipitancy cries, “Do something; stir yourself; to stand still and wait is sheer idleness.” We must be doing something at once—we must do it, so we think—instead of looking to the Lord, who will not only do something, but will do everything.

Presumption boasts, “If the sea be before you, march into it, and expect a miracle.” But faith listens neither to Presumption, nor to Despair, nor to Cowardice, nor to Precipitancy, but it hears God say, “Stand still,” and immovable as a rock it stands. “Stand still”—keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice; and it will not be long ere God shall say to you, as distinctly as Moses said it to the people of Israel, “Go forward.’ (Streams in the Desert)

Biblical discipleship demands great courage. Spiritual valor allows us to stand when our impulse is to run, trust when tempted to abandon hope, and take heart when all evidence tells us to lay it down. Faith does not require an empty head and numb heart; quite the contrary, faith frees me to take every thought captive to the sovereignty of God, and leave unanswered questions to His response. We do as Watchman Knee writes—“Sit, walk, stand”—all with the dynamic aid of God’s Holy Presence. Waiting saints are not in suspended animation; we are runners with muscles poised in the starting blocks awaiting the starter’s gun.

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April 18

“And he shall bring it to pass.” Ps. 37:5

I once thought that after I prayed that it was my duty to do everything that I could do to bring the answer to pass. He taught me a better way, and showed that my self-effort always hindered His working, and that when I prayed and definitely believed Him for anything, He wanted me to wait in the spirit of praise, and only do what He bade me. It seems so unsafe to just sit still, and do nothing but trust the Lord; and the temptation to take the battle into our own hands is often tremendous.

We all know how impossible it is to rescue a drowning man who tries to help his rescuer, and it is equally impossible for the Lord to fight our battles for us when we insist upon trying to fight them ourselves. It is not that He will not, but He cannot. Our interference hinders His working. (Streams in the Desert)

I customarily arrive early for appointments to avoid the risk of being late and to survey the lay of the land, so-to-speak. This occasion was no exception. A would-be guest had agreed to meet at a local coffee shop on a certain day and at a specific time; in fact, he chose the time and place. I stood just inside the doorway so that I wouldn’t miss him, checking my reflection in the window, and watching everyone in the world go by except the individual I was to meet. Our appointed time came and went, but still I waited. By the time he was fifteen minutes late I was restless and began pacing back and forth in front of the large windows facing the parking lot. My agitation must have been obvious because the manager walked over twice to ask if I needed something to drink or a place to sit until my guest arrived. I thanked him, declined the offer and continued to fret. Following two failed attempts to reach him by phone, I returned to my vehicle and exited the parking lot an hour later than I had arrived—frustrated and fuming.

There is a seismic difference between waiting for someone and waiting with someone. Waiting for someone breeds passive restlessness—agitation void of benefit. Waiting with someone encourages deepening intimacy and holds potential for myriad of creative and delightful engagement. You and I are never told to wait on God; on the contrary, life is full of opportunity to wait with Him. Waiting with God as we look to see Him act on our behalf is an invitation and opportunity to edge closer to the Creator and the purpose for which we were created. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Catechism). If you find yourself aggravated at God for any reason, check your heart. Most likely you are missing the point of waiting altogether.

April 17

“The hand of the Lord hath wrought this.” Job 12:9

In one of George MacDonald’s books occurs this fragment of conversation: “I wonder why God made me,” said Mrs. Faber bitterly. “I’m sure I don’t know what was the use of making me!”

“Perhaps not much yet,” said Dorothy, “but then He hasn’t done with you yet. He is making you now, and you are quarrelling with the process.”

If men would but believe that they are in process of creation, and consent to be made—let the Maker handle them as the potter the clay, yielding themselves in resplendent motion and submissive, hopeful action with the turning of His wheel—they would ere long find themselves able to welcome every pressure of that hand on them, even when it was felt in pain; and sometimes not only to believe but to recognize the Divine end in view, the bringing of a son unto glory. (Streams in the Desert)

I watched a cow standing in dense green alfalfa strain its neck through barbed wire to eat spindly weeds growing a few feet beyond the fence. Contrary to popular opinion, the grass is not greener beyond our reach. It may be natural to desire something other than what we are or possess, but such dissatisfaction as a rule proves destructive. Beware of any line of reasoning that begins with, “If only . . . “

Jesus weighs in on the dilemma when he emphatically states, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). During the years I taught undergraduate ministry students, I encountered what I consider to be a common misunderstanding of this essential component of discipleship. Perhaps by default, the frequent interpretation communicated to church-goers is that self-denial equates to self-rejection.  Somehow we confuse denying self with rejecting or at least avoiding self-understanding. The difference is colossal; self-awareness is paramount to obeying Christ’s command. Daily denying of self invokes an ongoing process of personal discovery, for only when I embrace the way God has fashioned me am I ready to relinquish all that I am to Christ.  How can I offer to Christ what I am unaware is mine to give? Such a scenario is more akin to hypnosis than surrender. It is ludicrous to think Sovereign God created me uniquely, only to require me to opt for a lesser version of myself. If you want to serve Christ in the way that only you can, develop as fully as possible every gift granted you. The more I acknowledge and embrace my God-granted uniqueness, the better able am I to surrender and use that uniqueness in serving Him and others.

April 16

“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed.” Hebrews 11:8

It is by no means enough to set out cheerfully with your God on any venture of faith. Tear into smallest pieces any itinerary for the journey which your imagination may have drawn up. Nothing will fall out as you expect. Your guide will keep to no beaten path. He will lead you by a way such as you never dreamed your eyes would look upon. He knows no fear, and He expects you to fear nothing while He is with you. (Streams in the Desert)

What if God is uninterested in my happiness but eternally committed to my Christlikeness? I commenced missionary orientation with wide-eyed naïveté more than twenty years ago, subconsciously convinced of my own invincibility and God’s commitment to my indestructibility; however, missionary training took an unexpected turn in the jarring opening statement by one of the orientation speakers. Maurice Graham, Southern Baptist missionary to Kuwait, was one of several Americans held hostage during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990. His liberation came on December 9, the day Southern Baptists had been asked to pray specifically for Graham’s release. I will never forget the impact as he stood before all of us wet-behind-the-ears would-be missionaries and said, “God is not concerned about your personal comfort. He is committed to His glory.” He went on to describe his terrible ordeal in detail, and for the first time that I can remember, the world shifted slightly away from me as its axis. I have wrestled with Graham’s statement many times since then, and each time my center moves a little more God’s direction.

Scripture is replete with reassurances that God knows us, loves us, and desires for each of us an abundant life (John 10:10), but this abundance is less tied to momentary happiness, and far more connected to enduring joy. Faith lifts my gaze beyond this moment. Happiness is a momentary emotion based on an ever-shifting set of circumstances; joy is an enduring character trait forged on the unchanging standard of the Incarnate Word, Jesus the Christ. Joy consists of grand abundance in facing every circumstance with the character of Christ.

“Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for power equal to your tasks” (Phillips Brooks).

Faith produces strength of character necessary to embrace abundance over against the tempting self-serving lure of transient pleasure.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9, NIV)

April 15

“I trust in thy word.” Psalm 119:42

Just in proportion in which we believe that God will do just what He has said, is our faith strong or weak. Faith has nothing to do with feelings, or with impressions, with improbabilities, or with outward appearances. If we desire to couple them with faith, then we are no longer resting on the Word of God because faith needs nothing of the kind. Faith rests on the naked Word of God. When we take Him at His Word, the heart is at peace.

Trials and difficulties are not the only means by which faith is exercised and thereby increased. There is the reading of the Scriptures, that we may by them acquaint ourselves with God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. Are you able to say, from the acquaintance you have made with God, that He is a lovely Being? If not, let me affectionately entreat you to ask God to bring you to this, that you may admire His gentleness and kindness, that you may be able to say how good He is, and what a delight it is to the heart of God to do good to His children. Now the nearer we come to this in our inmost souls, the more ready we are to leave ourselves in His hands, satisfied with all His dealings with us. (Streams in the Desert)

There is something to be said in favor of going through the motions. This may be explained in two words—muscle memory. When you need it, the tedious repetition kicks in and gets you through the rough spot. Athletes know that well executed repetition is their greatest ally when the stress level is high and victory on the line. They trust their muscles to flex and respond on demand without conscious effort. Discipleship, too, requires a great deal of ‘muscle memory’—holy rehearsal that results in pushing through the monotonous and mundane that constitutes much of what we call spirituality. Habits form by praying when we don’t feel like it, reading Scripture when we are bored with it, and living by faith when all evidence screams and pulls to the contrary, steeling us for whatever lies ahead. Faith is not as mysterious as one might think; trust results from repetition. Each right response to doubt and disappointment triggers future obedience. Sanctification is not measured by emotion response at any given moment, but by the residual effect of spiritual muscle memory.

April 14

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

It was “very early in the morning” while “it was yet dark,” that Jesus rose from the dead. Not the sun, but only the morning-star shone upon His opening tomb. The shadows had not fled, the citizens of Jerusalem had not awaked. It was still night—the hour of sleep and darkness, when He arose. Nor did his rising break the slumbers of the city. So shall it be “very early in the morning while it is yet dark,” and when nought but the morning-star is shining, that Christ’s body, the Church, shall arise. Like Him, His saints shall awake when the children of the night and darkness are still sleeping their sleep of death. In their arising they disturb no one. The world hears not the voice that summons them. As Jesus laid them quietly to rest, each in his own still tomb, like children in the arms of their mother; so, as quietly, as gently, shall He awake them when the hour arrives. To them come the quickening words, “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust” (Isa. 26:19). Into their tomb the earliest ray of glory finds its way. They drink in the first gleams of morning, while as yet the eastern clouds give but the faintest signs of the uprising. Its genial fragrance, its soothing stillness, its bracing freshness, its sweet loneliness, its quiet purity, all so solemn and yet so full of hope, these are theirs. (Streams in the Desert)

My good friend and neighbor across the lane enhanced my vocabulary this morning. Our paths typically intersect en route to set out trash for pickup. I look forward to these casual opportunities to swap snippets of theology and offer morsels for meditation throughout the week ahead. A handful of us gather for worship on Sunday nights in Dick’s recording studio near his house, so Monday mornings are a good occasion for reflection. Dick is essentially a philosopher who happens to also be an accomplished musician, and I enjoy when he shares what he is reading at the moment, or an experience that sets him to thinking. Today, my musically inclined philosopher friend shared over trash cans a new word added to his vocabulary from his current reading. The word is “dotage.” He explained that at first he thought it had something to do with doting over someone, like a proud mother does to a cherished son, but that isn’t it at all. It holds a far more sobering meaning. Dotage is the stage of life when health, vigor, and mental faculties deteriorate (“you could live here and look after me in my dotage”). These are declining years, the autumn or even winter of one’s life.

Dick dropped this linguistic bomb then bade me farewell, leaving me to contemplate my own dotage while wearily toting garbage the remaining distance to its appointed place. For some odd reason I suddenly felt years older. Perhaps the soreness in my lower back is not merely muscle strain, it is muscular degeneration, and the fatigue I feel isn’t caused by overwork, it is due to deteriorating physique. Almost as suddenly, Scripture sprang to the rescue and arrested my mental downward spiral: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV). Oh, the wonder of the thought—fresh mercy every morning! I may be sauntering into the autumn of life or slogging unaware through aging’s winter snow, but God’s grace never tires and Christ’s mercy is always young.

April 13

“And the hand of the Lord was there upon me; and he said unto me, Arise, go forth unto the plain, and I will there talk with thee.” Ezekiel 3:22

Did you ever hear of any one being much used for Christ who did not have some special waiting time, some complete upset of all his or her plans first; from St. Paul’s being sent off into the desert of Arabia for three years, when he must have been boiling over with the glad tidings, down to the present day? God’s love being unchangeable, He is just as loving when we do not see or feel His love. Also His love and His sovereignty are co-equal and universal; so He withholds the enjoyment and conscious progress because He knows best what will really ripen and further His work in us.

God provides resting places as well as working places. Rest, then, and be thankful when He brings you, wearied to a wayside well. (Streams in the Desert)

I am, to state it mildly, directionally-challenged. My wife frequently wonders aloud how I ever found my way to any destination prior to the advent of the handheld GPS. I assure her that I navigated the African savannah quite well on my own, thank you very much. All I had to do was steer toward the next outcropping on the horizon. The truth is, I have always struggled to keep my bearings without a visual reference point. Losing sight of where you are headed is a fast track to becoming lost.

Today’s trials threaten to steal my hope and confidence that all of this makes sense somehow. Hopelessness is a strain of spiritual amnesia; I lose sight of whose I am and where I am headed. God never induces a comatose existence, leaving me numb and disconnected from the moment; while not always removing or resolving my strife, grace reminds that this momentary struggle is part of a journey that leads back home. One of the prized books on my shelf is entitled, “No Picnic On Mount Kenya;” it describes the ordeal of Italian prisoners of war who escaped and climbed their way to freedom over Africa’s tallest peaks. Today may not resemble a picnic in any shape, form, or fashion, but the beauty of it all is that our Father is helping us over boulders on our way back home.