September 8

“Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.” Psalm 4:1

This is one of the grandest testimonies ever given by man to the moral government of God. It is not a man’s thanksgiving that he has been set free from suffering. It is a thanksgiving that he has been set free through suffering: “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.” He declares the sorrows of life to have been themselves the source of life’s enlargement. (Streams in the Desert)

To be completely honest, most suffering I endure is self-inflicted.

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” Psalm 51:3

The prevalence of sin is no excuse to play the victim; instead, it is a call to battle. Moral decay is not inevitable. Choices have a lingering effect; poor decisions harm, but good ones heal. I must deal ruthlessly with every thought that threatens control of Christ’s dominion.

“It is only when God has altered our disposition and we have entered into the experience of sanctification that the fight begins. The warfare is not against sin; we can never fight against sin: Jesus Christ deals with sin in Redemption. The conflict is along the line of turning our natural life into a spiritual life, and this is never done easily, nor does God intend it to be done easily. It is done only by a series of moral choices. God does not make us holy in the sense of character; He makes us holy in the sense of innocence, and we have to turn that innocence into holy character by a series of moral choices. These choices are continually in antagonism to the entrenchments of our natural life, the things which erect themselves as ramparts against the knowledge of God. We can either go back and make ourselves of no account in the Kingdom of God, or we can determinedly demolish these things and let Jesus bring another son to glory.” (O. Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

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September 3: Striving

“And he saw them toiling in rowing.” Mark 6:48

Straining, driving effort does not accomplish the work God gives man to do. Only God Himself, who always works without strain, and who never overworks, can do the work that He assigns to His children. When they restfully trust Him to do it, it will be well done and completely done. The way to let Him do His work through us is to partake of Christ so fully, by faith, that He more than fills our life.

A man who had learned this secret once said: “I came to Jesus and I drank, and I do not think that I shall ever be thirsty again. I have taken for my motto, ‘Not overwork, but overflow’; and already it has made all the difference in my life.”

There is no effort in overflow. It is quietly irresistible. It is the normal life of omnipotent and ceaseless accomplishment into which Christ invites us today and always. (Streams in the Desert)

Life is exceedingly simple these days—much more so than ever before. As a younger man I fretted over unrealized grand schemes and worried that my life might pass unnoticed. While attempting to convince myself that all I wanted was to make a difference for Christ, the clearer truth is I wanted to make a difference for myself. The most severe competition we encounter is internal. I fought to scale all manner of imagined hurdles, all the while heralding to others the beauty of a life free from ambition. I did not recognize the futility of striving.

The only disciple who accomplishes anything of eternal value is the one stripped bare of vain ambition. Desiring Christ is the only aspiration Scripture sanctions. Holy thirst. When I cease straining to advance myself, I am free to rest in God’s glory. What matters is the weight of God’s renown. The moment He becomes all to me, life takes on the lasting value I once worked so hard to achieve on my own. A vessel cannot be filled until it is empty.

August 30

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.” Psalm 107:23-24

Let our prayer be that of an old Cornishman: “O Lord, send us out to sea—out in the deep water. Here we are so close to the rocks that the first bit of breeze with the devil, we are all knocked to pieces. Lord, send us out to sea—out in the deep water, where we shall have room enough to get a glorious victory.”__Mark Guy Pearse

Remember that we have no more faith at any time than we have in the hour of trial. All that will not bear to be tested is mere carnal confidence. Fair-weather faith is no faith.__C. H. Spurgeon (Streams in the Desert)

Discipleship is difficult because success or failure rests solely on my readiness and willingness to depend on the Father. There is no such thing as a self-reliant disciple. Reckless abandon to Sovereign God is no small thing; the way of the cross runs counter to common sense, and violates logic. That is what makes the Sermon on the Mount counter-cultural, to borrow a phrase from John R. W. Stott. While every reasonable voice urges to remain in the safe shallows, the wind of the Spirit blows into rough waters that threaten to dash us against shadowy crags apart from divine intervention. Faint hearts falter here. Brave hearts abandon independence and bow themselves daily, even hourly, to the mercies of God. Deep seas develop disciples.

August 24

“I have all, and abound.” Philippians 4:18

Who has not known men and women who, when they arrive at seasons of gloom and solitude, put on strength and hopefulness like a robe? You may imprison such folk where you please; but you shut up their treasure with them. You cannot shut it out. You may make their material lot a desert, but “the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.” (Dr. Jowett)

Where there is much light there is also much shade. (Streams in the Desert)

It isn’t easy living the Christ life, but according to all available evidence it was never intended to be. “Think it not strange …” Quite honestly, I prefer things that come easily, and if not careful I make that my criteria for judging something to be God’s will, as if friction and strain somehow invalidate God’s purposes. That would be American hermeneutics, not biblical interpretation. Rigorous discipline, challenge, struggle, hardship—I may not gravitate naturally toward these, but such harsh descriptors are not incompatible with divine guidance.

Although I have invoked it from time to time, I remain leery of the familiar Christian vocabulary of the “open door.” I find many more examples in Scripture of hardship to be overcome than I do of walking through open doors like the opening segment to the old Get Smart TV show with Don Adams walking down a corridor as various secure doors open before him in rapid succession. The story of Joseph in Genesis disquiets me more than all the others put together. His tale is replete with mistakes, misunderstanding, false accusation, imprisonment, abandonment, servitude—and all for a preferred son. The kicker is the commentary that comes at the end of the narrative: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20 KJV). Seriously? Or take Paul’s unwelcome thorn in the flesh. God was obviously not unaware, as he responds to Paul’s petition that divine grace is sufficient to carry him through the pain. Sounds good if you’re not the one with the thorn—likely malarial induced headaches that stabbed like a red hot poker running through his skull.

Advance in gloom as well as in the light; shadows provide as much opportunity for growth as does broad daylight. Judge God’s will against his kingdom purposes, his Word, and his call on your life, rather than in light of the path of least resistance.

“Beloved, 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; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” 1 Peter 4:12-19, KJV

August 15: Wounds

“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

The best things of life come out of wounding. Wheat is crushed before it becomes bread. Incense must be cast upon the fire before its odors are set free. The ground must be broken with the sharp plough before it is ready to receive the seed. It is the broken heart that pleases God. The sweetest joys in life are the fruits of sorrow. Human nature seems to need suffering to fit it for being a blessing to the world. (Streams in the Desert)

Brokenness blesses because it strips away independence, leaving us bent before Holy God. It is from there, prone and prostrate, that we rise in deeper submission to the Father and move resolutely forward in step with the Spirit. Believers do not walk away from wounds; we embrace the way of the Cross. We will never be like Christ without a wound. Surrender is not easy, but is the necessary prelude to living as reflections of light in a shadow world.

“Pay attention to the things that bring a tear to your eye or a lump in your throat because they are signs that the holy is drawing near.” (Frederick Buechner)

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.

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)