February 12

“Your heavenly Father knoweth.” Matthew 6:32

A visitor at a school for the hearing impaired was writing questions on the blackboard for the children. By and by he wrote this sentence: “Why has God made me to hear and speak, and made you deaf and mute?”

The awful sentence fell upon the little ones like a fierce blow in the face. They sat palsied before that dreadful “Why?” And then a little girl arose. Her lip was trembling. Her eyes were swimming with tears. Straight to the board she walked, and, picking up the crayon, wrote with firm hand these precious words: “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight!” What a reply! It reaches up and lays hold of an eternal truth upon which the maturest believer as well as the youngest child of God may alike securely rest—the truth that God is your Father.

Do you mean that? Do you really and fully believe that? When you do, then your dove of faith will no longer wander in weary unrest, but will settle down forever in its eternal resting place of peace. “Your Father!”

I can still believe that a day comes for all of us, however far off it may be, when we shall understand; when these tragedies, that now blacken and darken the very air of heaven for us, will sink into their places in a scheme so august, so magnificent, so joyful, that we shall laugh for wonder and delight. (Streams in the Desert)

In his little book Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee writes: “Christianity begins not with a big ‘Do,’ but with a big ‘Done.’ Because Jesus died on the cross my sins are forgiven; because he is exalted to the throne I am endued with power from on high.”

All we do in life proceeds from our position in Christ; each day is practical application of our heavenly position here on earth. As children of our Heavenly Father, we are expected to bear the stamp of that heavenliness in every human relationship and in all our earthly behavior. This is exactly what allows us to face unanswerable questions with the response of faith. God knows His children and loves us infinitely; therefore, I trust that He allows only what is best for me, even though I may not understand. No Christian can hope to engage victoriously the challenges of this life without learning first to rest in Christ and in what He has done, and then, through the strength of the Holy Spirit within, to follow Him in faith and confidence. As long as I question His inherent goodness and acceptance of me by grace, I stumble angrily from one hardship to the next. The moment I grasp that Jesus really does loves me, I am ready to face any trial He allows to come my way.

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February 11

“As soon as the soles of the feet of the priests… shall rest in the waters… the waters shall be cut off.” Joshua 3:13

The people were not to wait in their camps until the way was opened, they were to walk by faith. They were to break camp, pack up their goods, form in line to march, and move down to the very banks before the river would be opened. If they had come down to the edge of the river and then had stopped for the stream to divide before they stepped into it, they would have waited in vain. They must take one step into the water before the river would be cut off.

We must learn to take God at His Word, and go straight on in duty, although we see no way in which we can go forward. The reason we are so often balked by difficulties is that we expect to see them removed before we try to pass through them. If we would move straight on in faith, the path would be opened for us. We stand still, waiting for the obstacle to be removed, when we ought to go forward as if there were no obstacles. (Streams in the Desert)

It was so many years ago that the memory is sepia-tone rather than in living color, but I remember special moments with my father in the chainlink fenced backyard of our old home on Boyd Avenue. He carefully gripped my arms and twirled me in a full circle, allowing me to slightly sink and rise in orbit. I recall the exhilaration of it all; as soon as he stopped to rest his arms, I begged him to swing me again. My mother captured some of these gymnastic rituals with our vintage home movie camera, and I enjoyed reliving the moments as an adult. What I cannot remember is being afraid, and I am certain that is because he never dropped me. Dad had sturdy boilermaker arms and an even stronger love for his children; he never let us fall.

Faith and trust are inseparable. Faith is never static; it either grows or diminishes in direct proportion to personal experience of trustworthiness. Simply put, I have faith in who and what engender trust through proving themselves time and time again. I submit to Father’s arms because He never drops me; I step forward into an uncertain future because He has always made a way through the water. Scripture declares and experience confirms, you may trust God in the face of any challenge because He has never dropped you, and never will.

February 10

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves.” Romans 12:19

There are seasons when to be still demands immeasurably higher strength than to act. Composure is often the highest result of power. To the vilest and most deadly charges Jesus responded with deep, unbroken silence, such as excited the wonder of the judge and the spectators. To the grossest insults, the most violent ill-treatment and mockery that might well bring indignation into the feeblest heart, He responded with voiceless complacent calmness. Those who are unjustly accused, and causelessly ill-treated know what tremendous strength is necessary to keep silence to God. (Streams in the Desert)

Tremendous strength and grace are needed to keep silence when tempted to judge harshly and indiscriminately. I faced this dilemma as I stepped outside the sliding glass door and onto the balcony of my 4th floor hotel room. My wife influences my choice of rooms even when she does not travel with me, having convinced me early on in our marriage to always choose space at the end of the hall of the highest available floor of a hotel so as to avoid tromping children overhead, grinding elevators and clacking ice makers. Safe from the threat of disruption above, I stood near the black iron fencerail bordering the five by seven concrete perch, enjoying my bird’s eye view. I noted the ugly details of commercial rooftops in the distance and slow moving ribbonlike patterns of evening traffic, then turned my gaze to more immediate surroundings. I looked down on a woman sitting in a beleaguered wheelchair. She was barefooted and parked facing east on the west side hotel balcony just below my own. A colorful do-rag that reminded me of the bright patterned textiles of Africa barely covered her baldness, and she appeared to be absentmindedly smoking a cigarette that hung precariously from the left side of her mouth, ashes hanging still further down waiting for any kind of breeze to dislodge them. The smoke rose and irritated me. She seemed at home with wheels, and I could easily imagine her as a younger woman sporting black leather, speeding down the interstate atop a vintage Harley. As I watched, she slumped slightly forward and began feverishly swiping gnarled fingers across the screen of her large Galaxy cell phone. She was obviously agitated and voiced her displeasure, oblivious or unconcerned about who might hear. Her demeanor was incongruent to her condition. Although I could not distinguish every word, tone and volume left little doubt as to her state of mind. She was angry, invoking God to condemn someone or something, or a host of both. In knee-jerk fashion I mentally raced to judge, inventing categories to condemn based on deportment and supposition. Almost as quickly, conscience constricted and I reluctantly shifted from insolence to remorse for drawing conclusions about a life I would never have to face myself.

I do not require the vantage point of a high balcony; I am adept most anywhere at condescension. How often do I figuratively look down on outcasts? Why this propensity for avoiding eye contact with those deemed less fortunate? What gives rise to the queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when one enters a restaurant where I am eating? Where is the grace for others that I freely ascribe to God and greedily apply to myself? I have never sat barefoot and alone, unable to walk, with no one to hear my ranting and with nothing to provide comfort and distraction apart from a cigarette and cell phone. The recognition jerked me to attention, and forced me from judgment into prayer for my anonymous neighbor below and confession before God for a heart grown cold against despair and resignation. Intercession always leads to self-reflection. Contrition chooses to look and see, to hear and listen, to move from pity to empathy. These are not the decisions of a deluded saint; instead, they become inevitable when a sinner admits the awful disconnect of his own heart from those who need it most. Grace is not understood in isolation. Mercy never looks down on anyone.

February 9

“He answered her not a word.” Matthew 15:23

“He will be silent in his love.” Zephaniah 3:27

It may be a child of God is reading these words who has had some great crushing sorrow, some bitter disappointment, some heart-breaking blow from a totally unexpected quarter. You are longing for your Master’s voice bidding you “Be of good cheer,” but only silence and a sense of mystery and misery meet you—“He answered her not a word.”

God’s tender heart must often ache listening to all the sad, complaining cries which arise from our weak, impatient hearts, because we do not see that for our own sakes He answers not at all or otherwise than seems best to our tear-blinded, short-sighted eyes. The silences of Jesus are as eloquent as His speech and may be a sign, not of His disapproval, but of His approval and of a deep purpose of blessing for you. (Streams in the Desert)

I invested the decade of the 90’s in missionary service in Africa and India, so I am still becoming acquainted with popular American culture from that period. Occasionally I bump up against something I have never seen or heard that many other Americans assume everyone knows. One of these is the music of Garth Brooks. While many in this country are able to sing along with his numerous chart busters, I am still hearing most of his lyrics and tunes for the first time. I remember where and when it was that I first heard Garth croon, “Some of God’s greatest blessings…” The message registered instantly as good theology and a great personal reminder. God’s silence in the wake of our petition is most often the profoundest expression of His boundless love and infinite mercy. Although I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, I recount times when what I wanted most would have caused me to miss God’s grandest plan. My problem is the self-centered tendency to request and react based on what I want at the moment, without regard to God’s purposes or the eventual fallout for anyone else. Selfish prayer is not prayer at all; it is more akin to making a wish list for Santa at Christmas. Authentic prayer is decidedly Christ-centered. It is right to pray for ourselves, but always with a view to God’s glory and Kingdom advance—not as concession, but as steadfast commitment. God’s silence should elicit praise, and drive me nearer to the heart of Christ.

February 8

“And, lo, I am with you always.” Matthew 28:20

Never look ahead to the changes and challenges of this life in fear. Instead, as they arise look at them with the full assurance that God, whose you are, will deliver you out of them. Hasn’t He kept you safe up to now? So hold His loving hand tightly, and He will lead you safely through all things. And when you cannot stand, He will carry you in His arms.

Do not look ahead to what may happen tomorrow. The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you His unwavering strength that you may bear it. Be at peace, then, and set aside all anxious thoughts and worries. (Streams in the Desert)

Fear is an alien emotion for the Christ-follower, or at least it should be. Don’t confuse fear and reverence. Scripture itself proclaims God doesn’t deal in fear. We honor God and hold Him sacred, and respond accordingly with utmost respect. Reverence induces all manor of beneficial things—humility, service, love, dependence, to name but a few. Fear, on the other hand, calls forth destructive thoughts and behavior; intimidation and insecurity are the norm for fearful hearts. The remedy for fear is revelation. When we discover God is love, and acknowledge the Father’s acceptance based on the finished work of His Son, we run toward Him rather than away from Him.

February 7

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul.” Psalm 43:5

Is there ever any ground to be cast down? There are two reasons, but only two. If we are as yet unconverted, we have ground to be cast down; or if we have been converted and live in sin, then we are rightly cast down. But except for these two things there is no ground to be cast down, for all else may be brought before God in prayer with supplication and thanksgiving. And regarding all our necessities, all our difficulties, all our trials, we may exercise faith in the power of God, and in the love of God. “Hope thou in God.” Oh, remember this: There is never a time when we may not hope in God. Whatever our necessities, however great our difficulties, and though to all appearance help is impossible, yet our business is to hope in God, and it will be found that it is not in vain. In the Lord’s own time help will come. (Streams in the Desert)

Forgiveness breeds hope. We met Andy in the least likely of places. My wife and I hiked carefully down the saturated earthen slope to view The Basin where water cascades into a granite bowl and whirlpools around its walls. American naturalist Henry David Thoreau stood on the same spot on his first trip to the White Mountains in September of 1839, and later wrote in his Journal: “This pothole is perhaps the most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England.” Samuel Eastman in his White Mountain Guide called this spot, “One of the beautiful haunts of Nature, a luxurious and delicious bath fit for the ablutions of a goddess.” High praise indeed for a boiling pot of frigid liquid. Standing on the rim of this natural marvel was a young woman with long dark hair and even longer quilted down coat. She turned to look at us through round black spectacles, greeted us, then asked without blinking if we would use her phone to shoot a video while she spread ashes over The Basin. Andy explained that her mother had died the year before and that she was traveling literally across the globe to sprinkle her mother’s remains in meaningful places. I accepted her phone and awesome responsibility, asked how to manipulate the video controls, and proceeded to miss the shot as she sprinkled her mother over the swirling water. I was crushed, having failed to capture this once-in-a-lifetime moment. I confessed as such to Andy and waited for tears to fall in response, but she simply smiled and said, “Don’t worry. Let’s try again.” More of her mother remained in a ziplock plastic bag, and fortunately I got it right the second time.

Grace is not escape; it is engagement at the highest level of risk, and forgiveness is the remedy for everything. This is why the chief of sinners was also the most prolific evangelist and church planter the world has ever known. Fortunately for me and you, we are forgiven, not only for past failures, but for all future blunders we’ve yet to commit, what Piper calls “Future Grace.” The only possible way to avoid hypocrisy and self-loathing is to step ever deeper inside the labyrinth of forgiveness. We were never intended to wander looking sadly behind, lost in a world of anonymous bridges. Forgiveness begins with believing in Jesus Christ; it flourishes as we forgive ourselves.

After Andy walked away with her mother in her pocket, I watched a leaf surrender today to the cold and pirouette into the whirlpool. I oddly felt sorry for the Sugar Maples, dropping what they worked so hard to nurture and retain, but I watched as other leaves followed suit. Forgiveness means the final curtain never has to fall; this moment is not the final word for those who live by Grace.

February 6

“He turned the sea into dry land; they went through the flood on foot: there did we rejoice in him.” Psalm 66:6

It is a striking assertion, “through the floods” (the place where we might have expected nothing but trembling and terror, anguish and dismay) “there,” says the Psalmist, “did we rejoice in him!” How many there are who can endorse this as their experience: that “there,” in their very seasons of distress and sadness, they have been enabled, as they never did before, to triumph and rejoice. How near their God in covenant is brought! How brightly shine His promises! In the day of our prosperity we cannot see the brilliancy of these. Like the sun at noon, hiding out the stars from sight, they are indiscernible; but when night overtakes, the deep, dark night of sorrow, out come these clustering stars–blessed constellations of Bible hope and promise of consolation.

Like Jacob at Jabbok, it is when our earthly sun goes down that the Divine Angel comes forth, and we wrestle with Him and prevail. It was at night, “in the evening,” Aaron lit the sanctuary lamps. It is in the night of trouble the brightest lamps of the believer are often kindled.

It was in his loneliness and exile John had the glorious vision of his Redeemer. There is many a Patmos still in the world, whose brightest remembrances are those of God’s presence and upholding grace and love in solitude and sadness. How many pilgrims, still passing through these Red Seas and Jordans of earthly affliction, will be enabled in the retrospect of eternity to say—full of the memories of God’s great goodness—“We went through the flood on foot, there—there, in these dark experiences, with the surging waves on every side, deep calling to deep, Jordan, as when Israel crossed it, in ‘the time of the overflowing’ (flood), yet, ‘there did we rejoice in Him!'” (Streams in the Desert)

We sat across from one another, with not much in common except a question. I wasn’t exactly sure how he had found me, but here we were, sipping coffee, exchanging pleasantries, edging closer to the reason we had agreed to meet in the first place. I asked what I could do for him and heard him say that he was spiritually dry as toast, and looking for someone to help revive what was left of his Christian experience. The crux of the matter was that he was more disillusioned with himself than with God, but the Almighty ran a close second. Years of Christian ministry had obscured the reason for that service, leaving him in a downward spiral of guilt and dissatisfaction. When I asked the bottom line of his apparent misery he replied, “I’m not sure if any of this is real, and I don’t see how I can play the game any longer. I have more questions than I do answers.” The silence was tangible between us, his downward stare reflected a defeated heart, but he raised eyebrows and his gaze when I finally spoke and said, “We honor God most by the questions we ask. It’s when we begin to question that we draw closest to the heart of God.”

God speaks more clearly to us through our questions than is possible when we’re convinced that we have all the answers; when we question our mind remains open. When we focus on answers our mind is made up, which is actually a curious phrase. Saying I have my mind made up sounds on par with making my bed or having poached eggs for breakfast. Faith is not that neat, simple, or bland. Questioning is not doubting because it anticipates an answer, making it great faith and even greater hope. Questions are not the enemy of faith; arrogance is.