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

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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)

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.