What if…?

Today’s blog has a two-fold purpose. First, to let you know that my book has been released and is available on Amazon. Yay! The title is the same as today’s blog. The second purpose is to further unpack the title itself.

What if…? What if you’d married a different person, taken a different job, moved to a different town, etc.? The possibilities are unending. Reflecting on the past can be helpful when done with the right motive. If your desire is to not repeat past mistakes, that’s an admirable endeavor. However, lingering too long on the road not taken can be an unhealthy pastime if you are trying to escape present reality. Looking back on what is behind will only lead to regret. Or worse.

“Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah-from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities-and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” Genesis 19:24-26 (NIV Study Bible  1984)

Now, I don’t expect that fantasizing occasionally about what might have been will bring down burning sulfur, but do you really want to risk what you have now, or your future by wasting time on what cannot be changed?

In my novel, the main character allows a seed of bitterness to grow in her heart rather than take her challenges/issues to the Lord. Instead of praying, she complains. Instead of trusting, she acts inappropriately. Instead of focusing, she fantasizes. Today’s struggles will not go away just because you’re living in yesterday’s dream.

It’s perfectly understandable to be sad about past mistakes and/or losses, to wish this or that had not happened. But, you can not live there. There’s at least some truth to the old adage, “you can’t go home again.” When you find yourself ignoring or neglecting today’s relationships and obligations, it’s time to stop and do an about face. And above all, pray. When the past threatens, pray. When the negative thoughts sneak in, pray. When the disappointment lingers, pray.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

That right there is truth! TRUTH! I’ve experienced it personally, and you can, too! When I can’t seem to pray, I pull out my old church hymnal and sing, or just read the words out loud. I might journal, but I must be careful I’m not just writing a list of complaints, but rather a written prayer to the Lord, seeking His help and wisdom.

“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:2

Dear One, you will find no help in the past. You will find no hope in a fantasy. But, in the future, you will find promises. And in today, you can find the Promisekeeper. Don’t ask yourself, “what if?” Ask the Lord, “what is Your plan for me today and the days to come?” The past is dead. Live today!

Jesus is the answer to every question.

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His Will, His Way, His When

What is your default response when faced with an overwhelming situation? I can think of several: whatever, it is what it is, I’ll think about it tomorrow (because after all, tomorrow IS another day), que sera sera (if you’re over 60, you just sang that in your head, didn’t you?). Or maybe you just let out with a big, long sighhhhh.

If you follow me regularly, you may have noticed I write a lot about waiting and being patient. Two of my least favorite “activities”. God created me to be a doer, a fixer, a planner, filling my brain with action verbs. So why does He so often ask me to wait?

Maybe so I don’t trip over myself or bowl someone else over in my attempt to do, fix, plan, or act.

I’m much better than I used to be. Really, I am. I think. Until the next overwhelming situation comes along. Sigh.

Learning to trust God’s will is a challenge for many of us. It’s taken years of Bible study, prayer, and supplication to reconcile my want with His. At this stage of life, I’ve finally realized He truly does know best. And since He sees the big picture (actually He is the big picture!) and knows where every puzzle piece fits, I can rest in that.

Allowing God to do things His way is another stumbling block for us at times. As I mentioned before, I’m a planner. I love to research topics, gather materials, prepare messages, imagine myself giving the talk, or writing the story, think about the reactions, even ponder how it could have gone better before I’ve even done it the first time! I know, nothing like getting bogged down in something that hasn’t even occurred. Sigh again.

I just know I have a great idea for this or that, and it would work so beautifully! Yes? Well, maybe not. There’s a reason we refer to God as omniscient. My idea sounds great to my ears, in my mind. My very biased, not omniscient mind. It’s a good thing when God puts out His big red stop sign. I’m learning not to run through it.

God’s when is the one I struggle with the most. I’m not sure why because I’m a writer which is the least satisfying means of instant gratification. I plant full-grown flowers and shrubs because I’m too impatient to wait weeks or months for them to develop. I love mowing because I can look behind me and see what I’ve done immediately! I still have to resist the temptation to look at the last few pages of a book to see how things turn out, and many times I read a review that contains a spoiler because I. Can. Not. Stand. The. Suspense. Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this. I don’t want to be alone in my shame. Huge thirty second sighhhh.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope… Psalm 130:5

My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130:6

 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. Lamentations 3:25

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:25

ESV 2001

The words wait and patience and all the variations take up a lot of space in my Bible concordance. It’s a big deal. I am especially moved by the verse from Lamentations because it contains a little extra. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him…

I want His good. His best. Because my best can never compare with His. My best is a miniscule bit of dust on the bottom of God’s cosmic shoe. And so I wait. Not always with patience, I’m sorry to say. I’m tapping my fingers, bouncing in my seat a little. But I am waiting. Because when the puzzle pieces are all finally in, I will see what I never could have imagined in a million lifetimes.

Perfection.

His will, His way, His when.

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Sovereign Silence

The last word in the Old Testament is curse. In some translations, it’s destruction, but you get the point. Malachi is the last of the prophets, and he ends the era on a bit of a low note. The Jews had returned from exile and rebuilt the temple, but their former glory days seemed over, and it wasn’t long before they lost hope and began to doubt God.  Malachi rebukes them and, like his contemporaries and predecessors, he issues a warning accompanied by reassurances. The refiner’s fire is coming, and only those who honor the Lord will be spared.

And then? Nothing. Nada. Not a peep. For four hundred years.

These are often called the “silent” years. But, were they really? What happened during this intertestamental period would shape the world of the New Testament. After all, the Septuagint, the Apocrypha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls were recorded during this time, giving words to this era of the Jewish people. The dispersion of Israel accelerated until Jews filled “every land and sea.”

Okay, history lesson over. What about Sovereign Silence today? What about Sovereign Silence in my life? In yours?

I don’t think there’s anything worse than feeling as if God has abandoned you. In Revelation 8:1, we find the appropriate translated word for this particular silence. It means to pause in order to listen for something. “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” (NIV 1984) Silence in heaven? Seriously?

Yes. Sovereign Silence.

The opening of the seventh seal will set in motion the events all the way through chapter 19, verse 10.

As I read this, something jumped out at me. In verses 3 and 4, we find the phrase, “the prayers of the saints.” This phrase is used only one other time in Scripture, and that is in Revelation 5:8 where it specifically states that the incense contained in the censer is the “prayers of the saints.” These prayers “rose before God” and, immediately after, big things start to happen. Earth shattering, heaven shaking things. After the prayers.

Where else in Scripture do we see incredible events following prayer? About a hundred times, or so, but let’s look at a few specifics. In 2 Chronicles, chapter 30, King Hezekiah is trying to set things right and issues new decrees all over the place regarding the Passover celebration and other important events. In verse 26, it says, “There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.” Now, look closely at verse 27, “The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place.” (Emphasis mine)

In 1 Chronicles, chapter 5, verse 20, the Israelites are in the midst of battle, and “they were helped in fighting…and God handed the Hagrites and all their allies over to them, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him.” (Emphasis mine)

In Acts 16, beginning with verse 25, we see this most famous scene, “About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns (in prison!) to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.”

Folks, these were not just coincidences. These were responses to prayers. Prayers offered in gratitude, prayers offered in adversity, and prayers offered in both at the same time.

Dear one, when God is silent, he is not ignoring you. Maybe he is waiting on you. Waiting on you to get to where you need to be to receive his answer. Praying in worship, praying in adversity, praying in trust.

God’s silence may be giving you time to do your best work.

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Not Safe

I have had the title for a new post for several weeks now, but I haven’t been able to get the “meat” of it together. Instead, I’ve been led in different directions each time I sat down to write. This morning was no different except the nudging was much stronger. I nearly wept with the implication.

In my devotional time, I was praying for the front-line Christian workers around the world, asking God to watch over them, to keep them safe and protected, mentioning several by name that we know and support when it hit me. Did Paul, or any of the apostles, ask their fellow believers to pray for their safety and protection? I don’t doubt for a minute that they did offer such prayers, but did the apostles ever ask for safety and protection?

I’m not going to say here with 100% accuracy that no request was ever made for this, but in my recent study of Acts along with a quick perusal of the epistles and letters, I could find no such thing. It seems the apostles were little concerned with personal safety. They had plenty to say about their need for boldness, strength, and courage. They exhorted their brethren to perseverance, steadfastness, and discernment.

Nowhere did I find anyone discussing safety or protection. The one incident that jumps out is in Acts 9:25 when Paul’s followers lowered him in a basket through an opening in a wall because some of the Jews were trying to kill him. That was in the wee hours of Paul’s missionary journeys, and it was paramount that he be removed to safety. Paul, himself, seems only to address safety when he has been specifically directed by the Lord.

Why is our first prayer for our loved ones, ourselves, or anyone for that matter, about safety? Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. That’s not a wrong thing to pray for. But, as ambassadors of Christ, soldiers in God’s army, workers for the harvest, shouldn’t we be more concerned with the boldness and courage and perseverance that Paul beseeched his brothers and sisters about?

When I pray for those Christian workers around the world to be safe, am I possibly interfering with their witness or ministry? These good people generally do not live in safe places. They have to be bold for that very reason. They need perseverance to tell others about Jesus Christ in the face of daily rejection and physical threats. They need courage to get out of bed every morning and travel dirt roads by foot or on bicycles (if they’re lucky) to remote locations just to speak life into one hungry soul.

Sharing the gospel is not supposed to be safe.

In Matthew, chapter 10, beginning in verse 16, Jesus says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them…In verse 28, he continues, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (NIV 1984)

Paul famously declared, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21

So, I changed my prayer this morning to this: “Dear Lord, for all the precious souls around the world proclaiming the good news today, I ask You to give them strength to march on, wisdom as to what needs to be said, courage to say it, and perseverance to do it again tomorrow in the face of persecution. And, if it be Your will, preserve their physical well-being according to Your sovereign plan. Amen.”

And then, I prayed the same for myself.

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Fences

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In the poem Mending Wall, Robert Frost writes this, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Once upon a time, back yards were connected. Kids and even pets roamed freely with no complaint unless serious damage was done. The few fences that existed were short ones, fences you could lean your elbows on while you chatted with your neighbor who was watering flowers or lighting the charcoal in preparation for the evening meal.  Houses had front porches where friends could stop by for a few minutes to catch up on the neighborhood news (okay, gossip), wait for the tinkling bell of the ice cream truck, or just watch the fireflies put on a twinkling display of God’s amazing creative talents.

Somewhere along the way, fences grew taller and front porches disappeared. Attached garages with remote controls allowed homeowners to come and go virtually unseen. Television in the living room became the nightly ritual, variety shows bringing us to tears with their hilarious, and often corny, comedy routines. We now have automatic irrigations systems and gas grills. Air conditioning (yes, I’m very grateful for that one) caused us to close our windows, further shutting out the world around us.

What are we hiding from?

None of these things are inherently bad. They just make it too easy to hide. Too easy to ignore one another’s needs. Because we can’t hear our neighbor’s cries in the first place. And no one can hear ours.

In Matthew, chapter 22, the Pharisees ask Jesus what is the greatest commandment in the Law. He responds, beginning in verse 37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Similar instruction is repeated in Matthew 19:19, Galatians 5:14, Mark 12:31, Leviticus 19:18, James 2:8, Romans 13:9, Luke 10:27, and Leviticus 19:17, just to name a few.

Why is this so important?

Because we need each other. Statistics have long proven that married people live longer than the unmarried. Extroverts live longer than introverts. (I’m doomed!) People with pets live longer than people without. Introverts with pets live longer than introverts without pets. We crave interaction with other living creatures. We were created for relationship and not just with the people under our individual roofs.

Our next door neighbors used to have cows. And then a horse. After that, a donkey. I’m glad they had a fence. Even with that, the cows sometimes found a way out and would show up in our front yard. They never caused a problem, other than us not wanting to go outside until the herd had been led home. That bull did not look friendly!

Good fences do make good neighbors under particular circumstances, such as those referenced in Frost’s poem.

Becoming immersed in other’s lives is messy. But statistics also show that the happiest people are those who serve and give generously. We are commanded to do just that. It’s not an option.

Love your neighbor as yourself…

It’s hard to do that from behind a fence. Or a closed door.

Come on out, and live.

 

 

Shut the Door!

We all want God’s will, right? We want to walk the path he’s laid out and live for his glory. We pray, “Thy will be done…” and ask him to show us the way. But, if we’re honest, most of us make our  own plans then ask God to bless them. We plow ahead and pray, “Lord, if this is not your will, please shut the door.”

And what happens when he does?

“Oh, God, why did you let this happen? I don’t understand. This is a good thing. How could you not answer that prayer?” accompanied by wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Why, indeed?

God’s word says he will give us the desires of our heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)

And Jesus says to ask anything in his name, and you’ve got it. (John 14:14, 16:23-24)

So, what gives?

Could it be that the desires of our earthly, human hearts do not align with the will of our heavenly, spiritual Father?

Look at 1 John 5:14-15 “This is the confidence we have in approaching God; that if we ask anything according to his willhe hears us. And if we know he hears us-whatever we ask-we know that we have what we asked of him. (Emphasis mine) That verse was a wow moment in my life as a new believer.

Do we truly want God’s will, or do we want what will bring us happiness or make our lives better? Our prayers are not bad or inappropriate. Just maybe not the right prayers at the right time. It may be difficult to hear this, dear one, but God is not overly concerned with our happiness or station in life. His will is so much more. He is concerned, however, about our holiness and readiness for heaven. Our concerns, no matter how important, are temporal. It takes time to develop a far view. A view that sees what is to come beyond the now. We are a terribly myopic species after all. The far view is so much more beautiful if we will only lift our eyes.

I will never stop praying for the very real things that often hamper my spiritual growth and cause my faith to wobble a bit, but my prayers are focused on God’s will in his way and his timing. When he shuts the door, I trust that on the other side of it was something I was not ready for.

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“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5

Preparing To Be Still

If you’ve been following my Facebook page, It’s Time to Get Dressed, you know that I’m all about preparation. I’m a planner, an organizer, a gatherer of materials and info. prior to leaping forward to tackle a project. That’s why I love Ephesians 6:10-18. It’s a paragraph of action! Steps laid out in perfect order, with expectation of results. Yes! Do this, follow that, march on, soldier. It feeds my need.

Then, there’s this: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

Oh, Lord, not that. Anything but that. 

This psalm is a triumphant confession of fearless trust in God even though the earth is in the midst of upheaval. It’s a picture of complete destruction yet total reliance on the Creator. It’s what being still before the Lord looks like. Praising in the storm, singing in the face of the thunder and lightning, worshiping despite the knee-buckling pain. And waiting.

It’s following the instructions to “put on the full armor of God” and then waiting for the Sovereign Commander to issue your orders. But He doesn’t. Look at what comes immediately after that first directive in verse 11: “…so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (emphasis mine)

We are called to stand, and in verse 18, we are told to pray and keep on praying. Not exactly music to the ears of those of us who are twitching inside our armor, ready to do battle and stick our victory flag in the ground.

I tend to forget the battle belongs to the Lord. I think He needs my help. Trust me on that one, He does not need our help. He wants our trust.

Take a deep breath, dear one, and ask yourself, “Do I trust God, or do I not?” This is not a multiple choice test. There is only one answer that will bring about the joy of watching the Lord work on our behalf. Be still. Rest.

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