How enriched are they who find their strength in the Lord; within their hearts are the highways of holiness! Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears, they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain. He gives to them a brook of blessing filled from the rain of an outpouring. They grow stronger and stronger with every step forward, and the God of all gods will appear before them in Zion.
Psalm 84:5-7 TPT
Valley experiences are common to all of us who draw breath in this world. Some valleys are deeper than others. I’ve watched people who impress me walk through tough times as if they have a secret resource that allows them to remain at peace in spite of everything. When I ask them how they do it they tell me, “It’s in the dark places and stressful times that God’s grace is most plentiful. It’s not as easy as it was before. You have to dig. But that’s where profound silence invites you to come closer. That’s when you can feel his heart of love for you.”
At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice as I prepare my sacrifice of prayer to you. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar and wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.
-Psalm 3:5 TPT
The tree in our front yard that failed to bloom for the past two years is loaded with abundant blossoms this morning. I was afraid it was dying and would never bloom again, but its glory has been restored.
Sometimes I am disappointed with people. More often I am disappointed with myself. Patience and perseverance are character qualities that don’t come easily. This morning the plum tree, thick with flowers and glowing in the morning light speaks to me of a new day, a new season, a fresh vision.
Lord, I lay out the pieces of my heart, the successes, the failures, the disappointments and the dreams. I wait again for your fire to fall on my heart and renew a right spirit within me.
A friend asked this question of those of us who have not been able to attend in-person church services for months at a time due to restrictions imposed by pandemic protocols: What have you missed about church attendance if you have been a regular church attender?
Note: I’m not addressing arguments against either the potential misuse of political power in church closures or the potential lack of consideration for the vulnerable in defiant church openers right now. That discussion tends produce more heat than light when many people in church leadership are doing the best they can with information that is still changing.
This is what I miss about attending local church on a Sunday morning. I miss seeing people who are not on the internet. Some people cannot or choose not to participate on Zoom or other media meetings. Sadly we are losing touch.
I miss corporate worship that includes children and young adults and, well, everybody together in the same place.
I miss celebrating the sacraments together.
I miss hugs and kind touches on the shoulder.
But thinking about my response to this question has made me realize something. Quite a while ago I learned that if I wanted to go deeper in knowing the Lord I could not depend on once a week attendance in a pulpit-centered church in a dedicated building no matter how much I liked the pastor/s. We have moved and been moved several times throughout the years. Every group seems to specialize in favourite doctrines and passages of scripture after a while. Many pastors teach at a level that new believers will understand. Steak dinners are rare. Easily digested blender-processed food is more plentiful. It’s risky to address mystery and pursue what it means to know God at a deeper level without appearing elitist or annoyingly holier-than-thou. I learned to appreciate what was offered and seek more through books, podcasts, webinars, courses, and conferences myself.
Some popular churches focus all their efforts into looking after God’s P.R. and continuing to do what they do best. I admire them, but eventually, something always seems to be missing. Although I’ve gone kicking and screaming, the Lord seem to arrange circumstances that kick me out of the nest if I get too comfortable in places like this. Sometimes, it’s the drive to know Him that pushes me out of the box.
I’ve taken courses from all sorts of lovers of Jesus who are outside the local church and outside my usual tribes. I’ve been involved in both online and face-to-face “parachurch” ministries for quite a while. I now realize that, for me, parachurch organizations have often been a healthier example of being the church than the pulpit and pew crew. The causes parachurch groups support may be different, but they have this in common. Participants are passionately involved and have actual relationships that are the result of working together in hard-won unity. They go beyond “fellowshipping” with the back of someone’s head. The ones that aided spiritual growth the most realize the necessity of prayer and worship and acknowledge the problems of being limited to denominational-style distinctives and limited forms of expressing praise. They recognize diversity and that people flourish in an environment where creativity is honoured and lay people can offer their best.
The question I am tempted to ask now, instead of what do you miss about church services, is this: What do you miss when church means only in-person attendance at a traditional time and place? If your local church has been closed or has switched to online services, has this time of being the church out of the brick and mortar box revealed anything to you? In what ways are you seeing signs of new growth? What has blossomed in your life?
There is a divine mystery—a secret surprise that has been concealed from the world for generations, but now it’s being revealed, unfolded and manifested for every holy believer to experience.Living within you is the Christ who floods you with the expectation of glory! This mystery of Christ, embedded within us, becomes a heavenly treasure chest of hope filled with the riches of glory for his people, and God wants everyone to know it! (Colossians 1:26,27 TPT)
Sometimes the gap between a promise given and a promise fulfilled is excruciatingly long.
I grew up in a part of Canada where signs of spring could suddenly be buried under snowstorms riding on cold winds harsh enough to take your breath away. I see yearly disappointment has struck the prairie provinces again this week.
Last week we were told that churches could open at limited capacity for Easter. Many of my friends and our brave spiritual leaders, and worship team members eagerly made plans for a special time together after months of isolation. Today new announcements squashed that hope. Due to another increase in cases of the virus no indoor religious services will be permitted at all anywhere in this province larger than a lot of countries.
For several months I have had severe pain in my legs and have had trouble walking or sleeping. One day, my doctor phoned to say the latest scans revealed the cause and although I would need surgery, there was hope the problem could be fixed. He called back three weeks later to relay that the consulting surgeon recommended against surgery, for several reasons. There are some things I can try to lessen the pain, but it looks like I need to learn to adapt to disability.
Today I was aware that hope has been deferred for many of us for all sorts of reasons. I wonder if the way we process disappointment says a lot about the way we grow or fail to grow in faith.
Like a lot of people, I’ve felt like I’ve been stuck in a perpetual spring/not spring, forward/backward cha cha dance of hope almost fulfilled/hope definitely not fulfilled lately. Sometimes the dance is exhausting. I have been guilty of sitting down, not always to rest in the Lord, but to put myself into some sort of trance-like endurance plod that looks less like producing potential springtime buds of manifesting promise and instead settling apathetically under the snow for another stretch of dull dormancy.
David, the harassed young psalm writer, often composed verse about seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises snatched away. From the perspective of hundreds of years later it would be easy to skip the agonizing equivalent of some guy singing the blues and go directly to the ecstatic King dancing with such joy that his underwear showed. But the bit in between is important.
The bit in between is called process and that’s where God likes to meet us. It’s that liminal space neither here nor there where we don’t know if we should try something else to force the promise into fulfillment, or if we should just find a way to protect our hearts from the thing we most want to avoid – disappointment. It’s that place where we realize that change in us is more important than change in our circumstances.
This morning, I remembered today is the anniversary of the day our son-in-love was supposed to die. One of the doctors treating him said, “If that guy lives it will be the biggest miracle I have ever seen.” After a week of seeing amazing answers to prayer it looked like it was all over, but God stepped in and reversed the natural order of things. Bruce lived. The creator breathed new life into his ravaged body. The miracle wasn’t instantaneous, but his extremely critical condition from sepsis and multiple organ failure changed direction and proceeded toward full healing much more rapidly than any professional medical expert could have predicted. The doctor had to admit it was a miracle. All this occurred as thousands praying for him dared to trust God in the face of disappointment and in defiance of the odds.
That, I believe, was the real miracle. People across the country and around the world dared to trust again and look for God’s intervention. They chose hope.
I’m hurting, Lord—will you forget me forever? How much longer, Lord? Will you look the other way when I’m in need? How much longer must I cling to this constant grief? I’ve endured this shaking of my soul. So how much longer will my enemy have the upper hand?
Take a good look at me, Yahweh, my God, and answer me! Breathe your life into my spirit. Bring light to my eyes in this pitch-black darkness or I will sleep the sleep of death. Don’t let my enemy proclaim, “I’ve prevailed over him.” For all my adversaries will celebrate when I fall. I have always trusted in your kindness, so answer me. I will spin in a circle of joy when your salvation lifts me up. I will sing my song of joy to you, Yahweh, for in all of this you have strengthened my soul. My enemies say that I have no Savior, but I know that I have one in you!
We are hurting, but our dancing day is coming. In the meantime, we are learning to lean on the One who loves us so much He gave everything to see us stand on wobbly legs and hear us sing in a wobbly voice, “I trust You, Lord. I know You are strengthening my soul. I trust Your timing. You are and always have been good. Breathe Your life into us.”
And don’t allow yourselves to be weary or disheartened in planting good seeds, for the season of reaping the wonderful harvest you’ve planted is coming!
Take advantage of every opportunity to be a blessing to others, especially to our brothers and sisters in the family of faith!
Galatians 6:9 TPT
When I gathered scarlet runner bean pods from the garden as I cleaned up in the autumn, I tossed the seeds in a little blue plastic bowl. I set the bowl on a glass-top table. The pink colour and the way the light shone through the bowl appealed to me, so I snapped a photo with my phone. Today I noticed it again as I searched for something else. It caught my attention and reminded me of the scripture above.
I don’t know about you, but I am getting very tired of inconsistent guidelines around controlling the spread of the virus. People are sharing more about the negative consequences of lockdowns. Beyond the stresses of lost businesses and separation from friends and family are very real and very serious health consequences. I know people who have lost children to despair, overdose, and suicide. I know people whose friends or family members have died because of untreated depression and delayed diagnosis and treatment of other serious illnesses like cancer. A different disease has been prioritized. At least that is what it looked like to me as I fretted over more heart-breaking news this week.
This week I went on an all-day rant. What I have discovered is that when I focus on the negative, I open the floodgates to more negativity, both from myself and others who cross my path. Peace was missing. Don’t hear what I am not saying. I take the virus seriously and I mourn with those who have lost loved ones to it. I’m not denying that reality, but in the process of venting my frustration I was losing focus on another higher reality. I don’t have an answer, but I know that when we reach the end of our ability to fix things, God is there waiting for us to turn around and cry out to him.
He reminds us not to grow weary of talking about and demonstrating his goodness. Seeds of anger and frustration at unfairness lead to crops of more ire and jealousy of those who don’t seem to be suffering as we are. Seeds of kindness, reminders of God’s lovingkindness, in contrast to the desire of the enemy of our souls to promote pain and chaos and division, sprout into growth that reaps a harvest of fruit.
Paul wrote to the Galatians to be careful what they planted. He talked about fruits produced by selfish interest. They included anger and jealousy. In contrast, those who are Christ-centered and led by the Holy Spirit plant seeds that produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I lost it (and thankfully deleted most of the rant before posting in a public place). I was tired and angry and reacting instead of responding. There’s a difference between tiredness that comes from caring deeply about other’s pain and helping to carry their burdens and emotional exhaustion because caring is an inconvenient infringement upon my personal peace and prosperity. I was angry because I didn’t want to have to deal with the pain and sorrow of injustice. In his gentleness, the Lord reminded me that as righteous as the outburst may feel, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
We do have a choice (and this is a message to myself). Don’t allow yourself to be weary or disheartened by taking your eyes off the Saviour. Keep planting love, joy, peace…
I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’
and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’
They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures
and on hills that were previously bare.
(Isaiah 49:9 NLB)
Sometimes we are not aware of how dark things have become until the light breaks through. Just as our eyes adjust to the darkness, our souls can start to accept a dim view of things as normal life. “It is what it is,” some say. When the light first shines we turn our heads because it hurts. We no longer have the capacity to accept the brightness of Jesus’ face. It frightens us. It requires adjustment.
God sent his Son to set the captives free. Dare to lift your eyes. There is abundant life and freedom in the light of his glory and grace.
O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!
Refrain: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
Through death into life everlasting He passed, and we follow Him there; O’er us sin no more hath dominion— For more than conqu’rors we are!
His Word shall not fail you—He promised; Believe Him, and all will be well: Then go to a world that is dying, His perfect salvation to tell!
Can I be honest? I’ve been feeling down lately. It’s not just flesh and blood loved ones I miss in this current bout of voluntary house arrest, I miss the sights, sounds, and scents of being out in nature. Because of two very messed up, very painful knees I haven’t been able to go for a walk for almost a year. Being out in the forests and mountains, talking with the God I love, has always refreshed my soul. I’m mourning the loss of hours enjoyed walking in this wonderful place.
A prophetic artist, knowing nothing about my situation, said she had a picture for me. She said she saw me walking out in nature, receiving healing for my soul, and the Lord told her, “It’s not over yet.”
If you feel a nudge and like you may have a word of encouragement for someone, don’t hold back. You have no idea how much it may mean to someone who is struggling.
I’m not able to get out yet, although I finally received a diagnosis on Monday and have some hope that healing is on its way, with or without medical intervention. In the meantime I decided to imagine one of the spots I love and quickly painted it. I can still hear the Lord’s invitation to walk with him in the secret place.
I’ll get back outside someday. A God who created such beauty around us surely has plans for beauty in our future. He hasn’t abandoned us.
My lovely friend and neighbour moved to the other side of the continent for work this week. I’ll miss her and the chats we have had from a distance across the road. I gave her the painting so she can take a little bit of this corner of the world with her with my love and appreciation. T
There will be more.
I look up to the mountains and hills, longing for God’s help. But then I realize that our true help and protection come only from the Lord, our Creator who made the heavens and the earth. He will guard and guide me, never letting me stumble or fall.
“God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge! You’re a proven help in time of trouble— more than enough and always available whenever I need you.
So we will never fear even if every structure of support were to crumble away.
We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes, moving mountains and casting them into the sea.
For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves cannot erode our faith in you. “
(Psalm 46: 1-3 TPT)
Recently while I was on a Zoom call with friends who were checking on each others welfare, one said, “I’ve come to realize that I am responsible for my own flabby faith. I need to exercise it.” I knew she was right.
Faith is taking the risk of trust. When we sow seeds of fear, we reap a harvest of distrust. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a constant barrage of fear-inducing reports like the ones that saturate the atmosphere right now. So many of us raised with the fear of a punishing God are triggered by this negativity. We need to get to know in an experiential way who God really is and take steps toward trust.
I watched a lad sit perfectly still for hours as he reached his hand out to a wounded. I didn’t see any progress so I left to do something I hoped would be more productive. When I came back later in the day, the little creature was settled in the palm of the boy’s hand. God is like that. He has enormous patience. He is also a great trainer and gives us increasingly greater challenges to grow and strengthen our faith.
I sense we are heading into a time when we will need more than flabby faith. When foundations crumble, we need to be familiar with the Holy Spirit’s still small voice and the safety of the hand of our Creator. It starts with one step and grows in strength through exercise until deeper experience of His love conquers all fear.