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.”
I love the mystery of foggy days. Since we see neither what lies ahead nor what lies behind, fog provides a space for just being. Fog can feel like a misty wall that turns acres of woods into a room of one’s own where time slows down and thoughts and feelings can be as imprecise and yet as real as an expressionist painting.
I hate the impediment of fog when I am in a hurry with places to go and things to do. A familiar road morphs into something strange and an unfamiliar highway provokes the kind of apprehension a horror movie director communicates with an over-the-shoulder shot. Is there a jack-knifed logging truck around the next bend? Cue the ominous music.
This time of uncertainty we live in reminds me of fog. The solitude we introverts usually enjoy is losing its romantic edge. I am ready for it to lift and leave a world of invigorating sunshine and sparkling frost on the trees instead. I long to get out on the highway to visit people dear to me in places beyond restricted borders.
How long will it be? When will the lockdowns and impediments of virus mitigation be over? With all the political chaos and hate-filled mixed messages we hear all around us, what kind of world will we see when the fog of propaganda war lifts?
I read a quote by Corrie ten Boom yesterday. She and her father and sister were sent to concentration camps for sheltering Jews during the second world war. Corrie was the only one to survive. She wrote: Faith is like radar that sees through the fog — the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.
Perhaps God is giving us this time to consider who he is and who we are and who or what we place our faith in. Perhaps we are not as in charge as we like to think. Perhaps he has a plan that relies on his goodness and his desire to kiss a guilty world in love. Maybe it’s about finding faith in his faithfulness and learning to see through his all-seeing eyes.
As I sit here, frustrated that my plans have been stymied by circumstances beyond my control, I am left with this conclusion. God is God and I am not. He has always been faithful to me. His love is unconditional. I hear him ask me to stay a little longer for a state of the relationship type chat. He asks if I trust him even when I cannot see though the fog. In other words, do I love him?
In this place, in the present in his presence, I let go of my need to figure everything out and sing:
I love you, Lord And I lift my voice To worship You Oh, my soul, rejoice!
Take joy my King In what You hear Let it be a sweet, sweet sound In Your ear.
From “Here is Love” by William Rees and Robert Lowry
This verse from the hymn that became the theme of the Welsh Revival in 1904 has been going through my head lately. As light shines in dark places there is an increasing awareness of systemic injustice and corruption that has dragged us into a dark place where hopeless compassion offers only a cruel kindness. Death dresses up as relief and the very young, the very old, and the poor and disabled are victims of the lie.
We cry out for justice, and we long for peace, acknowledging everyone’s guilt but our own.
I had a dream in which I was told that change doesn’t come about by making the same apologies over and over again. Change comes about in the heart first, and only God’s love can heal a heart because only God can be both just and loving. He has provided a way that is truth and life. The way, the only way, is Jesus. God’s kind of justice meant sending his son to set the captives free, not condemn them. He offers life, not death.
Jesus explained, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, and I am the Life. No one comes next to the Father except through union with me. To know me is to know my Father too.” (John 14:6 TPT)
O God in Zion, to you even silence is praise! You are the God who answers prayer; all of humanity comes before you with their requests.
Though we are overcome by our many sins, your sacrifice covers over them all. And your priestly lovers, those you’ve chosen, will be greatly favored to be brought close to you. What inexpressible joys are theirs! What feasts of mercy fill them in your heavenly sanctuary! How satisfied we will be just to be near you!
You answer our prayers with amazing wonders and with awe-inspiring displays of power. You are the righteous God who helps us like a father.
Everyone everywhere looks to you, for you are the confidence of all the earth, even to the farthest islands of the sea.
What jaw-dropping, astounding power is yours! You are the mountain maker who sets them all in place.
Psalm 65: 1-7 TPT
I am learning that prayer is not a work we do to impress God. Prayer is not duty. Prayer is not telling God what to do as if he is our servant. Prayer is definitely not manipulating God with fine flattering speeches or dramatic displays of emotional super-religiosity. These things may impress the people around us, but they do not impress God.
What impresses God is faith — believing he is who he says he is and trusting in his love.
Prayer is daring to come close to God in faith and humility and naked honesty. Sometimes, when we pour out our hearts, words flow. Sometimes we sit in silence not knowing what to say. In these moments, the Holy Spirit speaks our hearts when we can’t. In these moments the Holy Spirit speaksto our hearts in the sounds of stillness.
Prayer is just being near him and knowing that no matter what, he loves us like no one else ever can.
I made many attempts to read the Bible through consecutively from beginning to end. I had many failures. I realized I always stopped around the same place. I couldn’t get past the story of the young prophet Jeremiah, who some call “the weeping prophet.”
A line from a sci-fi 2009 TV show, Flash Forward, arrested my attention while we were binge watching the series. A supervisor tells the investigator, “I can’t think of a prophet that didn’t suffer… and I can’t think of a prophet that God didn’t love.”
A prophet who doesn’t know he or she is loved is a dangerous person. His or her own neediness or bitterness will taint how they view what they have seen or heard. Some prophets used their gift for self-aggrandizement. Faithful prophets in the Old Testament were routinely misunderstood and rejected. They often carried the burden of knowing what others refused to acknowledge. They lived in at least two places and different time zones, The Way We Are Going Now, and The Ways God Is Planning to Take Us In The Future — depending on our willingness to work with Him. Whether they were told to speak boldly in the palace and in the streets like Jeremiah or quietly ponder and keep the information to themselves like Mary, prophets carried both the burden of the ugliness of sin and its consequences and the beauty of hope of restoration. It’s not a vocation many people aspired to and some, like Jonah, even tried to escape.
Jeremiah knew he was loved from his first God encounter. Jeremiah was also misunderstood, rejected, and thrown into a pit for saying what no one in a position of privilege or power wanted to hear. Jeremiah’s worst suffering came from understanding the suffering that awaited those who rejected the help God offered. He knew the blessings awaiting those who chose to trust God, but he also knew the sorrow awaiting those who honoured their own wisdom above the Creator of the universe. He wrote:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord And whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, That extends its roots by a stream And will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NASB)
But he also wrote:
Thus says the Lord, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind And makes flesh his strength, And whose heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert And will not see when prosperity comes, But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, A land of salt without inhabitant.” (verses 5 and 6)
In the midst of his lament for the people who treated him as a crazy, depressed, annoying, embarrassing conspiracy theory promoter, he also wrote in Jeremiah 29:
“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.
For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.
Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’”
I hated reading Jeremiah and Lamentations because I hated the notion that God would allow someone he supposedly loved to suffer. I see now that God took Jeremiah into His confidence about His plans — His conspiracy for good. Jeremiah was loved by God, and it doesn’t get any better than that.
“Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fearwill never conquer me, for you already have!
You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.
Your authority is my strengthand my peace.
The comfort of your love takes away my fear.”
(Psalm 23:4 The Passion Translation)
One of the greatest pains in life is to be rejected, shunned, ignored — cancelled. The desire to belong can be so great that sometimes people will defy their own conscience to maintain connection.
When my mother decided to follow the path that led to a closer relationship to Christ, the consequences were harsh. Her family accused her of dishonouring them. They treated her as though she were dead. It took tremendous courage to risk offending people she loved, but Jesus was calling her and she chose to listen to his voice. Years later, one at a time, most family members reached out to her again, but at first she walked the deep sorrowful path of rejection choosing to believe God’s promises led to greater hope.
When Mom was old and close to dying, she told me that knowing that Jesus would never leave was the greatest comfort in her life. She had found his promises to be true. His love was accepting and unwavering. While the people she loved most turned their backs, He never did. The comfort of his love took away all fear of walking through dark places. She was not alone.
I lost the tag that told me the name of this little rose bush. It blooms just as happily without it. I’m fascinated by flowers of different colours springing from the same root. It brings me joy.
Unity is not uniformity, but neither is unity a random occurrence, without anything in common. I have known groups formed around the concept of unity that were so accepting of almost any idea they no longer have anything in common. That’s not true unity any more than response to a man-made rule that forces everyone to dress the same and act the same is true unity.
Unity in the spirit is about receiving from and responding to the same source, the way these lovely roses receive nutrients from the same root and yet each bloom expresses itself in a different way.
Unity is more than having faith in whatever. Unity is having faith that is connected to the One who is faithful. True unity is about being and rooted and grounded in the Creator’s love.
“Now may God, the source of great endurance and comfort, grace you with unity among yourselves, which flows from your relationship with Jesus, the Anointed One.Then, with a unanimous rush of passion, you will with one voice glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The song in my head this morning: A Mighty Fortress
Martin Luther (a sometimes rude, crude, very imperfect man who unintentionally started something bigger than himself) wrote this song in a time of great societal upheaval. It’s funny how you can hear something so many times it loses it’s meaning. Like chewing gum on its fourth hour it had lost it’s flavour. I’ve plodded my way through this old hymn many times without really listening anymore.
This morning, before I woke, I heard the lines:
“His craft and power are great and armed with cruel hate…”
“The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him…one little word shall fell him.”
“Were not the right man on our side… Christ Jesus, it is he…”
“Our Helper, he amidst the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”
It’s like I heard the lyrics for the first time and sensed I needed to pay attention. Yesterday, after listening to confusing reports of the source of peaceful stands for justice turned to violence in the streets, I asked, “What is actually going on out there?”
This is what’s happening. There is a war going on — a struggle between hate and love. The world is changing. God wins.
This morning a friend posted a question: How would your life change if you lived fully loved?
That’s not what I saw, at least the first couple of times I read it. What I saw was this: How would your life change if you lived fully loaded?
She not the kind to promote violence, so I rubbed my eyes and read it again. I realized the way I saw her question at first was actually the answer to her question.
Love is a weapon. Love takes down fear, hate, disappointment, division and hopelessness. Love heals the wounds that wound. Christ came to restore our hearts and relationship with our heavenly Father, the source of all love.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember that the church began with a group of people meeting in one accord in one place when the Holy Spirit came upon them in power. They were, in a sense, fully loaded by the One who loves perfectly. They went out and changed the world.
How would life change if we, together in one accord, lived fully loaded on love?
God’s love would be seen in demonstrations — demonstrations of power, first in this place, and then in the whole world.