Secreted

I like to keep up with current events. I’d like to say it’s so I can pray, but perhaps a lot of motivation for reading and watching media comes from a strong dislike for nasty suprises and a need to be prepared. But sometimes it’s too much – the anger, the accusations, the division, the manipulation. I feel myself being sucked into mob mentality that makes perpetrators out of victims and bystanders.

Then I realize that with freedom comes responsibility. I am responsible for paying attention to the condition of my heart. I need to get away from news and opinions and seek God in the quiet place where voices speaking from limited understanding (including mine) are hushed.

This morning I woke up feeling like I had been in a battle all night. In spite of the restlessness in my soul, the song playing in my heart was a verse from Francis Havergal’s Like a River Glorious:

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

I sat down at the computer and read the scripture suggested for today in The Book of Common Prayer. This verse stood out to me.

In his shelter in the day of trouble, that’s where you’ll find me,
for he hides me there in his holiness.
He has smuggled me into his secret place,
where I’m kept safe and secure—
out of reach from all my enemies.
Triumphant now, I’ll bring him my offerings of praise…

(Psalm 27:5,6 TPT)

Under the shade of the mountain ash tree in my garden, I notice how fragrant lilies of the valley secret themselves among dark sheltering leaves. They are not worried.

Thank you, Lord. I hear you.

Leave No Unguarded Place

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I woke up with a verse of a song playing in my head.

Leave no unguarded place,
No weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace,
And fortify the whole.
From strength to strength go on,
Wrestle and fight and pray,
Tread all the powers of darkness down
And win the well-fought day.

It’s from the hymn, Soldiers of Christ Arise, written by Charles Wesley. His brother, John, is famous for leading a well-known spiritual awakening, but it’s Charles’ verses that come to memory for me.

I looked for a video performance of the song but none that I saw had the tone of gentle encouragement I felt when I heard this part of it in my spirit. Some of them used photos of modern military and others featured large choirs and brass fanfares.

None of them felt right because “wrestle and fight and pray” doesn’t take place in the middle of patriotic hoopla for me. The battle, for me, takes place mostly in my bed at night when I wrestle with doubt, fight fear, and pray from a position of being very aware of weakness. The only strutting involved is when I am trying to walk the cramps out of my legs, and technically, that looks more like lurching.

I don’t feel particularly virtuous when I am complaining about pain. I don’t feel particularly strong when worries attack without the defenses of daylight logic camouflage. My prayers contain no self-conscious public speech-making bravado. Mostly they are moans, for myself, for my family, for my friends, for my country, for this world where the powers of darkness, in a variety of costumes, seem to be clog dancing on the face of those suffering injustice.

And yet, I hear the voice of my Lord saying, “Get up. Put your armour on.”

In his kindness, Holy Spirit first points out places in my heart that need to be fortified with his love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Then he reminds me of his lavish, empowering grace.

He reminds me that when I fall, I don’t have to go all the way back to the beginning. My new starting point is where I left off last time. I am learning that I can fall, admit it, and get up to fight from strength to strength with his weapons — and aim them at the real enemy, not the hostages.

The process involves acknowledging the unguarded places in my soul where lies about who God is and who I am in Christ have slipped in unnoticed. One common unguarded place is unforgiveness. Another is complaining. Someone told me that complaining is the worship language of hell and not to be surprised by who shows up for a pity party.

Wrestling, puzzling, pondering draws us closer to God. Sometimes trust means moving in obedience without any more insight than knowing he is good and he’s asked me to get up and pray.

Sometimes one crumb leads to another on the path to closer relationship. As I was pondering this song another came up:

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.
-George Croly

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Today is Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came in power on a Pentecost day to enable the followers of Jesus to go from strength to strength. They couldn’t do it on their own.

Sometimes the next step is simply a practical one. While he fried up bacon and eggs, my husband patiently listened to me verbally process the significance of the music in my head and its metaphorical meaning.

“By the way,” he said, when I paused to take a sip of coffee, “You left the back door open last night.”

Note to self: check the doors before going to bed.

When We Have Exhausted Our Store of Endurance

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In northern climates, spring is just beginning. Oh, how I welcome the signs of season change this year. Sitting in the warm sun without a coat, even if I am sitting alone on my deck, feels like the world is starting to open again. This has been a tough season – for nearly all of us.

As a student, I noticed a pattern in my educational history (because I notice patterns). I seemed to have seasons when learning new things came easily and seasons when study felt like slogging through hip-deep snow. The slogging season ended with new shoes and clothes, because in those seasons I grew physically. Another common season, the one my mother thought was my perpetual dwelling place, was the season of not much happening, not visibly, at least. Those times became the opportunity to enjoy relationships and put into practice and some of the good habits Mom tried to drill into us.

Years later, I read an article by someone else who noted the same pattern – and took time to research it properly. Children tend to alternate physical and mental growth spirts.

As an adult, I noticed that spiritual growth also came in spirts. Just as there are rhythms in nature, there are rhythms in the spiritual realm. I’m learning to ask the Lord what he wants to show me in whatever season I find myself in. I don’t believe we are all in the same place at the same time, nor do we all progress at the same rate. Sometimes change occurs suddenly. Some seasons do drag on. This has been a drag-on one for me.

A verse from an old hymn showed up in answer to my prayer about what this season is about and what provision the Lord has set aside for me now.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

(From He Giveth More Grace by Annie J. Flint)

It’s about endurance. Patient endurance. It’s about provision of physical, emotional, and spiritual strength fueled by hope and learning to run with it.

Our cross-country running coach back in high school trained us for endurance races by pushing us to go farther each time we ran. His was not my favourite class. Not even close. Undiagnosed exercise-induced asthma made gym class a miserable experience for me. I didn’t wheeze. I went directly to heart-pounding dizzy and sick. I just about puked on his shoes in an oxygen deprived moment one day, but even that failed to win sympathy. He tolerated no whining. If I dawdled, I got an extra lap. I didn’t die, and even though I often came in with the last stragglers, my endurance improved significantly that year. After I forgave him, I could acknowledge some gratefulness.

The writer of Hebrews talked about the necessary quality of endurance in running the race set before us. I want to whine that I’m hurting, that I’m tired, that this is too much. It’s as if the coach is indicating that another lap is required before this season of uncertainty is over. Really? I don’t think I can do it, but he thinks I can. And he is right. I can go a little farther in trust than I did before.

Seasons when I learned about God’s goodness and discovered his love and abundant grace and favour were more fun than this one has been, but learning that God is faithful, steadfast, and will provide what I need, when I need it (and not a moment sooner) builds endurance. Learning that pain is bearable siphons off some of the fear the enemy used to manipulate me in the past.

The discipline of running the race set before me, and not another person’s race, has helped me to stop comparing. I may take longer than others, but I make better time than I used to. That feels good.

There’s also something about patient endurance with focus on a goal that makes us willing to pare down and drop things that don’t matter as much as they once did. I’m travelling lighter.

The unexpected prize in this season of patient endurance is joy. Jesus’ endurance was a result of seeing the joy set before him. I’ve been praying for more joy. This joy doesn’t feel like giddy happiness, but it does feel like something inexplicably wonderful lies ahead. The joy I see reminds me of something as wonderful as new life awaking on  branches that appeared dead for so long. It smells like the scent of hope blooming in the spring sun. It feels like the certainty of sweet fruit.

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Jesus encourages, “Look at me! Eyes here! Come on. You can do it…”

One more lap. One more…

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2 NKJV)

Like a River Glorious

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Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully, all for us to do;
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.

– Frances Havergal, 1876

 

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

You Can’t Make a Story Without a Problem

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I checked the weather report before I left to drive to Calgary. Mixed cloud and sun with occasional showers. Perfect.

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I like driving the Cowboy Trail when the weather is unsettled. The road runs north on the east side of the Rocky Mountains from the Crowsnest Pass. Light constantly changes in these conditions. Vistas are never quite the same. Cloudscapes and sunbeams arrange patterns of shadow and sun on the hills, telling a different story with every shift of wind. The photographer waits, anticipating drama – a story told in darkness and light.

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As part of my continuing story, this trip involved another trek to see specialists in a larger center about my complex health challenges. It’s one of those battles raging between good days and bad days, like plot shifts set in an ever changing landscape of unexpected symptoms.

DSC_0281 (5)I thought about the elements of story (a long road with few services leaves ample time for thought.) Even my little granddaughter had it figured out by the age of four.

“Every story has to have a good guy and a problem,” she said, drawing an exceptionally long-limbed princess on the first page of a storybook we decided to create one rainy afternoon. “Sometimes it has a bad guy, but it doesn’t have to. You can make a story without a bad guy, but you can’t make a story without a problem. Now what is our problem going to be? Maybe the princess has nobody to play with?”

A fellow writer had this to say about a memoire she was asked to review: “I’m happy for the writer. She’s had such a lovely life, but I feared falling into a never-ending sleep of the mostly dead before reaching the final chapter. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happened to her – no disasters, no life-or-death crisis, no betrayal, no wayward children, not even a single regret worthy of a flight to a priest in another town for a trembling ten minute confession. I’ve had a hellish life myself. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but at least it wasn’t boring. I can’t relate to this book. What should I say? Reviewer dies from toxic dose of niceness?”

Jesus understood the power of story. “It’s like this,” he said, communicating a complicated concept people by referencing something familiar.

“It’s like a Father who had two sons, but the youngest one…”

“It’s like a rich man who went on a journey and trusted a manager to look after his business while he was gone, but…”

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I watched the clouds along the highway and hoped for a place to stop where the views were best. A couple of times the clouds dropped their loads and the rain was so heavy I had to pull over to the side and wait them out. My windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. I could see nothing. But stories are like that too, especially our own, especially in the middle of a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding downpour.

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It’s hard, on the underside of a deluge, to remember that God is in the story with us. In fact, he has gone to some lengths to arrange circumstances that will give us stories.

Everything we think we know about him is merely theory until we experience him in the storm. Everything is dull until we see the light flooding the plain with hope. Every seed is dormant until awakened by the rain.

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I could pray for a nice life without stress, without doubt, without the need for divine intervention.

I could, and I have, but one night, in a dream, the Lover of my soul came to my door and called my name. When I opened to it, I saw him astride a beautiful white horse. He held the reins of a saddled bay and said, ”Come on! I want to show you something.”

We’re still writing our story together. It’s been an adventure, even when the skies have been cloudy all day, because, well, when that sun breaks through, it’s glorious.

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“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”– Jesus
(John 16:33 NIV)

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Feeling Weak and Overwhelmed: A Prayer

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When I’m feeble and overwhelmed by life,
guide me into your glory, where I am safe and sheltered.

I’ve been feeling frustrated with my attempts to love people who act in an unloving, disingenuous manner – especially those who make skewed assumptions or condemn on the basis of association. I feel weak, overwhelmed – and, at times, I respond in an unloving, disingenuous manner myself.

Last evening my friend shared a song written by King David. Psalm 61. With tears in her eyes, she said that after reading it she felt loved. She has a beautiful heart and when she shares, I listen. I read the psalm again today.

It looked like King David had all the advantages — looks, charm, talent, connections, physical strength, intelligence, wealth, authority. He had seen God act in mighty and miraculous ways to set him on the throne, yet he still felt feeble and overwhelmed at times.

The greatest advantage David held was his ability to recognize that God was God and he was not. Being able to acknowledge his weakness kept him clinging to the Source of his provision. When he forgot from whence he came, and gave into the temptation to use his authority for self-aggrandizement, (like the time he resorted to betraying his faithful warrior, Uriah, on the battlefield, as cover-up for his own self-indulgence, for example) things went very badly for him. It broke him, but never cut him off from God. Repentence is re-alignment.

Paul wrote about his own intimate relationship with the greatest power in the Universe. A messenger of satan hung around even after the apostle prayed three times to have it removed:

“But he answered me, ‘My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.’ So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me. So I’m not defeated by my weakness, but delighted! For when I feel my weakness and endure mistreatment—when I’m surrounded with troubles on every side and face persecution because of my love for Christ—I am made yet stronger. For my weakness becomes a portal to God’s power.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 TPT)

History demonstrates that power, unaligned with the Source of light, corrupts. Only the weak and the humble whose strength lies in submission to God can be trusted not to use it to worship themselves. Self-worship is also known as pride or entitlement. “I deserve the best on the basis of my superior attributes.”

The concept of humility is almost completely foreign to today’s public relations schemes and media manipulation. I’ve known Christian leaders who have been told that if they want to build a big church they should not to be open about their own weaknesses.

“People want a strong leader who sets an example,” a seminary prof said, “They want someone with a reputation they can trust without question.”

In other words, people want a god, or at the very least – a self-made man or woman worthy of emulation.

Alas, when leaders who follow this advice find themselves feeling weak and overwhelmed, they don’t always recognize the circumstances that threaten to drown them as a gift to prod them back into right relationship with the One who truly made them. Often they double down and resort to offensive defensiveness instead of humble prayer. A self-made man or woman has only the illusion of self-made resources to fall back on.

When King Herod accepted the adulation of the people, “The words of a god!” things did not go well for him either. (Story in Acts 12)

Those who work with light or fire or electricity or explosives know they themselves are never equal to either its creative or its destructive power. They also know, that with respect, yes, even fear, they can become a part of something greater than themselves, something greater than they ever imagined.

Power and authority in the Kingdom of God comes from knowing one is loved simply because God loves, and not as reward for any superior endowment of attribute or accomplishment. It is God’s infinitely powerful love, the dunamis power of the Holy Spirit flowing through one that allows a person to love powerfully. When we dwell in the shadow of the Lord, we are safe and sheltered. In him, we can love as he loves.

Lord, in weakness be our strength. May our feebleness be a portal to your power. Keep us in Your glory.

O God, hear my prayer. Listen to my heart’s cry.
 
For no matter where I am, even when I’m far from home,
I will cry out to you for a father’s help.
When I’m feeble and overwhelmed by life,
guide me into your glory, where I am safe and sheltered.
 
Lord, you are a paradise of protection to me.
You lift me high above the fray.
None of my foes can touch me
when I’m held firmly in your wrap-around presence!
 
Keep me in this glory.
Let me live continually under your splendor-shadow,
hiding my life in you forever.
Pause in his presence
 
You have heard my sweet resolutions
to love and serve you, for I am your beloved.
And you have given me an inheritance of rich treasures,
which you give to all your lovers.
 
You treat me like a king, giving me a full and abundant life,
years and years of reigning,
like many generations rolled into one.
 
I will live enthroned with you forever!
Guard me, God, with your unending, unfailing love.
Let me live my days walking in grace and truth before you.
 
And my praises will fill the heavens forever,
fulfilling my vow to make every day a love gift to you!

Psalm 61 TPT

 

When God Says No

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I’ve learned that God is not nearly as restrictive as the culture I grew up in. He doesn’t place fences around fences around fences out of fear of one of us accidently going too far – at least for those who desire to grow in relationship with him.

The more we look to the Holy Spirit to guide us with his love and empower us with his grace, the more rule-making and rule-keeping becomes superfluous. In fact, rule-keeping can keep us from a closer walk with God, for we tend to focus on definitions of right-and-wrong behaviour rather than a love-based relationship that shows in our choices. When we rely on study alone and forget that the scriptures tells us we can, indeed, hear the Shepherd, we don’t bother to listen. (for Weeding Out the Noise click here.)

My own sheep will hear my voice and I know each one, and they will follow me. (John 10:27)

But sometimes I forget to ask him. Sometimes I start to walk in self-confidence instead of Holy Spirit-confidence. It looks good to me so away I go. Sometimes I barge ahead when I need to stay close to God and pay attention to the wisdom from above. Not all is as it first appears. Not every well-intended action is wise. Not everyone has the same assignment. Not all my own unexamined motives are pure.

More than once I have gone along with projects that looked good and ignored warning signs. The road may be right for them and suited to their personal equipping, but it’s not for me, at least not now. Often, I have found myself bogged down in burdensome tasks because I was led by my own desire to alleviate suffering (or my own privilege-guilt) without paying attention and asking for discernment in this particular situation. I wanted to do something – anything. So I did.

It didn’t turn out so well.

I once joined a group of people who seemed to be forging the way for greater things to be done in this city. I was happy to learn from them, even though they seemed to concentrate more on looking for historic strongholds of evil and what the devil was doing than looking at what Jesus was doing. Then I had a dream.

In the dream I was travelling down a local country lane which is called Hidden Valley Road. I came to a red light where there is no red light in real life. When the light didn’t change, I assumed it wasn’t working and kept going. Then a barbed wire fence appeared across the road. Now my curiosity kicked in. What was it I was not supposed to see?

In the dream I crawled under the fence to peak at what was around the bend. Suddenly a rockslide tumbled down the hillside in front of me. Boulders covered the road missing my toes by millimeters.

“What was that about?” I prayed after I woke up.

Over the next few days, I came to realize that when I asked the Lord to guide my path he would. He was saying no. Exploring the hidden valleys of darkness was not for me. My assignment is to talk about his goodness and his mercy. I longed for a group of friends in which I felt I could belong and be understood so much that it was difficult to drop out, but I did.

It wasn’t until months later the wisdom of stepping away was confirmed.

Most of the time I hear the Lord say that he gives us much more freedom to grow than we have this far taken advantage of. But greater freedom comes with greater responsibility to stay close to him. When he says no we need to stop immediately, even when we don’t understand the reason or fear offending someone.

I am learning to hear his voice. Sometimes I am wrong, and I need to admit when I have missed it, but God is good and there is grace for the maturing process. The faith walk in real time means taking risks, taking responsibility, and learning how to respond more quickly the next time.

But solid food is for the mature, whose spiritual senses perceive heavenly matters. And they have been adequately trained by what they’ve experienced to emerge with understanding of the difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.

(Hebrews 5:14 TPT)

Refresh

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“Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.”

(Matthew 11:28-30 TPT)