What’s In Your Hand?

I was feeling discouraged earlier this week. I had exchanged texts with a couple of college friends. And after reading their updates, I was left feeling a bit unaccomplished. One was lamenting the challenges of being in grad school, working full time, and homeschooling her preschooler. The other was telling me about completing grad school applications, while helping her four kids with distance learning, and starting several businesses.

As I read their achievements, the only thing I could think about was what wasn’t being accomplished in my own life. How many times have I talked about going back to school in the past two years? How many projects have I started with fervor, only to watch them languish in apathy?

It made me think of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Each servant was given “according to his ability” (v. 15). The first servant was given five talents and doubled them. The second servant, although he was given fewer talents, doubled them too. And then there was the third servant. I wonder if he compared what he was given with the other two. Did he look at his lowly talent and think, “I don’t have as much as they do. They’re going to accomplish so much more than me. So I don’t even know what the use of trying will be.”?

In Exodus 4:2, God asked Moses, “What’s in your hand?” Moses was trying to disqualify himself from the task God had given him. When we feel unqualified, we usually ask things like, “How am I going to get this done? Where can I go to get the needed training? How much money will it take?” But God simply asks, “What is in your hand?” It’s similar to the question Jesus asked his disciples when He fed the 4,000. The disciples asked, “How can we feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” (Mark 8:4 ESV). But Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 8:5 ESV).

We are often distracted by what we don’t have or can’t do. We become like the third servant. We start looking around and seeing our shortcomings. So we choose to bury what we have, either out of fear or a sense of inadequacy. However, the difference between the first two servants and the third was not what they were given, but what they did with what they had.

My two friends have very different circumstances from me. They’ve been given things that I haven’t. It would be easy to sit around and do nothing, simply because I don’t have as much as they do and I may not be able to accomplish as much as they can. But God isn’t asking me to compare what I have with what others have. He’s asking me to use what’s in my hand.

Common

Recently, the kids and I had huddled into a sort of hug prayer, with a child on each side of me. As I was praying, I was so distracted by their fidgeting with one another. And this wasn’t the first time my prayers had been interrupted by their playing. I remember my own childhood. My parents would have never allowed such frivolity and playfulness. They taught us to fear and respect God in prayer.

But we live in a different time. God is our friend, not some big, far-off being. We want our kids to like God and church and all things spiritual. But in my attempts to make Him approachable, have I made Him ordinary? Have I made God too commonplace?

The idea of the fear of God has somehow gone out of mode. It’s true, I do want my kids to enjoy church and feel like God is their Father. I’ve taught them that prayer is just “talking to God.” But I’m afraid in doing so, I’ve taken away some of the holiness, the sacredness of prayer.

God is nothing to trifle with. He is holy and deserves not only our respect, but our fear. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He said, “‘Do not come any closer’ … ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground'” (Exodus 3:5 NLT). Though God had called Moses to Him, He did not allow him to approach His presence casually.

When Jesus was crucified, the veil of the Temple was torn, permanently removing the separation between us and God (Mark 15:38). But that doesn’t mean our approach to Him should be anything less than reverential.

I’m not saying we need to pray formal, liturgical prayers all the time. But neither should we be distracted or irreverent. Prayer is talking to God. But we must remember that He is the Creator of Heaven and Earth, not our buddy with whom we are shooting the breeze.

So I’m doing quite a bit of backtracking and retraining with my kids. We are learning to “bow our heads and close our eyes,”–old school praying. We are learning that prayer is not the time to play and fidget. And most importantly, we are learning that God is to be honored, respected and feared.

But It Still Hurts: The ongoing struggle to forgive

Has this ever happened to you? You bump into something and bruise your arm or leg. It smarts for a minute or two. But after a while, the pain subside and you move on. But then you bump that same spot again, and suddenly the pain of the original injury comes flooding back. You realize that there’s still a tender bruise there. That’s been my process of forgiveness. I’ve tried to be quick to forgive, not wanting bitterness to take root (Hebrews 12:15). But sometimes a situation will come up, unexpectedly, that will renew the pain and I find myself in need of forgiving all over again.

“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”
– C.S. Lewis

Keeping my heart free from unforgiveness hasn’t been easy.  C.S. Lewis said it best in his book Mere Christianity, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”

I’m reminded of a time when Journey hurt Faith. As I was mediating between them I encouraged Faith to forgive her brother. Her response was so innocent and real: “But it still hurts!” Years later, as I think back on that incident, I know exactly how she felt. How do you forgive when you still feel pain?

I think God must have had a similar dilemma. Over and over, from that first moment when Adam and Eve took a bite of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3), mankind has rejected God in one form or another. Yet even in the pain of rejection, He made a plan, through Jesus, to reconcile us to Himself: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).

I’m learning that walking in forgiveness isn’t pretending like the offense never happened or the pain isn’t real. I’ve found that it’s important for me to process through the emotions of the hurt. And as good as it feels to vent to my friends and family, I have found no better listening ear than my Heavenly Father. I can be ugly honest with God. I can tell Him that I’m hurt or angry or some combination of the two. I can tell Him that I’m having difficulty forgiving. Then I can ask Him to heal me and help me forgive by the power of the Holy Spirit. And He always helps me. It’s not always instantaneous. Sometimes it takes crying out to Him several times. But I’ve also learned that forgiveness isn’t an emotion, it’s a choice. It’s not a one-time event. But an ongoing, daily–sometimes minute-by-minute–decision to let go of my desire for retribution.

I’m hopeful that one day soon those tender spots in my heart will heal. And the enemy of my soul will no longer have a bruise to poke. But until that day, I will continue to cry out to God to help me forgive as He has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32).

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil

The enemy of our souls thrives in secrecy and lies. It’s how he keeps us bound. Shame and condemnation keep us from seeking true freedom in Christ. He can convince us that we are unworthy. The truth is, we are unworthy, except through the blood of Jesus. But secrecy also keeps us isolated from other people.

I learned this lesson recently, as I took a step of transparency with a dear friend. God had been dealing with me about being open with her about an area in my past. You see, when I was 15 years old, I decided to rummage through my older brother’s belongings. He had been known to hoard candy. However, what I found was not candy. It was a pornographic magazine. (This was before the proliferation of the Internet.) What I saw in that magazine ripped through my innocence and began a pattern of secret sin that I lived with for years–sin I brought into my marriage.

At the time, I didn’t know why God would have me “dredge” this up. After all, I rationalized, I’ve been delivered from that pattern of sin. I sat with it for a few days, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t a prompting of the Holy Spirit. But the topic of truth and being a person of truth kept popping up. At that point, it would have been an act of intentional rebellion not to do as the Holy Spirit was directing me.

So I swallowed my pride, called my friend, and confessed this blotch in my past. Then, to my surprise, she responded with a meek, “Me too…” Even though God had set us free from the sin, we still lived under shame and condemnation. But in that moment of honest transparency with one another, we both experienced a deeper level of freedom.

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32 ESV

It was then that I could see so plainly the enemy’s scheme. John 8:32 says, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (ESV). Satan doesn’t want us to walk in truth, because he knows that there is freedom, real freedom, in that. If he can keep us bound by guilt, even if we’ve put a particular sin behind us, we won’t be able to experience full liberty. He knows that there is nothing he can do to separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). But he can sure keep us from accepting and receiving that love, if we let him. It’s like I can hear him saying, “Gotcha!”

To destroy the chains of shame, we must break the silence and live in transparency with one another. We have to remember, one of the weapons of our warfare against Satan is truth (Ephesians 6:14). Revelation 12:11 says, “And they defeated him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die” (NLT, emphasis added).

Today, I choose to be a person who walks in truth. I will no longer be bound by shame or condemnation. “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36 NLT).

The Lesson in the Lemon Tree

About a year ago, I inherited several citrus trees. Upon receiving this “gift,” I was told how easy it was to care for these potted dwarf trees. Their primary need was water, and even that was only once a week. It seemed easy enough. So I willingly committed to taking care of them.

At first, I was really diligent to water them weekly. Then I let two weeks go by, then three. Until finally I went to look at them only to discover they all were dead. Feeling horrible about my neglect, I decided I would try watering them anyway.

A week or so later, I confessed my failure to the trees’ original owner, who inspected them and concluded, just as I had, they were dead and not worth caring for any longer. To say I felt awful would be an understatement. I had been entrusted with these trees that had once been so important to him. And I had completely let him down.

Later that day, I went back to look at the dead trees, feeling hopeless about them and my life in general, when I saw something I hadn’t noticed earlier. There was a new leaf on one of the trees. Was there hope for these sickly trees? When I saw that solitary leaf, I was reminded of Job 14:7-9: “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant” (ESV).

There was hope–for the trees and my life! So I committed to watering them weekly. I’ve been much more faithful this time around, only missing a week here or there. I even harvested a lone lemon this winter. Now that we are into spring, almost every tree has buds forming, even the lime tree, which has yet to produce fruit. I’m believing that there will be a great harvest in our house come winter.

But I was reminded again today how easy it is to become complacent. Today is my “watering” day. I had been outside earlier, enjoying the sunshine and admiring the newly-formed buds, getting excited about all the fruit we will get to harvest. I later went inside and got comfortable. As the sun was waning in the sky, I knew I needed to get up and water. But I didn’t want to.

There was a battle in my mind. On the one hand, I wanted to stay in my nice warm spot. On the other hand, I wanted to someday savor the fruit of these trees. But I won’t be able to do that if I don’t invest in their care. And that means watering them even when I’m nice and cozy and not wanting to move.

I don’t know about you, but I see so many parallels to my life. So often I want fruit without discomforting myself. I want growth without any effort. But then I’m reminded of, if not a little chastised by Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (NIV).

There will always be that constant struggle between obedience and choosing the easiest, most comfortable path. It’s part of the sin nature. But if we want the fruit, we’ve got to make the investment of time and effort–and obedience–even if that means making ourselves uncomfortable.

So I finally decided to get up and water the trees. And you know what? When I was done, I found my spot was just as comfy and warm as when I left it. I don’t believe God calls us out of our comfort zone without providing His comfort to go with us.  After all, 2 Corinthians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (ESV, emphasis added).

So let’s be willing to get a little uncomfortable, trusting that God will provide all the comfort we need as we obey.

Possessing the Promise

“And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it'” (Numbers 33:50-53 ESV).

God had promised the land of Canaan to the people of Israel. It was their inheritance from their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was theirs…no doubt about it. But God didn’t simply just hand it over. He instructed them through Moses, to “drive out all the inhabitants of the land…” He could have destroyed the inhabitants  ahead of them. But instead, He gave the people of Israel the opportunity to partner with Him for the possession of the promise.

What if the people of Israel didn’t actually take possession of it? What if they had stayed on the other side of the Jordan, looking out at the land that was theirs, but never doing anything about it? That’s kind of like receiving a check for a million dollars but not cashing it. Sure, that money is mine and it’s pretty cool to be able to say I have a million dollars. But unless I actually deposit it into my account, it’s of no use or value to me.

The same is true for the promises God has for me. His word is chock full of promises for you and me. But unless we take possession, we will not experience all that He has for us. So we must take possession. That sounds pretty daunting and it would be if God expected us to do it on our own. But the awesome thing about this is we don’t have to do it on our own. He has said, “You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you” (Deuteronomy 3:22 ESV). He’s also said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV).

How Do We Take Possession?

What does it mean to take possession? Is it enough to believe and even agree with God about His promises? I think that’s a great first step. But I don’t believe it’s sufficient to simply believe. There have to be action steps we each take to partner with God. I’m reminded of James 2:17 which says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

What do those action steps look like? I think it’s different for each person. For me, it’s to continue in my obedience to whatever He tells me. It’s to “…not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9). It’s also to continue to contend in prayer with thanksgiving.

For you, it may be taking a leap and doing something that’s been on your heart to do. It may mean discontinuing doing things that God has told you to stop doing. But no matter what the step is that God is calling us to, we won’t possess the promise until we move.

So what steps of faith is God calling you to take in order to possess His promises?

Be Faithful with the Small Things

A couple of weeks ago I wrote how details are important to God. But just as it is important for me to follow God’s instructions, it’s equally important that I’m faithful in my obedience.

Through out this challenging season, there have been “small” points of obedience that God has asked of me. Sometimes they’ve made sense. I could see how one “little” act would impact a bigger situation. But other times, they haven’t made sense, at least in my very limited perspective. In those times, I’ve been pretty compliant. My side of the conversation with God usually goes something like this, “Okay, Father. I’ll do this. I don’t understand, but I’ll do it.” And I do! I follow through with full commitment…at first. Then I get discouraged and start thinking about how much it really doesn’t make sense. It’s not changing anything or mattering to anyone. So why am I doing this?! I actually had a one-sided conversation like this with God recently: “Yeah, so I’m not going to do that anymore because it doesn’t make sense and I don’t really like doing it. I’m tired of doing senseless things.” Let me tell you, God is a much more patient Father than I am a mother. If one of my kids came to me with such a bratty pronouncement, it would not have been a one-sided conversation. But God just let me say my piece.

However, as I was praying for a friend recently, God reminded me of Matthew 25:23 which says, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master'” (ESV). In my piety, I thought, “Oh this is perfect for her! She needs to remember that her little acts of obedience matter to God.” Then God finally responded to me: “This is not just for her, but for you too!” Oops! For my friend, it was an encouragement for her to continue doing the things she deemed as “small.” For me, it was a correction of my refusal to do the things I counted as insignificant.

I realize that I’m not always going to understand why God asks me to do certain things. I’d like to think at some point it will all make sense. But there is no promise of that. So I have to decide if I’m going to be faithful to do the “small” things He’s asked of me. To quote my wise friend, “I don’t have to worry about the success…of a matter. I just need to be faithful in doing it.” And that’s really what it comes down to! “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10b KJV).

Read, Think, Do, Repeat

I love spending time reading God’s Word. It’s truly the highlight of my day. I love to crawl into my little closet, open the Word and hear what God has to say to me for that day. During this intimate time, I’m at such peace with God and myself.

If I could just stay there all day, life would be great. But I can’t stay there all day. I have to go out into the world and deal with people and torrential rain and garage doors that won’t open. Talk about a buzzkill!

My time with God should pour over into the rest of my day. If my experience in my prayer closet doesn’t have an impact on my everyday life, what’s the point? This sacred time should make a difference in how I treat people or handle challenges. Unfortunately, too often I find that my circumstances or emotions dictate my responses.

Psalm 119:165 NLT says, “Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble.” Ouch! Perhaps I don’t love God’s Word as much as I think. Maybe I’m not letting it have it’s full transforming work in my life.

How do I let God’s Word transform every part of my life? Fortunately, the Bible has clear instructions for how to do that:

  • “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8 ESV).
  • “But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night” (Psalm 1:2 NLT).
  • “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what is says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourself” (James 1:22 NLT).

If I had to break it into simple steps, it would be:

  1. Read it!
  2. Think about it!
  3. Do it!
  4. Repeat!

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edge sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 ESV).

 

 

Details Matter

Details matter to God. You only have to read Exodus 25 through 30 to see how important they are to Him. In these chapters, God gives Moses the instructions for the tabernacle and its furnishings. God was very specific about every aspect of the tabernacle. He didn’t miss one detail. And at no point was Moses scratching his head at something vague God had told him. It was all spelled out clearly, in such intricate detail–down to the type of raw material that should be used.

For me, the details in these chapters can be overwhelming. Do I really need to know that the ephod “shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together” (Exodus 28:7)? Part of me wants to skip this whole section, wishing it simply said, “God gave Moses the plan for the tabernacle and he built it.” But one of the things I love about the Old Testament is how it shows God’s character. And what this shows me about God is how much He really cares about details.

But why is it important for me to know that details are essential to Him? First, when I know that He was that specific about the manufacturing of inanimate objects, I can only fathom how much He cares about the details of my life. There’s not one aspect of my life that He’s forgotten or not made plans for.

Secondly, it helps me to understand why it’s important for me to follow His instructions. He told Moses, “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you” (Exodus 25:9 NIV, emphasis mine).

There have been so many times in my life when I’ve been frustrated by my assumption that God isn’t giving me direction. I had one of those moments this week. One of my biggest challenges with Journey is getting him to stay focused on a task. It’s been a source of much consternation and a frequent point of prayer. So when I read Exodus 25:9, I plainly asked God, “Why haven’t you shown me exactly how to help my son?” But in His loving way, God used this same verse to correct me. He reminded me that He’d given me instructions, but I hadn’t followed them exactly.

I have heard it said, “If you’re not hearing from God, go back to the last thing He told you to do and do it.” And I think there is such wisdom in that. I know in my own life, it has often been the case that when I’m not hearing from God, it’s because I’ve chosen to ignore something He’s instructed me to do. Just as He told Moses to make the tabernacle and furnishings precisely as He had directed him, God expects me to obey His instructions without compromising.

So I’ve been doing a lot of backtracking this week–seeing where I’ve missed God’s instructions. It’s a humbling process. But if I’m going to be serious about being His disciple, I need to make sure I’m following His directions exactly.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑