This afternoon I saw a young couple in the grocery store. The wedding rings on their hands caught my attention, since it's much less common these days for couples in their 20's to be married. They were chatting in a way that made it clear they were the best of friends.
I said to myself, "I hope they make it -- I think they will." But hoping and thinking aren't enough -- I decided to ask the Lord right then and there to help their marriage last. To my recollection this is not something I've ever prayed for random strangers, but this time I did.
In the parking lot, I noticed a licence plate that spelled out a beautiful Christian message. ...Lo and behold, the owners turned out to be the young couple I had seen. I walked over and said, "I love your licence plate."
My own marriage was a failure; yet the Lord finds a way to bring beauty out of ashes, even if we can't see yet how any good thing could come of ashes. Today He reminded me that even beauty must be held together by His hand.
Pray for one another.
You may have noticed that I've been reading David McCasland's biography of Oswald Chambers (Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God: The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest). The local library didn't have it, so they got it in through Interlibrary Loan. When it arrived, the librarian and I were intrigued to see that they'd had to search all the way to Vancouver to find it!
To call Oswald my mentor is a bit like suggesting a Jedi master might tutor a mouse, and yet I've come to think of him as not only my mentor but my friend. We are absurdly different in many ways, but in some ways we are kindred spirits. I look forward to meeting him one day. I don't know if he will feel the same way, but we'll see.
My attention was drawn a few days ago in the biography to something about Oswald's wife, "Biddy" (Gertrude). I should explain first that from Oswald's teenage to young-adult years, he had a friend named Chrissie. The friendship was very close; a number of his letters to Chrissie are included in the biography. It was long assumed that Oswald and Chrissie would marry -- some friends apparently even suspected they were secretly engaged.
The relationship eventually ended. Some years following, he met Gertrude Hobbs, whom he married.
The thing that made me catch my breath was a passage describing Gertrude's upbringing and her gift for shorthand. When she was young, she was so often ill in the winter that eventually she left school. She helped at home, but also filled her time with the study of shorthand, in the aspiration of one day becoming secretary to the Prime Minister. McCasland explains further:
Oswald and Biddy were a definitive match. Yet in addition to preparing them for each other, God had uniquely prepared Biddy for an extraordinary task. She loved to listen to her husband teach from God's Word, and recorded his numerous lectures, sermons, and talks using shorthand.
Oswald Chambers died a year before the end World War I, at the age of 43, following a burst appendix. Biddy eventually realized it was God's calling for her to type and distribute her husband's talks -- a phenomenal undertaking, but one for which she was very well-equipped. It also buoyed her spirit.
When I read about her exceptional talent for shorthand and how it had come to be developed, it brought me almost to tears. This may sound strange, but I'll try to explain.
The story includes many sad events:
As a child, Gertrude had to forfeit her education due to bad health. Then her father died, leaving the family in a financial crisis. Oswald died in the prime of his life; many wondered why God would allow the years of such a man to be cut short.
And yet here I am, like many others, being stretched much further in my walk with God than would ever have been possible if God had not allowed painful events. God equipped Biddie through the things she suffered, to be His perfect vessel for something wonderful He had in mind. If Oswald had not died prematurely, with the war still on, perhaps those shorthand notes of Biddy's might have sat on a shelf collecting dust. As you will see in the video I've linked to below, the first sermon Biddy typed up and distributed came in response to a request from a friend, who felt the soldiers Oswald had worked with in Egypt would be encouraged to receive a copy of one of his sermons.
God had, and still has, a perfect design in all this. To us, setbacks and sad events tend to look like they would hinder God. But in fact, He often uses these things to spin some of the finest gold imaginable.
I'm delighted to share with you a short biographical video I found the other day, produced by the Oswald Chambers Publication Association. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
My Utmost for His Highest: The Legacy of Oswald and Biddy Chambers
*David McCasland, Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God: The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House Publishers, 1993) 140.
I was very sick on Sunday; almost the only thing that helped was a series of hot showers. It's interesting, because my hot-water tank at times tends to peter out before I've finished a normal-length shower, but last Sunday every one of my numerous showers was hot and soothing for as long as I needed it to be. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for caring about such seemingly small details of a person's life.
Everything God creates gives a picture of Him in some way. Each human being's unique gifts are in fact God's own gifts, planted like seeds and waiting to blossom under His care.
Water is a picture of God. It's the most remarkable and mysterious substance: at the same time visible and invisible, gentle and yet terrifyingly powerful. It's a key element of life when we ingest it but it's also able to remove contaminants when we wash with it. If you act as though water is not to be feared, you will soon learn otherwise.
What is water made of? Two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, I know (a trinity), but how can such a thing be?
The Living Water, God, is able to give life and take it away; He is, ultimately, the only Source we cannot live without. But there are days when the thing we most need to know about the Living Water is that when we are exhausted, or sick, or (for so many reasons) parched, He Himself is there, an immortal healing tonic, waiting to restore us to health.
Reposted from August 2014 because I needed to hear this again (and perhaps you do too).
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
It's interesting to read in Hebrews 11:6 that believing He is a rewarder of those who seek Him is actually a vital part of what demonstrates faith to Him. I had never noticed this before.
I have no trouble anymore believing that He is. I did for a while, but He met me there; I have a great "Thomas" story.
Now He's meeting me in part two -- believing that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. For some reason, it's been at least as hard as part one. Maybe it's because of low self-esteem? If so, it may mean I subconsciously equate reward with performance, even in spiritual things.
Why does He care so much that I know He is my rewarder that He counts it as a key component of what faith looks like?
Wow, the answer to that question will reveal a lot.
It's NOT that He is a rewarder of my performance. He is a rewarder of my seeking Him. He is the Lover watching intently for the footsteps of His beloved; when He catches a glimpse of her rushing towards Him, He is overcome with joy.
"Part one" of faith as described in Hebrews 11:6 is the introduction part, where we say "yes" and begin to find out more about this wonderful Person who has called us.
"Part two" is the binding together part, where we get to know the heart of the wonderful Person Himself, letting Him gradually unveil to us how very deeply He loves us. This is the reward! He is the Reward, and the Rewarder.
Hooray! Part two will take all of eternity.
Today is a very, very good day to start.
Several days ago the Lord let me know I'd been trying to carry much of the weight of the past by myself for a long time. I gave it over to Him, along with my present and my future, asking Him to help me begin this new year with a new perspective -- the load is His, and we are one another's.
In response He made my heart lighter; I noticed a steadiness and realized that over the past while He has gradually begun to take His rightful place in me as Lord, which must mean that I've been getting out of His way more and wasn't even aware of it.
As mad as this next part of the story might sound to some, within the next two days I was rocked by not one but two revelations that the enemy has been harming my loved ones. I have almost never seen his wrath expressed so pointedly or so personally.
These things are too big for me; and yet in allowing me to see them, the Lord has given me a two-fold gift: He has shown me that I will now be required by love to live out the rest of my life in prayer; what a direct answer to my request to walk more deeply with Him and depend on Him as my source of hope and life. Part two of the gift is that I am now more aware of how to pray for my little world, and how to ask others to pray.
The past few days have included moments of deep grief and fear. These will not just evaporate, nor should they. They are a message: "Give this to your Father." Only God has the knowledge and might to deal with such things.
"I will give it to my Dad," I said, and will keep saying this whenever I am tempted to let things overwhelm me. Perhaps this little story I read a month or two ago helped me find the words.
Like many people, by early November of this year I was suffering from what I finally realized was shell-shock from the year's daily news. This sort of shell-shock is not what soldiers in battle go through, and I don't wish to trivialize their experience by making comparisons. However, I imagine all types of shell-shock have some things in common. Shell-shock sneaks up on you for a while before it takes hold. Then one day you realize you've begun to grow used to things that are anything but normal. Something toxic has invaded your sense of well-being and you're at a loss to make it stop. So you try to escape it in whatever way you can, but by this time the chaos has become pervasive and relentless, and your usual defenses are worn down.
The daily barrage of toxic news continues, of course. The world is one giant nervous wreck at the moment, and this is not going to change any time soon.
I'm not immune from this anxiety, and yet... reading what Oswald says in the passage above, I see that in one sense I should and can be immune to it. To those of us who have come to know the Lord Jesus, He Himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). This does not mean that we aren't shocked and dismayed at what's going on around us. It means that we have the precious right to take our fear and sorrow to our Father in heaven. Not "don't worry" in the glib sense (oh, just push it out of your mind), but in the way a child is comforted in a loving parent's arms during a thunderstorm.
This just happened:
I'm trying to finish some work that's due tomorrow, I'm not feeling very well, and going to bed half an hour early last night backfired (I woke up at 4 a.m.). It has not been a good day. All day long I've asked the Lord for help, but things have kept getting worse, and the chip on my shoulder has kept growing.
Me (in exasperation): I can't hear You! If You're trying to tell me something encouraging... I can't hear You! If You're trying to tell me something's wrong... I can't hear You!
The Lord (in a whisper): That's because your heart's turned off.
(Hmm. Well. That I heard.)
Years ago, as a young Christian (a condition that unfortunately went on for decades), I misunderstood the concept that we love Christ because He first loved us. This thought made me indignant. Can't my love also initiate a response of love from Him?
Listen up, younger me, if you can hear this: First of all, of course Christ also responds to your love. Your question comes from a place of longing, where you want to be truly met and give back that same sort of love. But no (and this is not a contradiction), you cannot by yourself initiate a response of love from Him, because the love you have for Him came from Him in the first place. The Holy Spirit planted it there when He came to live in you. His mission is to grow that love day by day forever, until it's a sky-shattering, crystal-clear-pure, spilling-over-every-bank sort of love. And when it finally reaches that point, it will have only just begun to blossom, by comparison to His love for you.
Secondly, your question comes from a place of misunderstanding what Jesus really did at Calvary. You understand it partially, but you don't grasp -- because none of us can grasp -- what He carried for us all on that day. To pay our redemption, He carried everything in our place. You may appreciate this a bit better when you get to the end of the year 2016 and the world is falling apart at breakneck speed before your eyes.
When this happens, remember this -- Christ died not only to rescue us, but to conform us into His own holy image. Everything in you that is not like Christ yet is trying to destroy Christ. Hint: pick the right team in this battle. Don't make choices that will put anything at war against His own nature.
I mention all this because, looking around, I am aching for the perfect, holy heart of Jesus to be visible without compromise, so that all those who are given eyes to see will say "yes" to Him. I also mention it because of a hymn we sang in church not long ago. The story behind it is not far off my own story of misplaced indignance.
The story is here:
A soldier's misunderstanding
The hymn is "O Christ, What Burdens Bowed Thy Head," written by Anne R. Cousin (1824-1906). The tune, "Substitution," was composed by Ira D. Sankey (1840-1908).
Here are Anne Cousin's lyrics, which also appear on the page I've linked to above. Perhaps never in all of history have we so needed to respond in humility and repentance to the message of this hymn.
Just a word of thanks to you, Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus:
When your brother became ill and you sent word to the Lord, I know you watched for His arrival. When He didn't come and didn't come and didn't come, you were hurt, you were confused, you were angry, you were heartbroken. When Lazarus died and Jesus still hadn't shown up, maybe you even entertained the thought -- however fleetingly -- that perhaps everything you thought you knew of Jesus had been some kind of dream.
When the Lord finally arrived, you greeted Him the same way I'm sure I would have: "Lord, if You had been here...!"
I thank you, Mary and Martha, because I now know that one of the reasons the Lord Jesus let you endure this trial was for me. Not for me alone, but for all who have watched and waited for Him and have become confused, angry, hurt, and finally heartbroken by the long delay. Why is He ignoring our urgent message? Doesn't He care? How can He say not to worry, when we've been left to carry the burden of this?
Before Jesus called your brother from the grave, you knew He could heal and restore, and even give life. But on that strange and remarkable day, you saw first hand that God is God, that He answers to no one, because He always knows what He's doing. Every dropped thread, every fallen hope, every endless wait: He hasn't forgotten anything. He hasn't missed anything. He knows the wait is interminable from our perspective, but He is preparing the dead for life: This work is His alone. If need be, the rules of time and space must be suspended, and we are not invited to understand why. He will accomplish what He sets out to do.
I posted the following excerpt on the "Praise reflections" page in February 2014:
Today I would like to add a deep thank you to the Lord for the reason we can rest in Him this way and not let the above unravel us:
He keeps the feet of His godly ones
(1 Samuel 2:9a)
Without this, under enemy fire we would be toast. Thank You, Lord Jesus.
Earlier this year, I "met" a brother in Christ who has become special to me, even though he lives an ocean away and we're not likely to meet this side of heaven. We did have one very brief e-mail conversation and it's conceivable we'll have another one day, but I would be surprised if he remembers me. He doesn't even technically qualify as an acquaintance, you see. He's a speaker I sometimes listen to.
He's special to me because of his quiet faithfulness to the Lord. This faithfulness has cost him something, and continues to cost him something. But this has given him a heart for people, who by nature struggle and fall. It's also given him a freedom to speak out God's truth very clearly, because it's only God who can make us whole.
I mention this brother because quiet faithfulness to God is a rare and highly contagious thing. There have actually been times when, thinking of what it costs him to be true to the Lord Jesus, I have found enough strength of the moment to say "no" when my old nature wanted to say "yes," or "yes" when my old nature wanted to say "no."
I think this is what we're all meant to do. Not to bully or cajole people into a more faithful walk with the Lord, but to live such a walk, and to meet others where they are and direct them gently, respectfully to Jesus.
Genesis 1. God created the heavens and the earth, spoke light and darkness into existence. He formed the waters, the skies, the plants, the evening and morning, the sun and moon and stars. Next He called into existence the birds and sea monsters and fish, the creatures of the earth, and then mankind. After each of these acts, Genesis tells us, God saw that it was good. Finally, He looked at the whole spectrum of what He had created. It was very good.
⁞⁞⁞⁞⁞ ⁞⁞⁞⁞⁞ ⁞⁞⁞⁞⁞ ⁞⁞⁞⁞⁞ ⁞⁞⁞⁞⁞ ⁞⁞⁞⁞⁞ ⁞⁞⁞⁞⁞ ⁞⁞⁞⁞⁞ ⁞⁞⁞⁞⁞ ⁞⁞⁞⁞⁞
I have had a very difficult year. The Lord called me aside six months ago from what I was doing, to resolve an ongoing issue that has kept me stuck for a very long time. At least, that's what I thought He was calling me aside to do. In fact, nearly everything I've done over the past six months has failed. A number of times, I have reached the end of my rope, only to find that someone had tied more rope on, allowing me to slide down even further.
Yesterday morning, or perhaps it was Monday evening, I found myself in such a place again. Then I began thinking about creation. It occurred to me that the Jesus I've come to know would never be satisfied just to state that something was good or very good. He would also come down and take a look first hand. He would go to the edge of the river and investigate the otters' and beavers' newly built homes. He would walk across the sands and scurry up the sea cliffs. He would hold the miniature crabs and the tiny coloured stones in His hand. He would attend early morning birdsong choruses, to express His delight in person. He would lie down on the mossy forest floor and look up at a periwinkle blue shard of pre-dawn sky, and would call out "It is GOOD!" from a bottomless well of joy.
It was this last thing I was picturing Him doing, in fact, when He suddenly shattered my melancholy with a revelation and then a question.
It was before He even planned all this, my heart heard Him say, that He chose my name. Not the name I'm known by now, but the name He will call me by in eternity. Before He set creation in motion, He pictured the whole of my life -- the good and the bad, the wretchedness and the redemption. He knows what comes at the end of everything, and it will be worth it all. It was worth it, He even says, to have given Himself to be killed on a Roman cross, so that I might be His forever, to know every day of the rest of my life what it is to be perfectly, unrelentingly loved by the divine and all-glorious King.
Then He asked me a question: "Are you in?"
(What do you imagine I replied.)
Of course this story is not just His and mine. It's also His and yours. He sees the whole of your life -- pain and happiness and emptiness and all -- and asks the same question. Are you in? Is He worth it, whatever "it" turns out to be? Only you can answer.
I read this last night as I was trying to weigh something out before the Lord. It was a struggle between two giants, and I believe the correct giant won.
The statement "Beware of talking about abandonment if you know nothing about it" seemed to be aimed right at me. In all fairness, though, it's a process. We begin by abandoning all that God has brought to our awareness to abandon. At the time we believe it's our "all" that we've abandoned to God, but as we continue with Him, He puts choices in our path that challenge us to toss our calculations out the window and bank everything on Him, to "err on the side of" His integrity.
Gradually (or maybe suddenly), we will begin to live in that place Oswald speaks of, where the consequence of abandonment never enters our mind, because we are so caught up with the Lord Christ, so aware that every abandonment is as a minuscule speck by contrast with His own. I can guarantee you that a person doesn't just show up at this place one day without having been brought through various impossible tests. "For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined" (Psalm 66:10).
In my own case, I have no idea what happens next as a result of yesterday's spiritual battle. Perhaps that's the point. It's not up to what I know; it's up to God's infinite wisdom and grace, working out His own great design of integrity within my little committed life.
To me it seems perfectly reasonable to wake Jesus up in a storm like this. Wouldn't you? Even the fishermen were afraid, so it must have been quite a storm. Does their fear really indicate that they had no faith? Perhaps it was more their wording than their fear that caused Jesus to make this comment. Instead of
"Jesus, we need Your help!" or
"Help -- the boat is filling with water!"
they say, "do You not care that we are perishing?" which contains two emotionally loaded phrases: "do You not care" and "we are perishing."
I've certainly asked Jesus, "do You not care?" Admittedly, this question is quite insulting, but it at least communicates a deep need for Him. On the other hand, "We are perishing" was a song and dance, and Jesus saw through it. If they had been perishing, He would have been perishing as well. From what experience told them, they were indeed in danger, but ordinary human experience was not what He wanted them to be guided by. He wanted them to focus on the fact that He, the Lord, was in the boat with them. This changes everything. It still changes everything.
I should perhaps write "Lesson from a knot in the stomach," but it amounts to the same thing.
Earlier today I was given a precious insight. My anxiety -- however deep the difficulty I'm going through -- reveals that I am putting my hope in something other than God to give me joy and peace.
When God says, "Do not worry," He's not being naïve. He knows life is chock full of problems that will cause us anxiety; sometimes the problems become insurmountable, and it feels as though we've been asked to carry the world on our shoulders. We can crack under such strain; many people simply give up on life at this point. God knows this. He's not being flippant or callous when He says not to worry. He's also not saying, "Just get on with it and tell yourself everything is fine." He's saying, "Ask ME to carry your burden."
I can't tell you how many times I've asked Him to carry my burden. Nothing much changed. I know He is working in the background, answering my prayers, but the burden has continued to seem like mine to carry.
The revelation that my anxiety was a message caused me to stop and think. My anxiety is declaring, "I can't have true peace and joy until these things are put right." If so, then what Jesus said is false. He said, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful " (John 14:27). He clearly said this knowing that great trials and difficulties were in store for His followers.
So what did He intend when He said not to worry? He intended to have us learn to leave our burdens at His feet. In a sense, this is inseparable from "...seek first His kingdom and His righteousness..." (Matthew 6:33), because the idea is to place God first. Nothing else, no one else, is to be looked to as saviour.
Subject tags can be very useful. Just now I clicked on a tag here called "Desperation," and the post I've reprinted below is one of the items that came up. I very much needed to rehear this. (Thank You, Lord.) I'm reposting it in case anyone else reading this needs to hear it too.
To Your glory, Jesus.
I was awake for about two hours in the middle of the night last night. I read some scripture, then read a bit from My Utmost for His Highest, then browsed online for a while. The last choice was obviously not as wise as the first two; God used it, though, as I eventually ended up here, where out of curiosity I decided to do the blog equivalent of the "open to any page and see where God leads" thing, which works in My Utmost about 85% of the time. Amazing, that a saint would continue to be used of God to reach into so many lives.
Well, how interesting, because what God had for me to find here in the wee hours was a message via Oswald and Biddy Chambers' life, but directly related to my own current life -- which is currently undergoing an overhaul, but the overhaul has no clear shape yet. I worded that judiciously, but I guess you can read somewhat between the lines.
I've re-posted a slightly revised version of the post below.
(original post from March 13, 2014)
In my last post, I spoke about being in a perplexing place full of both light and darkness. A few days after I wrote that, the Lord opened my eyes to an important change I needed to make. He is now taking me aside to retrain me and restore me, to teach me new ways. This is a rare gift. I must take full advantage of it and show up each day ready to participate, so that I will learn everything He has to teach me.
In a sense, I need to be re-raised, not just restored and retrained. I need to be taught the ways of heaven by Father Himself, who chose me before the foundation of the world, that I would be holy and blameless before Him.
God isn't expecting me to have a built-in understanding of how to walk in a way
that's holy and blameless, any more than a parent expects a toddler to have a built-in understanding of how to wash the car or cook dinner. I think it's time I rejoiced in
my helplessness to do what pleases God, so that I will come before Him in childlike anticipation of what He will do through me each day as I allow Him full control.
"He reveals mysteries from the darkness
And brings the deep darkness into light."
I've been relatively silent on here for the past several months or so. It's hard to talk about what the Lord is doing when I really don't understand what He is doing. (Not that that really ever stopped me before.)
Whatever it is that He's doing, it hurts. I've never been so perplexed about the direction He intends me to take. I think this is because He wants me to empty all the vaults so that I see my utter, unequivocal need for Him. It's dark here in these empty vaults, though. Humanly speaking, I am completely spent.
Not once but twice this past week, God used a servant of His to speak these words over me. It was a different servant each time, but twice in the same week. The second time, in fact, I was slightly disoriented, thinking the "but God" was a reference back to something this speaker had said earlier. Then I remembered it had been another speaker who'd said it, in the context of not being ashamed to admit where we are at the moment -- we may even be a real mess right now, but that's OK. There will be more to the story, because God is writing it.
"But God" or "yet God" in scripture frequently flags a shift in perpective or direction. David used it fairly often, since he was a man of deep introspection but also of deep faith. He would look intently into the darkness, then would suddenly remind himself that his God was by His very nature Light and would always be victorious.
I am at the cusp of a "but God." I am certain of this. And in this place of what is darkness, humanly speaking, I have been witnessing a phenomenal outpouring of spiritual light. I will I'm sure one day discover that from the darkness, and through the darkness, God has been working unimaginable acts of grace and healing. Disentangling me from chains, aligning my heart with His own, and bringing into the light things I had long ago buried but whose time has come to be touched by the redeeming hand of the Master.
It is a great help to
us when we see that our prayers and our labours are to be as
the grain of wheat falling into the ground. If we look for death and burial first, we shall be able to go on
in patience; and in
due time shall assuredly reap an abundant harvest.
Robert Cleaver Chapman
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Hephzibah (Isaiah 62)
I'm an artist, student, editor, writer, and
the Lord's ongoing project. I live in southwestern Ontario, Canada.
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2 Chronicles 7:16
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[T]he eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward Him.
2 Chronicles 16:9a