Our November 2019 updates are in click here for details.
There have been times that I have found myself thinking, “When will it be my turn?” These kinds of thoughts usually find their way into my mind when someone else has had their breakthrough when I think I am deserving of one as well. To be honest, there have been times I thought I deserved it even more than they did. I’m sure no one else has ever felt this way (queue sarcastic eye roll) but the reality is that we’re sorely tempted to compare our situations with what others are facing and weigh their value on our scale of what is fair.
Books have been written, seminars and conferences dedicated to climbing “the ladder of success.” All of us will, at some point, reach for a goal that often has to do with financial, social, or physical success. We want the promotion, the prestige, new house, car, and to be in the best shape of our lives. It feels great when someone recognizes our efforts or blessings and we feel deflated when others seem to be moving towards success while it seems we are lagging behind.
Why do we engage in this internal competition?
We’re quick to quote Scripture and verse for our own need for encouragement, but loathe to shower on others what we crave for ourselves. The green monster of jealousy, yes it sounds horrible but it is what it is, will find its way into our lives as if by stealth and we may go a long while unaware of its dangerous presence in our lives. The only way to counter jealousy is to sow authentic joy into those who have had a breakthrough.
Acts 20:35, “it’s more blessed to give than to receive” quoted frequently in the sense of giving financial gifts, works not only in our lives when we physically offer a gift to someone – it is equally powerful when we rejoice with those who have come through a situation and seen God work for them.
Years ago when our family was young, we experienced a series of 4 miscarriages after having our first child. For nearly 5 years, we had miscarriage after miscarriage; it was a trying time for us. As have many who have struggled with repetitive miscarriages, I found it difficult to rejoice with other young moms-to-be when they announced their pregnancies. Sometimes I would avoid those situations as much as possible so I could lick my wounds. Understandable as my actions were, they weren’t helping me long-term to heal emotionally. There’s something about sowing into others that births joy and healing to our own wounded and disappointed souls.
As difficult as it was for me to be happy for others, I always felt better when I summoned the courage to do so even though my feelings of grief still lingered. In turn, I reaped the strength I needed and was able to grieve and heal from those losses. My turn did come later and now I find myself a mother of 4 and grandmother of 2. I was reminded of the sting of those years recently when, during our move to Burundi from Malawi in late May this year, a vase I had that had been given to me full of flowers when we lost one of our babies, shattered. I had kept the vase with me everywhere I went; in some way it was a connection to those little ones who never saw one sunrise, and when it shattered, I felt the sting. Memories washed over me for a few hours while I unpacked. Whilst I felt the sorrow of the losses, I felt a greater thanksgiving for God bringing me through those dark days and leading me to one of the greatest lessons of my life – rejoicing with those who rejoice.
God is always looking for what is best for us. He never, yes never, assigns anything to us meant to harm us – no matter how hard it might be in the moment, the end result is good, so good. The green-eyed monster is always looking to raise its ugly head in our lives in order to keep us stagnant, stale, in pain, and broken. So what’s the remedy? Sowing into those around us, then we will discover the real life-changing breakthrough that is not like a momentary blessing of a promotion or even having children (for our kids grow up and move away). The breakthrough God is trying to get us to is one that will have lifelong and even eternal impact, we only must summon the courage and look past our own pain to slay the green-eyed monster.
Romans 12:9-15 NIV “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
There are so many lessons to learn when a big change takes place in life. Most of the time I can, with relative accuracy, predict what the 2 main lessons in such a change will be (since I’ve gone through this multiple times): faith and patience. Faith to trust God when the next step is ambiguous at best and patience to walk down a path that might make me take more time than I had hoped to reach my destination.
I mistakenly thought I would bounce back from a move like this one we have just taken (from Malawi to Burundi) quickly; perhaps I was a bit presumptuous in thinking so. It was easy for me to think, “I’ve seen it all.” when really I haven’t touched the tip of the iceberg in life experience. Yes, I’ve worked overseas since 1987, yes I have moved multiple times across countries and continents, and yes of course I have experienced quite a bit – but I’ve not experienced enough to say I know it all.
The past weeks have reminded me that not all changes we make in life are equal. There are many factors that can figure into our reactions during changes in our lives, I won’t even try to list them there are so many, it can be mind-boggling as we try to make adjustments along the way. Thankfully, there is one constant truth that I cling to every time we have had to make changes (big or small) and that is God, my Father, loves me and always does what’s best for me. If I can manage to keep that truth in focus, everything else eventually falls into place.
It seems, as I look back on the past few months, that God is always teaching me the same lesson in a different way: trust Him and His process. If I resist the process long enough, God will simply bring me around again to another set of circumstances to teach me the same lesson again. Better to learn it the first time!
I used to be under the impression that our lives are meant to be lived for God so we can do something for Him; kind of a merit-based faith! Don’t mistake me here, I believe we give all we have back to God: our time, energy, talents, and possessions. However, we don’t give it all to get His approval or His blessings, Jesus already did the work for us so we don’t have to strive any longer. We have been given God’s approval in Him – we are blessed! Anything I might do in my lifetime for God is simply an expression of love that I have for Him and that lets me off the hook of seeking after merit!
Since God is after the best for me, not what He can get from me as I have thought in times past, it would seem the best course of action would be to trust His processes over my own. Those processes don’t make sense to my mind most of the time, but my heart somehow understands what God’s Spirit is leading me to do.
John 3:8 NIV “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Living this way, by the Spirit, can be quite intimidating in the sense that most of the time those around us are likely to misunderstand what we are doing. In fact, it might even seem a bit “flighty” to those around us. It might appear to those observing us that we don’t know which direction we are taking, and in this life of the Spirit so it is. We don’t really know where we are going. All we know for certain is that God is good and He takes us to the places where we need to go in order for Him to work in us and through us. This life is a big puzzle that God majestically puts together from start to finish – we just don’t know where those pieces fit much of the time until we look back and can say, “Now I see.”
We’re after a goal that only God knows how we can attain, so as He leads may we follow – even to the consternation of those around us. So it is, we often won’t be understood or embraced, but if we dare to let God’s Spirit blow through us, nothing can hold us back from seeing the pieces fall into place.
Time waits for no one.
I sighed, deep in thought, as I looked in the mirror and noticed yet another line forming around the corners of my eyes. No amount of “age defying” cream or facial treatment can turn the clock back; time waits for no one. Trying to overcome the odds, I follow my self-prescribed morning routine. I dutifully apply the obligatory daily sunscreen, and then I attempt to conceal the dark circles that have been forming under my eyes with a product advertized (of course) to “diminish” those dark circles that greet me in the mirror every morning, and finally, I put on some lip-gloss. It’s a simple routine but less is definitely more when living overseas where such “unnecessary” necessities are not easy to come by.
As many before me, I have tried numerous face creams, eye creams, and fads that are supposed to “decrease the signs of aging,” holding out hope for the perfect solution each time. The two common denominators for all of these quick fixes for “fine lines” (let’s just establish that they’re wrinkles, OK?) are: the $19.99 I’ve shelled out and the disappointment I feel when I reach the bottom of the jar and see no change. Those wrinkles are still there in the mirror, mocking me!
Time is so very precious and the mirror I look into every morning only testifies to the passage of time. Internally, I feel much the same as I did 35 years ago when life was just beginning to dawn on the horizon of my young life – but the mirror rudely reminds me that while I may feel that way internally, time is still passing. Time doesn’t wait and for most, time cannot be redeemed. Once it is lived, it can’t be lived over.
On the surface, when we first come to the Lord, restoring the years that were lost before we knew Him is apparently impossible. The regret we feel for what seemed to be wasted years almost overwhelms us as we consider “what could have been” had we invested more of the limited years we have, to serve Him. It seems we are looking in the mirror of our spirits, much like we look in the mirror in the morning, and hope for a miracle product to help ease those signs of aging!
Joel 2:25 ESV “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.”
How can years be restored when they have been lost? I’m really not sure how God manages to perform such miracles, but He is God, after all, and everything is possible with Him.
Mark 10:27 ESV “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.’ ”
The currency of God’s Kingdom is faith (see Mark 9:23) and when faith is added to the mixture of our lives we can, and do, see miracles. The miracle of adding time to time lost is one of the greatest miracles God works in us over all. Since God lives outside of time (see 2 Peter 3:8) and isn’t pressured by time, when we are born again, our eternal life begins, the pressure to “get the most out of life” ends. Time no longer has a hold over us because we understand that when this life ends, another waits for us – there are ages to come where we will be in God’s presence, living with Him.
Ephesians 2:5-8 NKJ “…even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
God saved us for the sole purpose of showing His grace and kindness to us. In spite of the fact that we rejected Him, possibly for years before coming to Him, we come to understand that time is irrelevant because God’s life is outside of time. In this way, He redeems our time – life becomes sweeter, God fits more into our days than we could imagine, and our futures with Him are assured.
Are you looking for the fountain of youth? Don’t look any further because God’s promise to us in the ages to come exceed the limitations that time put on us. There’s more yet ahead than what lies in the wasteland of the past.
Have you ever felt taken by surprise? Started down a road with “great promise” only to find the road to the promised result is a lot longer and bumpier than you thought it would be?
Normal life events take us by surprise: marriage, children, moving, all of them throw curve balls at us that we had no training on how to catch. More often than we care to admit, we arrive at those events unprepared.
Many of us dream of having children, building a family, something like a Norman Rockwell painting of days gone by: a house, white fencing, a playground in the back for the kids, a dog, and good jobs to sustain it all. What a surprise for the new parents when baby comes home! I remember years ago when we were expecting our first child. We did everything right from the get-go; we wanted the best for our baby. In those days, some of you may remember, Lamaze was all the rage and peer pressure dictated that we attend Lamaze classes to prepare for the baby’s arrival. There, we learned breathing techniques, positions to take to ease the pain of labor and delivery, and were encouraged to have a totally natural birthing experience. In addition to following Lamaze, there was a real push for “supernatural childbirth” in some churches. A cassette tape of teaching accompanied by a small book encouraging women how to believe for a pain-free delivery was circulated. I diligently followed the teachings of both: Lamaze and the process for a pain-free supernatural delivery expecting things to go smoothly.
Fast-forward a few months (mind you I was deep into preparation mode by that time) and one Monday afternoon while walking around in the mall, I felt a strange twinge in my lower back. This came a bit earlier than my due date so initially I thought it was false labor – until the twinges became full-blown knife-in-my-lower-back-put-me-out-of-my-misery pain. My husband, wrapped up in his Monday night football said, “You’re not having that baby!” To which I replied, “Oh yes I am!” It was as if a fire alarm went off and he jumped into action, up and down the stairs, “I’m going! Where is your suitcase?” This was my first undeniable indication that things were not going to go as planned…at all.
It was nearly midnight by the time we cut through all the red tape of checking into the hospital. When I was finally examined, I was told, “Oh this is going to take some time yet.” The night was young, I was strong, and I was determined to follow directions: breathe right, lay on my side, rub a tennis ball on my back, and pray, pray, pray. The minutes turned into hours and the pain, contrary to my great hopes and prayers, went from my determined announcement of, “This is very hard but I’m gonna do this!” To my begging, “Give me SOMETHING!!!” Before my son was delivered the next morning just after 7, I had had two injections for pain and wanted a third but was told when I asked for that third shot that I was too far advanced for more painkillers. Each of my preconceived ideas for a smooth, pain-free delivery went out the door. There was no breathing technique known to man that could’ve helped me – and I wondered how could I have possibly been so ill prepared? Taken by such a surprise? How could I have failed so miserably?
And…the surprises kept coming. My baby had colic for the first full year of his life; sleep was a rare commodity in those days. Slowly, very slowly, I began to predict the unpredictability of parenthood. I threw out books and tapes on perfect parenting and simply listened to other mothers who had walked longer in those shoes than I had. By the time my boy was three, I woke from my disappointed slumber, no longer berating myself for my naiveté, and wanted more children! What was wrong with me? I went through two more deliveries, still unprepared each time, and one adoption but I learned through them all and fiercely loved them all (and still do!). What didn’t bother me so much as time progressed were the surprises that crossed my path. I grew accustomed to rolling with the punches and began to laugh at myself for being surprised; for life, I had learned, was full of surprises.
Life, and its accompanying surprises, has a way of exposing our pride, revealing our lack of faith, and displaying our faults out in the open for all, ourselves included, to see. If only we would enter into adulthood as if we were still children – simply trusting our Father to take care of us no matter what unexpected circumstances arise. When my babies were small, all I had to tell them when trouble came along was Dad and I would take care of it, not to worry. When they heard that answer, they turned over and slept without a care in the world. Mom and Dad were going to take care of everything and that was all the assurance they needed. Oh that we would learn to trust our Father like children again!
Instead of living carefree, we allow the disappointments of life to weigh us down; we’re bent over under the weight of this world.
Age and life experience, another lesson I’ve learned, doesn’t disqualify me from being blindsided by life. Living on the foreign mission field is an unpredictable – and wonderful – adventure. Nothing is normal, anything is possible, and there are unexpected events that take place, sometimes by the hour.
There’s a certain romance in the Western mind about the mission field. I’ve seen it and heard it when traveling stateside and in Europe. We are told by some that they admire what we do, thank God for our service, yet we feel so very under qualified to serve these people God loves so very much and who deserve so much more than we can offer. Somehow, despite our shortcomings, we were given this call and we do our best to be faithful.
While on the subject of missions and the connection between the West and the mission field, I wanted to debunk an idea that some might have about those serving overseas. I get the distinct impression that those on the other side of the pond think missionaries must love everything they do and have lots of faith to get things done. Yes, we love the field, but we don’t always love everything associated with our call and often feel that our faith is so very weak in the face of the great challenges we face. No one loves financial strain that, for the most part, doesn’t come and go for the missionary. It seems financial strain comes to set roots down in everything we do. No one loves to see young children suffer in famine, such as we now have in Malawi, and have our hands tied by finance and circumstance to do anything to bring them relief. No one enjoys rejection, yes, we missionaries and the Gospel we carry are often rejected; we aren’t received with joy and red carpets. It can be a lonely and tiring journey – but the rewards of seeing lives changed far outweighs the bumps we face along the way.
Like everyone else, we are not immune to discouragement and find, in the process of time, that we bend over under the stresses of circumstances far beyond our control. Therein our pride is revealed when we think our presence can do anything, for it’s only by the Presence of God can things change. Therein is our lack of faith revealed when we doubt that God hears our prayers when it seems answers are delayed. These are our faults and imperfections and yet God still chooses to use us, any and all of us who dare to walk down this road towards a City that God is building.
Psalm 145:13b, 14 NLT “…The Lord always keeps His promises; He is gracious in all He does. The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads.”
Every year I follow a Bible reading plan that, by this time, brings me to the “minor” prophetic books. I don’t understand why the term “minor” prophets was coined except for the fact that these books are shorter in length than the “major” prophetic books like Isaiah and Jeremiah. From these so-called minor books I’ve learned major truths.
This morning in Habakkuk 1:5 NLT I read, “Look around at the nations; look around and be amazed! For I am doing something you won’t believe even if someone told you about it.” In reading this verse in my devotions, I thought about how many times I have quoted this verse in a positive way, believing God would do something so amazing and out-of-the-box fantastic in my situation. Of course this is what we should expect from God, He is always up to something amazing. But this morning I saw things with a bit of a different perspective.
The past few years have been challenging, a different kind of season where I have seen God work in ways that are amazing but different from the amazing I have been used to. The following verses in Habakkuk 1 verses 6-8 NLT says, “I am raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people. They will march across the world and conquer other lands. They are notorious for their cruelty and do whatever they like. Their horses are swifter than cheetahs and fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their charioteers charge from far away. Like eagles, they swoop down to devour their prey.” If we read those verses in context with verse 5, God doesn’t just use uncomfortable and even difficult situations – He sometimes creates them to work out His purpose.
We all go through times of incredible, indescribable hardship and wonder how things evolved the way they did and how is God going to get us out of our unbelievable situations. As I read further in Habakkuk 3:17-19 NLT, my eyes were opened: “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.”
The answer is “even though…yet I will rejoice” in the face of all kinds of trouble, God is my strength. Why is He working as He is? I really don’t know. What I do know is this: whatever He is accomplishing in the trouble, He is going to take care of me. I won’t slip, my steps will be sure.
Have you ever had a rough day? Gone through a rough season in your life and wondered, “Who is to blame for this?” We all have, consciously or not, wondered whose fault it was for the conditions we found ourselves in when life got messy.
Jesus was asked the same question by those wondering why a man had been born blind:
John 9:3 Message “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look Instead for what God can do.”
Some things we simply have to add to a list of “unexplained” items on our life list – for there are many things that will happen in life that are simply that: unexplainable.
How then do we react when the unreasonable, unthinkable, unimaginable, and unexplainable happen? Instead of looking for someone to blame – as the right question.
What can God do?
Everything and anything!