Conntecting the Dots

3 Reminders As We Wait to To See Hopes Fulfilled

For what are you hoping today? 

I’ve spoken at numerous women’s retreats and conferences across western Canada this spring. Judging from private conversations at these events, it seems many women struggle with difficult family relationships and hope for restoration.

Some wrestle with medical issues and hope for renewed health. Others live in difficult marriages and hope for a breakthrough. Some grieve their prodigal kids and hope they’ll soon return to both home and faith in God.

Personally, I’m hoping for several things during this season. Here are a few examples:

  • For the complete restoration of a difficult relationship.
  • For my latest book proposal to garner a contract.
  • For the healing of a nasty shoulder issue that’s suddenly resurfaced after 17 years.
  • For God to supply a successor for my husband’s ministry role—not that he plans to abandon his post anytime soon, but training someone will take time.

Sometimes we see our hopes fulfilled in breakneck speed. But more often than not, they take much longer than we expect. Waiting can be tough, so we might be tempted to speed things up. You know—lend God a hand.

Remember Sarai? She hoped to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to make Abram the father of many nations, so she involved Hagar in the process (Genesis 16). Unfortunately, manipulation never goes well.

As we wait to see our hopes fulfilled, let’s remember these things:

  • God is very aware of the hopes we embrace, and He understands the pain we feel in the wait. When angst threatens to squelch hope, remember that the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).
  • God’s timing is not our timing. Sarai waited more than two decades before she saw His promise fulfilled. Some people don’t see His promises fulfilled in their lifetime. This doesn’t mean He’s not doing His job. It just means He’s working in ways we can’t see or understand (Isaiah 55:8)
  • God’s love for us is so vast that we can trust Him in the wait. His intentions toward us are fully good. He will fulfill His promises because He loves us and because He cannot lie (Psalm 147:11).

#bgbg2 #ChristianDevotions #Hope

What’s the Litmus Test of our Love for God?

You’ve probably heard the phrase Talk is cheap. We can make as many plans and promises as we wish, but our words mean little unless we back them up with appropriate action.

What does this look like in everyday life? Here are a few examples:

  • An adult child who lives in the same community as his parents promises to help with spring yardwork, but he fails to follow through.
  • A parent promises to take his family on a special outing, but other things take priority and that outing never happens.
  • We say we want to get physically fit, but we don’t make necessary changes in our eating or exercise habits.
  • We say we want to save money for a rainy day or retirement, but we spend any extra funds on stuff we want but don’t need.
  • A husband says he loves his wife, but he never has time for a meaningful conversation.

Talk is cheap in the spiritual realm too. When we profess to love the Lord, we need to ensure our actions back up our words. This means more than tithing and attending church regularly. It means obeying God in both the big and the little things.

Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15). That means we put off attitudes such as envy, jealousy, self-centeredness, and pride. We put on humility, compassion, generosity, and love. We forgive when we feel more like taking revenge. We express gratitude when we feel as though life’s unfair. We say yes to whatever task God assigns us even though the mere thought of it makes our knees knock.

The litmus test of our love for God is obedience. We don’t just say we love Him; we do what He says.

God blesses us when we align our actions with our words. “Those who obey God’s commandments live in fellowship with him, and he with them,” says 1 John 3:24. Imagine the ramifications of living in fellowship with God as opposed to being afraid of Him or trying to hide from Him. Living in fellowship with Him means we experience peace, joy, assurance of His presence, and access to His unhindered power.

So, what do you think? Does obedience to God in all things really matter?

#bgbg2 #ChristianDevotions #LovingGod

Hearing God and Listening to God: Two Different Things

“I [Jesus] tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life. And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live.” (John 5:24, 25 NLT)

As a young mom, I routinely took my kids grocery shopping with me. Most often the errand went smoothly, but once in awhile it turned into a misadventure.

On one occasion when my youngest was only a few weeks old, I placed her in a fabric baby carrier on my chest. My two-year-old daughter sat in the grocery cart, and three-year-old Matthew walked beside me.

Shopping complete, we exited the store and paused to let traffic pass before heading to our car. I’d been holding Matthew’s hand, but at that moment he jerked free and dashed directly into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

“Stop!” I yelled.

Matthew obeyed. Thankfully, so did the car’s driver.

Obviously Matthew heard my voice when I yelled that one-word command. But he did more than just hear it—he listened to it and responded appropriately. Doing so saved his life.

God speaks to His children every day: He might do so by placing a specific thought in our minds. He might communicate through a song or a quote or through another person’s words. He always talks to us through His Word when we take time to read it. How do we respond?

Do we hear God’s words and shrug them off as ho-hum or applicable only to others? Or do we hear His words, listen to what He’s telling us, and respond appropriately?

Paying attention and responding to God’s voice literally saves our lives. Not only do we find the path to eternal life, but we find wisdom that teaches us how to think and behave on a daily basis. We find truth to help us remain anchored in the midst of society’s shifting standards of right and wrong. And we find strength to persevere when we feel like giving up.

Hearing God’s words and listening to them are two different things. Which one describes your response to His voice?

I invite you to share an experience that brought life change when you listened to something God said.

#bgbg2 #ChristianDevotions #ListenToGod

God Sees Me: Lessons Learned in Nepal

In my last blog I wrote about Hagar and her encounter with God at a time when she felt abandoned and afraid. As a result of that experience, she thereafter referred to Him as “the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).

Years ago I, too, had an experience that carved on my heart the same life-changing truth: God sees me.

It happened in August, 1983. Gene and I were living in a mud and rock house in a Nepalese village. We had no running water, no electricity, and no indoor plumbing. We did have snakes and scorpions. And we had a three-week-old son.

One day I was standing at my kitchen counter when the Nepalese teenager who worked for us let out a scream: “Serpo!” She’d been approaching our house when she saw a six-foot snake slither under the ill-fitting screen door.

I wasn’t fluent in the language, but I knew what serpo meant. I froze as the snake slithered past just a few inches from my feet and curled up under a wooden bench about five feet away.

My first thought was I have to get out of here, but not without my baby! Retrieving my sleeping son meant going to the bedroom upstairs, and that meant passing the snake to reach the stairs. My mama bear instinct kicked in. Heart racing, I dashed past the snake and up the stairs. I grabbed my baby and then left the house via a second exit.

Meanwhile, the neighbors who’d heard the scream had gathered in our yard to watch the action. A man and a teenage boy entered the house and, after much discussion, doused the snake’s head with kerosene. I’ve never understood the reasoning behind this, but I know it worked. The duo threw the dead reptile over a bamboo pole balanced on their shoulders and proudly paraded their trophy through the village for all to see.

Meanwhile, back in the mud and rock house, I fell into a pit of fear and despair. We’d just marked the end of our first year in Nepal, and I’d found it difficult to say the least. The stresses of frequent illness, isolation, language learning, and culture shock had taxed me. Add to those things the fact that Gene and I were still relative newlyweds (married only 17 months at the time) and now new parents. You get the picture.

The serpent intruder tipped my emotional scale. I spent the rest of the day wishing I could board the next plane bound for North America. I longed for my old normal and began plotting my escape—I could take my baby and a diaper bag packed with necessities, walk the half hour to the nearest bazaar where I could catch the next bus to Kathmandu, and head for home. If Gene really loves me, he’ll come find me, I reasoned.

There was only one problem. I knew deep in my heart that God had called us to Nepal. Leaving now meant choosing my will over His. My thoughts played tug o’ war for hours. Back and forth, back and forth—Go home. No, stay here.

I burst into tears the moment Gene came home from work. He plopped onto a cane stool and pulled me onto his lap. Wise man—he let me cry without trying to “fix” me. Then, for whatever reason, he turned on our shortwave radio.

To my amazement, a familiar strain filled the room—in English, nonetheless. Somewhere out there in radio land, a male quartet was singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

Promises of God’s presence and mercy no-matter-what washed over me—a soul-weary Canadian woman hidden in a Himalayan hut—and assured me that He saw me there. Hope was restored and courage renewed. The knowledge that I was in His sights gave me the strength needed to persevere.

I’ll remember my Hagar moment as long as I live. God saw me in my desperation, reached down from heaven, and kissed me with a song.

He sees you, too, my friend. You are never alone.

#Hagar #bgbg2 #LonelyButNotAlone

Finding Encouragement in Knowing God Sees Us

Hagar—Sarai’s servant—holds a special place in my heart. Treated more like a piece of property than a woman of worth, she experienced a most amazing encounter with God at a time when she felt overwhelmed and underappreciated.

Genesis 16 tells us that—kudos to Sarai—Hagar had become pregnant with Abram’s child. That led to no end of trouble between Sarai and Hagar. Sarai treated Hagar harshly, and Hagar responded by running away. She hit the road for her homeland, Egypt.

Put yourself in Hagar’s sandals for a moment. Imagine this gal sitting by a spring of water in the wilderness. Perhaps she’s nauseous from the pregnancy. She’s emotionally battered and physically exhausted. She feels betrayed and abandoned.

Everything changes when God shows up. He calls her by name, engages her in conversation, gives her direction, and bolsters her with the courage needed to return to Sarai and Abram.

It must have been an amazing encounter. From that time forth, she used a name when referring to the Lord. It meant, “You are the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).

This morning in my quiet time, I read from John 1 where Nathanael and Philip approached Jesus from a distance.

“As they approached, Jesus said, ‘Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.’

 

‘ How do you know about me?’ Nathanael asked.

 

“Jesus replied, ‘I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.’” (vv. 47-48).

There it is again—“see.” It’s my special word for 2017, and seeing it (no pun intended) in print twice today brings several insights to mind:

  • God sees us at our deepest point of need. Just as He saw Hagar in a physical wilderness and stooped to encourage her, so He sees us when we wander in a wilderness of the soul and He meets us there.
  • God sees us even when we can’t see Him. Consider Nathanael’s situation—Jesus saw him under the fig tree long before he and Philip came to Him. We might sometimes question His presence in our circumstances, but the truth is that we’re never out of His sights.
  • God sees our heart. “Here’s a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity,” Jesus said of Nathanael. Jesus looked beyond Nathanael’s exterior person and saw his inner being. He does the same with us. Does He see secret sins hidden from men’s eyes? Or does He see complete integrity?

Like Hagar, I find courage in knowing God—like a watchful Father—sees me at all times. I also feel challenged (and somewhat convicted) in knowing He sees my heart. May He look upon it and see complete integrity.

Have you ever had an encounter with the Lord that left you assured that He sees you at all times? On Friday, I’ll share a story about an instance when I knew God saw me.

#bgbg2 #ChristianDevotions #GodSeesUs

One-Word Prayers are Effective

What’s prayer, anyway? I like J. I. Packer’s definition: “The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgement of helplessness and dependence.”

Prayer takes different forms. Sometimes it’s liturgical and recited aloud in a formal church setting. Sometimes it’s private, penned in one’s journal for only the author to see. Prayer might follow a formula such as ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), or it might be a simple one word—“Help!”

Psalm 107:1-43 contains four instances where people prayed using only the word, “Help!” Here’s one example—“Some wandered in the wilderness, lost and homeless. Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died. ‘Lord, help!’ they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress.”

Some folks might think that, for prayers to be effective, they must be long or eloquent. That’s not so. Short ones—“Help!”—whispered or cried from a heart that truly recognizes one’s need for God’s provision or intervention can stir Him to answer.

If you’re an exhausted parent, you can cry, “Help!”
If your marriage is failing, you can cry, “Help!”
If you’re wrestling with a major decision, you can cry, “Help!”

Never hesitate to pray because you think your words don’t sound spiritual enough. Who’s to say what “spiritual enough” is, anyway? God’s most concerned about our heart attitude. Prayer is our way to show Him that we understand our need for Him, and we want and welcome His involvement in our lives.

Change of topic: I write a monthly newsletter called “Growing With Grace.” It contains a short inspirational article, a healthy recipe, a book giveaway, news about where I’ll be speaking in the near future, and more. May’s issue will be sent to subscribers on Monday. If you wish to subscribe, go to www.gracefox.com and enter your email address in the appropriate box.

Have a great weekend!

#bgbg2 #ChristianDevotions #ShortPrayersWork

“Let Us” Do These Things to Beat Stress

Hi, my friend! How was your weekend?

I spent mine as guest speaker for the Lethbridge University Drive Alliance Church women’s retreat. Today I’m basking in the afterglow of powerful worship music, sweet fellowship, and study time in God’s Word. This Thursday I’ll fly to Winnipeg, Manitoba and experience the same with a group of Baptist women.

I’m humbled and grateful for this ministry with which God has entrusted me. How fun to meet spiritual sisters across Canada and around the world, and to encourage one another in our faith journey!

And then reality strikes. 

A three-day turnaround between events both this week and next means precious little time to tackle my routine to-do list and none to work on two major writing projects. Add to that the physical demands of traveling back and forth between various time zones and facing unexpected travel delays (like last night when my plane was an hour delayed), sleeping in many different beds, and missing my exercise routine. Women routinely tell me that they would love to do what I do, but they don’t see the behind-the-scenes challenges.

I’ll be honest—at this point in times past, I would have been feeling more than a tad stressed. But not now.

Despite the challenges I face right now, a sense of calm fills me. What’s the difference? I’ve chosen to believe that God will empower and equip me to do what He’s called me to do, just as He’s done so faithfully in the past. I’ll take one step at a time, thankful for His promised presence and power.

I’m also being intentional about lassoing my thoughts. Each time they throw worry my way, I refuse to play that game. Instead, I incorporate the “let us” commands found in Psalm 95:1-7:

“Come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.

Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him.

For the LORD is a great God, a great King above all gods.

He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains.

The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too.

Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker,

for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.”

Singing praises to the Lord, giving thanks for His many gifts to me, making everything I do an act of worship, and acknowledging Him as my maker and keeper calms my anxious thoughts. Knowing that He’s watching over me and caring for me keeps my heart in a quiet state.

The next time you feel stressed, recall these “let us” commands and join me by putting them into practice, okay? The difference they make will amaze you.

#bgbg2 #OvercomingStress #OvercomingFear

Why the Fear of the Lord is a Good Thing

One of the prayers I prayed for my kids when they were young sounded something like this: “Heavenly Father, please teach my children to fear You.”

Fearing God didn’t mean they’d be afraid of Him. It meant they’d develop deep reverence for Him. I figured that proper respect for Him as a holy, all-wise, all-powerful, and loving God would influence every thought, conversation, relationship, priority, and decision. It wouldn’t guarantee an easy life, but it would safeguard them against making regrettable choices, and it would lead to intimacy with the Lord. And isn’t intimacy with God more precious than any earthly treasure we could ever hope to possess?

My kids are now married. Most of my prayers for them have changed with their circumstances. One prayer, however, remains the same – that they’ll walk in the fear of the Lord. I remain convinced that this is foundational to fruitful godly living.

Psalm 25:12-14 says, “Who are those who fear the LORD? He will show them the path they should choose. They will live in prosperity, and their children will inherit the Promised Land. Friendship with the LORD is reserved for those who fear him. With them he shares the secrets of his covenant.” (NLT)

Fearing the Lord is the sure way to experience His blessings—to see His guidance, to know prosperity in every area of life, and to see the next generation inherit the Promised Land. Friendship with the living God opens the door to His sharing His secrets with us. Can you imagine anything more precious and transformational?

#bgbg2 #FearGod #ChristianDevotions

Surrounded by God’s Goodness

The thoughts on which we habitually dwell determine the direction our lives take. So, onto what thoughts do you latch when you feel overwhelmed, discouraged, or afraid?

When we focus on our negative or hurtful circumstances, we travel further into despair. Before long we begin to grumble, sink into self-pity, feel angry or short-changed, or jealous that other people don’t seem to struggle as we do.

The opposite happens when we focus on the truth of God’s word. We find hope, we discover peace, and we experience joy no matter what our circumstances look like.

When I feel as though my thoughts are pulling me down the wrong path, I call to mind Psalm 32:7, 10. I call them “refrigerator verses”—they’re so encouraging that I want to keep them in an obvious place where I’m sure to see them often:

“For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory…Unfailing love surrounds those who trust the LORD.”

The word “surround” makes me visualize medieval European castles. I’ve visited several. All are strategically situated on hilltops so their residents could see enemies approaching from miles away. And all are built with massive stones that provided protection from those enemies even if they somehow managed to scale the hill and mount an attack.

Satan knows how to mount attacks against Christ’s followers and he’s bent on defeating us, but Christ is our hiding place. He surrounds us with songs of victory and unfailing love. If we step outside His protection, we’re fair game. But so long as we find our refuge in Him—living intentionally to grow our relationship with Him through ongoing prayer, spending time in the Word, and walking in obedience—we are safe. Satan might declare all-out war on our souls, but he fights a losing battle.

Surrounded by God’s unfailing love and songs of victory, we have every reason to face our circumstances with courage. We are more than overcomers though Christ and the work He accomplished on Calvary.

What mental imagery comes to mind when you read Psalm 32:7,10?

#bgbg2 #GodIsMyHidingPlace #ChristianDevotions

Keeping Good Friday’s Focus

Easter weekend’s a busy time. No doubt many of you, my readers, will travel to visit family or friends. Others—like me—will welcome family and friends into your home. My youngest daughter and her husband will arrive this afternoon, so I’ll shift gears in a few hours and prepare by cooking and baking. On Sunday, we’ll have sixteen people here for dinner!

The tendency—especially for those with Martha-type personalities—will be to focus on all the preparations that must be done. Believe me, I “get” that. But this morning I’ve resolved to make Easter’s true meaning my focus. I begin now by meditating on Isaiah 53. Will you join me?

Who has believed our message? To whom will the Lord reveal his saving power?

My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.

He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!

But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed.

All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the guilt and sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.

From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins—that he was suffering their punishment?

He had done no wrong, and he never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.

But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s plan will prosper in his hands.

When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.

I will give him the honors of one who is mighty and great, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among those who were sinners. He bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners.

I’m awestruck by the phrases, “But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed.” Imagine! He bore pain and death that we might experience peace and healing. I cannot fathom the depth of His love.

What phrase leaves you awestruck as you contemplate what Jesus did on your behalf?

#bgbg2 #JesusDied #WhatDoesEasterMean