Dormant Souls

One of my least favorite parts of winter is the barrenness of the landscape. Besides a few fir trees, nothing is growing and everything looks dead and gray.

The plants and trees aren’t dead, of course. They’re just dormant, suspending their usual growth process for their protection. Life is still inside the plants and their roots, ready to spring forth when conditions are ripe again.

I think our souls sometimes go through periods of dormancy, too. We all have ups and downs, times when we “feel” more fervent and spiritual than others. We know we don’t rely on feelings, but they can sure make things easier or harder.

Grief can look like dormancy. Just like a broken leg needs time to heal, a broken heart does as well. Much of a grieving person’s energy goes towards healing. They’re still very much alive, spiritually and otherwise. Some say that their deepest periods of growth have come during their most sorrowful times. But they may not look or act like their normal selves and may not appear to be as fruitful as they usually are.

King David’s life seems to me to display dormancy after his great sin with Bathsheba and his unthinkable plot to have her husband killed. The first part of his life had gone well as he followed God closely. He wasn’t perfect, but he was “a man after God’s own heart.”

But after these sins, David tried to cover his tracks for several months. Then God’s prophet confronted him, and David broke down. He confessed his sin and repented.

Yet even forgiven sin has consequences. David’s household was in turmoil for years afterward. One son raped his half-sister. Another son killed the first and tried to take over David’s kingdom.

And David said nothing to rebuke his sons. Did he feel he had no right in light of his failures? Did he feel the events in his family were part of his punishment? It would have been better to be honest with them about his sin, to warn them about the dangers of temptation and the necessity to nip it in the bud, to point out that he didn’t “get away with it,” as perhaps they hoped to do, but he was under God’s chastening hand.

In fact, David is pretty quiet from the time of his sin until his return to the kingdom after Absalom’s rebellion. But he doesn’t seem fully himself again until 1 Kings, as he helps Solomon get ready to build the temple.

In today’s cancel culture, David’s career would be over and his esteem among his people would have been lost.

But God wasn’t done with David. David’s spiritual life wasn’t dead: just read Psalm 51, written after his repentance. According to this site, Psalms 32, 86, and 122 were also written after this time.

John Newton captured this idea of reviving in spring in a couple of poems. One, written in April of 1776, begins “Pleasing spring is here again” and goes on to capture evidences of spring. The next few stanzas say:

What a change has taken place!
Emblem of the spring of grace;
How the soul, in winter, mourns
Till the Lord, the Sun, returns;
Till the Spirit’s gentle rain,
Bids the heart revive again;
Then the stone is turned to flesh,
And each grace springs forth afresh.

Lord, afford a spring to me!
Let me feel like what I see;
Ah! my winter has been long,
Chilled my hopes, and stopped my song!
Winter threatened to destroy
Faith and love, and every joy;
If thy life was in the root,
Still I could not yield thee fruit.

Speak, and by thy gracious voice
Make my drooping soul rejoice;
O beloved Saviour, haste,
Tell me all the storms are past:
On thy garden deign to smile,
Raise the plants, enrich the soil;
Soon thy presence will restore
Life to what seemed dead before.

In the last stanza, Newton longs for his eternal home where winter will be no more.

In “Waiting for Spring,” written a couple of years later in March of 1778, Newton revisits this idea. In the first three stanzas, he talks about the change of seasons as part of God’s decree. Then he writes:

Such changes are for us decreed;
Believers have their winters too;
But spring shall certainly succeed,
And all their former life renew.

Winter and spring have each their use,
And each, in turn, his people know;
One kills the weeds their hearts produce,
The other makes their graces grow.

Though like dead trees awhile they seem,
Yet having life within their root,
The welcome spring’s reviving beam
Draws forth their blossoms, leaves, and fruit.

Then he prays in the last stanza:

Dear Lord, afford our souls a spring,
Thou know’st our winter has been long;
Shine forth, and warm our hearts to sing,
And thy rich grace shall be our song.

It’s one thing when circumstances or sorrows cause us to draw in and heal, or God’s chastening weighs us down for a while. It’s another thing if we’re dormant because we’ve neglected God’s means of growth.

Like plants, we need light.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!” (Psalm 4:6)

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:130).

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

We need water.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Ephesians 5:25-26).

Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. (John 7:37).

And we need nourishment.

I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food (Job 23:12).

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16).

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35).

Whether your soul is feeling sluggish and sleepy or in full bloom, or in-between, will you turn to His light and let it warm you? Will you take in His water and let it soak down deep in your soul? Will you partake of His nourishment to strengthen your roots and bring forth fruit in your life?

After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.

Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth (Hosea 6:2-3).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

God Is Not Going to Slap the Cookie From Your Hand

Many decades ago, during my college years, an administrator said that most religions of the world emphasized trying to earn God’s favor. Christianity, however, declared that it’s not by trying, but trusting—trusting the perfect, sinless Son of God who took our place on the cross we deserved.

These words were a relief to me. I had been familiar with Ephesians 2:8-9 for a few years by then: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” But I still had to reassure myself that salvation was not a matter of being “good enough,” but rather resting in His goodness.

I had to learn the same principle in my Christian walk. Even after salvation, my standing with God was not a matter of trying to be good enough. My works were not to earn His approval. I would never be more saved or more loved than I already was. My walk, or sanctification, or growth was as much a matter of faith as my salvation. It was still Christ’s righteousness, not mine, that counted before God. The whole book of Galatians was written to people who thought they had to obey certain rules in order to be right with God:

 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

It’s given immeasurable rest to my spirit to know I can always “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

The same college administrator made another statement at another time that has stayed with me all these years: “God’s not going to do your math homework for you.”

I don’t recall the context of that statement. Perhaps there were college students who thought prayer took the place of study. I can understand, as one who prayed my way through various lessons. I’m sure there were courses that were passed only through prayer. But they also required mental and physical effort.

Since then, I have amended that administrator’s statement about what God is not going to do:

God is not going to slap your fifth cookie out of your hand.

God is not going to turn off the TV when the sex scene starts.

God is not going to have devotions for you.

God is not going to make you take the opportunity you’re afraid of.

And so on.

I tend to be overly analytical. I’ve spent a great deal of thought on what’s God’s part and what’s our part in the Christian life. I can’t say I have it all figured out, even now. My tendency is to want to sort it out neatly in a series of points. God does this: 1, 2, and 3. And we do this: 1, 2, and 3. But I don’t think it works like that.

I do know this: As I said, our standing before God and His love for us are totally dependent on His grace, not our actions. My ups and downs, stumblings, faults, and failures don’t threaten His love for me or my salvation.

But Jesus did say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

We don’t keep His commandments to earn His love or favor or salvation.

But we keep His commandment from His love and favor and salvation.

Because He loves us, saved us, changed us, we’re new creations.

We don’t put down the cookie because we’ll lose points with God if we eat it. But His Spirit dwells within us, and part of His fruit is self-control.

We don’t turn off the sex scene because we’ll go to hell if we don’t. We turn off the sex scene because we love a pure and holy God.

We don’t have time in prayer and the Bible because we’ll have a bad day if we don’t. We spend time with God because He is our Father, and we want to hear His great and precious thoughts.

We don’t take the scary opportunity because God won’t love us if we don’t, but because we want to do what He has called us to.

We can’t do anything without Him.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).

But as we walk through the day, seeking grace to help in time of need, asking for His strength, step by step, we yield to Him.

What do we do when we see a “Yield” traffic sign? We let the other drivers have the right of way.

What do we do when we yield to God? We let Him have His way. We acquiesce to His will.

The fact that our salvation is by grace through faith doesn’t mean there is no effort to the Christian life. Grace does not preclude obedience. Grace is not good just for forgiveness. Grace enables obedience.

The verses that seem to most clearly show our effort and His working:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10).

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).

So maybe there is no actual dividing line between God’s part and our part as we seek to live for Him. We don’t muster up the strength or will to serve Him on our own—we feed on His Word for our nourishment and strength and ask for His grace and help through prayer. Maybe it’s like the man with the withered hand or the paralyzed man in Scripture whom Jesus told to do the very things they could not do. With faith and obedience came enabling.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Pressure

My husband and I listened to an online sermon recently which contained a story I had never heard before.

The USS Thresher was a nuclear-powered submarine that sank in 1963, killing all 129 people on board. A series of events caused it to sink and then to implode due to the extreme pressure deep in the ocean.

Research equipment with cameras that could withstand the oceanic pressure were lowered and found the Thresher in five pieces.

It’s hard to fathom water pressure strong enough to crush a submarine.

Yet there are fish and creatures that live at such depths. How are they not crushed?

This article tells of some features of a few specific deep-sea creatures. But the bottom line, Wikipedia says, is “Deep-sea organisms have the same pressure within their bodies as is exerted on them from the outside, so they are not crushed by the extreme pressure.”

The fish and other creatures aren’t crushed by deep sea pressure because their internal pressure is equal to it. In fact, many die (even explode) when they are brought to the surface for study because their pressure is no longer equalized.

We face a lot of pressures these days, don’t we? Making a living, keeping up with responsibilities, making time for those we love. Then we all have struggles against our own besetting sins. The world is getting less friendly to Christianity every day. And we have an enemy of our souls who seeks our destruction like a roaring lion.

We’re not equal to it in ourselves. “My flesh and my heart may fail,” Asaph says. Mine, too. But he goes on to say, “but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The one within us is more than equal to the pressures around us.

“Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4:7-8, HCSB).

Sometimes God relieves pressure by removing a burden from us. Other times, He gives us grace to bear it. He invites us to cast our care on Him, to depend on His strength in our weakness, to come to Him for rest.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

15 Favorite Posts from 15 Years of Blogging

I mentioned in my end-of-July post that I forgot my blogging anniversary until WordPress sent me a reminder. It’s been fifteen years!

Often in the past I’ve done something special to observe my blogiversary. Since it caught me off guard this year, I didn’t have anything prepared.

I had been pondering ways to bring some of old posts back to the forefront, since they were published before I knew some of you. Then, voila! The idea came to list fifteen of my favorite blog posts to commemorate my fifteenth year of blogging. There won’t be one from each year—that would have taken too much time to search out. But these were either fun to write or were special to me in some way.

So here we go, in no particular order:

  1. Coping when a husband is away. This is my top-viewed post of all time. I had no idea it would touch such a chord. My husband had to travel heavily for at least half, maybe as much as two-thirds of our 41-year marriage. Though I didn’t like it, I am thankful God used what He taught me to help others.

2. How Not to Become an Old Biddie. After seeing examples of different kinds of older ladies, I realized I needed to start working on what kind of older lady I want to be now. (Related: Why Older Women Don’t Serve and Ways Older Women Can Serve.)

3. With All Our Feebleness. Reflections on serving God with physical and other limitations.

4. My Ebenezers. In 1 Samuel 7:12: “Samuel took a stone . . . and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Till now the Lord has helped us.’” “Ebenezer” means “stone of help.” In this post, I listed some of my verbal “Ebenzers,” commemorations of the Lord’s special help in my life.

5. Having Devotions When You’re not Feeling Very Devoted. We’ve all been there, I’m sure. (Related: When There Is No Hunger for God’s Word.)

6. Strong Women. What feminine strength means and doesn’t mean, with literary and Biblical examples.

7. Encouragement for Mothers of Small Children in the area of trying to find quiet time with the Lord.

8. The Back Burner. The stuff on the back burner is all the more flavorful for its time sitting and simmering. So with the things in our lives we have to set on the back burner: they’ll be all the better for the wait.

9. Why Read? Why Read Fiction? Why Read Christian Fiction? Every reason I could think of for reading all of them.

10. Can Frugality Go Too Far? Even good traits can be carried too far.

11. It’s Not For Nothing. Caregiving can seem monotonous and futile when the patient sleeps most of the time, can’t speak, and isn’t interested in food, as was the case for my mother-in-law her last two years in our home. These were truths that encouraged me. (Related: Remembering the Loved One Who Has Forgotten You.)

12. Manufactured Spirituality. Routines and programs can help us spirituality, but sometimes we focus on them to the detriment of real spirituality.

13. The Quiet Person in the Small Group. How not to torture your introverts.

14 Going to a Church with Problems. They all have them, even the ones in the Bible. (Related: What You Miss When You Turn Your Back on Church.)

15. Myths and Maxims of Ministry gleaned over many years. Myth #1: “Since this is being done for the Lord, everything should go smoothly.” Nope!

These are the posts that floated to mind. If I had actually searched every year’s posts, I might have had a different list. But there’s probably a reason these are the ones that came to mind.

As you’ve noticed, I cheated stretched my numbers a bit. Sometimes I couldn’t decide between a couple of posts on a similar topic, so I included one as “related.”

I’ve noticed that I should probably go back and edit some of the older posts. One of the tendencies my first critiquer at a writer’s conference pointed out was “long, convoluted sentences” that should be broken into two sentences (or three or four). Hopefully some day I can correct those in my older posts.

Thank you so much to all of you who read and comment. Without you, this would just be an online journal. Nothing makes me day like hearing that something here has blessed and helped someone.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

What Are You Looking For?

What are you looking for as you go through life?

Peace?

Love?

Justice?

A good time?

Happiness?

We might find those in some measure. Some of them are God’s good gifts. Some are a foretaste of heaven.

But none will be perfect. This world is fraught with strife, selfishness, conflict.

And such characteristics are not just out there. They’re in our hearts as well.

Whatever troubles or pleases us about this life, none of it will last. Peter says some day “the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10b).

If we’ve staked all our hopes and dreams on this earth, we’ll be in trouble.

Since this earth won’t last forever, what should we do? Peter goes on to say, “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:11-14, NKJV).

Others passages echo this truth:

For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself (Philippians 3:20-21, KJV).

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14, NKJV).

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28, KJV).

Other translations say “wait for” instead of “look for,” but the Greek definitions can be translated either way. We wait with expectation, with eagerness, looking for Him.

Only with Him will we find perfection. Only in heaven will there be no sin, no sorrow, no crying, no pain–none of the negative things that taint life here.

Is this just escapism from reality? No, it’s arriving at reality. We look forward to our true reality, our true home. C. S. Lewis called this life the Shadowlands. In The Last Battle, when the children and animals realize they’re in a new Narnia, the Unicorn says:

I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it til now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.

Aslan told the children, “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

It was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now, at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Elisabeth Elliot has quoted George MacDonald as saying, “If you knew what God knows about death, you would clap your listless hands.” I remember reading somewhere that one reason God doesn’t tell us much about heaven is that we would look forward to it so much, we wouldn’t be able to get anything else done here.

I admit, there’s much I still enjoy and look forward to in this life. There’s much I’d like to do. One of the most important things I desire is to be a positive influence in my grandson’s life, and hopefully, at some point, in the lives of future grandchildren. God has given us a strong survival instinct. One preacher once said that one reason our bodies start falling apart as we get older is to ready us to let loose of them. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

I need the reminder that this life isn’t all there is. Imagine a rope stretched out east and west farther than we can follow, and let it represent eternity. The piece of the rope in front of us is taped off for a few inches. That taped part would represent the whole of life on earth for all time compared to eternity. Time is short. Eternity is long.

But before we look for Him to take us there, we have to look for Him here. Jeremiah 29:13 (ESV) says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” If you don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus, if you’re not sure of heaven, please read here.

We enjoy God’s blessing here. But we know this world isn’t all there is. Like Abraham, we “[look] forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

Are you looking for Him?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading online

Here are a few noteworthy reads discovered in the last couple pf weeks.

On Deconversion. A plausible reason why we’re seeing more of this phenomenon.

Live According to a Plumb Line, not a Pendulum, HT to Challies.

Book Banning in an Age of Amazon, HT to Challies. “Forget the ‘firemen’ from Fahrenheit 451: You needn’t burn forbidden books if people can’t buy them in the first place.”

Is the Crucifixion of Christ Cosmic Child Abuse? HT to Challies. This video clip from the American Gospel film (which I haven’t seen but should) answers that charge as well as the question of why God needs sacrifice to forgive. It might be confusing if you don’t know who the people are in the video, but basically it shows clips from people on opposite viewpoints.

This World Is Passing Away. Beautifully written and a much-needed reminder.

Interactive Bird Map, HT to The Story Warren. This is pretty cool—follow the link to a site where you can click on a bird to see what it sounds like. We have some of these in our yard, but I had not connected which sounds went with which birds except the mourning dove.

“I See the Light” parody—with Ducks. HT to The Story Warren. This is one of my favorite Disney songs, but this parody made me laugh.

Finally, I loved this clip of a baby hearing violin music for the first time.

Happy Saturday!

How to Quiet Your Soul

How to quiet your soul

Has your soul been unquiet lately? The pandemic, civil unrest, the daily news, politics, social media bickering, and a host of other factors can disturb our peace.

We can’t live like ostriches with our heads in the sand. We need to live in but not of the world and minister to others. But what do we do when it all gets to be too much?

We all vary in how much news or social media is good for us. But when it’s too noisy in our souls, here’s how we can quiet them again:

Remember God’s love.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

In my early Christian days, when anything bad happened, my confidence in God’s love was shaken. How could He allow this if He loved me? What did I do wrong?

Though God sometimes uses calamities to discipline us, bad events aren’t always meant to chasten. He has many reasons for allowing trials and suffering. But He assures us of His love all through the Bible. We can rest secure in His love no matter what else is going on in the world.

Hope in God

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God. (Psalm 43:5, NASB)

Other translations say disturbed, restless, or in turmoil in place of disquieted, but they all paint a similar picture. Like Peter on the water, we sink if we look at the storm. But if we keep our eyes on Jesus, we’ll be fine.

Wait on the Lord

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:24-26)

Just before these verses in Lamentations, Jeremiah writes of his soul being bowed down, yet having hope because “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:20-23). God will take care of us and meet our needs, but we have to wait on His timing.

Trust the Lord

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling. (Isaiah 30:15)

Instead of sinking under the weight of trials. a quiet trust in God gives us strength to carry on.

The last phrase indicates that returning, rest, trusting, and quietness are related to our will (more on that in a moment). We need to deliberately turn to God and place our faith in Him. (Some good commentary on this verse is here, especially the one by MacLaren).

Quiet our souls

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.(Psalm 131:1-2)

The commentaries and ESV Study Bible notes I consulted all seemed to emphasize the idea of contentment here. A baby would normally clamor to be fed in the way it was used to from its mother, but here an older child is content to “simply [have] its mother’s presence.” “So the faithful worshiper is content with God’s presence, even when there are many things he would like God to explain” (ESV Study Bible notes, p. 1109).

Feed our souls truth

Someone mentioned the other day that we can’t tell people who are struggling, “Just trust the Lord and everything will be okay.” We should be empathetic, and there are times friends just need a listening ear. The psalms are full of laments, crying out to God in the midst of deep pain, betrayal, confusion, or loss. Trite answers don’t help at those times.

Yet the psalmists at some point reminded themselves of God’s truth. In all but one or two of them, the writer ended up in a different frame of mind from where he started. He reminded himself of God’s love, power, wisdom, and other attributes. He reviewed times in the past when God had intervened on his behalf.

The passages mentioned above indicate action on our part. Isaiah 30:15 said the people were unwilling to be quieted. Psalm 131:2 says, “I have calmed and quieted my soul. “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God” when he was surrounded by trouble (I Samuel 30:6b). The writer of Psalm 42 prayed, poured out his soul, and then admonished himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (verse 11).

We cry out to God for peace and rest of heart, and He ministers to us from His Word, His love, His providence. His Holy Spirit will “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Like the psalmists, we look to Him and hope in Him. And we join them is saying:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Psalm 34:4-8

When I looked up the definitions to one of the Greek words for “quiet” in one of these passages, one of them said that the same word was often translated “rest.” Rest would be another valuable word study, but it brought to mind this hymn: Jesus, I am Resting, Resting. May God give us grace to rest in Him today.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth,
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God’s Part, My Part

“Lord, change me.”

Do you ever pray that? And do you ever get frustrated with the slowness of change? Or even the lack of change?

I do. I pray for God to fill me with the fruit of His Holy Spirit, and not an hour later get impatient. I pray for victory over anger, and then lose my temper over something trivial. I pray for help with self-control, and then convince myself it really is okay to eat another cookie.

I can’t do anything without God’s help, so it’s good to ask for it. But sometimes He doesn’t want us to stop there. He wants us to take action—not by ourselves, but with Him.

Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25)

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (John 15:4)

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Romans 12:2a)

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

The Bible is full of action verbs. We don’t do any of these things to earn God’s love or favor, We’re saved by grace through faith. He loved us when we were His enemies. He already loves us abundantly—He’s not going to love us more if we get our act together.

Nor do we sanctify ourselves or make ourselves Christlike. He does that.

But He asks us to obey. To abide. To behold Him. To be transformed by renewing our mind with His truth. To participate. To respond. To cooperate.

1 Timothy 4:7 says to “train yourself for godliness.” Other translations use “discipline” or “exercise.” What happens when we exercise? We expend energy and effort to the point of aching and sweating. Paul goes on to say “For to this end we toil and strive,” not in order to earn God’s favor, but “because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). He tells the Corinthians, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). According to a note here, the Greek word translated “discipline” means “pummel”: “I pummel my body.” Grace doesn’t mean passiveness or a lack of effort.

I’ve spent a great deal of time wondering what’s God’s part and what’s my part in the Christian life. Someone once said, “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.” I don’t know if that’s quite it. It helps me more to think of man with the withered hand or the paralyzed man whom Jesus told to rise, take up his bed, and walk. He told them to do exactly what they couldn’t do. But in taking Him at His Word and obeying, they were given grace and power to do what He said.

Maybe it doesn’t matter exactly where the lines are. Maybe it’s not a formula: God does those steps and then I do these. In many of those verses listed, God’s part and our part go hand in hand. We abide in Him, He abides in us, He produces fruit. We behold Him, He transforms us.

Do I abide in prayer, or do I race through a prayer list? Do I behold Him in His Word, or do I run my eyes down the day’s reading? Do I look for the promised escape from temptation or for an excuse to indulge?

So I pray. And by faith I abide, behold, renew. And I trust Him to transform. And I remember a walk is a series of steps to a destination. And I remember bearing fruit is a long process of growth.

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What is Success?

What is success in the Bible?

What does the word “success” bring to mind?

Money in the bank—enough to cover bills plus a little extra? A house and two cars? A desired promotion? A vibrant ministry with thousands of followers? Plans that turn out exactly as we wanted?

Sometimes people are smack dab in the center of God’s will, yet their lives don’t appear successful.

But wait—doesn’t God promise success if we follow Him? Doesn’t Joshua 1:8 say:

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.

And Psalm 1:3 says of the person who meditates on God’s Word day and night:

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

And Proverbs 3:3-4 says:

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.

The very next verses in Proverbs 3 are the more well known, but we usually take them out of context:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all  your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil (verses 5-7).

Look at John the Baptist. He had faithfully preached and prepared the way of the Messiah. He pointed others to the Lamb of God, not caring that he lost “followers” to Jesus. But he spent his last years in prison and then was beheaded by an evil ruler.

After God gave Jeremiah the message He wanted him to share with the people, God said, “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you” (Jeremiah 7:27).

When Elisabeth Elliot went to the mission field, she had every expectation that God would bless her work and that of other missionaries “in beautiful, demonstrable ways.”

Her words sounded naive. After all, she’d read missionary biographies; she knew the stories of men and women who had lost their lives, like John and Betty Stam, or lost their health, or lost their minds, in service of Christ. She was ready to pay any price to be obedient to His leading.

But, like many, she believed that God would surely take her sacrifices and make them into successes for His sake . . . glorious victories that human beings could see, that could be reported to supporters back home, bringing glory to God (Ellen Vaughn, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, pp 100-101).

Instead, during this period in her life, Elisabeth lost a vital coworker to murder, the results of several months of linguistic study to theft, her husband and four colleagues to spears from the very tribe they were trying to reach, and the ministry she thought God had been preparing her for to relationship issues.

Elisabeth titled the book about this period of life These Strange Ashes, words taken from an Amy Carmichael poem which begins:

But these strange ashes, Lord, this nothingness,
This baffling sense of loss?

For many years, people often asked Elisabeth “if the men’s mission on Palm Beach was a ‘success.'”

To her, the only measure of any human action came down to one thing: obedience. She’d look at an interviewer as if the “success” question was dull. Yes, yes, of course. After all, they knew God wanted them to go to the tribe, and they were obedient to His leading (Vaughn, p. 259).

Vaughn goes on to say that “If ‘success’ is defined not by obedience, but by measurable outcomes, then we’ve got to get into metrics” (p. 259)—how many people were saved or called to service, and how many people the men reached as opposed to what the men might have accomplished had they lived, etc. But we can never know those things. And God doesn’t always measure success in numbers.

Elisabeth wrote:

I believe with all my heart that God’s story has a happy ending. . . . But not yet, not necessarily yet. It takes faith to hold onto that in the face of the great burden of experience, which seems to prove otherwise. What God means by happiness and goodness is a far higher thing than we can conceive (Vaughn, p. 260).

Success, basically, is doing the will of God and leaving the results to Him..

Sometimes He brings about visible results. Sometimes He turns things around, like He did for Joseph, who was the favorite son, then sold into slavery, then falsely accused and imprisoned before becoming Pharaoh’s right-hand man and saving nations from starvation. Elisabeth went on to have a long and fruitful writing and speaking ministry, made all the richer and deeper by what she went through in her early adult life. A strong group of believers grew up among the tribe she worked with her husband died for, the Waodani, with a world-wide witness despite human foibles.

Sometimes the visible outcome doesn’t occur in this life. Lazarus–not the one whom Jesus raised from the dead—was a neglected beggar at the gate of a rich man. Things weren’t set “right” in his life til he went to “Abraham’s side” and was comforted. Poor, loyal Uriah, who was so faithful that he wouldn’t enjoy the pleasures of home while the king’s soldiers were in battle, was sent to the forefront of the battle to be killed off by the king who impregnated his wife.

Hebrews 11 tells wonderful success stories of those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection” (verses 33-35). However, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (verses 35-38). Yet they were all “commended through their faith” (verse 39).

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 7:14).

The ultimate example of what looked like failure from a human standpoint is the life and death of Jesus

His life on earth had a most inauspicious beginning. There was the scandal of the virgin birth, the humiliation of the stable, the announcement not to village officials but to uncouth shepherds. A baby was born – a Savior and King – but hundreds of babies were murdered because of Him. His public ministry, surely no tour of triumph, no thundering success story, led not to stardom but to crucifixion. Multitudes followed Him, but most of them wanted what they could get out of Him and in the end all His disciples fled. Yet out of this seeming weakness and failure, out of His very humbling to death, what exaltation and what glory (Elisabeth Elliot, These Strange Ashes, p. 145).

The seeming failure was not a failure at all. Christ’s death accomplished salvation for all who will believe in Him.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

So those verses in Joshua and Psalms and other places about success are true. God does grant success to those who meditate on His Word and walk with Him. The circumstances may or may not look successful. If things seem to be going wrong, it’s good to pray and examine our hearts and actions for sin, for blind spots, for better ways to do things. But otherwise, we can leave the results to God.

The success Psalm 1 promises is that our “leaf does not wither.” We won’t “dry up” spiritually. God will continue to give grace and strength, no matter the circumstances.

But sometimes we look at outcomes in this life, seeking the reassurance of a happy ending, and it’s just not there. What then? As Betty put it, His ways are “inscrutable.” So we have to rest, not in the peace of a pretty story, but in the reality of faith in a Person we cannot see (Vaughn, p. 245).

Psalm 1:3

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Linking does not imply 100% agreement.)

Spiritual Sacrifices

Sacrifice doesn’t seem like a beautiful word. It conjures up images of animals, blood, and altars, or it makes us think of something we should give up that we don’t want to.

Definition.org has this as one meaning of sacrifice: “Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim.”

On the one hand I think of the sacrifices God made for us. Think of the trouble humanity has cost Him on an everyday basis for millennia. Yet He created us and He desires our fellowship. Amazing! And because He does, He sent only begotten sinless Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to lay down His life and take on Himself our sin and the just punishment we deserved. Jesus, in full agreement and in full submission to His Father, willingly surrendered, sacrificed His life for us. If we repent of our sin and believe on Him, we can be saved, cleansed, forgiven, and made His own children. In addition, we have a home waiting for us in heaven and His grace, presence, and help here and now. We don’t merit that forgiveness and salvation by any kind of sacrifice we make: there’s nothing we could ever do that would be enough to earn it. It’s a free gift based on His sacrifice.

In His example, though, I think the definition doesn’t fit in the sense of surrendering something highly valuable for something of more value. We are certainly not of more value than God’s Son. But He did love us enough to give His greatest treasure for our redemption.

In light of that, any kind of sacrifice we might make for Him pales in comparison. I’ve known of dear folks who echo David Livingstone’s sentiments:

People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in, and for, us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which HE made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us. (Speech to students at Cambridge University, December 4, 1857)

I get what he’s saying. Jesus did so much for us, and we don’t appreciate it nearly enough. We should be so filled with love and gratitude that we can’t help giving back to Him.

And yet—the Bible calls us to sacrifice to God and acknowledges the high cost. The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But God calls us to other kinds of sacrifice.

You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5

What kind of spiritual sacrifices are we to make?

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:16-17

Even in Old Testament times, the sacrifices which were a picture of the coming perfect Sacrifice could be an empty ritual if one’s heart was not broken and contrite before God. I think this is the first sacrifice: our pride, our stubborn clinging to our “own” way, our laying aside of anything in our lives that is not pleasing to God. It’s also a continual sacrifice as we walk daily with the Lord, read His Word, grow in Him, and become more aware of how much that desire for our “own” way is ingrained in our thinking.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

Not just our broken spirit and heart, but even our bodies are to be surrendered to Him. He reminds us that this is only our reasonable service in light of God’s mercies to us.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Hebrews 13:15

I’ve wondered why our praise to God would be called a sacrifice: perhaps because we have to get our attention off ourselves and our concerns.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:16

Some years back my husband commented on the honesty of this verse, acknowledging that it does cost us something to do good to others.

I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Philippians 4:18

This and the previous verse indicate that sometimes those spiritual sacrifices manifest themselves in meeting physical needs. Paul’s response to the Philippians’ sacrifice shows forth some of the beauty of a sacrifice given and received.

Several years ago, my husband took our youngest son out to shop for my birthday. My son was excited about perhaps buying a little something for himself after getting Mom’s present. As my son chose the item he wanted to purchase for me, my husband told him that item would take all the money he had. It took my son a few moments to process the realization that if he bought that gift for me, he wouldn’t be able to buy anything for himself. Finally, though a little teary, he decided to go ahead with the purchase. I can’t tell you how that touched my heart to realize that he denied himself to do something special for me.

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Philippians 2:17

Paul was willing for his life to be poured out in ministry to others.

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:2

Even more than Paul, Christ is our example of walking in love and giving oneself.

It’s okay to call a sacrifice a sacrifice. The Bible does. It’s even okay to say it hurts. Jesus agonized in the garden of Gethsemane. Hebrews 12:1-2 says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

We can look ahead, too, to the time when every sacrifice will fade away for joy.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Often, what makes a sacrifice seem hard is the struggle to give up what we think is ours: our time, our schedule, our goods, our lives. But as David prayed after the people of Israel offered the things needed for the building of the temple, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (1 Chronicles 29:14). If we remember that anything we have is not our own but was given to us by God in the first place, and if we meditate on His mercies and all He has done for us, it doesn’t seem so hard then to surrender it back to Him. Back to our definition, whatever the value of what we sacrifice, it pales in comparison to the worth of the One to whom we are sacrificing.

The beauty of sacrifice is the humble surrender to God of what He freely gave us, in response to His great love and mercy, for use in His service in a life of love and ministry to others, which He regards as wellpleasing, as a “sweetsmelling savour.”

The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! Psalm 118:27

(Revised from the archives)

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