Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Soft Whisper

I have often heard people refer to the "still small voice" of God. For a long time I wondered about that. I always picture God's voice as big and booming. God is omnipotent and vast - so isn't His voice the same way.

I remember the first time I read 1 Kings 19, the story of Elijah in a cave. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah confronted 400 prophets of Baal. In that encounter, God made Himself known and the people saw who was the real true God. Then Elijah prayed and a three-year drought was broken when God sent a downpour. But now Elijah was running away. Jezebel threatened to kill him. Elijah said, "I'm done." He crossed the wilderness and was fed by an angel. Now he was in a cave.

God asked, "Why are you here?" Elijah said, "I'm the only one left standing for you, God. And they're after me now."

Elijah was a prophet of God. That was his identity, his calling. He was good at it. But as he looked at his present circumstances, he was struggling with it. God said He would bring His presence to Elijah. A destructive wind blew through the mountains, but that wasn't God's presence. Then an earthquake, but that wasn't God's presence. Then a blazing fire; not God's presence either. Then came a voice, a soft whisper. There's the still small voice. God said that Elijah was not the only one left. There were other followers. And Elijah's work was not done. He had a successor to anoint and new kings to anoint, too. He was still a prophet and had prophet work to do.

As I read this again, I wonder if Elijah questioned his whole prophet ability. Maybe what he thought he was good at wasn't really true. I certainly have had that experience. For a long time, I felt that I was made to be a teacher of young children. It seemed that my abilities fit perfectly with teaching. I seemed good at it. I enjoyed it. A few years ago things happened that made me question that. If I wasn't a good teacher, what was I really? I didn't do very well then. In recent days I've been feeling like what I once did well is now at best mediocre. Maybe I'm not really meant to be a teacher. Maybe I'm not good at what I thought I was good at.

Those voices can be really loud. And destructive. A forceful wind, an earthquake, a blazing fire. 

But I need to hear the soft whisper. And how do I hear that? I must be quiet. I must listen. 

Maybe I have more teacher work to do. Maybe I have different teacher work to do. Maybe who I thought I was I really am. 

God didn't tell Elijah, "You are a prophet." He gave him work to do. He corrected misinformation and mistaken belief. He affirmed that God's plan was in control.

Listening to the quiet voice through His word, I hear the same. I have work to do, tasks to accomplish. I must have a true and accurate picture of the situation (God's perspective). I can be confident that God is in control.

Each day I must find my wilderness cave and listen. The voice, the soft whisper, is there.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Casting Anxieties

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares for you." 
(1 Peter 5:6-7)
 I think I wear this verse out, especially verse 7 - casting all your care on Him. I seem to carry a lot of care, a lot of anxieties and worries and such. I remember this verse and cast it on Him. But then I pick it up again or pick up new ones. (So did I really cast it in the first place??)

The other day I was praying, asking God to help me with the worries of this particular week. And the worries of things that I see coming down the road this year. We seem to be at a particular place and see little movement at the moment. So I was praying and feeling a little dejected.

I prayed specifically for the worries that I was carrying at that moment. "God, I cast the worry of ___ on you" I prayed. Then I moved my head as I mentally tossed that rock into God's hands. I did this for every worry, care, or anxiety that appeared in my head. (There were several.)

As I sat quietly after that prayer, I realized that I actually felt lighter, at least mentally. I went to my desk to begin work and felt...happier and more at peace. And I was actually surprised that my anxieties and worries were lifted. Why is that? Why am I surprised when God shows up as He says He will.

Oh, the issues are still there. I'm just not continually thinking about them. And when I do, I ask God to help me face them and deal with them as they come.

Look back at the verse above. I think we often skim over verse 6, the beginning of that. We don't humble ourselves under His hand. We try to take on things ourselves. We let our pride and our own efforts get in the way. We must give up trying to do it. (I'm always trying to take things back.) I must continually cast my pride on Him and humble myself, realizing my dependence on Him for....well everything.

Also, we tend to miss the middle part of that verse. He will exalt us; we won't exalt ourselves. And it will come in His time. I think that's one of the things that God is continuing to teach us during this part of our journey. We must submit to His Sovereignty and His timing. He is in control. We control nothing. We humble ourselves. We cast our cares. We wait. We listen. We obey.

So tomorrow I'll be casting whatever new worries have risen in my mind. And will again thank Him that He is big enough to handle it all.

And hold on to the end of that verse with both hands: He cares for us.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Choking Thorns

Today I (Scott) read one of the parables that always seems to speak to me - the parable of the sower. A man sowed seed in his field. Some fell on the path, the hard-packed ground where people walked. Some fell on the rocky ground. Some fell among the thorns. Some fell on the prepared tilled ground. The seed on the path was eaten by birds, never penetrating the ground. The seed on the rocky ground grew in the limited soil there but withered since it had shallow roots among the rocks. The seed among the thorns grew but the thorns also grew and choked it; this seed was unproductive. The seed that fell on the good ground produced an abundant crop.

I'm definitely not a farmer and not even a good grower of any plant. (Plants beg me not to take them home from the garden center.) But I understand this parable. And Jesus even explains the parable so that we less agriculturally inclined can understand. (See Mark 4:1-20.) Here's the breakdown:
  • Seed is the word of God.
  • The path represents those who hear the word but ignore/disregard it; Jesus says that Satan snatches the seed from them.
  • The rocky ground illustrates those who hear the word and respond joyfully to what they hear; but do not allow it to take root in their lives and any opposition to it causes it to wither in their lives.
  • The thorny ground represents those who receive the word but let the worries and desires of the world to choke out its influence. They produce no spiritual fruit.
  • The good ground are those who hear the word and let it change their lives; they impact others with God's message.
So often I find myself among the thorns. I worry about what's happening around me. I become distracted by earthly pursuits and concerns. I let other things take root in the soil of my spirit and push aside God's word in me. 

Maybe that's what this current part of my journey is all about. Maybe He's pruning out the thorns, trying to make room for the seed of His word to produce fruit. 

As I said, I'm a terrible gardener. At the end of the fall, I worked to clean out flower beds. Our poor azalea has had to contend with other "unplanted" things growing by and through it. I pulled out all the weeds, grass, and other plants. (Pulled with great difficulty since I didn't tend to them when they were small and more easily dealt with.) A few days after this, I noticed that the azalea seemed fuller; it spread out and up - because there was room for it. It benefited from any rain that fell since no other plants were soaking it up.

So, as this year ends and the next one dawns, I'm evaluating and thinking and praying. What things are growing in my spiritual life that were not planted by Him? What things are soaking up valuable resources and energies? What thorns are choking out the fruitful word in my life? 

I think I have some weeding to do.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What About Him?

 In John 21, Peter and the disciples went fishing. It's after the resurrection but the men seemed to be unsure what to do next. They caught no fish but Jesus appeared on the shore and told them to cast their nets again on the right side of the boat. They hauled in 153 large fish!

After breakfast Jesus talked with Peter. He restored Peter, telling him three times to feed the sheep/lambs. He also told about the kind of death that Peter will have.

Peter turned around and saw John there behind them. When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord — what about him? (John 21:21) Peter had heard Jesus' words about his future. He wanted to know if John would have a similar fate. Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? As for you, follow Me.” Jesus reminded Peter that they were talking about Peter, not John.

We often ask a similar question: Why him? Why not me? Why is this happening to me? Why do good things happen to her and I get this? What about them? Will they face difficulties? Will they have it easy?

How tempting it is for us to spend our time looking at others--comparing circumstances and blessings and struggles. I'm having this problem but she's just skating through life. I'm looking for a job or working twice as hard but everything just falls right for him with no effort. Why am I facing this battle? Why must things always be so much more difficult for me than for him or her?

We may not know the whys of someone's story. We often do not know why a blessing or burden falls one way or the other. But also don't know another's struggles or challenges. Maybe that high level job is costing him time - away from his family. What seems like her good fortune may be a test of her faith or a way for her to grow spiritually. Maybe. Perhaps. We don't know the story.

But we do know that God is God. God's work in someone else's life has nothing to do with His work in mine. God's generous gifts are for Him to give. Why does God's generosity and favor on someone else make us feel cheated? God took nothing from us to give to them. He took nothing from them to give to us. Often we are too busy looking at what He's done for someone else that we overlook the generous blessings He is pouring out on us.

Is God faithful? Does He provide? Is He sovereign? Does He reign? Is He God?

Thank Him. Know that He is giving us what we need to grow. Trust Him.

Keep eyes on God and not on those around us.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What We Gain

The good is the enemy of the best.
Sometimes you have to give up something good to get something even better.

Have you heard these types of things before? I have. I've even thought if not said them.

I've been thinking a lot recently about giving things up. I entered an essay contest and wrote about giving up my grandmother's piano. At a recent conference about a writing assignment, I had a wonderful idea for part of my writing; as I delved into it I had to give up that wonderful idea. It just didn't fit with what else I needed to do. I've written about giving up my classroom teaching dream - or releasing it, which for some reason sounds better to me.

In each of these very different circumstances, the things were all good. But as I look at them, I'm not sure I gained anything "better" as a result. I did lose some anxiety once I gave up the piano...but is that better? I think the content I'm writing will be more cohesive after giving up the other...but not necessarily better, just good in a different way. And my current freelance work is fun and good...but we've had some struggles too in this new way of living. And in some ways it's definitely not better than a regular job with benefits.

Is "give up the good to get the better/best" biblical?

I thought about some people in the Bible that were called to give up, lose, or change something.

Abraham was called to give up his son, to sacrifice him to God. (Genesis 22)
Job involuntarily gave up everything--children, animals, possessions, health. (Job 1-2)
The fishermen gave up their entire livelihood, the only professions they had known. (Matthew 4:18-22)
Paul changed his life, forsaking his position as one of the Jewish religious elite. (Acts 9, Philippians 3:4-7)

In giving up the good, did they gain better?

Abraham received a ram and did not sacrifice his son...but he didn't gain anything material.
Job regained more than he had before...after suffering greatly and bearing scorn from his friends.
The fishermen became wandering disciples of Jesus, learning from Him...and faced persecution from others.
Paul traveled the known world and preached...and was beaten, stoned, jailed, and mocked.

They didn't gain much more materially or physically...and in most cases had less or suffered a lot.

But they grew closer to God as a result of the change they experienced. Abraham's faith in God was strengthened and his covenant secured through his actions. Job stayed faithful to God and learned that God is in control even when things seem overwhelming. The fishermen received power and saw lives changed in Jesus' name. Paul spread the gospel and brought many souls to faith in Jesus, all while learning more and more about the Savior and writing to teach generations to come.

In giving up things we may not necessarily receive anything better, or even anything as good. I think we often look for that but it may not be there. God didn't promise that giving up things, even good things, equals a greater benefit in exchange.

But, if we are following God and giving up what we have to Him, we gain Him. The very Spirit of God is in us. We would certainly say that it the best. But it's not the point. We don't give up things to gain Him. We follow Him and drop anything that hinders our obedience to Him.

It's not about getting. It's not about giving up. It's about God.

It isn't what we have. It isn't what we do. It's who (and whose) we are.

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

Monday, October 31, 2016

Be Not Do

When you think of God's will, what do you think about? What does that mean? Often I (Scott) think of what God wants me to do - what actions does He desire, what work should I do?

But I'm learning more and more (over and over) that God's will is less about doing and more about being.
You do not want sacrifice, or I would give it;
You are not pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit.
God, You will not despise a broken and humble heart.
 (Psalm 51:26-27)
David wrote that God did not want him to give an offering - to do something. God desired a humble heart - to be something. 

We are easily caught up in doing for God. We go to church and do our worship. We help people and work at other things. We check our boxes and know that we have served God.

But we can do all those things and still be far from God. We can sing songs and give money and read the Bible--all while our hearts are far from Him. We can do all those things and never even think about Him. 

We can feed the hungry and bind the wounds of the hurt. We can build houses and care for children. But all kinds of organizations do those things, too - organizations that have nothing to do with God.

God's will is not doing; it's being.

Our hearts must be broken and humble. We must connect with Him and glorify Him, not through what we do but through our realization that we are nothing without Him.

God's will is for us to glorify Him - to praise Him because He is God, the Creator and the Fulfiller. Our worship and our service flow from our connection to Him. 

As I write, these words seem inadequate to communicate the thoughts. But I see a lot of doing going on - both in my own life and in the world around me. We are busy. We are working. We are doing.

But are we listening. Are we heeding? Are we broken and humble at the sight of Almighty God?

Oh, God. Grant that I may BE more than I DO.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


You'd think that I (Scott) could learn and remember the lessons that I've encountered in our current journey. Apparently not. I mentioned in my last posts that I am a slow learner. Or I'm a re-learner. Here are a few things that God keeps needed to teach me.

Be content. I know we're where God wants us right now. But sometimes it seems like we're in a holding pattern. I want to be or do something else. I want something to change. But I must remember that being content means resting and even growing where we are now. Being content is feeling pleasure and satisfaction RIGHT WHERE I AM, and being happy to be here - with no promise of anything ever changing.

God is faithful. We have seen God provide again and again. Sometimes we don't know exactly how we have what we need. But we always have. So why do we wonder or stress when things happen? I look over the past year. I had someone contact me about writing articles for their site. Contact me unsolicited. I've been writing things for this site for several months. It's similar to the things I already write, but different enough to challenge me. I've picked up other duties for another site for which I work. And recently I applied - and got - a contract editor position for a third site; this one is a completely different topic from education or preschool but something I love to do. I continue to get writing assignments from my main client and have picked up a contract editing job from them, too. God is faithful; He is supplying. Why do I worry and doubt?

Redefine success. If success is teaching in a classroom, then I've failed. But if success is following the purpose that God has given - which is to help educate children - then I'm doing okay. Sometimes...well often...our purpose is fulfilled in ways that are different than we imagine. I've often prayed, "God I want to be used by You, for Your purpose." But recently I read this: The aim is to do His will, not be useful. (from My Utmost for His Highest) Success is defined by Him and not by me. I must do His will and not get caught up in what I must do to succeed.

My word for 2016 has been PURPOSE. When I chose it in January, I didn't know how important it would be. God has been refining my purpose and helping me know just what that purpose is.

Oh, there are other lessons that I must continue to But God is a patient teacher.