Leftovers

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

Thanksgiving in America has become a celebration of all matters of opulence.  We eat a huge turkey “stuffed” with bread. We engage in a feast of desserts and sweets and treats, before, during and after a grand meal.  Even our vegetables are celebrated in excess: sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, creamed corn, salad upon salad.

We come together and drink wine and celebrate our huge families, or our huge amount of friends, or our huge amount of food and festivity.  We argue over politics and social justice and how the government should spend its copious amounts of cash.

And then we go shopping and celebrate our own cash hoards.  Huge sales, huge expenditures, huge tvs, huge toys, huge crowds, huge SUVs to put it all in.  It’s just more and more and more. All in celebration of our abundance.

Our God is the God of abundance.  He is a God of provision. Of leftovers.  Of fullness. But we’ve lost the plot in favor of celebrating ourselves and our own achievements, our own leftovers.  What if we stopped looking at ourselves and our great prosperity, and started to look to God for our fulfillment, our nourishment, and our joy?

God loves to take care of His children.  We’re often just so caught up with taking care of ourselves that we forget that God wants to be our provision, and give us leftovers besides!

Look what happened in Scripture with Elisha:

42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” 43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” 44 So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
2 Kings 4:42-44

The servant immediately looked to find provision among the worldly offering presented by the man from Baal-shalishah.  He looked at the food and instantly decided that there was no way that food would go all the way around. But Elisha doesn’t look at the food, he looks instead to the provider of the food: God, who made the food and brought it to them.

Elisha then proclaims the Lord’s provision, “they shall eat and have some left”.  Elisha knew that God is a God of leftovers. He didn’t doubt it, or look to himself.  He knew.

In the New Testament, the Disciples got the same opportunity to look to God for provision.  They knew the scriptures and the story of Elisha. They had learned these stories from history since their childhood.  But when the time came to proclaim the provision of the Lord, they looked instead to themselves.

15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”
Matthew 14:15-17

The Disciples fell into the same trap we are all guilty of at times.  They looked at what they had instead of what God could provide. Jesus had given them the perfect chance to fall back into the grace and provision of the Father, and instead they panicked.  Their response to the people’s need for food, “send them away to take care of themselves!”

It had to break Jesus’ heart to have His beloved friends so quickly turn from trusting God in the invisible things, but not trusting Him in the physical things.  They looked to themselves instead of the promises of God. Even though they had the Holy Scriptures to know that God could provide for them.

Jesus is patient, though.  He would not waste the lesson He wanted to teach because of His friend’s lack of faith.  Instead, He spoke with authority and faith to His Disciples.

8 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

God is the God of leftovers.  Isn’t it time we celebrated Him instead of ourselves?

give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Luke 6:38

 

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Unfaltering Faith: All is Well

Unfaltering faith.  It is a gift God offers us on a daily basis.  Do we have the faith to trust Him with our provision?  Do we have the faith to walk in submission to Him? Do we have the faith to even believe He is real, moment by moment, day by day?  Faith can be a bit of a sticky mess when we start to think about it.

We get caught up in our circumstance.  There isn’t enough money in the bank to pay the bills.  There’s been a horrible diagnosis from the doctor. Someone needs prayer, and we can’t even muster the faith to pray for ourselves.  And then enemy uses shame or fear or sorrow to come in and steal whatever he can of the little faith we have left.

But God isn’t content to let our faith be stolen.  We all know that He promises He will work all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) Though, when we’re in the faltering moment, it can be hard to remember that.  Faith needs to come from God through hope: hope that God is who He says He is.

8 One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. 9 And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way.10 Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”
2 Kings 4:8-10

This wealthy woman takes it upon herself to honor a man of God.  Her hope isn’t in the man, but in the God the man serves. She wants to serve this man of God and give him her best because of her blind hope in God.  She shows a faith she may not even be aware of, all because of hope.

God honors her hope and builds her faith further by offering a blessing through Elisha, His servant.  

11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. 12 And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.”
2 Kings 4:11-13

The woman asks for nothing in return for her provision for Elisha.  She never looked at her hospitality as a way to earn anything from God or His servant.  She gave from what she had. I don’t think she thought anything more about it, but that it was right to honor God’s servant. She was content with the blessing of being able to serve God as she had.

Elisha, though, is prompted to do more for her.  He wants to show her God’s blessing. God’s blessings can be a reward for faith.

16 And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” 17 But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.
2 Kings 4:16-17

God offers her something miraculous.  The gift of a son wasn’t even on her radar, and that’s what He offers her.  God uses her faith to foreshadow the coming Messiah: a son born of miraculous circumstances.  The woman is startled and uncertain, but she receives her son.

And then he dies.

18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died.
2 Kings 4:18-20

Wow. The son she was given dies. How could that be a blessing?  How could that be good? Why would God punish her for serving Elisha with such a cruel joke? It’s hard not to think these things.  People do it all the time. Something goes wrong in the moment and the response is to go right to the source and question God.

But not this gal.  Nope.  She’s resolute.  She’s unfaltering.  Her faith is solidly built on the hope of God’s reality.  Like Abraham, she decided to persist in her faith, even though her son was dead.  Even Abraham didn’t have to go that far! He got provided with a ram for sacrifice before having to kill his son. (Genesis Ch. 22)

Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” 23 And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” 24 Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
2 Kings 4:22-25

Her response?  “All is well.”  Wow.  What a powerful testimony.  Unfaltering faith in action! She knows all will be well because of her faith and hope in God. With expediency she sets out to receive her son’s life back.

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. 26 Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” 27 And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.”
2 Kings 4:25-27

Again, as she approaches Elisha and he asks her what is going on, she responds with “All is well.”  Wow, again! Though she is in the midst of “bitter distress” she clings to the hope of God with the steadfast truth that “all is well.” In her heart, God would and could give her son life.  

The foreshadowing of Christ returns again!  When Jesus died on the cross, all was still well, even in the distress and pain and fear of that moment.  His friends and family were distraught. But all was well. Jesus would be resurrected! The Promise was not defeated.  The Promise was victorious. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead!

Life would also be given to the Shunammite woman’s son.  But not before a testing and trying of faith and hope. What happens if nothing happens?  

28 Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” 29 He said to Gehazi, “Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” 30 Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her.31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”

It’s hard to keep ahold of hope when nothing happens.

But something does happen.  Elisha contends for the woman’s son.  He doesn’t give up. He stands in faith with the woman that God will act.  They partnered in faith and stubbornly waited for God.

32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” 37 She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.
2 Kings 4:32-37

A partnership of unfaltering faith between the woman, her husband, the servant Gehazi, and Elisha, brought life.  Partnership strengthened faith. Hope in God strengthened faith. And unfaltering faith brought life.

So, as we look to Jesus and his death, burial, and resurrection, may we join together with unfaltering faith, knowing that the Lord will be true to His promises for us.  All is well.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10

 

Loneliness

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
   for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
   bring me out of my distresses.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
   and forgive all my sins.
Psalm 25:16-18

Last night I had a friend call me.  She’d had a vivid dream/vision of me and she wanted to share it with me.  I know this friend to be prophetic and full of unadulterated joy and confidence in the Spirit, so I was excited and intrigued by what she had seen.

Retelling the details of the dream isn’t as important as what the Lord said to me through it.  He didn’t want me to be lonely. He wanted me to know that if I dwell in a place of loneliness I will begin to feel desperate and trapped, but He has opened the doors wide to green pastures and He is leading me gently by the hand.

Of course this has great value for me, especially since my husband travels internationally regularly to share the Gospel.  But I also can’t help but see that the Lord wants us all to know the freedom of His leadership and companionship.

I’m often guilty of putting my hope for fellowship in the presence of my husband and friends.  And when I do that I am satisfied for the moment, but sorely lacking when those people are not accessible.  Not so with God. He is always there. He adores me and longs to spend time with me. He wants to lead me beside still waters and restore my soul.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
   for his name’s sake.
Psalm 23:1-3

He wants to restore me, comfort me, and BE WITH ME.  And yet my heart strays away, in search of worldly comforts, and worldly desires, even though those comforts and desires only lead to death.

Now, in the midst of loneliness, praying for my husband as he brings the Gospel to dangerous places and I go to bed alone, I am reminded that God is longing for me.  His graciousness and enduring love are infinite and yet they are fully personal to me. When my heart is heavy with the affliction of loneliness and fear, God hears me and hungers for me to draw closer to Him.

When my friend called me last night, she encouraged me to reach out to my friends so that I could receive the gifts of blessing the Lord has for me through them.  But as I meditated on the words she had given me, all I could think of is the longing the Lord has for me, and I’ve pushed away the idea of fellowship with Believers.

I want to put my focus on communion with Him, first and foremost, but I seem to do it at the expense of community with my brothers and sisters.  Only in Him are my troubles settled and my sins forgiven. My sin of dependency of other things besides God. My sin of fear. My sin of doubt. My sin of defeat.  All of them keep me from trusting in the Lord with all my heart.

I am victorious in the Lord!  I have been promised abundant life.  I have been given victory over my enemies.  

Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,

   I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

I have been promised comfort in the midst of my trial.  I have been promised courage and not fear. Jesus brings comfort when I let Him lead me.  So often I don’t let Him!

I have everything I need when I am in the Presence of the Living God.  

But seeking out friends for fellowship and encouragement also has so much value.  Too often the Lord reminds of the truth of peace in His Presence and so I proclaim it over myself and don’t see results.  Now I know why. God doesn’t want us to be lonely. He made us to dwell in unity.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
Psalm 133:1

Sure, I need my alone time with the Lord, but I also need my fellowship with the Body of Christ, so that my family and I can share our gifts from God with one another, so that we can be encouraged, healed, inspired, and exhorted, just to name a few. There is a happy balance between the enduring and constant fellowship the Lord wants to have with us, and also in the fellowship that we should have together.

Jesus even prayed for us to be in unity with our brothers and sisters in Him:

15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Therefore my prayer is this:

Lord lead me beside still waters, restore my soul, turn to me and be gracious to me.  And help me to be in unity with You AND with the body of Christ here on Earth. As you so aptly said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)

When I’m lonely I will seek Your Presence as well as the fellowship of believers.  Both are important, and I’m sorry that in the past I have forsaken the body of Christ when I am lonely. Help me in my loneliness, Jesus.  Help me in my fear.

Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
   Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
   for I wait for you.
Psalm 25:20-21

Amen

 

Disobedience and the Temptation to Sin

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love.
1 Kings 11:1-2

Admittedly, I can’t relate to loving many foreign women and taking them as brides, but I can definitely get on board the disobedience bus. My heart can be so quickly drawn away from the things the Lord has warned me against.  I justify and explain it away every day in order to have the things I want.

For Solomon, disobedience and temptation came from having a blessed and rich life.  God had granted Solomon wisdom, vast fortune, and long life. Enjoying worldly comfort gave Solomon a false sense of security.  He began to look at his success and blessings as gods instead of God Himself.

We all do it.  We say things like, “I can teach the Bible great.  I went to seminary!” or, “I worked really hard to get that promotion!” or, “I set my mind to it and I got it done.”  We are so arrogant. We forget that every breath we take is a gift of God. Every celebration, every penny, every good thing in our lives comes from God.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
James 1:17

Nowhere in that verse does it say we can give good gifts to ourselves.  The lie of the arrogant heart is self sufficiency. Without God we would not even have our life.  So, why does the comfort in provision take us down the road of disobedience?

If the Lord had blessed Solomon with wealth, and wisdom, and good health, why shouldn’t He also provide beautiful, exotic women to enjoy it all with?  Sure, those women were idol worshippers and devoted to destruction by the Lord for their denial of His sovereignty, but he could change their minds, right?  He could show them the beauty and glory of God because of how richly God had blessed him.

Hear what I’m saying?  In my ministry I am constantly trying to talk young women out of  “missionary dating”. People hear my testimony about praying for my Muslim husband to come to Christ and they think that’s a great way to win thier beloved to Christ.  But it’s not.

I am not special.  I was a fool to marry someone who didn’t know Jesus.  It caused great sorrow and pain in my life to be married to a man utterly opposed to my religious point of view.  My husband didn’t come to Christ until I had repented of my foolishness and pleaded with Jesus to help me.

I think Solomon felt untouchable.  I think he had enjoyed so much blessing that nothing would keep him from continuing to receive it.  He might have looked back at his father’s life and thought himself no different. David loved beautiful women, too, so what’s wrong with that?

For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.
1 Kings 11:4-6

David repented for his folly time and time again.  His default with God was to be a humble servant. Every failure he met with repentance.  Every blessing he received with humility. David’s heart was for God’s promise of salvation.

Solomon had fair warning, but chose to disobey anyway.

And the Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 4 And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, 5 then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ 6 But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 8 And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ 9 Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the Lord has brought all this disaster on them.’”
1 Kings 9:3-9

I think that seems pretty clear.  The Lord is surely quick to bless and to forgive, but He wants us to trust Him in obedience and humility.  God asked Solomon to simply trust God’s way over his own: to obey and be blessed. And in his old age, Solomon decided not to.

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8 And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
1 Kings 11:6-8

Solomon turned away from the provider of all his blessings and honored his wives above his God.  

I don’t think it was intentional.  I truly think it was arrogance. How often do I become over confident in my own success?  How often do I attribute my accomplishments to hard work and diligence instead of to God. God lovingly partners with me, and He wants to give me good gifts.  Shouldn’t I enjoy that beautiful privilege and walk with Him?

God’s grace is never ending.  His mercy is not dependant on my behavior.  The day I accepted His promise of salvation, He sealed me with His Spirit so that I would maintain a confidence in Him that I couldn’t have known before.  My sincere love for Jesus is undeniable to Him, just as David’s was.

It’s not about our disobedience so much as our trust.  Do we trust God or do we trust ourselves? Do we obey God because we trust His good gifts for us, or do we obey ourselves because we don’t want to put our trust in someone else?  Or do we just get complacent enjoying the good gifts we have been given, and forget about the One who gave them?

Jesus, help me not to take you for granted.  Help me to believe and trust Your will for me.  Lord, when You give me good gifts, help me to appreciate them as gifts and never take them for granted.  Protect me from my own arrogance. My sinful self is incapable of obedience, but You are my obedience, Lord.  You are my righteousness. Let me fall back into Your perfection. Let me serve You with a humble and repentant heart.

For the Lord takes pleasure in His people;
He adorns the humble with salvation.
Psalms 149:4

 

A Worker Approved

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

For a very long time, and sometimes still, I have felt that the work I’ve done for the Lord was insignificant.  I longed to be known for my good works. I longed to be recognized for my “accomplishments” for the Kingdom of God.  Embarrassing, right?

I’ve come so far over the years, though, and that is something only God could do.  Is my ministry more famous or more recognized now? Nope. Is my work for God more relevant now? Nope.  My work is generally the same. It’s only me that’s changed.

So, Paul’s advice to Timothy was to be unashamed, approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth.  Hmm. So working for God means being the perfect pastor, right? Or maybe the perfect evangelist? We know a lot of their names.  The ones on tv must be pretty good. They are surely unashamed and approved or God wouldn’t let them be on TV, right?

Wrong.

Obedient submission to God is what grants us the ability to be unashamed.  To have the faith to accept that God’s answer for my salvation is from Him and not from me. The righteousness of God, given as a free gift, unearned, undeserved, that’s what lets us approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Having Jesus as our high priest, Jesus as our righteousness, Jesus as our savior, Jesus as our King. That’s what gives us the right to be unashamed.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So how do we know we are approved?  “We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

And look at what Paul says in Romans:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:1-3

Approval doesn’t come from anything we’ve done or are doing!  It comes from faith. Abraham believed God. That’s approval. When I believe God and what He says, that’s approval.  That’s it. Nothing more. Faith brings God’s approval.

So, when I act according to God’s will for me.  When I trust that He is going to use me as He sees fit, that He will give me opportunities to trust Him and serve Him, and revere and worship Him, that’s when I’m working for God.  He’s given me gifts and tasks to use for His glory and not my own.

Did He ask you to hug that lady at the grocery store, and you obeyed?  That’s God’s work. Did He ask you to give up your career and serve refugees in the Middle East and you said, “ok”?  That’s God’s work. Buy someone’s groceries because you felt stirred? God’s work. Preach a sermon because the Lord has burned it in your heart to share what He has taught with His people? Yep, God’s work.

But here’s what’s not God’s work: quitting your job to become a missionary because that sounds like a great adventure.  Or, going on a mission trip to Nicaragua every year because the church body will know how holy you are. Or, teaching a Bible Study because you want people to think your smart.  Or being the front man of the church band so that you can maybe get a record deal or you love the attention. The list can go on forever.

So many things in this world sound good to us.  King David thought building a temple for God was a great idea, but did God ask him to build it?  Nope. Did God let David’s son Solomon build the temple? Yes.

God will partner with us even when we’re wrong.  He’ll partner with us in folly just to teach us how to hear His voice better.  Was building the temple folly? Of course not. But did it last? Nope. God will let us “work” for Him in a million different ways, just to teach us, just to show us that it all comes down to Him in the end.  Nothing else.

Have faith in Him, the One who made you, the One who calls you. To work for God is to submit to His rule.  You must stop obeying your own heart and the picture the world has offered you of what ministry is supposed to look like.  You’re never going to find it that way. And you’re not going to accomplish much for the Kingdom, either.

Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Trust Him. That’s it. Only trust Him and do what He says.  That’s how I’ve changed the most over the years. I’m much quicker now to want to glorify Jesus, instead of myself.  If God asks nothing more of me than to point my silent smiling face to the King of Kings, then that’s what I’ll do. That is being a workman approved.  

Jesus, give me the faith to trust You.  Help me to stop looking at myself. Help me to hear Your voice and obey Your commands.  Thank you for how far You’ve brought me. Teach me and help me to go further for You and for You alone.  

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18

 

A Legacy of Prayer

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
   and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
2 Attend to me, and answer me;
   I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
3 because of the noise of the enemy,
   because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
   and in anger they bear a grudge against me.
Psalm 55:1-3

I listened to a sermon tonight about prayer and it got me thinking about the legacy of prayer that has followed me since my childhood.  From the time I was a little girl I can remember falling asleep every night talking to Jesus. I wasn’t necessarily taught to do that, but from the time of my salvation at 5 years old, I knew that I could call upon the Lord and He would answer me.  I wasn’t raised regularly attending church, and by my adolescence I had revolted defiantly against organized religion and church attendance, but I still had this intimate ritual of conversations with the Lord before I fell asleep. It was my only safe place at times.  When the angst of teenage life overcame me, I could feel the Lord beckoning me into His lap and opening His ears to my every cry and complaint. I never doubted it.

I realize now what a gift from God that was.  That’s not how things should have gone for me.  But God didn’t care what “should” have been my story, but instead cared about me and the plans He had for me from the very beginning.  He knew that prayer would be my only life line at times. He knew it would shape me into the woman I have become. And He knew that without that prayer life, my husband never would have found Jesus.

If you know me, or you regularly read my blog, you know that I got married during a time in my life where I wasn’t walking with God at all.  The man I married did not know Jesus, and instead was a devout Muslim from Saudi Arabia. I think that may be as opposite of Christian as it gets.  

But I call to God,
   and the Lord will save me.
17 Evening and morning and at noon
   I utter my complaint and moan,
   and he hears my voice.
18 He redeems my soul in safety
   from the battle that I wage,
   for many are arrayed against me.
Psalm 55:16-18

And that’s what I did.  I cried desperately out to God for help.  I knew that without God I had nothing.  My trust in Jesus grew as my relationship with the Lord was rekindled out of desperation for my husband’s salvation, and with my growing faith I grew bolder and bolder in my requests to God. I became desperate for my husband to know Jesus, and no amount of arguing would sway him. I had no recourse except to admit to God that I had been foolish and brought myself into that anguished place of falling in love with and marrying someone who didn’t know Him.  What else could I do but pray?

In those days, my husband was not a good person.  At times he was cruel. His words tore at my heart.  His arguments waged a war on me that tore me down to the very bones.  He was relentless in his attempts to convert me. His barbs of persuasion drew spiritual blood on a daily basis.  I don’t know how I survived it, except that the Lord had given me this gift of prayer intimacy that drew me into His arms when my world seemed darkest.

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
   he violated his covenant.
21 His speech was smooth as butter,
   yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
   yet they were drawn swords.
22 Cast your burden on the Lord,
   and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
   the righteous to be moved.
Psalm 55:20-22

My husband had become a cruel tool of the enemy, but the Lord heard my pleas for help and answered me.  When the war raged around me, I sought comfort in the arms of the Lord. It didn’t take long for me to be stirred to invite others into my mission to pray for my husband’s salvation.  I was desperate and prayer was all I knew. Prayer and John 3:16. That was my entire Christian resume. And it was more than enough. After enlisting thousands (really!) to pray for my husband, the Lord granted my request and spoke boldly into my husband’s life and he found salvation.  

God hears our prayers.  He never needed me to be a grand apologist or theologian.  I didn’t need arguments or clever words. All I needed to do was cast my burdens upon the Lord and have faith in His love for me.  I knew one thing for certain: Jesus loved me, he loved my husband, and together, through prayer, we could bring my husband into the Presence of God.  It truly was a miracle the day my husband came to Christ. Only God can bring revelation to a proud and stubborn Arab Muslim from Saudi Arabia who grew up with the nickname “the little Imam”.  

Prayer has power, not because it is some sort of magical spell to invoke the Spirit of God, but because our God is a God of partnership and promise.  He promised Abraham that the world would be blessed through him, and God has kept that promise. He kept it with me, and He’ll keep it with any who would trust in Him.  So, don’t give up on prayer. And don’t give up on those you love who need Jesus. Partner with the Lord in prayer as I have done, and see what partnership with the Creator of the Universe can look like.  

Lord, I pray for faith to trust You more.  I pray for all who are struggling with prayer and the fear that their prayers never get past the ceiling.  Renew hope in those who are suffering and doubting. Give them Your peace and call them to prayer. Show us how faithful You are, Lord Jesus!  Show us Your salvation through prayer and petition. Teach us to pray more. And teach us to trust and obey You in all things. Thank You for saving my sweet husband.  And thank You for the powerful anointing in ministry You have given him, all because I asked for him to know You. You invited him in and he accepted You. But You didn’t stop there.  You gave more than I could ask or imagine. You give good gifts to Your children when they ask You. And You gave me a beautiful gift that day that You showed my husband Your face and invited him into Your family.  Thank You, Jesus. You are Salvation for all who believe. Thank You for the faith to believe You over and over again. I love You, Jesus. Thank you for teaching me to pray.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

Here is the sermon I mentioned: Sermon on Prayer

Authority in Love

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

Feminism sprouted from the age old oppression and forced authority man has inflicted upon woman since the beginning of time.  Since Eve disobeyed God and led her husband into sin, and received the curse upon herself that came from disobedience to a merciful, loving and benevolent God, she has been trod upon, belittled, marginalized, and lorded over.  And let’s face it, that sucks.

To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
   in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
   but he shall rule over you.”
Genesis 3:16

In the eyes of humanity, we were doomed from the start.  Except that doesn’t really fit with God’s character, or how He has always dealt the His people. God is merciful and His love is enduring, not fickle. I believe that if we look at our place in humanity as women with God-centered eyes, knowing with confidence that God loves us as much as He loves men, we can see our place in the world as something beautiful, powerful, and of deep significance to the Kingdom of God.  

The consequences of Eve’s actions, combined with the knowledge of good and evil, put us in the position to choose to act out of love for ourself or out of love for God.  The choice became ours, as our hearts became self-focused instead of God-focused. From that point forward, man has had authority over women, an authority that God never, ever, ever intended.  In fact, God had a completely different plan for humanity. He had a plan of equal partnership, where men and women complimented one another for the glory of the Father, and ruled over the creation that God had made together, with God himself as their partner, friend, and Lord.  

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
Genesis 2:18

But we were never going to overcome the consequences of Eve’s sin on our own.  As long as we are aware of ourselves and have the choice to choose to be selfish or put others above ourselves, we can never overcome the power that sin gained over us.  Fortunately for us, God was never content with that outcome, and so, from the beginning, God promised us that He Himself would rescue us from the consequences of our sins, and restore us to a place of partnership and love with HIM.

So, what does that mean for women?

There’s a passage in the New Testament, that man has used throughout the course of Christian history since the resurrection of Jesus, to place himself solidly over his wife.  

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Ephesians 5:22-24

I think man’s long-time interpretation of this passage has truly been to his detriment.  And I think that Jesus might just agree with me. God has a pretty serious commission for men, actually.  And it isn’t to control or lord over them.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Ephesians 5:25-33

Jesus didn’t die so that men could be saved and women oppressed. He wanted men and women to be an example of His relationship with the Church.  And we are called to be joint heirs with Christ, not slaves to an unknown power. We are called to be God’s children, not his servants.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:14-17

Jesus showed us this during His life on Earth.  He lifted up women. He comforted them, encouraged them, and lovingly went to the cross for them, just as He did for men.  He loved women as his sisters, joint heirs to all that he had been given. Look at how He honored the woman with the alabaster jar.

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Matthew 26:6-13

Women didn’t follow Jesus because He oppressed them.  They followed Him because He loved them and honored them and lifted them up. And that is exactly what he wants men to do with women.  Jesus considered women of equal importance as men.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 ESV

So, how do we reconcile submission to our husbands with equality? Isn’t submission the opposite of equality?  Letting someone else be the boss has to mean I have no authority, right? Nope.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
1 Peter 3:1-7

The Lord led me to this passage of scripture as a young woman, in the very early years of my marriage to a radical Muslim man.  When I realized the folly of my choice to marry a man who was not a follower of Jesus just because he revered God, I repented boldly before the Lord, and asked Him to help me figure out the mess I’d made of myself and save me from it.  And He did, using the passage above to give me profound hope.

Nothing I could do would change my husband.  Nothing I could say would alter his total devotion to Islam.  Nothing. My family and friends, who had been against my marriage from the start, told me to divorce him.  But the Lord had a different plan because the Lord loves women, and He doesn’t want to see them oppressed. As I sought the Lord’s counsel he showed me true hope in His power.  So, rather than stubbornly try to fight my husband into salvation, I submitted to the Lord.

And that’s the key.  I submitted to the Lord.  I repented and submitted. And Jesus did not use it against me, or punish me, or make me feel small.  Jesus didn’t command homage or obeisance or penance. Instead, He offered me help and hope and courage.  This small act of helplessness and submission to the Lord Jesus, gave me my first example of what genuine love and respect could look like.  When I humbled myself to a place of complete desperation and acknowledged my inability to do anything on my own, and I turned to the Lord for help, I learned for the first time what a marriage was supposed to be.  I was the bride of Christ before I was the bride of my Muslim husband. And Jesus quickly showed me how beautiful and honoring a loving husband could be in Himself.

Submitting to God’s authority over my life had brought me hope and life.  It hadn’t brought me to a place of oppression. Jesus lifted me up instead of wiping His feet on me.  He told me He loved me and that He was eager and always ready to help me. It felt good. It felt right.  It felt like, though I’d totally screwed up, that the Lord loved me so unconditionally, that my submission to him would be honored and not exploited.

Two years later, after much submission to the Lord, and having enlisted an army of prayer warriors to the cause of praying for my husband’s salvation, my sweet husband submitted to the Lord for himself, and found the same love and forgiveness and help that I had found.

Submission to another is an act of love and trust.  I put my faith and trust in the Lord to rescue me and help me.  And Jesus came through. But there’s more to it than that, because God’s cool like that.  He lavishes His love upon us, he doesn’t just toss us a bone now and then on a whim. My submission to the Lord became my biggest testimony of God’s pure love for me and for my husband.  By my submission I showed God’s faithfulness. I became a living example of what serving and submitting to a loving God actually looked like. And it won my husband’s heart without me saying a word.

My husband and I have now been married almost 25 years.  23 of those years have been as partnered Christ followers on mission and in service to the King of Kings.  And over the years, the Lord has continued to elevate me to a place of great authority and respect in His eyes.  My brief willingness to admit I was helpless on my own, became a legacy of testimony about what real love is supposed to look like.  It’s a glorious partnership. Being humble enough to trust in the leadership of another became my legacy.

I believe the Lord intended that for all women, from the time of Eve’s choice to serve herself instead of God, God decided that if humanity would just have faith enough to trust Him to lead them, that He would do it!  The consequence of sin can bring death, or it can bring humble repentance. God is ready and willing to forgive anyone who would humble themselves enough to trust Him. And God loves to exalt the humble.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Luke 14:11

How much more opportunity do we need as women to be exalted by the Lord of Hosts?  To submit humbly to God and to our husbands, is to receive the great blessing that comes from our devoted and loving Father to exalt us and use us as the perfect conduit to show our partners what love looks like, so that they can know how to love us.  That doesn’t sound anything like oppression to me! It sounds like authority in love.

Jesus has given women the chance to have great authority over the impartation of love, which is the most important gift from God that we can receive.  It was love that made Jesus humble himself to take the cross. It was love that made the Lord God save His people. It was love that made God never give up on a selfish, sinful, adulterous people.  It was all because of love. Therefore, as a woman, I have been given the opportunity to carry the authority of offering a testimony of love to my husband, in order that he can learn how to love me and love God.  Ya, that’s right. God made women to be the forerunners of love, to show men what the bride of Christ is supposed to look like. And that’s a pretty big deal.