Every Resolve for Good

Did you make New Year’s resolutions this year?

How are you coming with them?

A friend mentioned reading that most people break their New Year’s resolutions by Jan. 17.

I have not made New Year’s resolutions in years. Why set myself up for failure? Besides, resolutions seemed moralistic, pulling myself up by my own bootstraps (if I had any boots, much less with straps).

Then one day I noticed an “I will” statement in the Bible. Then I did a study and found several more, like:

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes (Psalm 101:3).

I will keep thy statutes (Psalm 119:8).

I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word (Psalm 119:15-16, 48, 78).

They sounded suspiciously like resolutions. Hmm, I thought. I might have to rethink this.

Then I stumbled across Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions, which begin:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

No bootstrap-pulling there.

Then last year I was floored to discover these verses in the Bible:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, ESV).

I know I had read them before, but in the KJV. Sometimes reading in a new translation will open our eyes to things we hadn’t noticed before. Looking up other translations, I like how the Christian Standard Bible (one I am not familiar with) puts verse 11: “In view of this, we always pray for you that our God will make you worthy of his calling, and by his power fulfill your every desire to do good and your work produced by faith.”

So we are supposed to resolve things? Evidently. But not trusting in our own strength. We pray, as Paul did here, and depend on God.

I looked up some commentary on this verse and found John Piper’s post.

First, Paul says he prays “that our God may make you worthy of his calling.” But wait a  minute—isn’t the whole point that we’re unworthy, and we’re only made worthy by believing and relying on Christ’s righteousness, death, burial, and resurrection? Yes. As Piper puts it:

Now what 2 Thessalonians 1:11 says is that there is a way of life that is worthy of that call. Worthy doesn’t mean deserving or meritorious. It means fitting, proper, appropriate (Luke 3:8, fruit worthy of repentance).

 A former pastor once said that Philippians 2:12b, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” meant first of all not to work for your salvation. Rather, we’re to work out our salvation like a math problem, taking it to its logical conclusions. In other words, take those high and lofty ideals in the Bible, those rock-solid doctrines, and work them out into your everyday lives.

We’re saved in a moment, but we spend the rest of our lives working out the ramifications of our salvation into our everyday lives as we grow in grace.

As we desire to do good, to rightly reflect and honor the Lord, we make decisions. We evaluate everything by whether it’s worthy—fitting, appropriate, proper—for a life redeemed by God, for His glory.

Because we still have an old nature, we have a battle on our hands.

For the flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. For these are opposed to one another in order that you should not do those things you might wish.
 (Galatians 5:17, ESV)

But if we “walk by the Spirit” we “will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (Romans 6:12-13).

Yielding to God means making the decision to do so. Piper goes on to say:

The first point is that seeking the power of God to fulfill our good resolves does NOT mean that we don’t really resolve or that we don’t really use will-power. The engagement of God’s power never takes the place of the engagement of our will! The power of God in sanctification never makes us passive! The power of God engages itself beneath or behind and within our will, not in place of our will. The evidence of God’s power in our lives is not the absence of our willing but the strength of our willing.

This is the point where I often stumbled in the past. I viewed resolutions as my will-power (which I was short on) or God’s. And then I wondered why I didn’t have victory in some areas. But “The power of God engages itself beneath or behind and within our will, not in place of our will.” (More on the battle between the flesh and Spirit can be found in an excellent message here.)

I’ve found generalizations like “I need to eat healthier” or “I need to cut down on sugar” or “I need to be less self-centered” just don’t cut it. I’m going to have to get more specific in resolving to do the good and right things that glorify God.

Paul Tripp says it’s not usually the big, dramatic moments or decisions that change our lives (though change may start there).

You see, the character of a life is not set in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments. The character that was formed in those little moments is what shapes how you respond to the big moments of life …

And what makes all of this possible? Relentless, transforming, little-moment grace. You see, Jesus is Immanuel [God with us], not just because he came to earth, but because he makes you the place where he dwells. This means he is present and active in all the mundane moments of your daily life.

And what is he doing? In these small moments, he is delivering every redemptive promise he has made to you. In these unremarkable moments, he is working to rescue you from you and transform you into his likeness. By sovereign grace, he places you in daily, little moments that are designed to take you beyond your character, wisdom, and grace so that you will seek the help and hope that can only be found in him. In a lifelong process of change, he is undoing you and rebuilding you again.

The new year is a good time to take stock and evaluate what needs to change in our lives. But we don’t need to wait until then to resolve to do good. Every morning we can ask God to lead us and give us grace to live for Him. As we read God’s Word and He teaches and convicts us, we, by faith, depend on His help and grace to put certain practices aside or add others. Or, as we’re about to do something and the Holy Spirit reminds us of a truth from God’s Word, we trust that God’s Word about this issue is right and yield to Him.

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Ways to Both Read and Study the Bible

When I first became a Christian, the church I was in urged people to read the Bible through in a year. I’m so glad, because I believe that grounded me in my faith more than anything else.

In later years, pastors often emphasized the need to read passages of the Bible in context and encouraged to read a book of the Bible through at a time rather than scattering our reading all around. I mentioned last week Drew Hunter‘s quote that we wouldn’t read only page two of a friend’s three-page letter. Nor would we read a paragraph on page three and a line on page one. The Bible isn’t a book of random quotations. Each book is a coherent whole, and all together they present a unified message.

Reading the whole Bible helped me keep things in context and see the grand themes of the Bible. It helped me get into books like Leviticus and Chronicles, which I probably would not have drifted into. I found some nuggets there I would have missed. Reading all of the Bible helps you interpret it, as some passages shed light on other passages.

Kelly Needham says:

Most Christians I talk to have never read the entirety of the Bible. They may read it frequently but only parts of it. But daily reading parts of the Bible doesn’t mean you know it any more than daily reading the first chapter of Moby Dick makes you an expert on the famous novel. Ignorance of the whole of God’s Word makes us easy targets in the war Satan has waged against God. Lies can slip through undetected like poison gas because we’re just not that familiar with the truth.

I still believe in reading the Bible through, but I don’t do it in a year any more. Sometimes I wanted to slow down, but felt I couldn’t or I’d fall behind schedule. Once one does fall behind, it’s hard to catch back up. So now I just go at my own pace. I don’t even know how long it takes me. Sometimes I read a couple of chapters a day. Other times I read more or less. I usually read the shorter epistles a few times through before moving on because they’re packed so full and go by so quickly.

I’ve seen some two-year or other plans. John O’Malley said in Overcoming Your Devotional Obstacles, “If it takes you five years to read through the Bible, you are not less of a Christian. Read it at a pace that you can comprehend it and receive something from it.”

Some folks I know have tried “binge-reading” the Bible occasionally. Joel Arnold says, “A pretty average reader can finish in 100 days by reading just 40 minutes a day.” My friend Kim once read the whole Bible in 90 days and shared her experience here.

Joel once read the whole Bible in a week, 10-12 hours a day. Afterward he noted:

The Bible is the most intertwined body of literature I’ve ever read. The books cite, quote, allude and echo each other constantly. It’s like a city, built up layer by layer, strata by strata, so that each later addition rests on every layer that came before … We don’t usually sense these relationships because we’ve forgotten 95% of the OT before we ever get to the New. But having it all out in front of your brain at once changes that completely. You find yourself flipping back and forth constantly between the testaments, jumping across thousands of years of history to study the same teachings and sometimes even the same phrases (Meditations from Binge-Reading the Bible).

Obviously no one can read 10-12 hours a day every week. But if we can use vacation time to binge watch a TV series, why not use it to read the whole Bible?

However, if we only read the Bible in great chunks, we miss something. We’re also told to study it, meditate on it, chew on it. Sometimes we need to slow down and spend more focused time on a smaller passage. Charles Spurgeon is quoted as saying, “Some people like to read so many [Bible] chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters. Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up in your very soul, till it saturates your heart!” Sometimes there’s nothing like honing in on one or a few verses for an extended amount of time.

Remember, the early churches did not have the entire Bible bound in one book for a long while. They had the Old Testament and gospels, but they would have spent a great deal of time on the one letter sent to their congregation and others as they came around.

I mentioned last week that Tim Challies said the larger blocks of reading were for familiarity, and reading for intimacy was slowing down and meditating on or studying shorter passages. Kelly Collier calls these two methods plow work (which “moves through large portions of Scripture more quickly,” like reading the Bible in a year or two) and trowel work (“taking a passage or verse of Scripture and settling in to dig for a long time,” like inductive Bible Study). I likened the two styles to a panoramic or macro lens. Or we could simply call them reading and studying.

I wrote a few years ago about finding time to read the Bible. Some seasons allow for both reading and studying, and it’s great to do both each day if you can. With the friend’s letter I mentioned earlier, we usually read the whole thing once or twice and then go back over it section by section. That’s good to do with a Bible passage as well. But it’s hard enough some days to get a few minutes to read the Bible at all. How can we possibly employ both reading and studying?

Here are some ideas:

Take turns. Often after I’ve finished a book of the Bible, I’ve taken a break to do a shorter study. Then I go back to the next book of the Bible.

Alternate days. Use a few days of the week for general reading, the others for more focused study.

Do the opposite of your church. For several years we were under a pastor who took a very detailed, thorough approach to preaching through a book of the Bible at a time. It took us years to get through Romans. But that was great, because then we knew it well. Since the preaching I heard was the in-depth, verse or two at a time style, my personal reading was more general. By contrast, when in other churches where the preaching covered more ground, I liked to do in-depth studies on my own.

Join a Bible study group. Bible studies tend to be slower and more focused (unless they’re topical), so I did in-depth study for the group and more general study on my own.

Adjust as needs arise. Once, chagrined and ashamed after an angry outburst, I set aside my regular Bible reading to look up and mediate on passages dealing with anger. That kind of thing has happened several times: an issue came up that I had to study out now.

Slow down and speed up as you feel led. In reading the Bible through, if I feel the need to put the breaks on in a certain passage and camp out for a while, I do so. Then I’ll pick up the pace for more general reading later.

There are going to be days when your regular routine flies out the window: illness, traveling, company, emergencies. God gives grace for those. I have a small devotional book called Daily Light on the Daily Path that is a few verses on a certain theme each day. Usually I use it to start my devotions, but some days that’s all I get to.

There are going to be seasons in life when finding time for quiet study is nearly impossible, like when young children are in the house. Just like we sometimes grab a protein bar instead of having a sit-down lunch, so our spiritual feeding sometimes has to be grab-and-go rather than a leisurely meal. When I truly only had time for a verse or two, God fed my soul with just those verses. Anything is better than nothing. One writer proposed a micronutrient Bible reading plan for those times.

We need to keep in mind the goal for reading the Bible isn’t just to get through it in a specified time. Instead, we read to learn it, learn from it, get to know God and His Word better.

Our current church has us read through a book of the Bible together. We’re asked to read five chapters of the Bible a week, one a day Monday-Friday with Saturdays to catch up. Then the preaching focuses on a short passage of a different book. Then we all learn a verse each month. So we incorporate the general overview reading, have a more in-depth study of a short passage, and spend a longer time meditating on one verse. That’s not a bad practice for one’s personal reading as well.

What ways have you find to incorporate both reading and studying the Bible? Do you tend toward one more than the other?

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You don’t have to choose a word for the year

If you read many blogs, you’ll find a lot of people writing about a word they’ve chosen for the year. I don’t know how long this has been a thing, but I’ve been reading about it for several years now.

For many, choosing a word for the year replaces a list of resolutions. That one word gives them focus for the year. Christians who do this usually pray about it leading up to the new year and feel this word has been given them or impressed on them by God. They often plan their Bible study around their word.

Many share that this emphasis has been a great blessing to them. Some have been amazed at how God intersects their study and circumstances around their word. Some, like my friend Lisa, purposefully read several books involving their word over the course of a year. Others, like Crystal, plan activities to incorporate their word.

But perhaps you’ve never felt led to choose a word for the year and you wonder if you’re missing out. Or perhaps you’ve chosen one in the past but, like a soon-forgotten New Year’s resolution, it faded out of memory.

I just want to assure you of a few truths.

God never tells anyone in the Bible to choose a word, a theme, or even a verse for the year. That doesn’t mean the practice is wrong. It’s just one method of focus and of studying and applying God’s Word.

God may lay on your heart to study a certain topic, truth, characteristic, etc. from the Bible, and that may or may not coincide with January 1 and may or may not last a year.

Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Commentary I’ve read for that verse said that with the lighting they had in Bible times, they could only see a step or two ahead. God may well prepare you for something that only He knows is ahead through a word for the year. But often you don’t have that much notice. God’s guidance and provision is often moment by moment, day by day.

What’s more vital than a word for the year is daily seeking God in His Word.

I’ve never felt led to choose a word for the year. I’ve often said that God usually has more to say to me than one word. And, to be fair, those who choose a word for the year don’t claim that’s the only thing God wants them to deal with. They do read other books and other parts of God’s Word as well.

A topical Bible study on a certain word or concept can be highly valuable. But we also need the daily reading of Bible passages in context. Drew Hunter says:

If you received a three-page letter from a distant friend, you wouldn’t just read page 2. You could spend all day “studying” that page, but until you read pages 1 and 3, you will not fully (or perhaps even rightly) understand your friend’s message.

The human authors of the Bible organized their books intentionally. So, we step back and think through the author’s flow of thought. Studying the Bible involves thinking paragraph-by-paragraph, section-by-section, and seeing how everything fits into the overall structure and flow of the book.

We need the panoramic lens to take in the beauty and wonder of the big picture of God’s Word. We also need the macro lens for close-ups, for camping out with a verse at a time and mining its truths. Tim Challies calls these reading for familiarity (reading longer passages in a sitting) or intimacy (slowing down and meditating on or studying shorter passages) and says we need both approaches. Kelly Collier calls these two methods plow work (which “moves through large portions of Scripture more quickly,” like reading the Bible in a year or two) and trowel work (“taking a passage or verse of Scripture and settling in to dig for a long time,” like inductive Bible Study).

Choosing a word for the year shouldn’t replace contextual Bible study.

There are many who choose and study a word for the year and employ both these other methods of studying the Bible in context. That’s ideal. For some, the word for the year is their close-up, slowed-down study. That’s fine.

While many people find great value in choosing a word for the year, those who don’t use that method shouldn’t feel they’re missing out or somehow not as spiritual.

Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Let’s be faithful to partake of that bread every day.

Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught (Isaiah 50:4).

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)

____________________________________________

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God With Us

Our church is reading through Matthew this month. Luke’s account of Christ’s birth is more detailed than Matthew’s compact version. But one thing that stands out to me in Matthew’s telling is at the end of chapter one.

After reassuring Joseph that Mary is still pure and her pregnancy is of the Holy Spirit, the angel says: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Then Matthew adds this comment:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Jesus was to be the baby’s name, but He would also be called Immanuel. The prophecy Matthew quoted was from Isaiah 7:14, written around 700 years before Matthew’s book.

We often zip by that phrase to get to the next part of the narrative. But the fact that God is with us is so significant, I want to ponder it for a moment.

God was with His people in full fellowship and harmony in the garden of Eden. But then they sinned and were sent out of the garden. Sin separates from God. He is always omnipresent, everywhere at all times. But that complete, harmonious fellowship was broken. He made a way for people to be reconciled to Him through Christ, but Jesus’ sacrifice would not take place for thousands of years. People in the OT looked ahead to what God would do to redeem them. People in the NT and our day look back.

God told Isaac: “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you” (Genesis 26:3).

Israel became God’s chosen people, known especially because their God was with them. He was not a block of wood or brass set up in a tent. He was a Spirit who led and protected them. After one of Israel’s most grievous sins in the wilderness, before they came to the promised land, God sent them on ahead with Moses. God promised to make the way for them into Canaan, but He would not go with them “lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Moses pleaded:

 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

And [God] said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:1-16).

Have you ever felt like Moses? “Don’t send me if You’re not going with me. I can’t go forward without You.”

Before Moses died, he assured the people, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6).

When Moses died and Joshua was appointed to take Israel on to the promised land, God reassured him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

The psalmist rejoiced, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. . . The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:1, 4, 11).

David declared, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. . . You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:8,11).

The prophets, who so often had to point out the people’s sins, also reminded them that God had nor forsaken them and was with them. “Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke by the commission of the LORD to the people saying, ‘I am with you,’ declares the LORD. . . all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 1:13; 2:4).

Through Isaiah, God promised His people: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2). Notice He didn’t say “if” you pass through water and through fire. He said “when.” Trouble’s going to come. But God is with us in it. Earlier Isaiah had quoted God, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. . . For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you'” (Isaiah 43:10,13).

When Jesus took on flesh, He was with His people in a physical way. Before He ascended back to heaven, He promised them, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Those verses we often lean on in anxiety in Philippians 4 are predicated by “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”(Philippians 4:5b-7).

We can trust God for our provision. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

At the end of life, if we know Him, we can rest in the fact that “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). Then we’ll be “absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” once again in full fellowship unhindered by a sin nature (2 Corinthians 5:8).

An old song said God is watching us from a distance. No, He is very close. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Because Jesus was God’s Son, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again, we can be forgiven, redeemed, close to Him. In overcoming and need, in anxiety and danger, in everyday life and our walk with God, and finally in death, we can rest and rejoice in the fact that God is with us.

For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah 57:15).

Immanuel

Written by C. H. Spurgeon at the age of 18

When once I mourned a load of sin;
When conscience felt a wound within;
When all my works were thrown away;
When on my knees I knelt to pray,
Then, blissful hour, remembered well,
I learned Thy love, Immanuel.

When storms of sorrow toss my soul;
When waves of care around me roll;
When comforts sink, when joys shall flee;
When hopeless griefs shall gape for me,
One word the tempest’s rage shall quell–
That word, Thy name, Immanuel.

When for the truth I suffer shame;
When foes pour scandal on my name;
When cruel taunts and jeers abound;
When “Bulls of Bashan” gird me round,
Secure within Thy tower I’ll dwell–
That tower, Thy grace, Immanuel.

When hell enraged lifts up her roar;
When Satan stops my path before;
When fiends rejoice and wait my end;
When legioned hosts their arrows send,
Fear not, my soul, but hurl at hell
Thy battle-cry, Immanuel.

When down the hill of life I go;
When o’er my feet death’s waters flow;
When in the deep’ning flood I sink;
When friends stand weeping on the brink,
I’ll mingle with my last farewell
Thy lovely name, Immanuel.

When tears are banished from mine eye;
When fairer worlds than these are nigh;
When heaven shall fill my ravished sight;
When I shall bathe in sweet delight,
One joy all joys shall far excel,
To see Thy face, Immanuel.

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Musings Of A Tired Mummy

 

Remembering the loved one who has forgotten you

As a person ages, friends and loved ones often stop communicating as much.

Part of the problem is a busy schedule. When I worked in a nursing home ministry in college and then visited my mother-in-law in various facilities, I figured busyness was the primary reason so many residents seemed never to have a visitor.

But now I think perhaps people don’t visit elderly loved ones because they feel it’s futile since the person doesn’t even know them any more.

Dementia is one of the saddest afflictions. It’s heartbreaking when a loved one can’t remember who you are or how you are related.

But I can’t encourage you strongly enough to keep visiting. Why?

Because you remember.

Their biggest need is to know that they are loved and not forgotten. For the few minutes you spend with them, they are receiving personal attention.

We don’t know what they actually remember.

When a loved one can’t process thoughts well, we don’t really know what’s going through their minds. It could be there is a flicker of familiarity, but they can’t express it. Or they might remember, if just for a few moments, that you were there.

Assisted living and nursing home facilities can be lonely places.

Some residents are able-bodied and/or social butterflies, but many sit by themselves. Most of the activities involve bringing the group to the common area rather than doing anything with individuals  Most of these places are overworked and understaffed. We found a few gems in each facility my mother-in-law was in, but too many of the staff were burned out, uncaring, just punching a time card. We observed as they talked to each other over her without ever looking her in the eye or talking directly to her. One aide had eyes glued to the TV as she fed Jim’s mom rather than interacting with her. Can you imagine an existence where most people just handle you or do what’s necessary without a smile or a kind word?

Personal, focused, loving attention is the greatest gift you can give them.

You can’t assume they are well taken-care of.

When you visit a facility and arrange to place your loved one there, you assume the best. The administration sounds competent, the brochures look inviting. But we could tell you dozens of stories from our own experience, not to mention that of others. The residents often can’t speak for themselves. They need advocates to visit them frequently and bring any issues to the management’s attention.

When you do visit, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t ask, “Do you remember . . .” people or situations. John Zeisel calls this “testing” in his book I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care. He says such questions just set them up for a test they are sure to fail and can increase anxiety, agitation, and feelings of incompetence.. Sometimes they can remember the distant past more than the recent occurrences, but don’t assume. Just start talking about the person or situation you have in mind. If your loved one remembers, they’ll chime in. Instead of asking, “Do you remember me?” just say who you are. “Hi, Mom! It’s me, Jim, and your grandson son, Jason, and great-grandson, Timothy.” Mention the names but don’t make a big deal about them.
  • “Don’t alter their reality” was the cardinal rule at the nursing home my mother-in-law was in. In our college nursing home ministry, one blind lady spoke as if she lived on a plantation, even encouraging us to pick some flowers. We didn’t know whether to go along or try to bring her back to reality. Now I would know: either go with the flow or try to bring up a different topic of conversation. If they think they are in another state, or their husband is waiting for them at home, or whatever, it only agitates them to say otherwise. When my mother-in-law was in a memory-care unit, we often saw residents get quite upset if they stopped to ask us to take them somewhere, and we said we couldn’t. We learned to say, “I’m just here visiting my mom, but maybe this lady could help you,” and point them to an aide. That was better than saying, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t take you,” and having them get upset, and an aide having to come over and calm them down.
  • Divert or distract rather than arguing. If your loved one starts asking about someone who died, or asks to be taken somewhere they can’t go, or says something that doesn’t make sense, don’t try to “talk sense into them.” Jim’s mom sometimes asked to be taken to her daughter’s house 2,000 miles away. I used to remind her that she had moved to TN. But later on, I’d just say, “We can talk about it when Jim gets home.” She was mostly silent her last two years, but she would still sometimes ask about her sister, who had died long ago. Our caregiver would say something like, “I think she’s still asleep” and then start talking about something else. We tried never to lie to her, but we did redirect the conversation.
  • Have some topics of conversation in mind before you go. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to talk about. Family news is always good. But conversation can sputter after that. This is something I wish I had done better with my mother-in-law. I saw her almost every day, so when she would ask what’s new, sometimes all I could come up with was, “Well . . . I got the laundry done.” She loved news or little interesting tidbits or real-life stories. I wished I had looked for things like that to share with her when I visited. I also wished I had asked her more about her past.
  • Some might be able to play games, put together puzzles, do small crafts. If you have old family photos of people you can’t identity, this is a great time to bring them and ask about them.
  • Be cautious about gifts. Most times, they don’t really need or have room for anything. But if it’s a special occasion and you want to bring something, be aware of their situation. Don’t bring food unless you know they aren’t on any kind of dietary restrictions. And then bring food in a form they can eat (someone sent my mother-in-law a fruit basket, but she had no way to slice or peel any of it. She couldn’t have a knife in her room.) Cut flowers in a vase might be better than a plant no one has time to care for. Some other ideas:

All-occasion greeting cards (if they still send them)
Stationery and stamps (if they can still write)
Pens and pencils
Lotions (some might have skin sensitivities)
Bath items: nice-smelling shampoo, body wash, powder. Avoid bath oils – too slippery
Large-print books, magazines, crossword or word search puzzle books (if   they can still read)
Small individually wrapped chewable candies (if they can have them)
Small packages of cookies (ditto)
Pudding cups
Small throw blankets
Socks (slip-proof, if they are still mobile) and slippers
Magnifying glass
Tissues
Nice nightgowns or pajamas. (or hospital gowns if they are bedridden. We used this place often.)
Small photo albums with pictures of your family. (Big ones are too heavy.)
Pictures colored by a child

If you have a project-based ministry to the elderly in your congregation, please take the items to the person rather than sending them home with a loved one or dropping them off on the porch. The visit means more than the things.

What if you don’t live near your loved one?

Don’t stop communicating because you don’t think it will do any good. One lady who used to write to my mother-in-law would check with me occasionally to ask if I thought it was still worthwhile. I told her I honestly didn’t know if Jim’s mom would know who she was or would remember the note I read five minutes later, but for those few moments, she knew someone cared enough to communicate with her. We’re more inclined to send texts or Facebook greetings, but it’s worth the time to send a personal note to an elderly person who doesn’t have access to those other venues. Sometimes a FaceTime or Skype call can be set up. One of Jim’s brothers used to do this even after Jim’s mom no longer spoke. She could at least see him and his family and would sometimes wave a finger.

What if your loved one is being cared for by a family member?

It still helps to visit or at least communicate for a number of reasons. Your loved one needs to know you still remember and care for them. And it greatly encourages the one caring for them to have the rest of the family still participating. Caregiving can be weighty and lonely, and the interest and care of the rest of the family can be greatly encouraging. By contrast, it’s immensely saddening to have birthdays and Mother’s Days go by without hearing from anyone, even if the loved one doesn’t know what day it is.

It can be hard to visit an elderly loved one.

It takes time and slowing down. It’s hard to acknowledge the effect of years and to know they’re only going to keep declining. Their might be messy or smelly. My mother-in-law was easy to get along with, but some dementia patients are angry or combative. It might be easier to remember them as they were than see them as they are. Most people’s main regret when a loved one dies is that they didn’t spend more time with them. Do all you can while you can to avoid that regret. Even if they don’t remember you, you remember them. I’m not trying to heap guilt on you; I’m trying to lessen it.

Godly love is about giving and isn’t dependent on what the other can do for us.

They don’t have to remember you in order for you to minister to them. Our blessing them comes from:

1) The example of our Lord, who blesses us every day of our lives even though we can never repay Him.

2) Gratefulness because of all our loved ones did for us.

3) Doing unto others as we would want them to do to us. (Matthew 7:12)

It can be especially hard when the relationship has not been good, when issues have never been resolved and there’s no hope of dealing with them now. Some of my friends have exemplified 2 Corinthians 12:15 with their parents: “ And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.Loving like Jesus means loving people even when they don’t “deserve” it. Love costs a great deal sometimes. As we pray to love more, we can ask that our “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9) and ask God to “make [us] increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (2 Thessalonians 3:12).

I’d love to hear from you about this topic. What have you found helpful when visiting elderly family members?

(I wrote a series of posts from our experience caring for my mother-in-law called Adventures in Elder Care. If you are in a caregiving season of life, you might find something helpful there. A couple of the posts there most related to this one are Am I Doing Any Good? and It’s Not for Nothing.)

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Organic Mentoring

What does mentoring mean to someone desiring to be mentored? Sometimes women have a specific area where they feel they need help. Some just want to have an older go-to person to ask questions.

Dictionary.com defines mentor as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” But how do people work mentoring out into real life? Classes? Regular meetings? Shadowing?

The word “mentor” is not in the Bible—at least, not in the KJV or ESV. Probably the closest the Bible comes to the concept is discipling. The classic passage for women disciplining women is Titus 2: 3-5:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

It’s always important to look at the context of a Bible passage, and the context here is teaching and relating life to sound doctrine (verse 1). Then the character of a teacher or mentor is addressed. Several translations describe this older woman as reverent; others use the word holy. She’s trustworthy: she doesn’t spread gossip. Your secrets are safe with her. And she’s self-controlled, not given to excess.

I’ve written before about different ways to mentor. And I shared that mentoring is more than affirmation and suggested thoughts for both mentor and mentee.

What I’d like to suggest now is that mentoring doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. You may have one person that you go to with every question and concern. That’s fine if you have such a person. But I have found that God has sent different women across my path with just a word in season that I needed at the moment. I’d like to tell you about a few of them.

Mr. and Mrs. B. were the pastor and wife we were under in our college days and then our first few married years. They were an older couple. Mrs. B. was kind, warm, wise. But she also laid things on the line. When I was struggling with some issue and finally ready to do whatever it took to deal with it, Mrs. B. was the person I would go to. I knew she would give it to me straight, yet kindly.

Mrs. C. was a lady whose family came to our church while I was away at college. When I came home for the summer, the family invited me over for dinner several times. They soon became a second family to me. I don’t remember Mrs. C. ever specifically trying to teach me anything, but I learned so much from her example, her character, her response to her husband, her homemaking.

These two relationships were long-term, but sometimes God had an older friend say something helpful in passing. For instance, once while working in the church nursery, another lady mentioned that she had hit the highest emotional highs and the lowest lows in the context of mothering. That stopped me in my tracks, because I had thought something similar, but hadn’t quite put it into words. I don’t think we discussed it any further, but her comment let me know that my feelings were normal. Another time, I was putting up a church bulletin board with a lady who had teenagers while my children were younger. She gave me some off-the-cuff advice not to dread the teen years. She said teens don’t all go through rebellious phases, and if the relationship has been good all along, there’s no reason it can’t continue to be good. That lifted a weight and gave me a healthy perspective of my children’s upcoming teen years, and I’ll be forever grateful.

Once I was doing something in the church building while the group who ministered to the seniors at church were setting up a banquet for them. That kind of preparation can get hectic. The wife of the couple involved, a very sweet woman, came into the kitchen to look for something. While she stood there a moment, gathering her thoughts and looking at cabinets, her husband came in behind her with an urgent question. He couldn’t see her face, but I saw her close her eyes a moment and then give him a calm answer. Whether she was thinking through the answer to his question or changing gears from her own pursuit, I don’t know. But my impression was that in a moment of being overwhelmed, she took just a beat or two to gain control and answer kindly when she might have wanted to be left alone to finish her own task.

Another older lady had to retire from her loved job due to what some considered unfair circumstances. I know this woman was hurt, but I never once heard her badmouth her employers. I watched as she sought out several different new ways of ministering until she found her new niche, and her efforts continued to make a different in other people’s lives.

The one factor all of these examples have in common is that they arose naturally, in the normal course of life and ministry.

There’s nothing wrong with setting up classes and seminars. I have learned boatloads from many great and mostly unknown women teachers. I’ve sought specific counsel from older women at times.

There’s nothing wrong with a formal one-on-one relationship specifically for the purpose of mentoring.

But a mentor does not have to be a formal teacher and may not have that kind of relationship with anyone. Even if she does, we’re all called to the kind of walk where our example teaches and where we’re so yielded to and in tune with the Holy Spirit that He can work though us in the course of everyday life. I think of this as organic, natural mentoring. I don’t remember in any of these cases praying for God to send an older, godly woman my way. But He did, because He knew I needed them.

It’s fine to pray for a mentor, to work through a book or Bible study together, to have a list of questions to discuss. Sue Donaldson has some great ones here. But I also saw a list of 100 questions to ask of a mentor. Honestly, that sounds exhausting. No one wants to feel grilled interrogated. If you want to approach someone with questions, I wouldn’t bring that many. And I’d suggest questions from your own heart rather than a list, things you would like to ask an older, experienced lady about living the Christian life in a way that honors the Lord.

But beyond questions, we can learn much just by spending time with these women and observing their walk and demeanor. I know I have probably asked older women specific questions, but I don’t remember most of those conversations. For some reason, I’ve remembered these instances I shared here for years. Many of them were foundational or transitional to my thinking. And the women in question probably didn’t even know they had said something that affected me. I don’t think I knew it myself at the moment. It probably took time to process their advice, comments, or example. A guest preacher at our church years ago once said that often, when the Holy Spirit uses us, we’re unaware of it.

That’s the kind of godly, older-ish woman I want to be: one who walks closely with the Lord, filled with His Spirit and His Word and a love for others, available for His use in everyday life and conversation.

Have you had such a mentor in your life—someone who wasn’t officially a teacher, yet taught you by word or example? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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Biblical Thankfulness

We know thanksgiving is not just a day in November, but it is an activity we’re supposed to engage in year-round. But our annual thankful holiday does help turn our thoughts a more grateful direction.

In past years I’ve made lists of what I am thankful for throughout November, either once a day or all on Thanksgiving Day. I usually ended up with pretty much the same items on my list. That’s fine. We should continue to be thankful for what we have every year.

It’s harder to be thankful some years. Health issues cropped up, loved ones are no longer with us, finances have taken a downturn. The Bible speaks of the “sacrifice of praise”: “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 often wondered at that wording. “Sacrifice” hearkens back to some of the OT sacrifices, but here it is applied specifically to praise. I’ve thought that perhaps it’s a sacrifice because we have to turn our attention from ourselves to God. But maybe it’s also a sacrifice because we do it whether or not we “feel” it. Joni Eareckson Tada has said, “To give thanks is not the same as ‘feeling thankful.’ To give thanks in the midst of pain and problems is to take a step of faith based on the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:18: God tells us to give thanks in all circumstances (not just those we can handle or feel on top of). For what things can you give thanks, even while you’re hurting?”

C. S. Lewis said, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is ‘good,’ because is it good, if ‘bad’ because it works in us patience, humility, and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”

One year I did a study on thanks and thanksgiving in the Bible.Just one aspect of it was noticing what people in the Bible thanked God for. It’s perfectly fine to thank God for material blessings and the people He has placed in our lives. But we can expand our thanks to include:

Attributes of God Himself

God’s goodness. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (I Chronicles 16:34; Ezra 3:11; Psalm 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136)

God’s holiness. “Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” (Psalm 30:4, KJV)

God’s righteous judgments. At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments. (Psalm 119: 62, KJV)

God’s greatness. “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” (Psalm 95:1-3)

God’s power and reign. “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.” (Revelation 11:17)

God’s love and wonderful works. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” (Psalm 107:21-2)

What God gives us or does for us

Saving us. “Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:12-14)

Bearing us.Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.” (Psalm 68:19)

Victory over death. “Death is swallowed up in victory. ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57)

Deliverance from mourning. “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12)

Comfort: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Causing us to triumph, making Himself known through us. “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.” (2 Corinthians 2:14, KJV)

God’s provision, enough for ourselves plus for giving to others. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11-12)

God’s inexpressible gift. “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Food. “. . . foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:3b-5)

Authorities. Really? Yes: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Other people.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you.” (2 Corinthians 8:16)

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . .” (Ephesians 1:16)

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints” (Colossians 1:3-4) (See also I Thessalonians 1:1-3; 3:9-10; II Thessalonians 2:13-14.)

Everything.

“Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:3)

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg! I’m sure further study would reveal even more things to be thankful for in the Bible.

I’ve been looking for a quote that I thought came from Martin Luther, but I can’t seem to find it with various searches. But it went something like this: God saved me when I didn’t deserve it. I could and should thank Him eternally for just that. Anything else He gives me or does for me after that is just extra blessings. (If you know this quote, please share in the comments. I would be so grateful.) We’re truly “loaded with benefits”: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.” (Psalm 68:19, KJV).

No doubt August Storm had done a thanksgiving study of his own when he composed this hymn in 1891:

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and stormy fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks through all eternity!

~ August L. Storm, 1891

What are you most thankful for this year?

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What I Learned from Bare Trees

Fall seemed to arrive late this year, and winter weather is already upon many of us. Thankfully, there’s still a good bit of color in many trees. But others are already bare.

I’ve written before about having trouble when the leaves are off, when the landscape is bleak and barren. I soak up fall’s beauty to sustain me through long, colorless winters.

But just recently, something I read touched off a search for the science behind why deciduous tress lose their leaves

  • The leaves wouldn’t survive the cold in many places.
  • Trees conserve water through the winter by purposefully dropping their leaves.
  • Leaves damaged by “insects, disease or general wear and tear,” according to this source, are made to fall off so they can be renewed again in the spring.
  • Some leaves provide resources for the plant before dropping off. According to this source, “A number of deciduous plants remove nitrogen and carbon from the foliage before they are shed and store them in the form of proteins in the vacuoles of parenchyma cells in the roots and the inner bark. In the spring, these proteins are used as a nitrogen source during the growth of new leaves or flowers.”
  • Dead leaves nourish soil.

I either didn’t know, or more likely had just forgotten learning these facts in school way back when. But it helps to know that there is a reason God created trees this way. Their loss of leaves actually protects them and helps them survive the winter and leaf out again in the spring.

Couldn’t God have made all the trees evergreen? He could have. But they’d all look like fir, spruce, or pine trees, made the way they are to survive the winter in a different way. Deciduous trees provide us with such rich color, beauty, and variety. Then they picture death, giving way to springtime resurrection. Some provide fruit in the summer.

It would be nice if the leaves could change into beautiful colors and then go back to green without dropping off, or at least get their green leaves back sooner. But there’s much they can teach us.

Sometimes loss is for our good. The things we want to hang on to would be harmful or prevent us from growing. “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

Dead leaves nourish the soil which then helps the tree grow. “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

When leaves are off the trees, we can see things we couldn’t before. On our drive to church during our first fall and winter here, I discovered houses, ponds, animals, and scenery that had been hidden when the trees were leafed out.

A leafless tree “Displays a certain loveliness—The beauty of the bone (John Updike, “November”). Hebrews speaks of ” the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain (12:27). When life is stripped to its basics, we see the strength of that core of God’s truth; we see what really matters. Corrie ten Boom said, ” “You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.” Or, taken in reverse, when Christ is all you have, you find He is all you need. Thanksgiving in the midst of long nights and barren landscapes reminds us of what’s most important and what bounty we still have.

Sometimes our normal sources of provision fail us. But God provides for us through seasons of loss and barrenness. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Sometimes we have to learn to be content in doing without. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11b-13).

Seasons of rest come between seasons of fruitfulness. No one can give out incessantly without respite. Jesus told His disciples, “’Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31).

Life is transient. “Nothing gold can stay,” as Robert Frost said. Not only do seasons come and go, but life itself will fade from fruitfulness to winter. Hair and skin lose their color, limbs lose their strength. We echo the psalmist’s prayer: “Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come” (Psalm 71:18).This promise to Israel can be applied to God’s children now: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4). “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). For those who know the Lord, life’s winter will give way to eternity’s spring.

Gone, they tell me, is youth.
Gone is the strength of my life:
Nothing remains but decline,
Nothing but age and decay.

Not so, I’m God’s little child,
Only beginning to live;
Coming the years of my prime,
Coming the strength of my life;
Coming the vision of God,
Coming my bloom and my power.

~ William Newton Clarke

After the flood in Noah’s time was over, God said, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). Thomas O’ Chisholm picked up this truth in his great hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness:

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Though seasons change,

There is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
all I have needed thy hand hath provided–
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

What do barren trees teach you?

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God’s Deadlines

If you’ve had or worked with children, you have likely faced this scenario. A child does wrong repeatedly. After much instruction and admonition, the parent or teacher says, “If you do that one more time, you are going to face this consequence.”

The child does it one more time. The adult begins to administer the promised consequence, and all of a sudden, the child starts doing whatever he was supposed to, or starts crying and pleading for mercy.

Knowing when to be firm and when to show grace was one of the hardest parts of parenting for me. But if I had promised my children a certain consequence would follow certain actions (or lack of actions), I felt I needed to follow through. They needed to know I would keep my word, plus they needed to be trained away from last-minute feigned repentance that only occurs when punishment is coming.

Our church is reading through and discussing Jeremiah together, five chapters a week. Jeremiah’s message was not a popular one. Basically he had to tell the people to get ready for the consequences of their actions. In the Israelites’ case at this time, the consequences for their continued idolatry, disobedience, and lack of repentance involved the king of Babylon conquering their city and deporting most of them to Babylon as captives.

Sometimes people accuse God of cruelty when He sends judgement on people, but they forget the years of longsuffering that led up to the judgment in question. Closing the door of the ark so no one else could get in seems drastic, but people had several decades of preaching and warning beforehand. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5) and “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence (verse 11). 1 Peter 3:20 says, “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” God was patient, but He also said His Spirit would not always strive or contend with man (Genesis 6:3). There was a deadline.

Similarly, God had sent His prophets over years to preach to the people in Jeremiah’s time. God told Jeremiah a couple of times not to pray for the people, and the ESV Study Bible notes how unusual this command was  I don’t think that meant that Jeremiah could not bring them before the Lord at all. But, if I understand it correctly, he couldn’t pray for God to turn away His judgment unless the people repented.

But the people flat out refused to repent. A few times they came to Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord for them, or they called out to God to help them, but their repentance was either not genuine or was short-lived. At one point, they responded to God’s pleas for their repentance and warnings of future consequences with “That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart” (18:12). Another time they said, “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you” (44:16). God pleaded with the people to turn away from their folly and come to Him, but they wouldn’t. So, eventually, consequences had to come.

God’s consequences are often meant to have a sanctifying effect. He chastens out of love and for our good.

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.

. . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-6, 10b-11)

Scattered throughout Jeremiah are God’s promise of future restoration of His people. They would spend 70 long years in exile. But among those taken captive were future heroes of the faith, like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who would take a bold but gracious stand for God and witness for Him to foreign kings. Ezekiel preached to the exiles. Ezra and Nehemiah led the people back to Israel.

But not everyone made it back. In the course of 70 years, many died.

Back in Numbers 13-14, Israel refused to advance into the land God promised them. He pledged to be with them and help them overtake it, but they refused in fear. They were condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until every adult who had refused to obey had died.

But God’s deadlines don’t refer just to chastening. Earlier this year it was on my heart to write to a woman who was like a second mother to me. But I put it off. I would be sending her a Mother’s Day card in a few weeks, and I planned to write a letter to send with it. But then I received word that she’d had a series of medical issues, was unresponsive, and was in her last days. I know with all the joys of heaven, she’s not thinking of not receiving a letter from me. But I have the regret that I didn’t respond to that prompting and share some words of encouragement. When my grandmother and aunt died, I also regretted that I had not kept in touch better in the last few years. A pastor’s wife told of the regret she felt when she leaned that a lady she saw regularly at some place of business had died suddenly. She realized that she had never spoken to her about the Lord. We only have so much time to do good.

Proverbs 27:1 (NASB) says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

Sometimes when we think about the limitations of time and the shortness of our days, we can get into a frenzy. But that’s not what God wants, either. Jesus only had 33 years on this earth, with only three and a half of those years involved in official ministry. Yet He was not frenzied. He didn’t heal or preach to everyone on earth at the time. He rested sometimes. But He did everything God wanted Him to do. We need to seek Him for wisdom, guidance, and the right priorities for each day.

Eventually, we are all going to face a final deadline. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

It’s wise not to put off repentance and believing on Jesus as Lord and Savior, because we never know when our time will be up and we’ll hear God’s final call.

It’s wise not to put off obedience, because the consequences have to come at some point.

It’s wise not to put off doing good, because someday we’ll no longer have the opportunity.

The older I get, the more I’m aware that I have more days behind me than before me.  I want to follow God wholeheartedly until that final deadline comes.

How about you?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Literary Musing Monday, Hearth and Soul, Purposeful Faith, Happy Now, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode, Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesday,
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When you don’t know you’re alseep

The morning after a long-ago overnight road trip, one of my sons insisted he hadn’t slept in the car. We had seen him, head down, eyes closed, a small blanket over him. But we couldn’t convince him he had, indeed, been asleep. I thought perhaps he had just dreamed he was awake, or he didn’t have a sense of the length of time before he dozed off.

Recently, I had a similar experience. I woke up in the middle of the night, went to the bathroom, and came back just a little too awake to fall right back to sleep. I set an album to play on my phone, laid down, closed my eyes, probably prayed and thought for a while. A few hours later, my alarm went off, and I was frustrated that I had spent all that time awake. “I have things to do today. I can’t afford to take a nap, and I don’t want to drag through the day like a zombie,” I chafed inwardly.

But then I realized—the album was a familiar one, and I didn’t remember hearing the latter half of it. And though I felt I had been awake for too long, I didn’t have the sense that it had actually been 3-4 hours. I didn’t feel rested. I didn’t feel like I had been asleep. But I must have been.

Of course, we’re not usually aware we’re asleep until we wake up. Too often I’ve embarrassed myself by jerking awake after dozing off in church. I remember studying my notes from college lectures only to find them increasingly illegible, tapering off into a squiggly line, evidence of forgotten naps. The dream world we’re in seems real until we wake up and recount how weird it all was.

This reminds me just a little of Samson’s situation with Delilah. A judge of Israel, Samson was renowned for his strength. His enemies bribed Delilah to find out how Samson could be defeated. She pleaded, begged, wept, “pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death” (Judges 16:16). He finally told her that he was a Nazarite from birth and had never cut his hair. “If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man“. So while he was asleep, Delilah had his head shaved. “And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him” (verse 20). The Philistines took their advantage, captured him, gouged his eyes out, and imprisoned him.

Samson’s problem was not that he had been asleep on Delilah’s lap while she sabotaged his strength. His problem was that he had been asleep spiritually for most of his life. He was called to be a leader of his people. But he was self-willed, self-indulgent, vengeful, disobedient, immoral. Maybe Samson thought he was immune from punishment since he was a judge. God had been with him and used him, and perhaps Samson mistook God’s grace and longsuffering for approval.

God does not leave believers in our day, not since the Holy Spirit was poured forth after the death and resurrection of Jesus. But believers can certainly be sleepy spiritually, drifting off when they should be fully alert. We go forth like normal, unaware that our strength is gone. That could happen because of sin that we’re harboring rather than confessing to the Lord. Or it could happen because we’ve neglected time in prayer and the Bible. Or we’ve been lulled into cozy complacency.

God gives rest to His people. Spiritually, we rest in Him all the time. Physically, he provides rest at night and on the Lord’s day.

But then there are times to be fully awake and alert.

But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake. Mark 13:32-37.

For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9.

Usually, if we’re asleep, we need something outside ourselves to wake us up: an alarm clock, another person, a wake-up call. God sends us wake-up calls in His Word:

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14.

Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. 1 Corinthians 15:34.

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Revelation 3:2.

Fleeing from God’s will, Jonah slept in a boat, not realizing he was in trouble. A “mighty tempest” threatened to break up the ship. The captain found Jonah and said, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (Jonah 1:1-6).

We’ve all experienced sleeping through the time we should have gotten up. Then we’re late to class or work, or we’re behind all day. Some people in the Bible missed out on important things because they slept. When Jesus went to Gethsemane, just before He was arrested, he took Peter, James, and John with Him and told them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). But a short while later, “he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. The same passage in Luke says they were “sleeping for sorrow.” And Jesus said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’” (verses 40-41). Not only did the disciples miss an opportunity to fellowship with Jesus in His lowest hour, but they weren’t fortified for the trials to come. They fled when Jesus was arrested, and Peter denied Him.

In an even worse predicament were the ten virgins in the parable of Matthew 25 (see here for more explanation and background of this parable). They were waiting for the call to go to a wedding. They all fell asleep, but five were prepared when the call came. Five others were not ready, but needed oil for their lamps. They had to go out to buy more and missed the Bridegroom’s coming. When they tried to get in to the feast, they were turned away. Jesus’ point in this parable: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (verse 13).

If you don’t know the Savior, please read what it means to know Jesus, so you’ll ready for His coming. For those who know Him, let’s be awake spiritually, doing His will, looking for His coming.

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