Oh No! More Waiting!

Every year at about this time, I begin to ask the Lord to give me a verse or a word for the next year. Last year I got a very clear word: “Wait. On. God.” It was very emphatic, like three distinct sentences. It was puzzling to get that word at the beginning of 2020.  “Wait on what, Lord,” I wondered.  I had no idea what was coming.  But it wasn’t too long until we were all waiting.  Waiting for the lockdown to be over, waiting for the virus to go away, waiting to go back to work, for the children to go back to school.  Waiting for life to return to normal.  Waiting, waiting, waiting.

I have to confess that I am not very good at waiting.  I hate waiting in line, waiting in traffic, waiting for almost anything.  I don’t even enjoy getting my nails done because it takes too long.  So 2020 has been a real opportunity for me to learn lessons in waiting.  But I still don’t like it.

So as I have begun to pray for my 2021 word, I was hoping for something like, “The wait is over!” Instead the Lord has taken me to Lamentations.  Lamentations???  Really, Lord?  It’s such a dreary book and haven’t we lamented enough?  But the Lord wanted to give me a hopeful reminder In Lamentations 3:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; 
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.  ESV

This is a familiar, often quoted passage of Scripture.  In fact we even sing hymns with those words.  Think about it.  He pours out fresh blessings on us every morning and those blessings never come to an end.  Those mercies are specific to the day that lies ahead, and then tomorrow we get new ones.  I am reminded of the children of Israel wandering in the desert.  God provided fresh manna every morning, enough for the day.  

But then in the next verse, there is that word again.  Wait.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” NIV

I believe God is telling me that the time of waiting is not over, but I can have hope because His love never comes to an end, and His mercies are new every morning.  When we seem stuck in this sameness, God is declaring that because of His great compassion and love for us, He is doing something new every morning!  The word mercies in Hebrew is derived from the word that is used for womb, the place of the strongest love connection, that between mother and child.  Neuroscience studies have demonstrated that there are changes that occur in the brain of a pregnant woman that get her ready to respond to the cries of her baby.  Within just a few hours of becoming a mother, she can not only distinguish the cry of her baby from the cry of other babies, she can recognize what the different cries mean and respond accordingly.  She knows what her baby needs when it cries.  In the same way, our Father recognizes the cries of His children.  When we cry out to Him, He hears us.  He knows what we need and He responds.  God loves us, wants good for us, and even when it seems as if nothing ever changes, He declares that he gives us goodness every morning.

I have watched my friends this year, friends who have much to lament.  But they keep on going in the face of tragedy and adversity.  (You dear ones know who you are.)  Friends who have lost beloved family members, friends who are facing great hardships and uncertain futures, friends who have received devastating diagnoses from their physicians, and those who are waiting for an adult child to return from the far country.  They keep pressing on in their assignments from God.  I have friends who have been waiting for answers to prayers for years and they remain faithful.  The only way they can do this is because of God’s fresh mercies every morning.  We wait for God to move, but we wait with hope, with expectancy.  That is called faith.

In spite of all the hardships of 2020, I know that there were mercies as well, mercies we might not have received any other way but in our waiting.  As we come to the final weeks of this year, we are still waiting.  Waiting for a vaccine, a cure.  We wait for our country to heal, we wait for God to hear our prayers and send a Great Awakening to America.  We wait for a time when we can be with family and friends with no concern about a virus, when we can go about our lives without masks.  A time when we can return to school and work.  

We lament the losses of 2020 and recognize that the time of loss is not over.  But we can have hope because the God who loves us with great mercy and compassion is still in control.  We can face whatever comes in 2021 because of His great faithfulness.       

A COUNTRY IN NEED OF HEALING

What a year 2020 has been, and it is only half over.  It seems as if there is a new crisis every week.  Let’s just set the virus aside for a moment because I would like to look at our other issues.  If only the coronavirus were our only problem!   There is a revolution that is happening right under our noses.   Shootings, mass murders, vandalism, and riots are almost routine events now.  There are those among us who are destroying our monuments, desecrating our flag, and taking over our cities.  Our national anthem may be replaced.  And our police forces, the people who are there to protect us, now have targets on their backs.  What was formerly seen as evil is know declared good and acceptable; and what we many of us knew as good is now seen as bad.  The ends justify the means.  There is no longer polite discourse.  If I disagree with you that means I hate you.  Our presidential election is now upon us, and it is the most rancorous and divisive I can ever remember.  And there are some who don’t like either of our choices, but are just trying to decide which is the lesser evil.  We are a nation on fire.

 

With our world in chaos it is tempting to ask, “God, where are you?”  As I was wrestling with these thoughts this morning, I felt the Lord say, “Be still.  Come to Me.  Listen and be encouraged.”  He reminds me that He is still on His throne and is still sovereign over the universe.  We may go to our polling places and mark our ballots, but it will be God who decides this election.

 

He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.  Dan. 2:21a NLT.

 

God may decide to use the next election to bring America (and maybe the world) into repentance and right relationship with Him.  And I’m not saying I have any inside knowledge about how He would do that.  He is sovereign; He could use either candidate to accomplish His will.  As mere mortals, and as citizens, we can only try to make an informed choice and pray for the best.

 

But God could also decide that we should get the government we deserve.  Perhaps America is on a fast track to destruction.  Other nations have risen and fallen.  We may also.  I am reminded of the history of ancient Israel.  God set them up as a nation and gave them a land.  He promised to bless them if they would be obedient to His instructions.  For many years Israel prospered, although she was never fully obedient.

 

God’s plan for Israel was a theocracy.  God would be their ruler and protector.  But the people of Israel looked around at the other nations who had kings and asked for a king for themselves.  I Samuel 8:6-9 tells the story:

 

Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”

 

Although we have never been a theocracy, America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.  Our oldest institutes of higher learning once proclaimed Biblical truths, but now they indoctrinate students in secular humanism (and charge a pretty penny to do so).  Like Israel, we have rejected God.  We think we are so much wiser.  And like Israel, we think we can make the best decision about who governs us.  However, God continues to remind us that His ways are higher than ours.  Oh America, I hope it is not too late for us.  I pray that we will repent and return to God.  But in any case, God’s plan will not be thwarted.  He is doing something in the world and He will accomplish His will.  Our job is to pray and trust.

 

Thank you, Lord for allowing us to live in this great land.  We acknowledge that we do not deserve your favor.  You have blessed us abundantly and we have turned our back on you as a nation.  We ask that you bring us back into right relationship with you.  Forgive our sins and bring revival.  And let it begin with me.

The Power and Privilege of Prayer

A friend is very ill today. I pray that God will touch his body and heal him, but if that is not God’s will, I pray for a sweet and peaceful home going.  This man has been a lifelong student and teacher of the Word, and I can imagine Jesus standing at Heaven’s gate eagerly waiting for him. But standing on earth is a wife, family, and friends who don’t want to lose him.  I am praying for his wife, his sweetheart, and his partner in life.  I understand the anguish she is feeling because I was at a similar place five years ago.  And I pray for his family…his siblings, children, and grandchildren.

I hope you will pray for this man (God knows his name), but I’m not writing to talk specifically about him.  I want to talk about the mighty power of prayer and the privilege we have to partner with God by means of prayer.  When Jerry was sick, our family experienced first hand the power of prayer.  Five years later, we are still running into strangers who heard about his illness and prayed for him.  I know that God in His great wisdom does not always say, “yes” to our prayers, but I’m so grateful that He allowed us to keep Jerry a while longer.  I also know that each of us has an appointment with death, and that our life on earth is like a vapor.  God’s “no” is no less loving that His “yes.”

After Jerry recovered, I wanted to learn more about prayer, and I learned a new word: importunate. Importunate prayers are the prayers that please God.  They are the prayers that plead and beg God for a request to be granted.  They are the prayers that pound on Heaven’s door, and will not give up.  The illustration that is used most frequently used to describe importunate prayers is the story in Luke 18 of the unjust judge and the persistent widow.  This woman just would not give up!  The judge finally granted her petition because he was tired of dealing with her. He was annoyed by her pleas.  But God is not annoyed by importunity; He is moved by it.  Importunity is Jacob wrestling all night with God.  It is Daniel, fasting and praying, in sackcloth and ashes.  It is Jesus in Gethsemane.  All through the Old Testament and into the New, we see people of God begging and pleading with Him.  John R. Rice says, “There are some blessings that a Christian will never have without pleading, importunate waiting on God!”  

Today is Good Friday, an appropriate day for us to think about prayer.  Because on this day, God gave all believers access to the throne of Heaven.  The veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn from top to bottom.  Before this day, only the high priest could enter the holy place, and he could only do it once a year.  That veil was a constant reminder that sinful man could not enter into the presence of Holy God.  But now, because of Christ’s sacrifice, we believers can go directly to God with our prayers, any time we want.  And even more wonderful, because of Christ’s death, the Holy Spirit now dwells in us. Emmanuel.  God with us.

What a privilege is prayer. My hope is we will all take time on this holy day to partake of this great gift.  

HYDRANGEAS AND QUIET TIMES

 

I have to give my sister credit for this one.  We were talking on the phone a few mornings ago.  She is in New York visiting her daughter, my niece, Jacque.  Apparently the part of New York where my niece lives (Long Island) produces hydrangeas in abundance.  I can’t even get mine to bloom!  My sister told me that Jacque went into the yard one afternoon to cut some hydrangea blossoms, and brought them into the house and put them in a vase of water.  They quickly drooped, and by the next morning they were gone.  That is when my sister gave Jacque a tip our grandmother had given us. She always cut her roses in the morning and quickly put them in the bucket of water she carried.  Jacque followed this procedure the next morning and the hydrangeas lasted for days.

 

I became curious about why this technique works so well.  I’m so glad I live in the Google age, because one can research anything. And I can’t pick up the phone and call my grandmother anymore.  It seems that early morning is the best time to cut flowers because they have had the benefit of a cooler night and their stems are full of water and carbohydrates. As the day heats up, flowers lose moisture, their stems are less firm, and the blooms become limp.  They have a hard time recuperating when they are cut and brought into the house.

 

So as my sister and I were talking about our grandmother’s advice, she pointed out the parallel of having a quiet time early in the morning, before the day heats up.  I know my day goes better when I start it with the Bible and a conversation with God.  And many times, if I don’t do it in the morning it just doesn’t happen. There are too many distractions during the day.  I am reminded of the last part of Proverbs 8:17: those who seek me early shall find meThere are other places in Scripture that encourage us to be still and alone with God before our day gets hectic. 

 

I knew there had to be a physiological reason why God would tell us to seek Him early.  So again I did a little research on one of my favorite subjects, the brain.  I found out that our brains are actually bigger in the morning!  Researchers using MRI scans found that the brain shrinks during the course of the day, returning to its full size the next morning.  What causes the brain to shrink?  Dehydration!  Just like hydrangeas, the brain loses water during the day.  And at night our brains rehydrate.  Think of a sponge.  When it is dry it is not nearly as big (or useful) as it is when it is fully hydrated. One theory of this mechanism is that fluids from the lower parts of our bodies are redistributed when we are lying down.  Another explanation is that the time of day has something to do with hydration.

 

Our brains are about 85% water, and brain function depends on having that water.  Water is necessary for the brain’s production of hormones and neurotransmitters, and essential for removing toxins.  When our brains are fully hydrated, we are able to think faster, be more focused, and experience greater clarity and creativity.  We are more alert.  And who knows this better than the God who created our brains. Maybe that is why he encourages us to seek Him early, when we can concentrate, when we can fully attend His word, when we can hear Him.

 

Isn’t our God amazing?

 

“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up” – Psalms 5:3

 

 

 

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THE EMPTY CHAIR

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The following is a letter my friend Cathy wrote to some of her friends who have recently lost their mothers.  She gave me permission to share it.  I know too many of my friends are facing an empty chair this Thanksgiving.  You have lost parents and grandparents, spouses, and even children.  Please know I am thinking and praying for you all, even as I type these words.  You are not alone.

THE EMPTY CHAIR

The holidays are coming . . . and I dread the “empty chair”.

You are receiving this letter because you are my friend and we share a common bond. We are each one of six who have experienced the passing of our mother and walked with her through death this past year.

For all of us this has not been a sudden event, rather a long and plodding journey we have travelled with our mothers inch by inch. This journey has brought emotions and questions as each of our mother’s health and function declined and we could see the end coming. In moments of angst and suffering we would wonder when the end would come and yet . . . we embraced her at every turn not wanting to let go. And then . . . we knew the end was near.

As my mother came closer and closer to death in her final weeks, I felt more and more the presence of God. I prayed for His grace and mercy for her soul and mine. Death is a most sacred time . . . a time no one can completely understand, but you know God is near and your loved one is transitioning into the life after death. For all of us this is part of the human experience, we know it is coming, but it takes on a much deeper meaning when you sit by the bedside of the mother you love. You know God is there as you witness the spiritual mystery when her soul leaves her body like a whisper in the quiet of the night. She is gone.

Now after several weeks, I still reflect often on my mother’s life and her passing. And now . . . the holidays are coming and I face the “empty chair”.

As the holidays approach I hope to embrace the gift of the “empty chair”. I know from the life my mother lived that I am worthy of receiving and giving love, joy, and generosity. I know my mother faced challenges, difficult decisions, and made mistakes in her life and yet she endured. She never gave up, but kept on keeping on. This remembrance inspires me to do the same . . . forgive others and yes also myself, when I am weak to remember I can be strong, and know I can be kinder and gentler, more compassionate and empathetic to others.

The empty chair also reminds me of the depth of love within my family and the reason to keep that love alive and make it even richer. I am also reminded of the love of friends and how that love blesses my life and how I want to be that kind of friend to bless others. And . . . walking with my mother and witnessing her death reminds me to turn to a more consistent life of prayer and dependence on God embracing His love and mercy.

All of our mothers lived long lives and they endured and pressed on. And now . . we have the “empty chair”. We have been left with many gifts from the “empty chair” and It is our time to press on, to reflect and examine our own lives and genuinely embrace the joy and pain of life, allowing it to mold us into a better person, one filled with love and hope, kindness and understanding.

As you and your family gather, I pray you, my friend, have holidays filled with an abundance of love and joy and remember the gift of the “empty chair”. Yes there will be tears, but through these tears we have received many gifts.

Keep on “keeping on” my friends . . . and know I will be thinking of you and your family during this holiday season. I am sending abundant wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving and Christmas season with prayers for comfort and peace.

Lovingly,

Cathy