Feasting in the Wilderness

Feasting in the Wilderness

“What keeps you going?”, he asked. It’s a canned question, but meant to give veterans the chance to encourage young missionaries, I suppose. How do I answer that? What remarkable, memorable statement could I utter that would make a lasting impression, maybe even change him forever? My genuine answer, the one my heart immediately trumpeted, was just one very loud word: “Jesus!”. But that’s so expected. I’m a missionary after all, and that’s what you’d expect me to say. How boring. “Jesus, literally, truly, absolutely, keeps me going.” I told him that, not because he expected me to (he didn’t), but because this is one, true thing I know for sure-without-a-doubt.

The sun has set on our Namibia assignment. There was a day, or a week here and there, where I was able to exercise my gifts to teach and encourage others to follow Jesus Christ and know His word. Mostly though, it has been twenty-one months of isolation, of a life un-peopled, of being invisible. So, during our end-of-term review, I had to answer another question posed by my leadership: How has your emotional health been this term? I wrote one word: fragile.

The multiplied hardships that characterize a missionary life, and this assignment in particular, look like a recipe for emotional meltdown. Too often we respond to such a recipe by fighting back, demanding attention, and becoming self-focused. Our soul grows bitter, depressed and rebellious. And I could see it coming. I wasn’t immune.  But meltdown didn’t happen. My soul is healthy!

Most of my needs for friendship, companionship and to be useful (other than within my precious marriage) went unmet month after long month. But my heart danced!  How is that? I am not hardier of character or a “stronger Christian” than other people. A friend once marveled at how I could “just leave my family” for years on end and live far over the ocean. She comforted herself by telling me she supposes I don’t have the same emotions she has so being a missionary comes easy for me. I wanted to punch her, (which is proof that I’m not a “stronger Christian”). It is precisely because of my weakness that Jesus, and only Jesus, is “what keeps me going”. He is my satisfaction, my joy, my salvation, my peace, my Redeemer, my everything.

Jesus. The Holy Spirit took me deeper into the knowledge of Christ through His word. Oh! The depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! [All of the riches of his grace are mine, now, in this situation!] How unsearchable are His judgements. [He, in all His bottomless wisdom, has put me here.] How inscrutable His ways! [Who do I think I am to question His way with me?]

Jesus. God revealed. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. [I am humbled before such a matchless Master.]

Jesus. He has loved me with an everlasting love. I am not my own. [I don’t belong to me.] I was bought with a price. [He paid the price for my sin with his own life, his own blood. He bought me back from my old master, sin. So of course He will protect my wobbly faith.] “Therefore, my soul, glorify God!”

Jesus. The Great I AM. He has come to me, seeing me in my rocking boat, and has passed by, in order that I might gaze on His glory. Oh, listen my soul! It’s not that Jesus gets in the boat with me, takes my storm away and says, “It’s ok, we’re good.” He did not get in my boat but has desired to show me his glory. He beckoned me to look long at Him, at His person and identity. And then I was not afraid, or angry, or demanding to be useful. After all, why would I be?

Jesus. The one who I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. [I have committed the salvation and the preservation of my soul to him. He will keep it. I can stay in my right mind and not give myself up to an attack of doubt or panic.]

Jesus. The one the prophets foretold. The one about whom the Scriptures were written that I might know God and have eternal life. His word is written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. [The hope and comfort I need each day is to be found in Christ as I learn about Him in the Bible.]

Jesus. According to His mercy [not my usefulness] He saved me, through the washing of regeneration [I am baptized into Christ, He claims me as His own!] and renewing of the Holy Spirit [every day, he is continually renewing my soul, helping me change my mind and think rightly about him and others, and myself.]

Jesus. He daily blessed me with his presence and spooned into me the knowledge of Him. He fed me with Himself through reading His word, meditating, accepting his correction and repenting.

And so, one by one, the days passed in pondering Christ rather than myself. My fragility became my strength and my joy. I learned not to recoil from the ache in my heart, but let Jesus use it to make me more like Him, that He would be shown as glorious.

Having learned more about the measure of faith I’ve been assigned, I won’t put God to the test by seeking a second assignment that entails such isolation, though! I won’t court trouble. Trials will come without my looking for them.

Back in my home culture, where life is comfortable, I let down my guard. I know from experience that I eventually lose the fragility and my sense of utter dependence on Jesus Christ. This frightens me. I have feasted too much on Him in this wilderness to be satisfied with any less of Him in the “land of plenty”.

Romans 11:33-36; I Corinthians 7:23; II Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 1; Titus 3:5

Resources that help me to bring God’s word to bear on my soul: Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Unabridged; John Calvin’s Commentary on Psalms; sermons by Aaron Messner  and daily devotion guide .

A Watcher for the Sojourner

A Watcher for the Sojourner

Reading Psalm 146 today, I thought of you, my friends who know what it is to move back and forth between countries, continents and cultures; who experience a life-style of goodbyes. I think of you, the expert at home decorating with whatever is on hand and accomplishing a sense of place inside of two weeks; you who search out local ingredients and invent tasty, once-in-a-lifetime meals that can’t be duplicated in the next location. I think of you, my missionary friend, my military child, who is ever conscious of the truth that we really are pilgrims here, always living in transit.

“The Lord watches over the sojourners.” Sojourner is defined as a person who is living in a place temporarily. What really grabbed my attention in this Psalm is the fact that the sojourner is mentioned right in there with the special attention the Lord pays to the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the blind [and I think we can say the disabled in general], the depressed in spirit, the widow and the orphan. Take another look at this list and we see those who are left behind in the mainstream of social life. They live in the margins, outside of the daily rhythm of public and domestic life. Does that seem like your life? If living is riding a pony on the merry-go-round, these people are the ones sitting on the bench watching, powerless to jump on. We who spend decades of our lives moving from one temporary place to the next are like those who lope alongside the wheel but don’t ever seem to achieve the stride necessary to leap up onto it. And it certainly isn’t going to stop for us. God knows us, my friend. He knows the trials and temptations unique to our sojourner status. He has not forgotten that we are, after all, dust. Our dust is composed of change, uncertainty and temporal transience, never quite fitting in, a part of our heart always someplace where we aren’t. There are trials and temptations that are peculiar to such dust. We are prone to particular sins and weaknesses. Our Father knows this. He knows our dust. And He has a particular promise for us. He will watch over us.

God our Father watches over the sojourner. To watch is to observe attentively over a period of time. He watches without blinking. He doesn’t watch like a casual observer; waiting to see what will happen, or for his entertainment. He is a Watcher who goes before, removing obstacles we don’t even notice. He guards our back from innumerable spiritual attacks which he knows we aren’t ready to face today. He watches for the pit carved out by the enemy to swallow up our restless soul. He watches as our guard, to protect us from misunderstandings or irreparable cultural faux pas . He watches; he sees what you, and I, don’t because we can never completely understand the culture where we are or the assignment we have. There are too many unknowns in our lives; too many blind spots. He knows the unknowns, sees what we never will and Watches out for us, you and I. He watches with intent – the intent to comfort and preserve our souls.

My friends, if our God works justice for the oppressed, frees prisoners, opens blind eyes, lifts up those who are bowed down, relieves the orphan and the widow, you can be sure that He watches you, a sojourner. And you can be confident that His watching is exactly what you need. Trust yourself to his vision and view of things. Rest your soul today, because God is your Watcher and Preserver.

Travel Tales

Yet another transition is approaching.  Notice the first two syllables of  that noun.  More buses, cars, trains and airports.  I muse on past experiences, and I smile now, even if I wasn’t smiling then.  I invite you to smile along as I recall:

Going through security check at the Frankfurt Airport, the officer pulled Paul aside to empty the contents of his carry-on pack. “Too much electronics”, he stated as he pulled out cords, adapters and various devices. His parting shot was an order, “Tuck in your shirt.”

******

It was our flight to Kenya from Lisbon in ’88. A misunderstanding resulted in our family of 6 running through the terminal to board the plane that sat waiting just for us, the late ones. The other passengers sat quietly, buckled in and ready to taxi, and watched the harried parents herd their bouncing little ones down the aisle and into their proper seats. The parents were trying not to be noticed but gave up that notion when the 5-year old claimed a window seat, took a quick look at the “window sill” and hollered, “Mommy, my window won’t open!”

******

Then there was the morphing bag – a nifty, nylon garment bag that folded in half with a shoulder strap at the fold, to be carried like any other thin bag of 36”x36”x6”. Trouble is, in addition to the 3 or four shirts it was designed to carry, hubby tucked all the other items one might (and even what one might not) transport in a normal “carry-on” piece of luggage. These items naturally sank to the ends of the bag when it was folded and mounted up there in a lumpy pile. The weight stretched the sides taut, giving it an “A” shape, making the bag appear much bigger and fuller than it was. As it hung from his shoulder, it looked like a bag that should have been checked. The officials at the gate always thought so, too. Without fail he would be stopped and questioned. Without fail, my man would quickly demonstrate the bag’s wonderful morphing qualities while we pretended we didn’t know him. (Where was our sense of humor, I ask you?) “See, it just scrunches and changes to accommodate itself to whatever space is available in the overhead bin!” What a marvel. We traveled for years with this morphing marvel, the children and I gradually lagging further and further behind the daddy in airport lines to avoid yet another embarrassment. The kids were grown and gone when Daddy finally retired his carry-on garment bag for something more suitable: a fleecy, florescent orange back pack. I guess that’s so Grandma here doesn’t lose sight of him in a crowded transit lounge.

The Endless One

The Endless One

The book my husband and I are reading aloud reminds me of those times when the kids found themselves indoors, in a room together. You remember.

You hear them “playing” in the next room. They call to one another, you hear the thudding of feet hitting the floor, of something hitting the wall, laughing. The pitch rises, the activity escalates to a frenzy, and you know you better step in before the pointless, foolish, nonsensical horse-play turns foul. This is when we, the mom or dad, step in to give direction to the energy. “Stop what you are doing and pick an activity with a beginning and an end.” [Free parenting tip: this instruction directs the rowdy, uncontrolled children to focus on a direction – a game with parameters and boundaries that doesn’t allow for uncontrolled silliness which often results in the youngest of the bunch getting hurt. “Get out the Lego and build something to display on the supper table as our centerpiece. Play Sardines. Play ‘pretend’ where you each have a specific role. Read a book. Go climb a tree. You discuss it and agree on an activity that has rules.” Believe it or not, the kids actually seem relieved to have authority intervene and put a stop to what they, in their childishness, could no longer control.]

It’s the book that never ends. On our e-reader, we’ve been tapping the right of the screen for over a year and there’s still no end in sight. Thinking it would be good to know more about church history, we bought (real cheap) and downloaded “History of the Christian Church – from the 1st to the 19th Century (All 8 Volumes)”. We have read more detailed discussion than I thought could exist about every pope, every reformer and every friend and enemy of each of them.

We’re in Volume 8, the Reformation. We begin to see similarities between the church of the early 16th century and that of northern Namibia today. We have lively discussions, the two of us, as we compare and contrast the past and present, and pray for our Namibian brethren.

Then one day, I tapped the screen to peel off the next layer of discussion on the Calvinistic system of predestination. My eyes glazed over as I looked with disbelief at some very long, very strange words I had never seen before in all my Christian education. Apparently the actual words used in Scripture are not enough to satisfy us as to God’s purposes. These brilliant minds made up new words in order to expand our maze of wanderings in God’s infinite wisdom. Thorough counter-arguments, agreements, and agreements with exceptions postulated by every known theologian from then, to “now” (“now” meaning 1890, the date of publication!) consume hours of our reading time.

Grownups can meander aimlessly in the endless labyrinth of inquiry into Divine mysteries, just as children’s play can be foolishly endless. We, too, must have our thoughts directed. So God steps into our verbosity and redirects us to approach the subject with reverence and a humble sense of the limitation of our mental capacities.

So then, on the workings of God’s grace, the recipients of it and the “timing” of it’s effective application, I offer some of my favorite quotes from our various readings as some “rules to think by” :

“The difference between the two schools [those 2 interminably long words referred to above] is practically worthless, and only exposes the folly of man’s daring to search the secrets of God’s eternal counsel …” Philip Schaff

“There is a learned ignorance of things which it is neither permitted nor lawful to know, and avidity of knowledge is a species of madness.”  John Calvin

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Moses

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?’” Paul the apostle

Paul himself “humbly sits at the brink and adores the depth.” The angels themselves puzzle over God’s grace and mercy revealed through Jesus Christ and His gospel. (I Peter 1:12)

“We are forbidden curiously to enquire into the secret counsels of God and to determine concerning them. … We are directed and encouraged diligently to enquire into that which God has made known … He has kept back nothing that is profitable for us, but that only which it is good for us to be ignorant of. We ought to acquaint ourselves, and our children too, with the things of God that are revealed. … All our knowledge must be in order to practice, for this is the end of all divine revelation, not to furnish us with curious subjects of speculation and discourse …” Matthew Henry

And, finally, one of my favorite hymns is the prelude and postlude to every read-aloud session, reminding me that “the only way out of the labyrinth is the Ariadne thread of the love of God in Christ, and this is a still greater, but more blessed mystery, which we can adore rather than comprehend”. Schaff

I Know Whom I Have Believed

I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me He has made known,
Nor why unworthy – Christ in love redeemed me for His own.

(chorus)
But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.

I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word wrought peace within my heart.

I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word, creating faith in Him.

I know not what of good or ill may be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days, before His face I see.

I know not when my Lord may come, at night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him, or meet Him in the air.

————-
Deut. 29:29; Rom. 11:33-36; I Cor . 2:6-12; Ps. 139:6

Photo: Nampula, Mozambique, May 2008

Disabled But Able*

Disabled But Able*

“DBA”* is painted on the little sign that hangs on the gate. This is the only indication of the business located in the garage on the property. I entered and walked up to the open garage door. Five busy people paused mid-task when I greeted them, “Ngapi … nawa … ewa.” “Good morning. How are you? … “ There were nods, smiles and greetings returned. Though I had stopped by once before, I reintroduced myself. One young man moved a chair for me to where I could sit and observe their work. I was most welcome.

Their director, who unfortunately didn’t appear that day, had earlier indicated to me that this group could use some assistance in various areas, specifically with their cookie recipe and “they also have spiritual needs” he said. Today I was there to observe and learn.

“Kwakukanga icookie,” one lady explained as she and her colleague scooped spoonfuls of dough and placed them on the baking sheets. “We are baking cookies.” I repeat the ruKwangali phrase, the Bantu syllables rolling off my tongue and feeling oh, so familiar. This is their mother tongue and the language I might have learned had this assignment required it. Two of the young men speak English fairly well and were able to answer my questions: Do you have a printed recipe for the cookie? Might I look at it? Though one of the sighted members looked high and low, the recipe was nowhere to be found. I wonder how long they’ve been making cookies now without referring to the recipe.

I sat and just listened to their conversation. I noticed certain grammatical structures similar to the eMakhuwa I learned in Mozambique. I thought I could distinguish personal pronouns and singular nouns from their plural. I picked up on some noun classes. My heart raced as it dawned on me this could be the perfect “language immersion” environment. Rule one of language learning: listen, listen, listen. Here were five people who had been doing the same assembly line task for years and between them could turn out over 300 cookies in four hours with their eyes closed, literally— since two of them are blind! Unselfconsciously they conversed together, amicably, all morning as they scooped and flattened dough balls, put pans in and out of the oven, lifted hot cookies off the pans onto cooling racks and, finally, packaging them ten to a bag to sell in local stores. And I just listened. “If I had started coming here a year ago, I’d be fluent in this language by now,” I thought with chagrin.

My mind drifted to various language-learning environments I’ve experienced. By far, immersion is the most effective language learning recipe, if you will. Our family practiced this method in Portugal when our Spoon Lickers were very little. [Immersion = except for a few key bilingual helpers, you live and move within the local culture, avoiding contact with speakers of your mother tongue.] To get anywhere, to buy anything, to accomplish any task or errand we were forced to use Portuguese. Our children attended the local day care and went to a local school. We chose a church that didn’t have any English speakers. They have their own stories of the immersion experience — some horrific, some hilarious.

I was jerked back into the present by an automated, English voice rattling off a long number sequence followed by something like “this account owing six-hundred [Namibian] dollars, due March 9 …” then another similar message, and on it went. One of the blind gentlemen was “reading his financial statements in English” in the brilliant way technology has provided for those with his visual challenges “This guy is seriously in debt!” I realized with a start. I turned away – (“Should I be hearing this private information? Though no one else here understands, has he forgotten my presence?”) – out of courtesy, before I caught myself. I might as well look right at him, for all the difference it would make.

My eyes roved the wall. Several old posters are mounted which tell what organization has given financial support to the DBA project and the amount given. They obviously seek to receive money from donors.

Another poster declares “Our ability exceeds our disability.” For, indeed, every member has a physical disability, but you’d never know by watching them get those cookies from a state of raw ingredients to the store shelf.

The poster that intrigued me the most, though, was the paper scroll that extends from ceiling to floor entitled “Our Wish List”. It is full from top to bottom. The items higher on the list, the things absolutely necessary to their business of cookie making, all have a check next to them. Item acquired! I’m not sure how the other items fit into the business of turning out a great cookie, however: a lounge set, dishes, silverware, an espresso machine, a car …

I watch the cookies pile up. They are flat as a sheet of paper. They offer me a sample. The texture reminds me of fruit roll-ups. The flavor is pleasant. It has promise. Maybe they could be marketed as “Cookie Roll-Ups”. Their director is right, though. At some point they strayed from the procedures or ingredients indicated in the original recipe and, though there might be other reasons for diminishing sales, this betrayal of the recipe is obvious. I look back up at the Wish List, and the subtle invitations to contribute, publicizing what they believe they need to succeed in business. But, in truth, they have few orders for the cookies and only need to work two mornings a week to fill them. It isn’t a booming business. It is built on a failing cookie. These cheerful, industrious members have great ability. Unfortunately, their cookie is off the mark…

… like our souls: off the mark, sin-sick and disabled. We present a busy, industrious front, too. We have plans and dreams. Then, in the quiet stillness that catches us unaware, is there an unease? Do we sense all is not well and our soul will not be up to carrying us into a bright future? And are we hoping in the remedies our culture offers us to relieve the dis-ease? A stronger self-image maybe? Or let’s try giving the ache a politically or socially correct label in order to feel better without changing anything inside. I know some pay the witchdoctor to perform a ritual promising peace of soul. But when we awake in the wee hours, and silence surprises us, that ache is still stirring. The soul’s dis-ease is not healed by medication or the affirmation of our culture any more than the cookie will be improved by acquiring a lounge chair. There is only one way to improve that cookie: find the recipe and return to following it. There is only one source of hope for our soul.

My soul, wait silently for God alone,
for my expectation is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;

Just as the psalmist ‘preached’ to his own soul, I would remind myself, and you, to do the same. Emphasize the words that denote exclusivity. “God alone… from Him … He only … He is … in God is my … is in God.” The salvation of our soul and the healing of its dis-ease, is God’s territory alone. All that your soul requires for health is found in God through His Word; by knowing Him and obeying His instruction. The Creator of your soul offers absolutely everything your soul needs for its vital health. He is exclusive, though. It’s His way only, His Remedy only, His Provision only, or the soul is tormented for eternity. He means for us to place all our souls expectation in Him exclusively.

DBA’s business is that cookie. Our life is the soul. The soul is all we have, really. It is all there is of us that, sooner or later, slips into Eternity. Shouldn’t we, then, attend to it God’s way with no List of Alternative Hopes?

Psalm 62; 130:5; Proverbs 30:5; II Peter 1:3-4

*Not the real name.

Grandma’s Reflections: Romans 8

Grandma’s Reflections: Romans 8

“Abba! Abba!”, cried a little boy, who raced with his arms lifted high towards a man across the terminal. His Daddy caught him up for a joyous reunion. My son, knowing Whose he is, witnessed this scene upon his arrival in Israel. It was the first of many “Ah! Wow!” moments he and his wife experienced during their visit to that land.

… but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba! Father!”

Meanwhile, on another continent, their children were with me and my husband. While those words from Paul’s letter to the Romans warmed his soul, that same letter was impressing me in another way.

Their youngest, not yet talking, expresses herself with finger jabs and movements reminiscent of a rider on a trotting horse. Then a glottal stop releases into a nasal grunt-squeak. Incomprehensible. But she is insistent. Her gesticulations becomes more rapid. Her brow furrows. Her eyes dart back and forth between this Baba and Grandma as if to say, “I know that you know what I’m saying so why don’t you just — respond accordingly! What’s with you gray-hairs anyway?”

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we don’t know what to pray for as we ought …

Frustrated, I don’t understand her. I want to answer her request appropriately but, more than that, I want her to just stop it! My frailty knows the temptation to lose patience, to tune out or to (imagine!) be offended that she isn’t acting “properly” towards me, almighty adult that I am. It occurred to me that my Heavenly Father never loses patience with my stuttering in his ear, nor takes offense because I dare to approach Almighty God with my limited understanding of Him.

The incident passed, on to the next need to be met … (God feeds mothers of tiny ones, and babysitting Grandmothers, in little bites as they go along. Quiet, alone- time for prayer might not happen every day.) Honesty, the next need to be met probably had to do with the trash. More incomprehensible than the baby’s whining was how to dispose of the cellophane on the cardboard packaging, or where to throw the metal jar lid. There must be five or six receptacles in every German home, each receiving its own, specific type of “throw away” item. They call it recycling. I call it crazy. I met a lady who, after her first visit to this place, returned home with her used dental floss in her suitcase because she didn’t know how to dispose of it in Germany! I didn’t even understand the booklet, written in English, explaining the system. I fear that if I ever return the immigration officer will scan my passport after which a siren will sound and a warning will flash across his screen: “Plastic container found in rubbish bin after last visit. Danger to society. Apprehend immediately.” But I digress. Romans is not about being patient with babies. It’s about the privileges granted to God’s true children. The message is not“recycle”, but restoration.

…but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God …

We are weak in prayer. We don’t know how we should pray because we don’t fully comprehend God’s will and can’t pray in agreement with HIm. We don’t know what to ask. We are shortsighted and very much biased in favor of the flesh [our nature that seeks to gratify our self]. We are distracted, poking our finger here and there, uttering insistent, loud noises, thinking that we know what we need. But the Spirit of God knows us better than we know ourselves and he knows God’s desires and plans. So, His Spirit in us (given freely to only those who accept adoption) helps us, or ‘heaves/lifts with us’. He interprets our requests, and Christ himself intercedes on our behalf. When our soul is so troubled that articulate prayer is impossible, the Spirit knows our heart and knows how to line it up in accord with the will of the Father. What patient attentiveness! That He should take the cries of His children so seriously; that He should have made such a perfect way for them to approach Him, anytime, anywhere and in any circumstance; that He should attend to them; that He brings his divine character to bear upon their case, unfolding His response so that all things work for the good of His children and for His glory — this is a certainty for us to dwell upon, to rest in.

The opening chapters address sin, God’s wrath and judgement, our darkened understanding and rebellion against God, the brokenness of all His creation, and what we all justly deserve. The message is doom for those not in Christ. And then it surges into hope, redemption and the guarantee of restoration, addressed to those who receive Christ. The restoration of creation is the greater theme. Why, in our moments of quiet solitude, do we detect a whisper of unnamed longing in our soul? Every request is fundamentally a prayer to restore a body or a relationship, to restore fruitfulness to our fields, to mend a broken vocation, or our honor, or the government, the economy, society, to return our joy, to give back to us what we had before sin entered the world … “Restore!” is the cry of our soul. We long for the promised consummation of our redemption and the complete restoration of all creation, perfect and complete. The Father who hears and takes seriously our babbling is the same Father who will return to this earth as the victorious, resurrected One, the Vindicator, the Just, the One who will ultimately, finally, restore all that concerns me and all that concerns Him. He understands our groaning in prayer for what it really is. “Abba! My own Daddy! Please come make everything all right.” At just the perfect time, He will.

—————-
photo: 2nd generation spoon licker
extra-biblical source: Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary

Is That ALL?

Is That ALL?

“Is that ALL?”, I fairly shouted at God. After asking Him, beseeching Him earnestly for rain; after days of watching the storms come close but then skirt our town, the thunderheads rolled in. I had been watching them all day as they slowly crawled up to us. Before evening they arrived, and the rain did fall, hard and promising. I stood at the kitchen window to watch this answer to prayer unfold. Audibly, I thanked the God who sent it our way this time. However, the yard of sand was barely wet before the clouds released just one, final dribble, thus ending what had barely begun. And I was incredulous. I heard a loud whine – “Really, God? Is that all you’re giving us after such a long and hopeful wait?” Oops. That voice was mine. …

“Is that all?” It’s December 26th. Maybe you heard the whine from a child. Or maybe you thought it. The post-Christmas let down. Then there’s a hazy, nagging disappointment at the close of a happy event, meeting or conversation. You had somehow expected — more. And then there are the large and looming disappointments, like:

the end of a relationship – “Is this it, then? After all these years is this ALL?”,
or looking back on years of living in hard-to-be places so that some might come to know Christ Jesus, and asking “Is this it? All my life for this small handful of fruit? Really, God?”
or studying hard for that one degree that will get you that job that will get you that career …but it doesn’t work out that way and you sputter “Really, God? Is this ALL I’m to expect?”

Ah, you and I, once young, rising stars who could go anywhere and do anything. The older, wiser ones nodded and smiled, and waited to see what we’d become. The brightness has now faded into a glow. We are ordinary after all. Are you tempted to disappointment? “Is this all, Lord?” Had we expected more fruit, or more affirmation, or to be more cherished, or for more in our 401K? Let’s be careful that the questions we pose, silently or audibly, do not stem from a bitter root of chronic disappointment.

A chronically disappointed person is, at the root, a person in rebellion against God. Pow. Pretty strong statement there, but I didn’t make it up. From Genesis (or at least Exodus 16) all the way through to the apostles’ specific teachings (especially Hebrews 3:7-19) to those of faith in Christ we are warned: ungratefulness = unbelief = disobedience = rebellion = sin (= death). A chronically disappointed heart is a complaining heart. Complaining isn’t really against other people or circumstances; it is really ultimately against God. It is saying, “I am not getting my due, so therefore God isn’t really good. I would do it differently, better. I would be a better god than God.” Does this ring a bell? Know of anyone who has taken action on that premise? So, yes, this is serious stuff. My innocent outburst against the rain stopping may not have been so innocent. Our spontaneous expressions of exasperating disappointment are red flags that direct us to peer into our own hearts and identify sin that may be hiding there. Due to the eternal goodness of God, He is eager to grant us repentance.

So what does repentance look like in this case? Romans 2:4 is a good start. First, you and I must own up to our unbelief. This is called confession. Repentance means to stop going one way, to turn and go a different direction. God’s goodness is meant to turn us. We want to choose the road of chronic gratefulness instead.

… I clapped my hand over my mouth, and went to study my wall map, which is a visual tool I’ve created to help me cultivate gratefulness. This is where I note the ways God’s goodness is clearly visible to me. The map is quickly filling with notes of gracious over-and-above blessings, the sequence and timing of each one truly remarkable, gifts with my name on it from my Heavenly Father. The little “overflowing bowl” icons I draw by each note far outnumber the little icons identifying activities and outcomes that might be in the “Is this all?” category. Clearly, then, God is more interested in sustaining, supporting and encouraging me than he is in waving successes and fruits of my labor before my eyes. His will for you and me is to believe Him with a thankful heart. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord [have you?], so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving [italics mine].” Col. 2:6, 7  I am amazed, humbled. How dare I not believe in His sovereign goodness. How dare I not overflow with thanksgiving?

“It this all, then? That’s IT?” Yes, for some things it is. The time comes to recognize the end of some events, some seasons. It is with thankfulness that we do so because we know that God is good in all He does. “Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! [That would be you and me.] For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.” Ps. 107:8

At the edge of my map I have written these verses:
My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure. … Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it. Is. 46:10, 11

This is NOT all!, the Only Just, Righteous, Good God has declared! There is more! He is not finished! No one, nothing, will derail or stop Him from completing His good plan for you and me, and all His creation. So, hold your tongue when the rain stops – unless it speaks from a grateful heart.