Provision

Some hopes are dashed upon the throne of grace,
Are lifted up in pray’r to be denied.
And though it seems the Father hides his face,
We need not fear that he will not provide.
But his provision oft is of a kind
Perceived unkind while in the midst of loss.
What he deems “need” is diff’rently defined.
Sometimes the crown is traded for the cross.
But crosses borne in faith will always form
Our souls as needed, so we need not fret.
His grace suffices for the fiercest storm.
None who trust full in him shall feel regret.
But it is faith—not sight—that shows the way.
God is our shepherd. We need ne’er dismay.


Photo by John Joumaa on Unsplash

When God Says, “No”

Sometimes, God says, “No.”

You submit your request to God, trusting that he knows best but hoping he’ll fulfill your desire. But he doesn’t.

I’ve wondered before if he doesn’t grant my requests because I’m asking wrongly. James wrote of this problem, defining the error as asking “to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). So I’ve prayed for the Lord to help me to ask rightly, to purify my desires. I’ve been convicted of sins and have repented of idolatry. I’ve begun to think about prayer differently, reevaluating my intentions and goals as I bring my requests to the Lord. But sometimes his answer remains “No.”

I’ve also wondered if he doesn’t grant my requests because of my lack of faith. Maybe I’m just not trusting him enough. Maybe I’m failing to exhibit the faith spoken of in Hebrews 11. Maybe I give up too quickly and simply need to be persistent in prayer like the widow in Luke 18. So I’ve prayed more boldly, more persistently, more hopefully. I’ve begun to consider what praying in faith might mean, how long persistent prayer should typically last, what the Lord had in mind when he taught on prayer. But sometimes his answer remains “No.”

I rarely understand the reason for his “No.” I’ve questioned, sought, wondered, and cried, but I don’t have many answers. But I have a history of experiences that testify to the goodness and faithfulness and love of God. Though I often didn’t understand his purposes in such seasons, I can look back and see how every “no” was for good reason. I also have a deeper love of the Lord and trust in him borne from extended seasons of unfulfilled desires. As I waited on him, he shaped my soul, humbled my heart, and renewed my mind.

I haven’t risen above the fear and worry that often come when God withholds what I request of him. I’m far from perfect faithfulness. But I think, by the grace of God, I’m growing. I reflect on his work in my life thus far, and I am comforted. His answer may be “No,” but his purpose remains good. So I have hope for all present and future circumstances, hope grounded not in what I can see or feel in the moment but in what I know to be eternally true: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).


Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

Ingesting the Bible

I believe reading the Bible is important, but I don’t always devote the time to read it well. Granted, I’ve gotten better over the years, generally improving as I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work for me. But I still feel like I could be doing more.

Ideally, I spend some time in the early morning reading through a couple of chapters, underlining things that stand out and making notes. This helps me process what I’m reading, working it into my mind and heart. And while this is good, I sometimes abbreviate the process for time. I’ll just read one chapter, moving quickly through it without making any marks on the page. I’ll try to find a thought to keep chewing on as I go, but I’m often not really focused. I’m checking my Bible reading off of my daily to do list rather than truly seeking communion with the Lord of hosts.

Sometimes schedules can’t be helped. While the uncertainties of life and the irregularity of schedules make the prioritization of time with the Lord all the more important, these realities can also lead us to get creative with our approach to Scripture. I’ve found two approaches to be particularly helpful.

  1. Scripture memory
    Some friends from college used to memorize Scripture while they worked out, reciting verses between reps. Seeing them internalize the Bible encouraged me to pursue Scripture memory more intentionally, something I hadn’t done consistently since high school. While I’m still not good at it, I’ve found that memorization is a profoundly meaningful discipline. No matter where I am, I can think through a memorized passage of Scripture, repeating it in my mind and chewing on its meaning and implications. The more you go over a passage, the more you see in the text. You’ll spot connections you hadn’t noticed before, find encouragement you didn’t realize you needed, and be challenged to trust in all circumstances. Memorization can be a daunting exercise, but it doesn’t have to be. Chances are you’ve already got some lines of Scripture committed to memory simply by way of repeatedly coming across them over the years. Pick a favorite passage and read over it often, working it into your mind and heart as you do.
  2. Listening
    I’ve recently been enjoying the Dwell Bible app. Dwell collects passages of Scripture on various subjects into playlists of varying lengths, making it easy to spend some focused time on a specific biblical theme or story. It also offers listening plans for working through larger sections of Scripture. By allowing you to jump into any chapter in the Bible, Dwell makes consuming the Bible easy. I usually put a few playlists or passages on a queue to listen to as I fall asleep, allowing me to focus on the Bible at the end of the day. I tend to get more from physically reading the Bible than from listening to the Bible, but I’ve still found listening to be a tremendous help to my spiritual life.

The Lord is faithful to use his Word in our lives, whether we approach it through the physical page, the memorized passage, or the audible playlist. In each case, as we turn our attention to the Bible, we meet the truth and are changed. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t seem to maintain the consistency you’d like in your devotional readings. Keep pursuing faithfulness, adjusting your schedule as you can to make time for what is of utmost importance. And don’t be afraid to incorporate some fresh ways of ingesting the Bible into your daily life.


Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

Redeem

How can you redeem what I have done?
I have sought solace in sin,
worshiped idols, chose
self over you.
True,
you are sovereign still,
ruler over every realm.
But how I rebel,
rejecting life,
desiring death.
I wound
myself as well as
those I love
less than I love myself
but more than I love you.
I have no excuse,
no plea but your pardon,
no hope but your help.
Salvage me
that I might be useful,
perhaps even
faithful.
May it be.
Have mercy.
Redeem even me.

Photo by Zane Lee on Unsplash

When and Where He Leads

The Lord’s ways are not always predictable.

In Numbers 9, we read of how the Lord led the people of Israel in the wilderness.

So it was always: the cloud covered [the tabernacle] by day and the appearance of fire by night. And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped.

Numbers 9:16-17

The plan was fairly simple: when the cloud lifted, the people moved; when the cloud settled, the people camped. The Lord, it seems, clearly set the direction and the schedule for the journey.

But while the plan seemed consistent throughout the journey, the schedule fluctuated. Sometimes the stay was simply overnight, sometimes it was for a few days, and sometimes it lasted for a month or more. Regardless of the length of the stay, however, the people obeyed.

At the command of the LORD the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the LORD they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp.

Numbers 9:18

Things may not be so different for us today. Although the Lord’s methods may have changed (I don’t know anyone who moves or stays based on the leading of a cloud), the Lord still directs our paths and our timelines. Some follow him to a new city only to be called away after a year or so while others remain for years. Some follow him into ministry positions for brief seasons while others devote decades to the same work. Whether work, relationships, ministries, homes, schools, or any number of things, the seasons these things last aren’t always what we’d expect. His ways truly aren’t our ways. Nonetheless, he knows the way, and his timing is right.

I wonder if Israel ever wanted to stay but were called to go. I wonder if they ever wanted to go but were called to stay. I’m sure we can each relate to such feelings. The Lord doesn’t always lead in ways we find comfortable. We lay our requests before the Lord, but we do not always get our way. Many of our hopes and plans are dashed upon the throne of grace. But the Lord remains good, the guide in the darkness, the provider in the wilderness, the certainty in the uncertain, the true hope for the future. He doesn’t always tell us his plans or reveal his purposes, and, when he does, they don’t always align with our own. Still, he is trustworthy, steadfast, faithful, kind. His love endures, and he remains worthy of our worship.

So follow him. Let us be like Israel here, attentive and obedient to the Lord’s leading. No matter when or where he leads, trust him to know best. And rest in his loving lordship over your life.


Photo by 辰曦 on Unsplash

Poets

The poets worshiped you through verse and rhyme,
Turned their imaginations to the task
Of translating eternity to time
That image bearers might be brought to bask
In light refracted through a humble lens,
Refracted so to share a diff’rent view
Of beauty. Souls in wonder took up pens
And wrote to cultivate their love of you.
One wonders if the words will ever cease,
If all might soon be said, each rhyme fulfilled.
But throes of life persist, and words bring peace,
So movement of the quills will not be stilled.
Rise up, you poets, scribes of humble soul,
To teach and train us better to extol.


Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash

What is Best

God gave Moses specific instructions regarding sacrifices, priests, relationships, rest, and a number of other subjects, and his instructions are recorded in the book of Leviticus. As you read through the book, you begin to realize something: the Lord requires the best, not merely the comfortable or the convenient.

Take sacrifices, for example. Only specific types of animals are accepted, and acceptable animals often must be without blemish and of a certain age. The people couldn’t simply give God the wounded or small of the flock, the weak or the unwanted; they had to give their best. The same goes for the priesthood. The holiness of the role of priest seems to be illustrated in the high standards God set forth for those who could hold such a role. God’s servants couldn’t behave any way they chose; they were to be, in a way, the best of the people, the model of obedience and holiness.

God’s standards haven’t changed. He still requires the best of us. “You therefore must be perfect,” Jesus said, “as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). He wills our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), and he remains “the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 22:32).

Such sanctification is not always convenient or comfortable. Paul chose his words well when he called us to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). We heed the call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23), a worthy yet difficult calling. Discipline and correction factor regularly into the process (Hebrews 12), as does grace for our failures (1 John 2:1-2). He refines us, molds us, and purifies us, and the process is often painful. He requires the fullness of our hearts, minds, and spirits. He requires the best of us.

It’s encouraging, then, to remember that God not only requires the best from us, but he also does what is best for us. He causes all things to work together for good, holding us in his unfailing love (Romans 8). He knows us intimately (Psalm 139), cares for us deeply (1 Peter 5:7), and gives wisdom for the journey (James 1:5-8). He doesn’t merely do what is convenient or comfortable in our lives. Indeed, his work may feel at times like a wound (consider Paul’s wrestling with the thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12). But because the Lord is good, we can trust him in all circumstances, all seasons, all stations of life. He will always do what is best. Indeed, he has already done what is best for us by giving us the perfect, spotless lamb to save us, meeting our greatest need and ensuring he will not fail us in our lesser needs (Romans 8, James 1).

So let us offer our best to the Lord, withholding nothing as we learn to love and serve him better. Let us understand that he is worthy of our best, worthy of our very lives. And let us rest in the truth that God loves us and will always do what is best, trusting that “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3:5-8

Photo by Tanner Yould on Unsplash

Who Are You?

Who are you? Majestic Maker of all
That moves and all that remains still. You fill
With fullness all spaces, unperceived, call
Dead things to life, direct with perfect will
Without removing our ability
To truly love and to be loved by you.
You are the true source of tranquility,
The good shepherd, trustworthy, steadfast through
Every scene of the story. You are
The center and the circumference, all-
Encompassing and all-surpassing, far
Beyond, nearer still. Somehow you still call
Our small souls into fellowship and free
Our idol eyes to readjust and see.


Photo by Zach Betten on Unsplash

In Whatever Situation

Have you ever been discontent with your own discontentment?

Many life experiences can bring about discontentment. Maybe it’s your job situation. You can’t seem to find a position that fits, you aren’t being compensated for the extra work you’ve been given, or you were let go in spite of hopes to continue on. Or maybe it’s your relationship status. The relationship in which you invested has come to an end, or maybe the relationship you now have doesn’t fulfill you like you’d hoped. Or maybe it’s your church. You find division where there should be unity, arrogance where there should be humility, distractions where there should be devotion. You can fill in the blank with almost anything. Discontentment isn’t rare.

A strange thing can occur in some cases, however. As time passes, you may find yourself becoming discontent with your own discontentment. You know the Lord is your provider, that he gives peace and joy in abundance. Yet you can’t seem to shake the feelings of discontentment, and you feel ashamed. You feel as if you should be past this, as if your struggle shouldn’t last so long. You feel weak for still feeling so helpless.

True, we shouldn’t grow content with discontentment. A healthy dissatisfaction with the state of mind is right and good. However, we needn’t hold ourselves to unhealthily high standards. I sometimes feel as if I ought to stifle any emotions that have overstayed their welcome, denying or overlooking any feelings that persist beyond a comfortable time frame. But such an approach is unrealistic. We progress at different paces, adjust to new seasons in various ways, and heal more slowly than we’d like sometimes. Because of this, feelings of discontentment may indeed last longer than we think they should, and such extended seasons can humble us.

Thankfully, the solution to discontentment remains the same: the power of Christ. As Paul expressed by his personal testimonies in 2 Corinthians 12 and Philippians 4, the power of Christ enabled him to face any situation with contentment, even extended suffering. In all seasons, Paul understood that the Lord was his shepherd, his provider, his protector. Faith in this truth freed Paul from looking to anything else as a source of contentment.

Finding contentment in Christ doesn’t necessarily mean seasons will pass more quickly. It won’t make life easier. You’ll still be bummed sometimes, still be hurt sometimes, still struggle to feel okay sometimes. And I think that’s part of the point. As we feel deeply the strangeness of this world, we see clearly its inability to be for us all we’d like it to be. The insufficiency of the world reminds us of the sufficiency of Christ. So look to Christ. No matter the circumstance, look up to the Savior. In your weakness, he is strong.


Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash