The train is now departing. I stand upon the platform and I wonder, Did I choose rightly when I chose to stay? Is this the better way? What life would now be starting If I had stepped aboard and joined the thunder Of racing steel and distant storms, away From where I stand today?
But who could say?
Life is a series of decisions, Of written words without revisions. I wish I never made mistakes. I often do. Yet on clear tracks and in collisions, You meet our needs with good provisions. Through all that mends and all that breaks, You remain you.
Note: A quick Google search revealed that the line “Life is a series of decisions” has been used in many other works. While I didn’t have any specific source in mind when I decided to use that line, I recognize that the wording isn’t original to me.
Make me the man that you want me to be E’en if I do not want to be that man. Teach me to trust you when I cannot see The purpose in the details of your plan. Help me to hope when tempted to despair At circumstances greater than my strength, To trust that, in the darkness, you are there With love beyond all height, depth, width, and length. Show me myself, and make me truly know The greatness of my need and of your grace. Remind me you are with me as I go, And lead according to your path and pace. Lord, search me, try me, know me, make me new. Let all my life be lived in love of you.
I make my pray’r to you. You answer, “No.” And I don’t understand your reasoning. I ask to stay, but you call me to go. ‘Tis daily bread with bitter seasoning. I try to turn my grief into a gift: My heart’s desires become my offering. But I can’t see the rescue in the rift, And sov’reign love feels much like suffering. In seasons such as this, my faith is stretched, A stretching that is needed though it hurts. And through the test, your grace and truth are etched Upon my heart more deeply and convert My ignorance and fear to trust in you, The God of love who’s making all things new.
The psalmist waited patiently for you And then bore witness to your care and grace. Relief followed the waiting like the dew After a night when darkness hid your face. Though you are never absent, we may not Detect you in the time before the dawn. Your promises—oft doubted, oft forgot— Prove true, a hope long hidden, never gone. But patience is required, for though the end Is certain, yet it does not come too soon. You use the time we wait to break and mend. In silence, we learn how to sing in tune. So hope, though time be now a source of strain. Our waiting on the Lord is not in vain.
Fasting seems like a great idea until you feel hungry.
I’ve tried to fast more regularly over the last year or so. Jesus seems to expect it of his followers (Matthew 6:16-18), and I’ve heard many speak of it as a key part of their spiritual journey. And yet, while I’ve always understood fasting to be a spiritual discipline, I’ve tended to see it as lesser in importance than other disciplines. If I don’t devote daily time to Bible reading and prayer, I feel off. If I miss a few days of journaling, I can sometimes detect a shift in my perspective. But fasting? Sometimes fasting doesn’t even cross my mind.
So I followed a buddy’s recommendation and tried to set a time each week to practice this discipline. I placed a reminder on my phone’s calendar so I wouldn’t forget, making a choice to form a habit. And initially, I felt great.
Then I would get hungry. Or I would be invited to grab lunch with someone. Or I’d be given food of some kind. Often, the first challenge to my resolve would result in me eating, in a break of the fast. The plan that seemed so simple in theory became increasingly difficult to fulfill in practice.
Ultimately, this is to be expected. Fasting is a clear denial of the self, a deliberate choice to abstain from food in order to seek the Lord, to lay your requests before him, to abide in Christ. When you fast, you embrace temporary discomfort to press into eternal comfort, experiencing the emptiness of your stomach as you open your hands before the Lord. It’s an act of faith, of hope, and of love. And such acts aren’t always comfortable, nor should we expect them to be. Self-denial, even in small measure, may be deeply felt.
But the discomfort of self-denial teaches us. When I see how quickly I break a fast to be filled with food, I realize how deeply I depend upon what is seen and felt and how little I depend upon him who is not so immediately perceived. My failures in fasting reveal my misplaced priorities. But they also provide opportunities for growth. When I see my weakness, I learn to pray for deeper dependence upon the Lord, deeper faith in his provision, deeper love for him. I learn to seek contentment in Christ rather than in my circumstances. I learn to wait on the Lord rather than seeking the speedy fulfilment of my desires.
I’m still not good at fasting, but I want to develop the habit. I want to see more clearly my dependence on the Lord and better understand his provision. I want to grow in faith and hope and love, denying myself a meal to be more deeply satisfied in the Maker. And I pray the Lord would sanctify me in the process.
I don’t mean to suggest that God might fail to provide for his people, that he may somehow lack the power of sufficiency to be for us all we need. He possesses all power and glory, lacking nothing. Objectively, he is enough for us. I’m asking instead whether I recognize his sufficiency and rest in that truth. And the answer, sadly, is that I often don’t.
I’m reading Deuteronomy, and I found myself challenged by a thought I had when reading through chapter ten. After some description of Israel’s journey, Moses writes,
At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD to stand before the LORD to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day. Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The LORD is his inheritance, as the LORD your God said to him.
The tribe of Levi was given a special role, a particular ministry. God provided for them too, but he did so in a different way than he provided for the other tribes. He was Levi’s inheritance.
I realized as I read that I would have likely felt a bit discontent with my lot if I was a Levite. Instead of considering what might be meant by “The LORD is his inheritance,” my mind fixated on “Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers.” I focused more on what would be withheld than on what would be given, more on the difference in provision than in the provision itself. I read the words “The LORD is his inheritance” and thought, “Would that be enough for me?”
One great benefit of this year has been the shaking of every shakeable foundation. For so many of us, our sources of comfort have been exposed and lost, some for a time and some forever. What once kept us content and happy can do so no longer. And as we panic at the loss of security, we face afresh the question I returned to in my devotional time: Is the LORD enough for me?
I confess that I don’t trust him like I should. I don’t rest in him like I could. I look more to what he’s withheld or taken than to what he’s given. I cling to fleeting things in the face of the eternal. But he gives more grace, allowing further setbacks, further confusions, further losses. And with each new challenge, I’m given the opportunity to love him, trust him, wait for him, hope in him, rest in him, and live for him. He tests my faith that I might grow, shattering all insufficient idols out of love. I’m tired and I’m torn, but I’m thankful, and I pray that I’ll pass the test, that faithfulness will be my response no matter the trial. He is enough. Let me learn to trust him.
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.
As Hopkins saw, your grandeur does not pale, Does not diminish though we sin and stain Ourselves and earth. We work in pride and pain. And through it all, your purposes prevail. How can it be that we, so foul and frail, Do not exhaust your grace? For grass and grain And goodness still persist. You give us rain And wrap us in provision. Though we fail To follow, you forgive and give us love, Your character conveyed in ev’ry sign And ev’ry word, a freshness undefiled. Decay, despair, and death touch not the dove Who brings in darkness brightness so divine And choicest comforts for the fearful child.
This poem was inspired by Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “God’s Grandeur,” drawing on some of his themes and imagery and asking some further questions.
Comparison, come to kill again, quick
To cripple, curse, cry foul, foment, and feed
Confusion till desire seems more like need.
God’s grace grows grey, his manna makes me sick
Even as it sustains me. Still I stick
Stock in distinctions, hear his call but heed
Too my brother’s call. He blossoms. I bleed.
Truth bids me trust. I tremble and cry, “Trick!”
Dethrone, O God, the god of my making,
Myself as ultimate, false comfort, chief
Of my affections choking out true love,
Unlovely leech of joy. Set to breaking
My false assumptions and restore belief
In your good will and all my lot thereof.