Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
Henry Cloud tells a story. A scientist did a study on fear. He had a monkey in a cage. He wired the monkey with sensors and then scared the monkey. He could then measure the response of the monkey to fear and the monkey’s reaction went off the charts. He then began to explore what would lower the monkey’s stress and fear. The only answer: putting another monkey in the cage. The fear reactions were lowered by half.
Life takes courage! Writing and publishing take courage and we are thankful for others who are with us on the journey.
God has given us people to help us navigate our time here on earth without fear: spouses, friends, family, co-workers, even sisters.
Who is in your cage with you? It could make all the difference.
It seems a little pointless sometimes-putting together collections of words, sending them out into the void of the world. Does it matter?
I am moved by the words of Sara Groves in her song “Why It Matters”. The lyrics were inspired by Vedran Smajlović, a former cellist in the Sarajevo String Quartet. During the Siege of Sarajevo, he played his cello in the bombed out buildings and on the streets where mortars had killed his neighbors and friends. He called this “a protest of the darkness” and spoke of his cello as a weapon.
Our efforts of creating art and music and writing matter. We can send them out “as a protest of the darkness.” Or as Sara Groves writes we can see our efforts as “small ramparts for the soul”.
Like the statue in the park
Of this war torn town
And its protest of the darkness
And the chaos all around
With its beauty, how it matters
How it matters.
I am reminded that Beauty in the world combats evil and darkness. We have a choice to be part of that Beauty.
As we close our series together our individual journeys continue. We continue our efforts to draw near to God with the full assurance that He is waiting for us and he is holding out His offer of grace.
May it be our blessing, as the years go on, to add one grace to another, and advance upward, step by step, neither neglecting the lower after attaining the higher, nor aiming at the higher, before attaining the lower. The first grace is faith, the last is love; first comes zeal, afterwards comes loving-kindness; first comes humiliation, then comes peace; first comes diligence, then comes resignation. May we learn to mature all graces in us; fearing and trembling, watching and repenting, because Christ is coming; joyful, thankful, and careless of the future, because he is come. Karl Barth
The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace. Numbers 6:22
Thank you for journeying with us these past thirty days. May God bless you as you continue the journey.
One of the things that gets in the way as we draw closer to God is our pride.
Humility is perpetual quietness of heart. It is to have no trouble. It is never to be fretted or vexed, or irritable, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing that is done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised, it is to have a blessed home in myself where I can go in and shut the door and kneel to my Father in secret and be at peace, as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and about is seeming trouble. Andrew Murray
Humility is not a matter of beating ourselves up. It is not a question of judging ourselves as stupid or sinful, as hopeless or bad. Who are we to judge these things? Humility, it seems, is the gentle acceptance of that most tender place inside ourselves that throbs with the pain of separation from the Beloved. It is that deep knowingness that identification with the false self brings nothing but further separation. It is an initially reluctant dropping down into the emptiness and an ultimate experience of peace when we stop doing and rediscover simple being. . . when we heed the call to cease creating and remember that we are created. Mirabai Starr, Dark Night of the Soul
Can we release the focus on ourselves and shift it to God?
As we draw closer to God, we become more and more aware of our sin. What can we do? How do we accept forgiveness from God, much less forgive ourselves?
Do you dare release the person you are today from the shadow of the wrong you did yesterday? Do you dare to forgive yourself? To forgive yourself takes high courage. Who are you, after all, to shake yourself free from the undeniable sins of your private history—as if what you once did has no bearing on who you are now? Where do you get the right—let alone the cheek—to forgive yourself when other people would want you to crawl in shame if they really knew? How dare you?
The answer is that you get the right to forgive yourself only from the entitlements of love. And you dare to forgive yourself only with the courage of love. Love is the ultimate source of both your right and your courage to ignore the indictment you level at yourself. Lewis Smedes, Forgive and Forget
What do you think happens when God forgives our sin? Is it God changing and suddenly reassessing us? Is it God deciding to waive some eternal and required punishment? No! Nothing happens in God. God is a perfect given-ness, totally and always given, literally fore-given, ahead of time, before our act of receptivity.
God does not change; we change. Here is what is happening in the experience of forgiveness; When God’s arms are tight enough around us, when for a moment we can believe in love, when we let God gaze into our eyes deeply enough and are ready to believe it, then we’re able to let God rob us of our sins! God pulls them out of our pocket while holding us in an intimate and intense gaze. It is the only time we are quite happy to be robbed! Richard Rohr, Radical Grace: Daily Meditations,
Can you forgive yourself? Can you accept His forgiveness?
Where is God in the dark times? How do we make sense of the oppression we experience in the world? Can we live in victory?
The city of Brussels is known for its exquisite lace. In the famous lace shops, there are certain rooms devoted to the spinning of the finest and most delicate patterns. These rooms are altogether dark, except for the light from one tiny window that falls directly upon the pattern. . . Lace is always more delicately woven when the worker himself is in the dark and only his pattern is in the light.
As God weaves His pattern into the fabric of our lives, sometimes we sit in a “darkened room.” The darkness seems suffocating. We can’t understand what He’s doing and can’t discover any possible good in the darkness. Yet, if we fix our focus on our faithful Weaver, we will someday know that the most exquisite work of all our life was done in those days of darkness. As I look back over my life, my deepest intimacy with Him has come from the dark times. Linda Dillow, Calm My AnxiousHeart
The retina of my soul develops macular holes of blackness. . .That which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him, to the God whom we earnestly crave. Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts
As we draw near to God and walk with Him, over time we begin to see some of our dark times brought us closer to Him. Have you experienced dark times?
Moments along our life’s journey provide glimpses into the mystery of God. We hold a newborn and are filled with wonder. We sense that there is more.
Jesus leads us to understand the psalmist’s sons in terms representative of all intimate and personal relationships. He himself did not procreate children, yet by his love he made us all sons and daughters. . . Among those around us we develop sons and daughters, sisters and brothers even as our Lord did with us. Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
If I were to name my own most profound or theological experience, without hesitation I would cite the birth of my three children. This has nothing to do with my fondness for babies as such. . .Rather, each birth was a glimpse into the mystery of Creation and Incarnation. . . It is time that, in the words of the mystic, Meister Eckhart, we attend to the new life in us. Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening
Tend only to the birth in you and you will find all consolation, all delight, all being and all truth. Reject it and you reject goodness and blessing. What comes to you in this birth brings with it pure being and blessing. But what you seek or love outside of this birth will come to nothing, no matter what you will or where you will it. Meister Eckhart
We begin to see that we not only have biological children but spiritual children; not only a biological birth but a spiritual birth. Embracing these moments draws us closer to God.
We are made to crave happy endings. We want everything to end well in the movies we watch, in the books we read and especially in our own lives. But every ending is not happy.
For the happy ending is intrinsic to the life of faith, central to all we do during all of our lives. If we cannot believe in it, we are desolate indeed. If we know in the depths of our hearts, that God is going to succeed, with each one of us, with the entire universe, then our lives will be bright with laughter, love and light. Madeleine L’Engle
We crave nothing less that the perfect story; And while we chatter or listen all our lives to a din of craving – jokes, anecdotes, novels, dreams, films, plays, songs, half the words of our days – We are satisfied only by the one short tale we feel to be true; History is the will of a just God who knows us. Reynolds Price
Revelation promises that our longings are not mere fantasies. They will come true. When we awake in the new heaven and new earth, we will have at last whatever we have longed for. Somehow, from out of all the bad news in a book like Revelation, good news emerges—spectacular Good News. A promise of goodness without a catch in it somewhere. There is a happy ending after all. Philip Yancey, Meet the Bible
We are made to enjoy a good story – especially one with a happy ending. The happy ending we crave may not happen in our lifetime. But when?
We are fearful people and if we leave the comfort of what is familiar there is much to fear. What does it mean in our lives that God surrounds us?
Jerusalem was set in a saucer of hills. It was the safest of cities because of the protective fortress these hills provided. Just so is a person of faith surrounded by the Lord. . . People of faith have the same needs for protection as anyone else. We are no better than others in that regard. What is different is that we find that we don’t have to build our own. . . God is at our side. Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
One of the themes running throughout the entire Bible can be summarized in two words: Fear not. Angels spoke it as a greeting. God commanded it from his people. Jesus used it to comfort his fearful disciples. No matter how out-of-control things appear, we are not to be afraid. He is in control. He will take care of us. Max Lucado, Experiencing the Heart of Jesus
You hear me when I call
You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night
It cannot hide the light
Whom shall I fear
You crush the enemy
Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield
Though troubles linger still
Whom shall I fear
I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side
The one who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side.
Chris Tomlin, Whom Shall I Fear
Can we see a move toward God as a move toward safety? What would it mean in your life to conquer fear?
Sometimes we don’t recognize that God is with us until we look back on our journey. Then we can see in hindsight how He has provided for us and protected us.
The great eighteenth-century hymn “Come, Thy Fount of Every Blessing” has a word in it that would confuse most people nowadays. The second verse begins: “Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by thy help I come.”
The word “Ebenezer” is found in a passage in First Samuel. . . It describes an event, the celebration of Israel’s victory over the Philistines, a victory that came against the odds, when the thundering voice of God threw the troops into confusion, and they fled. The passage reads, Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, “Hither hath the Lord helped us.”
There is a powerful moment in any religious conversion in which the person realizes that all of the mentors, and all that they have said, all of the time spent in reading scripture, or engaged in what felt like stupid, boring or plain helpless prayer, has been of help after all. It is nothing you have done, but all of it is one event. God’s being there, and being of help. The enemies you were facing, whatever obstacles seemed amassed against you, even your own confusion, have simply vanished. And you are certain that it is God who has brought you to this moment, which may even feel like victory. Kathleen Norris Amazing Grace