Running for Cover

We all know how quickly the ordinary can take that sharp left turn into chaos…how your days can slide into hard with the inevitability of so many lined-up dominoes, and before you know it the Enemy of your soul is whispering in your ear that well-worn soundtrack of how you’ll never be enough for this life. And I know all about his lies, but somehow he still manages to catch me unawares at times.

But I am learning that when you have been blindsided by the Darkness, all you really need is enough presence of mind to run to the Father and lean into His love. Because we who stand in His presence are being given the power “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” (Ephesians 3:18) And the Father promises that whenever we make the choice to turn away from the Accuser and toward Him, He will be our shield and protection.

It’s downright strange how long it takes for us to learn that spiritual life-skill, considering that it is one of the first lessons we learn in the tangible world. We teach our children that when danger threatens, you turn and run the other way, into the safety of someone bigger who can protect you. I wonder why that is so much more difficult in the spiritual world. Is it that we cannot clearly distinguish the danger? Or that we are hesitant to trust the source of our safety? Or maybe it’s just the mistaken notion that grown-ups don’t need help any more. And I know how suddenly the attack can come and how you can get paralyzed by the spiral of circumstances: grown-ups or not, any one of us can get swallowed up in the darkness if we aren’t careful. Jesus’ friend Peter warned the early believers from his own experience: Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) He knew firsthand how easy it is to fall victim to the Enemy’s lies, and how much he needed a Savior to rescue him.

God clearly intends for us to be able to stand against these attacks, because the Church-planter Paul took a lot of time detailing for the early believers the armor of defense and the weapons that have been given to us; it is the body armor of a foot soldier on the front lines. Take them up, he says, and stand firm. I look at this inventory and see how they are all connected to Christ and what He has accomplished for us: the truth of His Word, righteousness, peace with God, faith, salvation– and my job is only to receive them. And for the first time I am seeing that this isn’t an action-filled battle strategy of things I have to do and remember. Paul’s injunction is to “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10) I tend to focus on the being strong, but Paul is focusing on our relationship with Christ.

Our job is to stay close to Jesus, and remember we belong to Him, because He has already won the victory in this battle. I can’t think of a better foundation of truth to build a life on, and who doesn’t want to stand strong and sure, in Heaven’s protective gear? James talks like everyone’s big brother, and he too puts it in relationship terms: “… humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” (James 4:7-8)

And maybe it is James who gives us the key, when he puts humility in first place. When I am listening to all the wrong voices and in danger of losing my way in the dark, it takes humility to admit that I need a truth-check. When I feel like a failure or less than I want to be, it takes humility to accept that I am indeed not all-sufficient. Humility runs for the shelter of the Almighty in the howling storm instead of trying to figure it out myself. Childlike humility knows that I need someone to rescue me. And the same humility that says Yes to God says No to the Enemy’s lies, and in the split-second of my reaching out to Him, Christ already has my back. When the darkness presses in all around, I can press into Him and know that after the battle I will still be standing in the Light.


No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39


We will not be moved
When the earth gives way,
For the risen One has overcome;
And for every fear
There’s an empty grave,
For the risen One has overcome.
He shall reign forever–
Strongholds now surrender,
For the Lord our God has overcome.
Who can be against us?
Jesus our Defender–
He is Lord and He has overcome.

Overcome, Elevation Worship

The Fear Factor

Originally published May 9, 2013.

I remember the conversation as if it happened only a little while ago, one of those pivotal moments when your perceptions change everything. It was one of our first adult conversations; he was no longer the professor on a pedestal and was becoming a colleague in ministry, and I felt brave enough to confide in him. “I have been struggling with fear. I think Satan is attacking me with this.” He thought for a minute and said in his gravelly voice, gentle and hesitant despite his many accomplishments: “Well, that is possible. But you know what another word for fear is?”  I waited. “Isn’t fear just another way of saying you don’t trust God?” Everything stopped…and turned… right there over lunch, and my life changed.

How could I say I loved God if I didn’t trust Him to take care of me? How could I believe Him for something as large and someday as eternal life if I could not believe that He was at work right here today in my life? For the first time I realized I could believe a lot of stuff about God with my head and never let it trickle down into my heart, could still wonder down deep if He was good and if He loved me…which made no sense at all. And the girl who was always so cautious and fearful told God she was sorry and wanted to change, though she didn’t know how, echoed the father’s prayer when he brought his son to Jesus: “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

This has been my faith walk ever since, “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19) And the further I go the more I find that when it comes right down to the bare roots of us, we are all on that path. Because the real question our hearts are figuring out is if we believe that He is Who He says He is. It was the very first question in the Garden and still every new situation is a crossroads of faith: “Can I trust Him in this? Does He love me still? Can I depend on Him to do what is best here?” It’s a growth process, and it’s also a cycle. The more I see Him clearly, the more I trust Him…and the more I trust Him, the more I love Him; and “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.” (1 John 4:18) 

No wonder this faith-journey takes an entire lifetime of experiences and situations. I am a slow learner, it seems, and life has cut deep in more places than I realize, taught my heart all the wrong things. But now when the fear creeps in and tries to take up residence, I know that this is what it feels like to not-trust– and with all my heart I want to be so convinced of His love and goodness that His peace will rule there. It takes purposeful cultivating of faith, and intentional choices to trust in each new situation, and when fear is clawing at me so that it is hard to breathe, it sometimes takes jumping off the cliff into reckless faith regardless of the way I feel. “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

Someone shared with me recently, “Our whole lives have been this way, one thing after another, and you have to wonder when we will ever get a break? When can we just live and be happy?” I thought of our clean small town in light of the orphanages and the refugee camps and the cancer wards and the slums of the world. I thought how hard it is to trust anywhere, in the face of loss and pain, and told her that maybe there is no such thing as just living happy, and maybe that’s not what life was all about anyway. How you experience life is more about what you see when you look at the world; more about Who you are learning to trust. You can see the hurts and wonder where He is… or see that all is gift and Love standing right there in our midst with blood and tears running down. Maybe life is really about seeing Who God is and knowing we can rely on Him in everything…. “help me overcome my unbelief!”

Amy Carmichael went to India alone as a young woman over a century ago, and spent her life rescuing the children sold into temple prostitution while her own strength slipped away in long illness. She spent many of her later years confined to her bed and used the time to write to her little flock about her relationship with God. Her utter trust is so childlike in its simplicity that you would think it came easily to her, but when you read Amy’s story you see how her trust was forged and pressed in hardship and pain and danger…every situation a crossroads of choice, and she kept saying yes to Him. I am learning to recognize that fear is the opposite of trust, and even if I can’t always change the feelings, I can at least choose to say “Yes, I trust You” and move ahead in spite of them.  “I do believe…”


The LORD is my light and my salvation–so why should I be afraid? The LORD is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?

Psalm 27:1


…we trust all that the love of God does; all He gives, and all He does not give; all He says, and all He does not say. To it all we say, by His loving enabling, I trust. Let us be content with our Lord’s will, and tell Him so….The more we understand His love, the more we trust.

Amy Carmichael

In Everything

Originally published May 26, 2013.

“That’s why He tells us to give thanks in everything,” she said. I knew her story, and it was on her face too, just then, as she thought it through. “Because He takes things away and it seems all wrong, but maybe you don’t really know….He gives things too, and you wouldn’t even have the one if it weren’t for the other.” She knew the secret of giving thanks in all things, and she was so right, that it wasn’t about what you could see in front of you, but Who was present with you. Not about what was happening now but what He was planning. Except that it is hard to keep in mind when the earth drops away and we can say with Job “What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true.” (Job 3:25)

Maybe that’s why God gave us these promises of His good intentions, His own word to us “For I know the plans I have for you….”They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Spell it out for us, so we wouldn’t wonder what He was up to, remind us that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28) Truth to anchor into and hang all our weight on, when we just might fall over the edge completely. He says I can get through whatever comes, just because He is there with me. Paul knew it by firsthand experience in the jail cells and hiding places, the hunger and cold and scars on his back: “For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

In all the dark winding paths, as I walk toward the light, this thing I have learned is most necessary, to give thanks. Because when you acknowledge that All is Gift, you acknowledge your surrender to the Giver. And when you give thanks, you acknowledge that He is good and worth trusting. It’s the words themselves that matter, regardless of whether the heart is spilling out joy and the thanks are overflowing– or whether they are sheer act of will through teeth clenched with pain. Pick something and give thanks for it, willfully and intentionally, no matter how small, because everything around you is Gift and Grace. And then find another good gift, and another, as many as you can think of, until your heart lightens and hope sparks again.

The long-ago saints would have called it a discipline of the Christian life, perhaps. I only know it is necessary for survival, to keep heart and mind whole. Constant connection with the Light-giver. Constant dependence on the Maker. Constant recognition that He is good, regardless of the circumstances. He wants us to give thanks in everything because in everything He is there, and in everything He is working for our good, and in everything He is accomplishing His purposes. I can trust this and be thankful.


“When you are a believer — and you stop counting blessings? It’s like blindfolding yourself and wondering why everything’s black.” (Ann VosKamp)


“I may be weak
but Your spirit’s strong in me;
My flesh may fail
My God you never will.” (Give Me Faith, Elevation Worship)

Looking Through Faith-colored Glasses

We talk a lot about walking by faith and not by sight. Paul the Church-planter said it just like that, in reference to living here and looking beyond to our Home-with-Christ: “For we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) 

But I think we mostly are talking about having faith to accomplish things. Faith that moves mountains. Faith that changes hearts and lives. Faith that takes risks and steps out to do impossible things. Faith that carries us through difficult times. And it’s pretty easy to understand that in all these pressing situations my own abilities fall short and I need to reach out to the power of God. Faith is more like trust in that context, and that makes sense to most of us, because we have experienced childlike dependence that reaches arms up to Someone Bigger Who Can Help. When we are looking for that kind of faith, it has more to do with convincing ourselves that He really does love us individually and personally. Or maybe, if we are utterly honest with ourselves, it’s about figuring out how to get His power to work out the circumstances we desire (and cope with it when He doesn’t). It’s not that I doubt Who He Is…just that I need to experience it for myself, prove to my heart and my senses that He is present, and interested in my small world.

But when the writer of Hebrews is reminding us of all the great people who lived by faith and what they accomplished by God’s power, he defines faith in a somewhat surprising way. It sounds more like poetry than fact, and I have read it for years as one of those beautiful sentences you just accept without understanding: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for….” (Hebrews 11:1) The substance– the nature, the very essence– of things unseen. Which, if you are talking about faith to do, or faith to receive what you desire, might lead you to conclude that faith produces substance– as if by believing something hard enough you can will it into existence. Of course many have gone down that road with all its spiritual and emotional gymnastics, until they inevitably meet big-enough circumstances to defy any amount of positive powerful thinking.

No, these ancient people of faith weren’t trying to create what they desired. For the most part they were listening to the bewildering instructions of God about what He wanted, and struggling to listen and obey. Faith is that act of latching onto what God says, in full confidence that He knows what He is doing, reaching out for something He says is Real and True, even though we cannot experience it with our senses. It reminds me of something I read recently in a random book summary: “Life lived for sensory input alone cannot deliver the spectacular promises that each sense evokes.” And my spirit resonates with the truth of that sentence: there are unseen worlds that we glimpse only briefly here, and the glory of God flashes like sunlight through the thin places….what the Oxford Christians saw as inklings of immortality, and Amy Carmichael called “the edges of His ways.”

The Letter-Writer of Hebrews helpfully specifies what exactly those ancient heroes were holding onto: the universe formed entire at God’s command, worlds and suns hung in space in an instant….the knowledge that God exists and wants to interact with His people, inspiring worship and obedience in their everyday lives….that death is not the end, but the beginning of a different kind of life….that righteousness is the proper condition of mankind….that all God’s promises are true and faithful. This is grand overarching Truth beyond the reach of physical senses. The old heroes were looking at the Reality beyond ours, the invisible world where God lives and moves and works out His plans, with a host of created beings at His command, where stars sing and the heavens bow before His throne.

This is a faith that goes beyond accomplishing things in my little world, and making life better in some way, with God’s help. Because that’s still all about my interests and my concerns. It is a good start, at least, and Heaven knows I need all the help I can get, to live here. But let’s recognize what the author of Hebrews is talking about: a larger, bolder faith that opens its eyes to God’s world and what He is doing– the Real World, you could even say, with Jesus in the center, “For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16) In this context, faith is more like opening your eyes to see what has always been there. “Faith is… the evidence of things hoped for.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is our spiritual eyes and ears, gathering evidence of the unseen world and witnessing to the truth of what God tells us.

And when the unseen realities become as near and tangible to us as the physical world, we’re not just wishing for a better life any more and reaching out to God to help us. Faith literally gives us the substance of an unseen world beyond the tangible experiences of this earth, and Hope along with it. Not a daydream sort of hope, but a foundation-to-build-life-on sort of hope… an assurance of what is to come that is as dependable as the sun rising and the seasons changing….the kind of thing you can only know for sure when the eyes of faith are open. So open your eyes, and run well in this New Year. Because we understand what is lasting and real, and what is fading away. Because we have the evidence of the Unseen, alive and powerful within us. Because faith witnesses to God’s Truth every day. Because everyone is watching, like it or not. “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)


“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”  (Hebrews 11:13)


“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” (CS Lewis)

A Building Permit

It’s hard to explain when they ask how I can let my daughter go away– that I’ve been doing that since I sent her off to school and it’s not getting any easier through the years. That some things become inevitable after awhile– that the consequences of choices play out gradually, and it gets hard to pinpoint where the actual milestones of decision stood in the long line of days. And when I think hard, I’m not sure I would choose differently, even if I could roll all the days up and start again. At the time it was the right thing to do, so would I really go back and change a lifetime of days, just because I am struggling with their logical outcome?

Maybe that’s why Jesus asked His followers to count the cost of what they were building: “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28) Be sure this is the path you want to take, because it will lead you places you cannot yet see, and if you are serious about following Him you need to be serious about seeing it through to the end. Investing in eternity, by definition, requires the spending of this world– this life– for Something beyond (although I think most of us cling to the hope that we can have both if we spend carefully).

But then I read again what Jesus was saying about cost, and I know He was already looking ahead to His own wholehearted outpouring, knowing where every step on this path would take Him, ready to give up everything for the sake of His Father’s plan. Maybe our short-sightedness works for our good sometimes, because if we could see all our days ahead, I wonder if we would have the courage to live them. Yet He asks us to look, to consider where we are going and how we will invest our lives, to build our days on those decisions, those values. “…everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24) This is how Jesus defines Success: a life built on the bedrock of God’s truth, one decision after another, until it stands a tower-monument to God’s glory.

This has been on my mind for some months now, how if we are to live with integrity in the Now we must remain faithful to the right decisions we made Then. When we teach our children to submit to God and trust His plans for them…tell them He is good, and His loving-kindness reaches to the heavens…model giving our lives away for the sake of the Kingdom…it’s too late to dig in our heels and protest when they begin building on that foundation a tower that looks different than we thought it would. And if we cannot accept the results of our teaching, the practical outworking in our own lives and theirs, because it is uncomfortable or unpleasant, then what does it say about how truly we believe it? Did we imagine any of us could build for eternity without cost or effort?

Like Jesus said, “…Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24) Would we really want our children to do anything less?




“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)



“And I will follow,
My heart surrendered;
My Jesus, I am Yours.
And I will follow,
My life in your hands;
My Jesus, I am Yours.”
(I Surrender All, Elevation Worship)



Still Running

Sometimes you know going in that it will be a stretching experience. This ten-day challenge of camping in the hottest part of the Summer always is, and here I am again, scribbling lists and making piles, mentally prepping as if for a marathon. Because once we head out there is no more time to prepare and train, no stopping till the Finish Line.  Whatever comes, we’ll deal with it as we go with the resources that are at hand…and from experience I can say that anything can (and will) happen when you are living and working outdoors with people you don’t know well. The one underlying goal is to be Christ-like in the midst of every unfamiliar, uncomfortable, stressing circumstance; the one thing you can count on is finding Christ’s strength and help in the midst of it all… and sometimes even serendipitous blessing.

Thus the mixed emotions, because as difficult as the next two weeks will be, I can look forward to God making Himself known in ways that I could not see here in the familiar and routine. Marathons are like that: a catalyst for change, an exercise that pushes Who You Are into something stronger, maybe even a tool for transformation in the hands of Someone who knows what He is doing. And when you finish you get that unique mixture of satisfaction and relief for a difficult task completed.

So I take a deep breath and get ready to plunge ahead, to see what it is I have been training for, see what the race will call forth from me this year. Somewhat dreading. Definitely anxious. Maybe a little excited. Thankful that this annual challenge is neatly counted into days.

It’s possible my whole life might be a marathon race like this…one uniquely stretching and transforming event that is both difficult and amazing…except my viewpoint isn’t big enough to see the entirety and I was not aware enough to know it from the start. But I take it by faith that out ahead somewhere there is a Finish Line, and I do see God at work in the good and the bad, showing Himself in new ways as we go. I trust that Someday I will see with an eternal perspective that makes everything clear…that some Morning I’ll wake up with the overwhelming relief and satisfaction of a marathon well-completed. In the meantime, I am still running.



“…I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:13-14)



“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, of the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; and it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify what has happened.” (The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky)

From the Mouths of Babes

Lately God keeps talking to me about faith– not how to live it out in words and actions, but how to live it on the inside, because learning to step out and do the right thing is good, but learning to “Be still and know that [He] is God” (Psalm 46:10) is important too. The word the Singer used for being still is rapha, meaning to surrender… allow yourself to let go. His song has more to do with remembering Who is in control than with ceasing of noise and energy– the surrendering is linked to the knowing.

Surrender is kind of a scary concept, and I’m all for it, but I think I’d prefer it to stay within reasonable limits. It’s like my faith ping-pongs somewhere between the innocent trust of a child who says “I don’t think Jesus wants it to rain on us” and the world-toughened rationalism of an adult who is a little hesitant to trust God for anything too big for fear He might not come through for us when we pray, and how do we explain that, or reconcile that with our faith? Looking around, I think I am not the only one, either. Most of us have this fragile balancing act going on between fear and faith, and often it is only the prevailing circumstances that make the difference.

Sometimes God does the big miracles and we laugh amazed with outstretched arms like children, and sometimes it rains and we mop up the chaos and try to hang onto faith in spite of the mess…so that after awhile some of us actually become pretty fair spiritual jugglers, resigned to handling faith and disappointment-with-God as natural parts of the same show. And even though we admire the childlike faith that can expect great things and live unafraid, we have the uneasy feeling that it is only for a special few– and maybe as long as the fear is kept busy and distracted with faith flying around, it will be okay, because we are after all, only human.

But Amy Carmichael’s words keep pulling at me: “…we trust all that the love of God does; all He gives, and all He does not give; all He says, and all He does not say.” Innocent faith of a child receiving whatever comes from the Father’s hands, whether good or bad– and there’s the catch, because if it flows out of His love and He says He is working all things out for my growth and good, then how do I even know where to hang those labels of good and bad? In the words of that brave missionary to India, “The more we understand His love, the more we trust.” Maybe our crisis is not one of faith so much as one of understanding, of accepting love.

I’m starting to accept the notion that I really don’t understand what is best in any situation. Spending the night in a big city airport because we missed our connecting flight? Sleeping in the food court with the homeless people taking shelter from the same storm that messed up our flight schedule? Missing the seminar that we had come for and already paid for? Bad, really bad. Except that the night passed and we were calm; we did sleep a bit, propped up on our luggage, discovered a resilience we did not know we had. And a new heart-awareness of the people who sleep in airports because they want to, who are sturdy survivors and well-prepared for storms because they expect difficulty. Not to mention a reminder that needs are not the same thing as comfort and preference. Maybe good after all?

So then the next time it rains and chaos ensues, with over-turned schedules and masses of people awaiting split-second decisions that should be nothing but bad and stressful, there is this supernatural Stillness in the center of the whirlwind, and I realize that I don’t even know if this is going to be good or bad, I just know His heart. He loves us and He is good, and whatever happens He will help us with it. Like a child who trusts the One who loves him. Oddly finding nothing to juggle any more because He is holding it all. Allowing ourselves to let go, become weak, so that we can recognize the Master of the Universe in His rightful place on the throne.

And the next day the four-year-old says, “Maybe it will rain today and maybe it won’t. Who knows?” Maybe childlike faith expects great things and lives unafraid only because it knows storms will come, and we will stand strong and survive because Someone bigger than the storm loves us. Maybe the rational adult can just choose to lay down his juggling act, admit that it is only a mask for fear and the desire to control, “be still and know [He] is God.”

Not sure yet what surrender fully means, how to live out faith on the inside and on the outside in all circumstances, but I think it may be the lesson we are all learning, in every one of our days from start to finish.  Help me Lord, on this day, to sing with the children in their simple trust: “What are you worried about now– Trying to figure it out now? God knows right where you are now– You know it’s all in His hands now. Give all your worries and your cares to God, For He cares about you…”




“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psalm 46:1-3)



“…I need You to open my eyes,
To see that You’re shaping my life.
All I am, I surrender.
Give me faith to trust what You say:
That You’re good, and Your love is great.”

(Give Me Faith, Elevation Worship)



All My Needs

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:19) It was the favorite verse of every impoverished college student, and we repeated it to one another encouragingly as we worked our campus jobs, and prayed over bills, and looked for lists of secondhand textbooks on the board in the Campus Center, checked our post office boxes for letters from home in hopes of a check. Lessons in faith well-learned in those years and often leaned upon. But somehow financial needs are the most straightforward place to trust and I have been struggling ever since to know where else to pin it.

Is that verse for grandparents who are raising a grandchild and finding it takes more energy than they have to give? Will God supply for the parents who are moving a college grad back home because he can’t find a job, knowing full well that student loans are looming? Does that verse belong to the ministry leader who keeps pleading for more workers, and often grows weary? Does God’s promise of provision cover the heart-sore mother on another holiday, who just wishes her family could be together? So many needs, and they color our lives with desperation for a solution, because they make us feel helpless and afraid. We need a Provider, and doesn’t this well-known verse say that God will supply all our needs…?

It strikes me, all these years later, that maybe it wasn’t really meant to be applied to many other things. Just before the missionary Paul made this sweeping claim for the Philippian church who had given generously to him in spite of their own hardship, he confided to them that he had learned the secret of contentment through trial and error….in all the pressing and shifting circumstances of his journeys, he had found this one thing to be constant: the God who had called him was with him always and gave him strength to meet every situation. In joyful abundance… it was Christ who enabled Paul to live well in the midst of it. And in hunger and need… it was Christ who enabled Paul to live well in the midst of it. It was a secret, a treasure he had found hidden in life’s ups and downs, the kind you only find by living through them. Clearly then, his statement to the Philippian church was no promise that God would supply everything lacking in their lives, nor was it a promise that they would never go without in the future.

Indeed, because the secret of contentment is a treasure worth sharing with his readers, Paul implies that both abundance and need are only a means to an end. To his way of thinking it is good for our souls to experience both (and probably repeatedly, given how slow we are to learn) so that we may find the treasure of knowing Jesus Christ. Clearly going without was not something Paul feared, not something he would be quick to promise away for his readers. And yet a few paragraphs later he says God will supply all their needs, and it makes me think that maybe his idea of need is something different than mine. And maybe it’s just that their generosity is something God notices and rewards.

We believe that Christ’s riches are big enough to cover, and we would like God to supply all our needs as concretely as money in a bag, but I think Paul’s real point is about that deeper issue: the secret of knowing God and living in His presence, whether you have the tangible things you need or not. Because the truth is, the assurance of His presence and being content there is what I need most of all. As I look for verses about God’s provision this week I see Him promising forgiveness, mercy, peace, justice, Presence, strength to do what is in front of me….these are the intangibles He thinks I need in life. The other stuff is just the extra details, the context. Like Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

It is culture shock, this head-long collision between normal human perspective and the spiritual reality, like trying to get my brain around a foreign concept. Show me what I really need, Lord, in each situation, and help me focus there, rather than on the needs most obvious. Help me discover the secret of being “content in whatever circumstances I am.”

It would be frightening to depend on a God who cared more about my spiritual growth than my situation, except that I know His heart. I know He cares about me as a person. Verse after verse piles up overwhelmingly in my favor. He loves me and He is good. I can trust Him in this.



“He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)


“It is in our acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself.” (These Strange Ashes, Elizabeth Elliot)

Relentless Love

We sing this song like always, the words on the screen… “You won’t relent until You have it all…my heart is Yours.” Funny how we can sing without really listening to what we are saying. And I can hear Him whisper in my spirit, “Do you mean it? Can I have your children? Your health? Your marriage?”  A bit frightening to know the truth: God is not nearly as tolerant as we’d like to think He is, and His kind of love is more like an inexorable force of nature, as wild and overwhelming as any tidal wave, and quite determined to have every last bit of our hearts. So much of what we label as life’s stresses and difficulties are really His shaking us loose from life altogether, so that our hearts will be His alone. “For there is a love that is as strong as death, jealousy demanding as the grave…”

Something in us longs for that kind of exclusive intensity in love– the media industry thrives on it–but we feel more comfortable with it in the physical world, where we can experience it with the senses. What if all that is only a shadow of the spiritual world and the total surrender our hearts long for is meant for Someone much bigger?

The author of Hebrews said it this way: “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.  For our God is a devouring fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29) We don’t like to talk about that much, maybe because it sounds contradictory, the thankful worship and the fear of fire… but when the world is shaken loose from its moorings it should come to mind readily: everything here can be shaken loose– must be shaken loose– so that we have our hands and hearts free to grasp the Kingdom that cannot ever be shaken, and God’s holy fire is quite willing to burn it all, in order to leave you with what matters most. He loves you, but He is Wind and Earthquake and Fire and Lion, and we would do well not to forget it. “…and many waters cannot quench this love….” Relentless. Be careful what you sing, because the truth you know in your head must needs be worked out in your heart and your life, if it is going to last forever.

“Come be the fire inside of me, come be the flame upon my heart…until You and I are one.” When you find the pearl of great value, would you not spend everything you have to gain it, as the merchant did in Jesus’ story? To be honest, it terrifies me sometimes, but as Peter said “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) It is so worth it.



“Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” (The Problem of Pain, CS Lewis)



“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart  and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)

When You Are Tired of Doing The Right Thing

The heartbreaking thing is that even when you know what is right to do and apply yourself to it with God’s strength, it may not change your situation for the better. Obedience is not a magic key that unlocks doors, and right choices do not always smooth the paths you walk. The results are more often in my own heart, but that’s hard to take when I know the struggle it took to get this far, and if such heart-upheaval can’t produce tangible effects in the world then why am I even trying?

We have this sense that right choices, right words, right actions should work out righteousness in the world around us. We’re not too far wrong– that knowledge was built into us from the Beginning: a foundation laid into  this creation of action and reaction, cause and effect, and God the First Cause: “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” (Hebrews 11:3) God created worlds with His divine will, divine words– His perfection and beauty reflected in tangible form in a way never before seen. And man was made steward of what God spoke into being, given authority over creation to act and choose good for all He had made. I wonder if Adam understood just how big that choice was; he could not have known how the world would groan and labor under the working out of his actions, turning everything “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Man’s relationship to God was reflected in tangible form in creation’s response to him, for good or for ill.

Maybe that’s the mercy of choices now, that our power is so much limited, reigning in our ability to destroy. The desire and the knowledge may linger, but the only real power we are left with is to change our own hearts. And maybe that’s where it matters most, because that is where the battle for power is being fought. When the Beloved One chose good for us, because we could not for ourselves, He was again acting as First Cause, wrestling with Darkness on our behalf to work out righteousness in the world. His choices, His words, His actions making all things new, to regain His rightful rule one heart at a time.

And He says to us now that it does matter what we do, how we respond to His re-creation, and wrestling to make the right choices does change the world, even if the evidence is unseen and only He knows. Because if He rules in us, His righteousness will be worked out there, and His beauty and power will be demonstrated in our lives, small seeds that will grow to fill the earth. Jesus told us that His kingdom would begin in the small silent places: “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed…because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21)

We get frustrated because we can’t change hunger and poverty, stop violence, heal marriages, rescue children, build a society that lasts… but God goes right to the heart of the matter and transforms the world from the inside out, starting where it matters most– in the dead hidden places of the heart that need to be made alive. So that our choices, words, actions can be for good again, reflect His nature and His righteousness. Because He is building a kingdom that will last forever, and we are the living stones. Be patient and keep on doing the right thing, because only the Builder knows exactly what He is building. “…let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9) 


“I need You to soften my heart
To break me apart;
I need You to pierce through the dark,
And cleanse every part of me.

I may be weak,
But Your Spirit’s strong in me.
My flesh may fail,
But my God,You never will.” (Give Me Faith, Elevation Worship)


“You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14, 16)