Category Archives: Keep a Quiet Heart

You Have Messages Waiting

So I’m thinking of something I learned yesterday from my phone (of all things). While waiting for cycle class at the Y, I tried to check my email. I’ve only had a smart phone for a few months, and the constant accessibility is something that I see as both blessing and curse. (Anyone with me?)

Sometimes I’m amused by my feeble attempts to wrap my mind around the ways of God when I cannot understand all of the features of this phone. It’s very likely that the settings aren’t set correctly. I had 3 new email notifications, but none of them were showing up in my inbox. So I refreshed and refreshed and refreshed again. No new messages.

Now something like this drives me crazy. I mean, I need to know immediately what those 3 messages are. What if I am missing something life-changing?

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I tell you, the Holy Spirit is sharp (duh) and does not miss an opportunity. Because while I was fretting about my unread email, He whispered to my spirit that I had rushed away from home, leaving fresh messages from His Word unread . 

God had messages for me yesterday. Life-changing messages. Words that could refresh, renew, and transform me if I would take time to open and read.

 Oh, that my heart, mind, and soul would be constantly accessible to the Words of the Spirit. God wired us for connection. When my phone alerts me to a new message, I enjoy the thought that someone wants to communicate with me. I’m disappointed when it turns out to be some lame, impersonal notice like my library book is overdue.

But God is eager to communicate with me. And you. Every day. Every moment. His Word is living, active, relevant, and always personal.

Lately my heart is heavy just thinking about my birthday next week. Yes, my birthday. Not because of my age, but because of the memories. On my last birthday, my Daddy and I sat together for hours on end while my Mom was in emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm. It was a grueling day. Daddy taught me how to play Free Cell on my tablet to pass the time. We watched the breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombing until Daddy said, “I can’t watch anymore.” We ate lunch and dinner and sat and waited and said nothing and said everything. When we finally saw Mom, looking in very grave condition, I remember how Daddy said, “What will I do without her?”

Oh, Daddy, I can barely believe that a year later, here we are, doing life without you. How I long just to sit in your presence. I didn’t know then.

How desperately I need to be in a Father’s presence and say nothing and say everything. And the Founder of the universe allows me to come to Him as child comes to a Father. What extraordinary mercy! What an incomprehensible gift! He has messages that my heart needs to hear. How can I leave them unread?

Today, I have a choice. I can rehearse my problems or I can refresh myself in Jesus’ presence. My problems tell me that life is stressful. Jesus’ presence tells me that He is sufficient. Which message will I choose to receive?

As I walked from the hallway into my cycle class, I checked my phone again. 3 new messages in my inbox! All it took was a change in my position (and yeah, the messages weren’t all that important).

Sometimes my soul requires a change in position. When my heart and my mind and my willfulness are rushing ahead, I must pause and make a u-turn. And wait. And admit my needfulness. When I open God’s Word and allow it to permeate my soul, the Holy Spirit can send the notification that the message is there – whatever the need is and whenever it arises.

  • Humility helps me to hear.
  • Dependence draws me to His Word.
  • Obedience opens my eyes to His vision.

Life-changing messages are waiting.

May we pause and position ourselves so that the Holy Spirit will refresh us to receive them.

Psalm 119: 35 – 37.

Direct me in the path of Your commands,
    for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward Your statutes
    and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
    preserve my life according to Your Word.

 

 

 

 

 

Have Second Thoughts about Marriage

I noticed in Walmart on Tuesday, before the snowstorm that has paralyzed the South arrived, that just as many (well, almost as many) people were hunting the greeting card aisle as the bread aisle. Because no one, especially a Southerner, wants to be unprepared when the first flakes fall and the forecaster predicts that this is going to be a BIG one, right before the BIG day. Yet I imagine, especially if we’re still stuck indoors today, that there will be many homes in which the cards, roses, jewelry, and chocolate don’t arrive by Valentine’s Day.

And, you know, that’s okay … Makes me wonder why we buy in (literally) to the idea that love has to be expressed in these particular ways on one particular day anyway?

Last night, while the clinking of sleet against the window kept me awake, my thoughts wandered to things like love and Valentine’s Day, and how marriage to the man sleeping next to me has been a more unexpected journey than I could have ever imagined.

This April, it will be twenty years since the day we stood before God and spoke words from the second chapter of Philippians to each other.

And while it’s been a struggle sometimes, our vows to God and to one another are still intact even as the initial dreams that we had for our marriage are not.

So, I would advise any starry-eyed couple who is nearly married to have second thoughts.

I know, without a doubt, that my husband did.

Like on the days into the second year of marriage when he had to pick me up off of the floor because my legs (and my soul) were too weakened to stand. Who could blame a young man for having second thoughts when his wife is buried under failure, depression, and shame?

In the midst of this mess, when our marriage was severely tested, my husband made up his mind. Or perhaps I should say that he chose the mind of Christ:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus …”

My husband committed himself to the promises that he made, based upon the second chapter of Philippians. And he purposed in his heart that his personal ambitions, needs, and desires would be second.

And twenty years later, he and I know that enduring marriages are based upon second thoughts.

Our union is not perfect now. We still live in the consequences of that most painful time, but we don’t regret it – not for a single second. Because we had to learn early that not every day is Valentine’s Day. Yes, there are moments of romance, but the days of roses are limited. Real love is expressed in the ordinariness of taking out the trash, getting the kids in the bath, clearing the toilet, and paying the bills.

And the truest love – agape love – finds and expresses itself in the laying down of one’s very life, as Jesus did. Yes, it means (in the human experience) that there is morning breath, dirty laundry, harsh words, misunderstanding, and disappointment. But (in the eternal experience) there is a picture of Christ’s devotion for His Church – His unconditional love for His people who are utterly unlovable.

In her advice to young men considering marriage, Elisabeth Elliot writes this:

“Christ is the supreme example … His sole aim in life was to be obedient to the Father. His very obedience made Him the most manly – responsible, committed, courageous, courteous, and full of love. A Christian man’s obedience to God will make him more of a man than anything else in the world.”

“A Christian’s rule of life should be, My life for yours. He is concerned about the comfort and happiness of others, not of himself. He does not seek to have his own needs met, his own image enhanced, but to love God, to make Him loved, and to lay down his life to that end. In small ways as well as great, he shows the love of the Lord.” (Keep A Quiet Heart, page 162).

If God’s plan for my daughter includes marriage, I ask Him to bring this kind of man into her life – the kind of man who has second thoughts. A man whose commitment to her is second only to his steadfastness to the Father. A man whose aspirations and wishes come in second place to whatever gives glory to God in his relationship with his wife and children.

And lest I advise my daughter that second place is for the husbands, I remember that honor and respect is my calling as a wife. Placing myself second may require the setting aside of my pride and my preferences, but to follow God’s intention for my marriage is to lose nothing in the eternal realm. I must believe Jesus when He tells me that those who lose their lives for His sake will find them back again, fuller and richer and better than anything they could have expected. When a wife puts herself second in her marriage, she finds the grit and grace to do so for Jesus’ sake. And the immeasurable gift that she receives in return is way better than perishable roses and chocolate could ever be.

Marriage is not for us. It is for God’s glory, designed in His mind to be the picture of sacrifice and selflessness. Husbands and wives who give Jesus first place in their marriages live in a way such that romance comes second to redemption. There are occasional opportunities for husbands and wives to be flush with romantic feelings. But there are daily opportunities for our marriages to reflect God’s redemptive love for us through continual giving of forgiveness and grace.

Let us have second thoughts about marriage and follow hard after the example of the One who loves us first.

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Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2: 5 -11, J.B. Phillips New Testament).

 

When You’re in the Valley

Psalm 23, the beloved Shepherd Psalm, is perhaps the best-known chapter of the Bible. Several months ago, at Easter in fact, I read a blog post that drew my attention to Psalm 23 in a new way by placing it in the context of the psalms that surround it. In “Living in the Valley – For Now,” Jonathan Parnell writes that Psalm 22, 23, and 24, when we look at them together, say something even more meaningful about Jesus’ devotion and authority as our Shepherd.

As we read Psalm 22, we recognize Jesus right away in verse 1, especially His agony on the cross:
My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (22:1; see Matthew 27:46).

“… scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads” (22: 6 – 7; see Matthew 27:39).

“… people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (22: 17 – 18; see Matthew 27:35).

As Psalm 22 depicts Jesus’ cross, Psalm 24 describes His coronation:

Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is He, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
He is the King of glory (24: 8 – 10).

Psalm 22 reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice. Psalm 24 proclaims Jesus’ sovereignty and strength. As Jonathan Parnell put so well: “If Psalm 22 is a Good Friday meditation, Psalm 24 is our Easter morning song.”

But between Friday and Sunday, there is sorrow, uncertainty, disappointment, and confusion. There is a valley. There is a shadow of death.

But it is a mere shadow. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Nobody is afraid of a shadow, for a shadow cannot stop a man’s pathway even for a moment.” Sunday’s a-coming. The Light of the World will dispel every shadow of darkness and death. The King of glory is coming.

I wholly lean on the triumphant hope of Psalm 24.

But today …. Today has felt like a valley. On days like these my head knows that Sunday is real but my heart is stuck in Friday. There is sorrow, uncertainty, disappointment, and confusion. I pray for vision yet I am short-sighted. There are steep and rugged mountains in the way.

In Psalm 22, I remember Jesus as Savior. In Psalm 24, I trust Him as Sovereign. But today I find myself in Psalm 23. And I need a Shepherd.

The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.

Between the images of Jesus’ cross and His crown, here is my Comforter. The Messiah is in the middle.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.

I fit the characteristics of a sheep – stubborn, needy, timid, and prone to wander (Isaiah 53:6). Yet, as I see in Psalm 22, the Good Shepherd bought me with a very high price.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

“The position of Psalm 23 is worthy of notice,” said Spurgeon, “It follows the twenty-second, which is peculiarly the Psalm of the Cross …. It is only after we have read, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” that we come to “The Lord is my Shepherd.” We must know the value of blood-shedding, and see the sword awakened against the Shepherd before we shall be able truly to know the Sweetness of the good Shepherd’s care.”

Because this Shepherd is willing to care for me, a sheep,  at such a tremendous cost to Himself, I can trust Him. Because this Lover of my soul is a Shepherd King – a King of glory – I can rest in His ability and authority to command all circumstances and lead me into places for my good – even the valley.

Though I walk through the valley … You are with me.

As a real-life shepherd, Phillip Keller explains that sheep are led to the mountain tops through the valleys because it is the well-watered route. In the valley there are rivers, streams, and still waters. The Shepherd who called Himself the Living Water (John 7:38) will refresh me again and again. Hope quenches my thirsty soul.

And as I’m here in the valley, I remember that the Shepherd is leading me through it. This is not a stopping place. One day I will join Him in Psalm 24.

I am the gate for the sheep,” Jesus said, “Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture … I have come that they may have life and have it to the full (John 10: 7 – 9).

The valley is the gateway to the fullest Life we will ever know. Jesus the Savior, Shepherd, and Sovereign makes it so.

Resources:
“Living in the Valley – For Now.” Jonathan Parnell. April 8, 2013. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/living-in-the-valley-for-now

Psalm 23 in The Treasury of David by Charles H. Spurgeon http://www.spurgeon.org/treasury/ps023.htm

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller

 

I Am Redeemed

Have you ever had a chance encounter with someone from the past who takes you back to a long-ago place in your life? Sometimes it’s a good place with happy memories, but other times it’s a really uncomfortable place that you would rather be forever left in the past. I had that experience yesterday.

On Sundays, my husband and I serve in the “Next Step” reception at our church, where we greet guests who stop by to talk with someone about a prompting that God has placed in their hearts.  Yesterday, a lady approached me during the Next Step reception, and although she seemed somewhat familiar, I didn’t recognize her at first. Thankfully my husband remembered how we knew her, from many years back – maybe 15 years ago. We chatted, and out of blue she said, “You look so much better.”

Although I was surprised by that, I thanked her, and we continued to talk. While I tried to see if she had any questions about our church, she said again – and again – five times at least: “Really, you look much, much better.”

Ordinarily you’d think a person would really enjoy comments like that. As if I had some kind of makeover – perhaps a great new hairstyle, a new wardrobe, or some “work done.” But I knew what she meant, and I was uncomfortable. Every time she repeated, “you look so much better,” in my mind I was hearing “…cause you used to look so bad.”

Of course she didn’t mean it this way, and I don’t remember how aware she was of my situation 15 years ago. Maybe she remembered me as having some kind of illness. Whatever she remembered, she was right, whether she had said it explicitly or not – I used to look really bad. Sick. Painfully thin. Standing at death’s door.

Honestly I don’t know why her comments drew out such awkwardness in me. I’ve spoken and written openly about my past struggle with anorexia. Truly I am beyond grateful and thrilled that God has brought me into freedom. Perhaps I look better on the outside, but more importantly, the Lord has healed me on the inside. Whatever my outward appearance may be, He has brought beauty from ashes just as He promised (Isaiah 61:3).

I tried to be gracious to this lady, but I’ll admit being very, very relieved when she walked away.

Why? I wondered. Why didn’t I just say something that would speak of God’s healing work in my life? I thought about this all day long, and I mentioned it to my husband. “She was just trying to encourage you,” he said. And he was right. I was letting myself focus on the negativity – I was hearing the horrible voice of condemnation. You used to look so bad.  You messed up. You wasted years.

But God is so good. The Holy Spirit gave me the grace to redirect my mind onto all the other messages I heard in church yesterday:

Through the Word shared by our pastor:

“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16).

“God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His Son into the world, so that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:8).

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Through the lesson we taught to our fourth grade class in Sunday School:

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

Through the words of the song “Redeemed,” recorded by the group known as Big Daddy Weave:

Seems like all I could see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me “Son,
Stop fighting a fight that’s already been won.”

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I’m not who I used to be
I am redeemed, I’m redeemed.

While I’ve reflected on these messages since yesterday, I’ve decided to firmly replant myself in the truth and utilize the shield of faith. When the enemy reminds me of the past, I’ll remind him that I live in this present and eternal reality:

* God loves me. Nothing will ever, ever separate me from His love. He gave His Son that I can be free. There is no need to fear or shrink back or be bound by shame. I am a conqueror through Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, 31 – 39).

* My hope is in my redemption through Christ. He wipes away my stains and removes my chains. I belong eternally to Him (Titus 2:13 – 14).

The Holy Spirit also whispered “Psalm 107” to my heart…a psalm I often think of as if it were my own story:

Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!”

As I re-read Psalm 107 this morning, the Holy Spirit drew my attention to the first two verses:

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble.”

This is my story; this is my song. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

Yesterday I failed to say so, but today I will –

“…. thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man! For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things!” (Psalm 107: 8 – 9).