Lenten Reflections: Fasting Noise, Embracing the Still, Small Voice of the Lord

I am a great lover of silence.

So today’s fast shouldn’t be that difficult for me-except that it is.

Fasting sound when I’m trying to do it on purpose and setting aside time specifically to listen for the still, small voice of the Lord can be a real challenge.

The enemy of my soul loves nothing more than to clutter my mind and heart with random bits of sound and information to crowd out the holy hush that makes space for hearing my Father’s singing over my spirit.

I recently re-read “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis.

It comforts me that this man who was an intellectual giant, a creative genius, and a thoughtful and capable apologist for the Gospel, struggled just like me when faced with the sorrow, pain, loss and questions of grief.

And, contrary to what I wish were true there are not answers available for every question.

Quoting Bible verses does not soothe every frayed nerve.

There are not rock-solid assurances that sweep away every doubt.

Being in one’s own company alone with God is challenging.  

Without the noise of outside distraction I am forced to face my fears and hidden darkness.  

with you always

And in the quiet I find that the easy answers leave me empty and unsatisfied.  I must listen carefully for the still, small Voice that whispers comfort.

In the end, it is to Jesus Himself that I must cling.

Today, attempt to fast sounds for an hour. Turn off your music, TV, and phone. Power down anything that beeps or buzzes or blinks. Then attend to your responses. Are you restless or restful without the filler?

Is your mind more or less distractible? Is the aloneness comforting or unsettling?

Ask God to reveal to you the power this world’s sounds have in your life. Then ask Him to reveal to you the power His sounds have in your soul.

Alicia Britt Chole

**As promised, I am sharing thoughts on 40 DAYS OF DECREASE (a Lenten journal/devotional). If you choose to get and use the book yourself, I’ll be a day behind in sharing so as not to influence anyone else’s experience.**

Lenten Reflections: Refusing to Collect Praise

Today’s fast is “collecting praise”.

He must become greater; I must become less.

John 3:30

Most of us are familiar with John the Baptist’s words uttered when Jesus approached him to be baptized. Sometimes we fail to connect that confident assurance to the frightened plea he sent by way of his own disciples while in Herod’s prison.

I don’t doubt John’s sincerity when he uttered those words. But I know circumstances can make walking faithfully in the light of truth harder than one might imagine.

Life has made me very aware of the difference between a one time proclamation and ongoing affirmation of that assertion.

The author of 40 DAYS OF DECREASE uses words from Corrie Ten Boom’s authorized biography to illustrate how we might choose to use a platform God grants us (due to fame, position, personal charisma, etc.) as a window to show others the person and work of Jesus Christ. It’s a beautiful and sweet story of Corrie “collecting praise each day and offering it as a bouquet to Jesus” each night.

The implication is that Corrie was completely unaffected by the limelight shone on her and her ministry.

But there are other sources that say Corrie was as human as the rest of us-she could be obstinate and insistent on things being HER way.

She could use her fame as an excuse for special treatment.

I’m not sharing this to dishonor Corrie-she is an amazing woman of God and lived a life that brought Him glory! I’m sharing to point out that it’s a lot harder than one might think to not fall prey to the trap of human admiration. (Just look at the recently revealed situation with Ravi Zacharias.)

I know I purpose to turn any praise I receive away from myself and toward the One who enables, keeps and strengthens me.

But there’s a corner of my heart that sure enjoys hearing it, enjoys getting “likes” and “shares” on social media and (embarrassingly) keeps track of such things.

How tempting it is to gather up the flattering words of others that tickle our ears and inflate our egos! But truth is, any grace I possess, any goodness I may do, any talent I may exercise is a gift from God. And He deserves the praise.

So this fast is a good one.

Because when I begin to scrape together and pile up the praise of men, I lose sight of my purpose. I forget that everything I have is given in trust by the Savior of my soul.

My sole reason for walking this earth is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Lent helps me remember that.

*I am sharing thoughts on 40 DAYS OF DECREASE (a Lenten journal/devotional). If you choose to get and use the book yourself, I’ll be a day behind in sharing so as not to influence anyone else’s experience.*

Prayer-Working Through the Questions

So many of us are finding it difficult to face a new year without our missing child.

Sometimes we wonder, “Where is God? ” and “Why MY child?”.

I believe that God invites us to ask our hard  questions. It’s not like we can hide them from Him anyway.  When we speak them aloud, we open our hearts to the healing power of His Spirit.

For most of my adult years I felt like I had a robust prayer life.  I regularly interceded for my family, for my church, for missionaries and for the world. I’ve kept a prayer journal for over twenty years.  

I felt connected to the God of the Universe.  

But when Dominic died I felt like I lost that connection.

Read the rest here: Prayer and Questions

Tested Faith Is Born Of Questions

In the midst of this uncertain time many people are asking questions.

That’s a good thing.

Because unlike others who may insist that faith never questions, I maintain that faith begins with questions.

Who needs a God who knows everything if they never wonder about anything?

It’s no sin, to ask, “Why”.

The Psalms are filled with questions.  

Jesus Himself asked, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” from the cross.

God invites us to ask. 

Read the rest here: It is No Sin to Ask, “Why?”

Sorrow Lifted As Sacrifice

Would I have chosen this broken path?

Absolutely not.

Will I embrace it as something God can use to make me more like Jesus?

I hope so-I’m certainly trying.

We are told our tears are so very precious to God that He keeps track of them in a bottle.

I often wonder if when we get to Heaven, or when God remakes the earth into its beautiful and perfect form, the bottles will be opened and every tear counted and redeemed.

Read the rest here: Holy Week Reflections: Sorrow Lifted as Sacrifice

Seeking Peace/Battling Anxiety: A Stout Heart

So here we are a year later and the headlines still proclaim, “Just wait! It’s going to get better!”

In some ways things ARE better-there are vaccines, treatments and protocols that can chip away at the virus. Toilet paper is back on the shelves. Working from home is working out for a number of folks who love the flexibility.

In many ways we are still in a holding pattern. Waiting for life as we once knew it to once more be available.

Young people have lost important opportunities and are anxious to not lose more. Old people have lost precious time with children and grandchildren and are oh, so aware that every passing day is one less to spend with them and build memories.

So we’re still practicing this whole waiting thing. And it’s hard.

It’s hard to wait.

It’s harder to rest patiently for something you desperately want .

That’s why children shake the presents under the Christmas tree and grown-ups dip into their savings.

It’s also why we so often doubt that God has things under control.

When circumstances require sacrifice I want the Lord to step in and fix them. I want my omnipotent God to use a little of that power to make my life more bearable. And when He doesn’t, I’m more likely to call His character into question than to doubt my own motives.

Psalm 27 helps turn my heart back to truth.

Read the rest here: Battling Anxiety/Seeking Peace: A Stout Heart

Seeking Peace/Battling Anxiety: Thankful For My Shepherd

It’s no secret I have a particular fondness for biblical passages on shepherding.

For over twenty years I’ve kept goats and sheep in varying numbers and every day discover one more way I am a sheep in need of a Shepherd.

I wander, I’m afraid when I don’t have to be, I do foolish and self-harmful things, I push and shove to get that certain bit of food or space or whatever when all the while there is an abundance, and I often make it hard for the One who loves me best to guide me to the safety and rest of His fold.

That’s one reason the Twenty-third Psalm is especially beautiful to me.

But there’s another reason-hidden inside the original Hebrew-that makes it a favorite Bible passage and a very appropriate one for these frightening times: within the verses are references to seven names of God.

Read the rest here: Battling Anxiety/Seeking Peace: Thankful For My Shepherd

Lament Makes Room For Thanksgiving

When I first began writing in this space, “lament” had only just come into vogue.

Now, it’s everywhere.

If this year has taught hearts a single thing, I hope it has taught them there’s no use pretending life doesn’t hurt sometimes. We were not created to carry that kind of pain alone.

And thankfully, we don’t have to.

God, in Christ, invites me to speak it, to sing it, to release it as an exhale so His grace and strength can rush in to fill that empty space.

You’re invited too.

Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday.

I loved everything about it:  the color scheme, the food (I love, love, love to cook-it was never a burden), family and friends gathered around the table, and the wonderful slowness of the day as it lingered into nightfall.

It was more flexible than Christmas for including all sorts of folks who otherwise didn’t have someplace to go. Living near colleges meant that  we welcomed students from around the world-we might have two or three dozen laughing faces milling about.

happy-thanksgiving

It was wonderful.

And I loved going around the circle, tummies bursting, to share what people were thankful for and why.

When Dominic left us everything  changed.

Oh, I was (and still am) so very thankful for so very many things

Read the rest here: The Power of Lament to Make Room for Thanksgiving

Battling Anxiety/Seeking Peace: Sure And Fearless

I don’t know about you but “sure and fearless” doesn’t necessarily describe me these days.

I’m not sleeping particularly well.

I try to avoid all but the most needful news and instead fill my days with useful work and outdoor activity.

But I wouldn’t be honest if I said it was working.

In fact, the combination of time of year (I am rapidly approaching the sixth anniversary of Dominic’s death) and the utterly unbelievable changes in the world around us is more than working my nerves.

So I’m really, really depending on the truth I find in Scripture to counteract all the other messages I’m receiving from the media, from friends and from my own unhelpful thoughts.

That’s why I’m spending some quality time with the first three verses of Psalm 46.

God is our shelter and our strength.

    When troubles seem near, God is nearer, and He’s ready to help.

So why run and hide?

No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails.

    When the earth spins out of control, we are sure and fearless.

    When mountains crumble and the waters run wild, we are sure and fearless.

Even in heavy winds and huge waves,

    or as mountains shake, we are sure and fearless.

Psalm 46: 1-3 VOICE

The verses stand by themselves as a source of great encouragement, but I thought today I’d walk you through one way I appropriate the truth of God’s Word for my own heart.

I often copy out a verse and use a dictionary or thesaurus to expand key words so I get a richer understanding of their full meaning.

Sometimes I include parts of other verses or pertinent biblical concepts.

Doing that for Psalm 46: 1-3 looks like this:

VERSE 1: ” God is our shelter [sanctuary, refuge, safety, defense, hideaway] and our strength [courage, fortitude, stability, vitality, steadiness]. When troubles seem near, God is nearer [the Holy Spirit is our Paraclete or Advocate, Counselor; Jesus said He would never leave us nor forsake us] so why run and hide? [If God is for us, who could stand against us?]”

VERSE 2: No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails [what time I am afraid, I will trust in You]. When the earth spins out of control [the world is surely out of control right now!], we [those who trust in the LORD] are sure [confident, certain, convinced, free from doubt] and fearless [bold, confident, courageous, daring, assured, dauntless, lionhearted, indomitable].

When mountains crumble [when the very thing we believe will never be shaken IS shaken] and the waters run wild [when there’s no safe haven from a flood of circumstances], we [those who trust in the LORD] are sure [confident, certain, convinced, free from doubt] and fearless [bold, confident, courageous, daring, assured, dauntless, lionhearted, indomitable].”

VERSE 3: “Even in heavy winds and huge waves [even when the the storm is raging so violently there seems no possible way to survive it], we [those who trust in the LORD] are sure [resting absolutely in the certainty that God is who He says He is] and fearless [boldly and confidently waiting for the promised Presence of God in the midst of our storm].”

Image result for psalm 46

Rewriting it once again and personalizing it for myself looks like this:

God is my sanctuary and safe place and my courage. No matter what kind of trouble is lurking at my door, He’s already here, right beside me, ready to help. Why would I run away or try to hide when my Protector is unbeatable?

I refuse to worry. The world is definitely a strange and very fearful place right now but because I belong to Jesus I am confident and courageous. Even though all the things I depend on in the natural world are proving undependable, because I trust in the Lord, I am bold and dauntless.

The current economic, social, and political storm is the biggest I’ve ever seen-bigger than I could have ever imagined. Its destructive power is far-reaching and will leave debris in its wake for years.

But I will rest confidently in my Savior and will wait courageously for His promises to be fulfilled.

~Melanie’s paraphrase

Then I turn it into a prayer:

Father God,

Help me always to remember that You are my sanctuary and hiding place. You are as near as my breath, as steady as my heartbeat. No one and nothing sneaks up on You.

Whisper courage to my soul. Lord, sweep worry out of my mind. Even when every single thing I thought I could depend on proves undependable, teach me to rest securely in Your love, Your promises and Your sovereignty.

Redirect my gaze so that instead of looking at all that’s going wrong, my eyes focus on Your face.

Make my heart steadfast. Overwhelm me with Your mercy, grace and faithful love.

Amen

QUESTIONS:

  • This is MY way of making Scripture personal. Do you have a way to make it personal for you? Can you take these three verses and do just that?
  • Have you ever looked up a word you thought you knew the meaning of only to find out you had misunderstood or not fully comprehended it precisely? I have! How can using a dictionary or thesaurus open up or expand the meaning of words? How can that help you understand what verses say?
  • Illustrating verses is another way many people appropriate Truth for themselves. How could you put the meat of these verses into a sketch?
  • One of the reasons I love journaling is because when I look back, I have a written record of God’s very specific faithfulness to me. Have you journaled before? If so, look back and note God’s faithfulness. Write a personal psalm of thanksgiving in response.
  • Do you feel the earth shaking right now? What is your greatest fear as a result? How do these verses encourage your heart?

Battling Anxiety/Seeking Peace: “Fear Not!”-An Invitation Not An Admonition

It’s a commonly repeated untruth that there are 365 “fear nots” in the Bible.

But there ARE a lot of them.

While many folks like to interpret these commands as admonitions to the trembling hearts standing, kneeling or falling on their face before the Angel of the Lord or begging to be delivered from a perilous situation, I think they are an invitation.

Image result for i will never leave you or forsake you

I think they are an invitation to walk into the perfect peace promised by the King of Peace.

They are an invitation to rest in His Presence.

They are an invitation to admit my weakness and appropriate His strength.

I love the book of Psalms because in many ways it feels like the most accessible and “human” book of the Bible.

David and others poured out their hearts to God-no filter, no mask, no pretense-the good, the bad, the ugly, the hopeful, the desperate. So while we could explore many other “fear not” verses, I will start here.

“I will bless the Eternal, whose wise teaching orchestrates my days
    and centers my mind at night.
He is ever present with me;
    at all times He goes before me.
I will not live in fear or abandon my calling
    because He stands at my right hand.

This is a good life—my heart is glad, my soul is full of joy,
    and my body is at rest.
    Who could want for more? ” ~ Psalm 16:7-9 VOICE

The Psalmist says a lot in these three verses:

  • he relies on the truth found in God’s Word to guide his days and focus his thoughts at night
  • he trusts that God is with him always
  • he knows God will fight for him
  • therefore he can rest secure
Image result for psalm 16:7-9 image

When I spend time in Scripture, saturating my heart and mind with God’s Word, I have truth readily available to combat the lies of the enemy.

Satan wants me to worry and fret, to doubt my Father’s goodness and faithful love and to shake my confidence that God is for me.

The more I sit with Jesus, the more I listen to HIM and learn His voice, the less power the enemy of my soul has over me.

Another favorite :

Image result for psalm 27:1

I am hardly fearless.

In fact, I struggled with fear of the dark until I was nearly 40 years old. I only overcame that fear when necessity forced me to face it and I walked out trembling reciting every verse I could remember about not being afraid.

This was one of them.

I face different fears now.

When the one thing you think won’t happen DOES happen, the thought it might happen AGAIN is never far from your mind.

So all this virus talk is working on that fear. People I love might get sick. People I love might die. I know exactly the wreckage death leaves behind and I don’t want to live through that again.

But I might have to so I’m clinging to the truth David sang hundreds of years ago:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27:1 KJV
  • the Lord is my light-He illuminates my path and my heart
  • the Lord is my salvation-He alone can save me (in this life or in eternity through Christ)
  • the Lord is the strength of my life-He made me, He keeps me and I am His
  • with the Creator of the universe caring for me, what can anyone or any force do to me without His consent?
  • I have nothing to fear

When I accept my Father’s invitation to crawl up into His lap, rest in His arms and rely on His strength, I am fearless.

But like a child I often run away just when I most need His comfort.

I love this translation of Psalm 94:19 because it reflects my temptation to bring my anxiety, sorrow and fears to God but then to take them back:

After the multitude of my sorrows in mine heart; thy comforts made glad my soul. (And after a multitude of sorrows gathered together in my heart; once again thy comfort gladdened my soul.)

Psalm 94:19 WYC

God knows I am made of dust. God knows my heart is prone to fear and worry. God knows my feelings often drive reason right out of my head.

He’s not surprised by my trembling knees and weak hands.

He doesn’t turn away because I am afraid.

“Thy comforts made glad my soul”-God will comfort me in my distress. He will wait for me to turn to Him and will wait for me to turn to Him again when I turn away. “[O]nce again thy comfort gladdened my soul.”

He never tires of holding out His arms to me.

He says, “Fear not, little one.”

I see you.

I love you.

Come here and let me comfort you.

QUESTIONS:

  • Use an online or print concordance to find at least 3 other Psalms that speak about God’s desire to comfort us when we are afraid. Copy out one of them and put it where it will encourage your heart.
  • What frightens you most today? How can these verses help your heart hand that fear over to your Father?
  • Do you consider yourself a fearful person? Why or why not?
  • Have you conquered any fears? If so, think about who or what gave you the courage to do it. Can you weave your previous experience into your current situation?
  • List at least three times you have been afraid of something that MIGHT have happened but DIDN’T happen. Did your fear contribute in any way to the outcome?
  • How can thinking about “Do Not Fear” as an invitation instead of an admonition strengthen your faith?

PRAYER:

Father God, When I look around at how impossibly different the world is today from only a few weeks ago my knees buckle and my heart trembles. I know I’ve never really been in control but at least there was the illusion of control.

I am afraid.

Thank You that I am not defenseless in the battle against fear and worry. When anxiety rises up within me let Your truth be my sword and shield.

Help me run to You. Help me climb into Your lap and rest in Your Presence. Deafen my ears to the lies being whispered and even shouted that threaten to undo me.

Speak courage to my heart and sing comfort over my soul.

Amen

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