the hagar moment

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. ~1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Have you ever had a Hagar moment in your life? I can tend to follow the pattern of Sarai in the Old Testament. The times I feel I know the end product yet not the next step, I will often surge forward in action seeking to get to the promised end, impatient with God’s timing yet eager for the promise.

In Genesis 15, God made a covenant with Abram in which He promised that Abram’s offspring would number the stars. I can imagine Abram and Sarai, anxious to have a child and holding to this promise, talking about when and how they might get pregnant. But then we see a rush into action, an impatience in God’s timing, and the false belief that they needed to help God along with His promise of offspring. We see Sarai convincing Abram to take her servant Hagar as a substitute to allow for pregnancy in that way.  Truthfully Hagar holds a tragic place in the story in Genesis. As a servant in the household, she really had no power to make the decisions regarding her own life. Thrust into a position of motherhood, she began to own what should be hers – a position of influence and equality with Sarai as a wife.

All the manipulating only led to confusion and hurt. Sarai claimed that Hagar was treating her with contempt and sought Abram’s help. Abram then gives Sarai permission to treat her as she desires, and Sarai begins to mistreat Hagar. Fear ultimately overcame Hagar’s boldness, and while feeling rejected and betrayed, she fled into the wilderness. God, in His goodness, pursues Hagar right into the wilderness. He tends to her, gives her promises for her son Ishmael, and sends her back.

Prolonged waiting was a part of God’s plan to accomplish all He intended. God returned to Abram and made a covenant with him, changing his name to Abraham, reiterating his promise of offspring through Sarah, giving them a land of their own, and finally promising to be their God.

And this time, they wait for Him.

God wasn’t worried or concerned about how they would have a child. He was at work in His plan, His way, His timing. The problem was it did not match up to Sarai’s logic and desires.

The waiting is designed to mature us. Often the waiting seems interminable, and I can see how to move past the waiting if I only could change certain pieces. So I seek unilaterally to manipulate in order to achieve.

I war against the waiting.

And in the warring, I can introduce pain, heartache, sin, and doubt into places where God wants to be glorified. Learning to rest well in Him, trusting His timing, brings great joy and peace. When Abraham is finally told that he will have a son within the year, he laughs. But his laughter is not a laugh of unbelief or doubt. His laughter is filled with joy and laced with belief.

God’s covenant, His plan comes in an unfolding, never in a bolt of lightning. The growth pattern in a relationship with God moves us along growing our dependence upon Him, strengthening our root system in His truth and love, but He does not yank us two feet taller overnight. He is at work in you and me, deepening our faith as we lean hard into Him.

He knows the timing. He sees the end.

 

 

Before the throne

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help of time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:14-16

 

The throne room is a glorious place. Scripture over and over declares the glory that surrounds our God. The magnificence of who He is dashes all self promotion, destroys all self confidence, resulting in prostrate pronouncements of unworthiness before Him in his glory and holiness. It is the place of judgment as David discovers in Psalm 73.

Yet the author of Hebrews urges us to approach the throne with confidence so that we will receive mercy and find grace in our time of need.

The phrase with confidence or boldly in other translations means with loud exclamations, frank confidence – speaking everything, not withholding for fear of reprisal or judgment, a cheerful courage. My children are stunning examples of the boldness God encourages me to have as I approach Him. My 3 year old will come hurtling through the house, yelling my name over and over, pulling at my sleeve to come and see, knowing I will listen. He confidently, naturally assumes that whatever is important to him in the moment is therefore important to me. My older children as well have confidence that their thoughts or needs will be met with a welcoming ear. While it mildly aggravates me to be in one discussion with a child only to have him or her suddenly request something completely off topic, they do not hesitate. Out comes their need, their thought.

Their confidence stems from their identity. They belong. They have welcome, intimate relationship with me because they are mine.

I am often timid or minimalistic in my prayers, perhaps because I worry about the answer, worry that I won’t be pleasing enough for Him, worry that I should handle this one differently or desire differently. Sometimes I feel like the laundry list of requests is too much, that I should pick the top three and no more. Sometimes I wonder if He really wants to hear yet again about my heartache or discontent. I am apologetic, not worshipful, timid and concerned of His reaction to me rather than expectant and eager. When I enter the throne room with my gaze on myself, I am worshiping, but not my Savior. My prayers are not the powerful ones of a righteous woman, they are not deeply rooted in the name of Jesus, no, they are the whisperings of a self focused, self righteous performer who hopes it is enough. Clearly I have a deeply rooted misunderstanding of the Gospel that displays itself in my prayer life.

Standing in front of His throne is holy ground, but also a welcoming place because of Jesus Christ. We have the great high priest, Jesus, the Son of God, who has gone before us.  Performance isn’t needed or desired. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for your sin and mine paid our sin debt and placated the wrath of God that separated us from relationship with God. I hold fast to my confession – nothing I have done has ever merited my welcomed position before His throne, but all that Jesus has accomplished atones for my sinful state and covers me with His righteousness. My position is now for every moment of my life securely before the throne. He determines my identity.

His throne room is a becoming place, a place where my heart and my desires are changed and made more like Him. He is well acquainted with my heart and yours. Scripture tells us that He searches our hearts and knows our minds (Jeremiah 17:10). He knows our weaknesses and temptations, yet He loves us. Committed to refining me, He works patiently and purposely, often exposing the doubts or fears as He realigns my heart in areas or grows my faith in spaces I deemed impossible. With confidence I can present my shortcomings as a mother, wrestle with my feelings of inadequacy or discontent, seek help with requests big and small, hide my wounded heart inside His tower of strength, and display any other need or worry I may have. He is interested in them all. But a curious thing happens when I hold fast to my confession, when I center my identity on Jesus who made me righteous and welcome before the throne of grace ~ I worship Him. The wreckage of my life can come spilling out and lay exposed there on the floor, but He becomes all I see. I lay down pretense and pride and begin to abide.

The grace and the mercy I desperately need for whatever I face are offered by the King of Kings. He invites us to come and pour out our hearts to Him.

 

Sovereignty in the Storm

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” ~Mark 4:35, 37-40

Sometimes I walk away from God’s sovereignty as an anchor truth because I am so overwhelmed by the waves hitting my boat. Instead I begin a panicked paddling and bailing not unlike the disciples in the boat with Jesus. I confess, I am not in a boat sailing the way I desire right now. The waves and the wind are tossing me in ways that feel incredibly savage and scary. I have been crying out for deliverance, calm, and rest for a long time, and there are days it seems like Jesus sleeps.  And I scoop, and I bail, and I slide all around my boat feeling half drowned.

While crossing the Sea of Galilee after a time of teaching and healing, the disciples and Jesus experienced a fierce storm.  On the Sea of Galilee, storms can occur suddenly as winds race in over the surrounding mountains and cold air mixes with the warmer air over the water. Jesus had almost immediately chosen to sleep in the stern of the boat as they started to sail. As the storm heightened, the disciples worked feverishly to stay afloat. Finally they sought His help. He was not panicked or worried, yet they were about to lose their minds with fear. The difference was He knew the anchor wasn’t missing, God wasn’t off duty, and there was nothing to fear. They believed they were without an anchor, without the ability to stay upright, and without hope because of the circumstances that surrounded them. Some were experienced sailors and fishermen, yet even they understood that this storm was beyond their control and beyond their skills to escape.  Did the disciples know Jesus could do something to help, or did they simply want him to join them in the panicked reacting?  Did they look over at Jesus peacefully sleeping and become enraged at his peace in the midst of chaos? They were working so hard, trying to remain afloat and alive. Did they desire that He join them in the work of survival or did they actually think He would triumph with just a word?

 The disciples had walked with Jesus a short while. They had seen miracles of healing and resurrection, they had seen His power over demons, and they had listened to truths that took all they knew in the scriptures and expanded/deepened them. They called him Master, Teacher, and Lord in the moment of need, depending on the Gospel account you read. Clearly they recognized he had some connection to God that attracted them to Him.

But they had no clue who He truly was, that He is the creator of all things, that all things hold together in Him, and that He upholds the universe by the word of his power. Everything is through Him, and it is through Him that we exist. You can see by their reactions after the wind and wave completely stopped at His command. Their fear level actually increased as they wondered who He really was, but Jesus was deepening their understanding of Himself by His display of power and glory and preparing them for their faith walk. He was more than a prophet, healer, or teacher; He was the Son of God, their Messiah and their King.

I often forget who sits with me in my boat. Often my reaction looks like the disciples, “Aren’t you going to get involved here? Aren’t you going to step in and do something about this sinking ship?!”

Jesus Christ solidly anchors my boat. He is the author and perfecter of my faith. He has called me to Himself, offering redemption and the forgiveness of all my sin through His sacrifice on the cross. My sin debt for all time is paid by Jesus alone, my future is assured with Him, and my present is governed by Him. He is before all things. All things are under his feet, and all authority has been given to Him.

So when the winds that whip in from the mountains that surround catch me off guard and the waves begin to grow as tall as buildings and crash with such fierceness across the bow of my life, He is sovereign. Only He can steady my footing in the tossing and pitching, and He will calm the storm.

I also recognize the crossing and the storm are all part of His plan for me. While it’s heartbreaking and frightening, these days are designed to deepen my faith walk and declare His power and His love. He has the complete power to settle everything with one word and allow peaceful sailing for the rest of the journey, but He may choose to allow the storm to worsen. Yet He anchors my soul. He sails with me. And He will bring me safely to the other side, to His desired haven.

He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. ~Psalm 107: 29-32

 

voices

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. ~1 Thessalonians 2:11-12

Our children hear so many voices. We all do. Most of them speak discouragement, condemnation, comparison, disillusionment, or confusion. The words swirl around, almost creating a whirlwind of murmurings and prevent sound thought and good action. 

One of the most important roles I have in my children’s growth as they move into the teen and adult years is to be a voice pointing them always back to God’s sovereign plan for their lives and urging them to trust Him with all that they are. I choose to be a steady reminder that God is at work in their lives, He is for their good and His glory, and He is faithful to complete His work. So whether that is the stress of declaring a major, the emotion of dating, or the worry of what will happen because of a job or grade, God is at work. Nothing is outside of His pursuit of you, nothing is discarded, nothing is ignored. 

With eight children to parent, often I find myself wanting a set pattern to follow or a prewritten script for what should be said, what should be done. If I’m honest, that desire may be from laziness or uncertainty, and I would really like a guarantee that if I follow certain steps, my children will become “happy, well adjusted adults.” 

But Paul discipled the young church at Thessalonica the same way I am to walk with my own children. He exhorted each one. An implication from the passage is the uniqueness of each is valued as the exhortation, the conversations began about the truth of the Gospel. I can testify that God has been faithful to me and taught me the unique truths/needs of each of my children as I have cried out to Him. He has given me insight into their hearts, their motivations, and their insecurities.

Exhortation in this passage is an invitation with intimacy implied. It is calling to one’s side to implore, encourage, or teach. The power of coming alongside is profound – actually sitting shoulder to shoulder sometimes, to have discussions. The intimacy of body language says I am sitting with you in this, I am right beside you as you walk this out not only right now in conversation but also in life. The conversations can begin, and hearts begin to open and unfold. Then Paul says he encouraged and urged. Encouragement is personal and specific to the child, direct to their heart. Again this takes time and prayer to see the needs and speak into the darkness, the lies, the discouragement with the truth of Jesus Christ.

His word is enough. It is living and active. Allow His word to be the powerful weapon in the moments of urging. Never replace His word for the mantra of the day. His word slices through whatever lies or fears encircle the hearts of our children and discerns the thoughts and intentions of their hearts. I have seen more fruit from opening His word with my child and not giving any answers than all the times I have tried to preach the truth to my children.  Instead when I spend time just asking them what is being said, seeking their thoughts on His word and allowing them to wrestle out their lives in light of Scripture without opinion or statements at all, I create space and quiet for them to hear what the Spirit says to them. Equip them to grow in discernment by asking them to make choices in light of God’s wisdom.  

When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (v.13) Isn’t that our heartbeat, the desire that burns within as motivation when we invest in another? That they hear the one true Voice and know how to listen and follow Him. Paul prayed for this constantly, and we should too. May His voice drown out the cacophony in our lives, and may we walk worthy of the One who calls us out of this world and redeems us for His kingdom and His glory.

 

 

12 Bright Morning Star

I Jesus have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. ~Revelation 22:18

There is a “star” that precedes the sun in rising in the morning sky. The planet Venus has long been called morning star because it can be seen brightly shining in the sky hours before the sunrise. Fifteen times brighter than the brightest star Sirius, Venus can even cast shadows.  I love to wake before sunrise to have some quiet time, and my chair faces the window with eastern exposure. I love watching how one tiny spot of light begins to break over the horizon. Suddenly the sky is no longer black as night but instead a glimmer of light gives way to beautiful sunrise.

We have the Bright Morning Star who lights up our darkness, our night. He rises higher than any other light and earlier than all other lights.

He comes earlier than the dawn, hope rising in the night, bursting forth light. His light qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints. We have been walking in darkness without Christ, a world filled with hopelessness and doubt. He rescues us from darkness and brings us into His kingdom with redemption and forgiveness of sin (Colossians 1:12-14).  For in the abject darkness of sin and death, in the hopelessness of a world lost and dying, He is the first spark of light. He catches the eye starving for light, restlessly seeking across the horizon for a glimmer of hope. We have hope for salvation and joy in our days because despite the darkness that surrounds, Jesus shines brightly. He becomes our focal point because His glory, the sun of righteousness, pushes back the hopelessness and confusion of the dark.

Triumphantly He returns for His bride. He will burst forth with a shout and a trumpet blast, and He will be the only light needed in the new Jerusalem. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:3). 

Back Porch – the Law & salvation

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~Galatians 2:19-20

My husband uses a fantastic word picture to teach others including our children about the differences between the law, salvation, and sanctification. As we study the Gospel, we have talked about the importance of laying a strong foundation upon which all other parts of walking with Jesus depend.  Being on a gospel hunt begins to show us that the heartbeat of God is to pursue sinful man and redeem him unto Himself. For many friends I have discipled as well as myself, the “what comes after” becomes a hard place to walk. Inherent in us is a desire to be part of the solution, to contribute to the change, to be good perhaps. But God does the work in salvation as we talked about last time. Before we go any further, I want to firm up the truth that only the Holy Spirit changes you and me as we walk with Him. The closer I walk with Jesus, the more of my flesh or my sin I see. My foundation buckles when any of my footers sits in the belief that I must clean my own sin, get myself turned around or fix my flesh tendencies before I can come before God.

 If we were sitting together talking about being made in His image, I would begin with this pictorial foundation. Imagine you walk into a bathroom and you see a mirror hanging above a sink with a light illuminating the room. As you walk up to the mirror, the light enables you to see your reflection in the mirror. With the light off, clearly the room is dark and you cannot see anything, but with the light comes sight. As you look into the mirror, you can see all the filthy spots of dirt speckling your skin, covering up huge areas or small. You naturally rub at some, hoping to rid yourself of the dirt, scraping at some spots and brushing at others. Nothing will work. The dirt may flake top layers off, but it still remains. And it is everywhere. It seems the harder you try to rub it off, the more imbedded it becomes. You swivel and turn; it’s everywhere on you, from the tip of your head to the soles of your feet. The mirror keeps showing more places of dirt. You need the sink. You quickly turn on the water and begin to wash away the dirt that covers your face, your neck, your arms, etc. Glancing continuously into the mirror, you are able to see more areas that need cleaning. But the water does the cleaning.

The light in the bathroom is Jesus Christ. Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) and I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:46) As we step into relationship with Jesus, we step out of darkness and into light.

The mirror is the reflection of God’s demand for holiness – the law. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20) The law serves to show us all the ways we can never walk righteously on our own. Romans 7:7 says “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” But the mirror never makes us clean. And this is the important truth for walking with Jesus. Just like the Galatians, sometimes we can believe the mirror makes us clean. If I can just stay clean today, then it will be a good day. The truth is we cannot and will not. In fact the law will stir sin up within us as Romans 7:7-10 explains. But without Christ as our Savior, a darkened bathroom offers little. The mirror requires the light to reflect just like the law requires Jesus Christ.

But the water is what cleanses. And the water is the blood of Jesus Christ that renews us daily through the Holy Spirit. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7) and he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6). The cleansing power comes because Jesus Christ died for your sin and mine on the cross many years ago. His payment paid for all the sin debt that mars our hearts and redeemed us from the curse of sin. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14) The daily walk with the Holy Spirit in humility will change or sanctify me and make me more like Jesus and less like my own flesh.

I like to use this word picture even with my very little ones. As we wash our hands or look at dirty faces in the mirror after playtime, I will ask how can we see all the dirt in the mirror. First they will point out we need to turn the light on. And then when I begin to point out in the mirror all the little spots of dirt under fingernails or around mouths, I love to wonder with my little ones how on earth can we get clean? Even at 2 & 3 they can point to the sink as their hope for getting the dirt off of hands and faces. And as we wash hands, we talk about how only Jesus can wash away the sin from our hearts just like only water can wash away the grime on our hands.

As our children have aged, this analogy only becomes more important. There is an onslaught by the enemy on our children to perseverate on the reflection in the mirror and to feel hopeless in the grime of sin they see. They retreat into the darkness, fearing the mirror.

Our only hope is Jesus Christ. He reveals, and He cleanses. Jesus Christ is our fountain of life who never runs dry.

 

11 – My Helper

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” ~ Hebrews 13:6

I think God delights in showing me more of my own sin nature and His great love, patience and faithfulness through my children, most often my little toddlers and preschool children. Throughout the years, they have served as a micro example of my faith walk that exists on a much larger but more concealed level. The other night He whispered truth to me in one such moment.  We have moved our two youngest children into the same bedroom and also moved our 3 year old out of a crib. While we are waiting on a new bed to arrive, he is simply sleeping on a mattress on the floor. He loves his “big boy bed,” but over his short sweet life, he has collected quite a lot of “lovies” including 4 stuffed animals, 2 little animal/blanket things, and 3 baby blankets. They are all required for sleep (insert eye roll, completely the last child because all other Kimsey kids were allowed 1 special thing).

Not feeling particularly sleepy last night, he proceeded to throw every last item out of his bed across the room. However the rule is no getting out of bed, no playing once put to bed, so there he sat, heartbroken to be all alone with no way of getting them back and settling himself down to sleep. So he began to cry out. Persistently he called my name, “Momma, I need you, I need help.” Over and over, calling for me to come. As I walked into the room and noticed all the chaos, I looked into his face. In that moment God whispered for me to pay attention. My child had an unswerving belief that I could fix the mess he had created, despite the fact that he had even created it in disobedience. He looked into my face without much explanation of what had happened and simply asked me to get him all that he needed for peace, comfort, and sleep.

I want to be more like him – more childlike in my faith knowing that my Father is my Helper, steadfast in His love, totally committed to me in my chaos as well as my successes. How often do I call out, completely assured that He will answer me? or Do I try to clean up my own messes, worried that I’ll be caught? Do I persistently call, looking for help from Him despite the truth that most of my messes are of my own doing, and many times because of my own sin? Do I seek the peace and comfort only brought from the One who can comfort me deeply?

As my Helper, in the Greek, the word means one who brings the right aid in time, to meet an urgent, real need. The right aid, in time, to meet my urgent needs. Praise Him for He is my Helper! Do I know without a doubt that God is my Helper? My son knows without a doubt that I will help him. I am not negating consequences, and sometimes the discipline comes because of the disobedience. But even through this, he trusts my love for him abounds despite his behavior of the moment, and he understands that I am for him and his needs. Do I trust His hand to provide just what is needed? You have kept count of my tossings;  put my tears in a bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8) Take heart! He knows all our wanderings and gathers our tears of heartaches, repentance and despair. He treasures them and records them – we are important to Him.

The hope in this advent season and beyond is that God helps us. Before we ever knew our desperate need for a Savior, He planned to send his Son as payment for the sin that separates us from Him. Jesus came as a baby, without power and acclaim, offering His life as the unblemished perfect sacrifice for each of us. God helps us in our time of need for a Savior and then promises to help us walk each and every day as His children.

Behold God is my Helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. ~Psalm 54:4

10 – Strong Tower

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. ~Proverbs 18:10

The top half of my tree isn’t lit. I want certain lights for the tree, and I need one more box from Target but they were sold out. So I wait for tomorrow’s truckload. A part of my mind knows this is unimportant – I need to just slap a strand of lights up there and walk away! But I can’t.

My fake tree in my front hall got taken out in a game of dodge mattress yesterday. Dodge mattress, if you didn’t know, is a game young boys play in which they take a crib mattress and toss it at one another as if it were a ball. Someone else is also throwing balls at the targeted player. And dodge mattress can absolutely break all the bottom limbs of an artificial tree. Sigh.

These aren’t the things that truly occupy my heart. The reality is these are benign, non-problems superficial at best, but they become trigger points to spill the unsettled, fearful, angry or discouraged emotions that live within me. The desire for control begins to assert its hand, and suddenly my holiday decorations become foremost in my attention, the hinge point of my happiness.

Christmas is coming. Advent is here. Preparing my heart for the season has to be purposeful for me because otherwise I can be consumed with the tasks of the season. I can place my happiness, my contentment, in the lights, the parties, the presents, When control becomes my mantra, my heart bows low to performance and the fear of man is a snare (Proverbs 29:25).

But when I center myself on the name of the LORD, all that comprises who He is in His attributes, character, and power, I have hope. I am not caught in the trap of performance or opinions, worried about pleasing or being picture perfect. A strong tower, migdal oz in the Hebrew, was a chief fortification built for a city. It was always elevated high above the city and therefore high above any danger or battle that may threaten the land. The alarms would ring out of danger, robbers, or invasions. The people in the land would immediately gather what they could and run to the tower, knowing all they needed in protection and provision was within those walls.

The name Jehovah YHWH is the strong tower – His name. All that is encompassed within the name Jehovah, His loving kindness, His mercies, His gentle care of us, that is our strong tower of refuge. And we as righteous run. Run to Him. Run to him in the little stresses but run to Him in the heartache, in the crushing realities of illness or sin, in the confusion of direction, and in the discouragements of lost dreams that lie beneath as well.

Spurgeon said, “The purpose of God in our salvation is the glorifying of His own character.” He will bring glory to His name while you are safely ensconced in the tower of the Most High. His character is constant, unchanging. Without the constancy of the character of God, all of His promises – salvation, grace, mercy – all hope is unhinged. But with the great I AM, hope is assured.

 

Girded

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.        ~1 Peter 1:13

More and more as I parent my children and in my own walk as a believer, I am convinced the battle is in our minds. And my mind can so easily wander off track and be half a mile down the road of worry, doubt, or fear without me really noticing the change in landscape. In this passage Peter has just listed out significant blessings as a child of God because of Jesus Christ. I was struck this morning by the action points in verse 13: preparing your minds for action and being sober minded. These are choices I make in the moments of life. They are distinct and worthy of understanding as I walk with Jesus and as I walk with my children in discipleship.

To prepare your mind for action – in the Greek, the phrase really means to gird up the mind. The word gird in the Greek means to remove the slack or pull the belt. In this case the prefix before gird signifies an upward pull. In the days of Peter, the tunic hung down to the ground for rest at home. But for any movement including merely walking outside of the home, the long flowing garments would be tied closely to the body with either a leather or linen girdle that would allow quick movement and ease in a journey. The imagery is of gathering one’s tunic between the legs so that one can run/be nimble/able to defend or flee. Preparatory girding in anticipation of action is the mandate from Peter. Paul in Ephesians 6:14 uses the same root word with a different prefix that signifies a tightening around; a covering of all bases. When I gather all the thoughts that rage and swirl around me and tie them together with the truth of Jesus Christ as my redeemer, I can walk this day with a confidence that is not rooted in me. My confidence for moving forward is in the One who clears my path as well as holds me together. Thoughts must come under the submission of the truth of God’s Word – who He is and how He relates to me as His child because of Jesus Christ’s payment for my sin. My future is assured and my today is secure because He is walking with me. The belt of truth must be in place in our spiritual armor as an anchor that holds our weapons as well as readying us for battle.

Being sober minded simply means having a presence of mind and clear judgment. We see the same idea in 1 Thessalonians 5:6, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for the helmet the hope of salvation.” Also in 1 Peter 5:8 the instruction is, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Emotions can flood my mind, causing panic or discouragement. Frantic thoughts or worries block the truth of my identity in Christ as well as cause me to forget the power God offers me as his child. The racing of my thoughts hurtles me through a wasteland of doubt, but I can choose to tie myself up in the truth of the Gospel by proactively setting my mind on His Word.

Set your hope fully ~ Again hope is not a wish or desire but rather my active waiting with assurance, confidence, and expectation without wavering. And for what? what am I binding myself to? What is the anchor for my mind? The grace brought through Jesus Christ. God extends His favor to me, freely offering Himself (the imagery is of bending or inclining down towards another) because He is disposed to make us His children through His Son Jesus Christ.

Tie me to the truth, anchor my mind and my soul to this assurance that You, Almighty God, bent down in your holiness to offer redemption to me through your Son that I may walk with You in all the wonder and blessings of being your child. Only then will walking righteously, faithfully and obediently be possible.

Growing an Oak

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. ~Psalm 1

Many years ago, God showed me a word picture that realigned my thoughts on raising my children and gave me a vision that has helped so much in the difficulties of discipling and shepherding them. Troy and I moved into a home that was in essence new construction. I excitedly began planning how to landscape the lot, choosing trees, shrubs, and perennials with care with an extremely limited budget. I love gardening and could just imagine the beauty that would soon become my yard! I anticipated the maturing of all the plants and how different things would look in different seasons.

Over the course of the next few years, the yard became just that – a yard – to be cared for, weeded, tended. We had a house full of children and were very busy in the middle of raising them. I have been blessed with very exuberant children – full of zest for life, confidence, “leadership qualities” they say. One of my friends said that I don’t seem to get the quiet, retiring child (and I’m not sure that was a compliment!) And in a season of real challenge with one of my little ones, I remember beseeching the Lord on that child’s behalf, wondering what would work better, create better change, do what I saw happening in other people’s kids. And God brought me to 2 scriptures – Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17.  I began praying fiercely for this child with these passages, asking the Lord to show me this strong tree growing in my child. I was looking for tangible results, conversations of that child’s faith deepening, hearing beautiful prayers, seeing a child who managed their strong sin issues in family dynamics, desperately seeking to see the life that the Spirit brings.

And I will say this – none of those desires are wrong when put in their rightful place. Prayer, mommas, is THE MOST POWERFUL thing we can commit to doing for our children. Pray for their heart to be tender to the Gospel, open to His truth and His working in them. And look for the fruit that you may commend them and encourage them – but watch your reason. You see, in those moments I was hunting for this child’s maturing for my gain – my peace of mind, peace in my home, to look like I had a kid who was well behaved, to measure up to the other kids I saw around me and therefore to appear to have this parenting thing down, otherwise known as pride.

I would walk outside in my yard, tending to the flowerbeds and having conversations with God. One of these difficult parenting days, I escaped outside to walk in my yard. I walked to where I had planted an oak tree. When it had been planted, I remember being disappointed in its size compared to the cost for it. I knew oaks were slow growing, and when this baby tree came to my yard, all I could think was that I would never see it really be what it had the potential to become. Then I walked around the front of the house and noticed that our neighbors had lost a beautiful pear tree the night before in a storm. The tree was cracked in half, crumpled across their driveway.

And in that moment God defined for me His perspective for my children.

The root system of a tree serves as the anchor in a storm. It defines the health or illness of the tree.

A pear tree is a fast growing, ornamental tree with big branches and beautiful foliage in each season. Until it’s not. The root system of a pear tree is shallow or high and tends to circle around the narrow base of its trunk, sending out intertwining rootlets that fail to provide strength. They instead create instability that leads to falling or death. The branches of the tree all diverge from a single, short trunk as well which allows for the beautiful display in the early years. The wood however is weak, and the trunk of the tree often cannot take the stress of wind gusts causing the tree to crack.

 Oak trees have a slow growing root system that begins with a tap root. A tap root grows vertically downward. It will only then begin to grow its branches outward, but ultimately the roots of an oak occupy a diameter 4-7x the tree’s crown and total hundreds of miles. Oak trees grow very slowly because not until their taproot is established and root system in place will they begin to establish greater foliage and branch growth.

I need to embrace the fact that I must create environments that God can grow oak trees, not pear trees. But that’s all I do – I cannot ever grow the tree.

That is the work of God alone.

He sees the root, not me. He monitors the growth where it matters, but I only see the branches and leaves. My outlook needs to be committed to a long range vision, working daily in the short term for something that will take years to develop. And I need to stop looking at all the other trees being grown and comparing my trees to them because some of them may just be pear trees. Roots take a long time to grow in oak trees, but once established, oak trees aren’t easily damaged with a season of drought or even heat. Growth is abundant and consistent in trees well established.

Often the beauty of the oak tree is in its age. As a mother, I am committed for the lifetime. This task seems hard at times, discouraging at others – mainly because we cannot see the end result. We cannot see when or how our children will become the oaks of righteousness (Is. 61:3) we desire. The magic number for the maturation of an oak is not 18 years, nor is it the number for our children. We need to stop having that mindset! I’m not done when they turn 18 or leave for college or even when they get married.

My role has changed from nose wiper and discipliner to listener and exhorter with my older children, but the child hasn’t stopped growing, the branches may not be spread yet at all, and tap root growth may still be happening. Am I committed to the process of pointing back to Jesus if that means this oak tree doesn’t become one until I am gone?

Yes, and I hope I die with callused knees from many years of interceding on their behalf.