I wait quietly before God

Do you ever just have upsetting days? Those days where everything conspires against you to ruin your mood? Some days start out bad, but then other days come along and they’re fine until the end–when that one thing happens that completely wrecks your perspective.

When that happens, how do you calm down? How do you get your focus back? When you’re so angry, you can’t even speak–when you’re so frustrated, it’s all you can do not to burst into tears–how do you see God in that situation?

In those moments I just want answer. I just want God to tell me what I’m supposed to do with myself. I want to do something–run or fight or jump up and down or scream or just something. Anything except stand still.

But making hasty decisions is always a bad idea. And making hasty decisions when you’re angry will always, always make more trouble than it solves.

So what do you do? I read Psalms, and I read until one makes me cringe because it hits all the right emotions raging in my silly human heart.

That’s what happened yesterday. I was so mad, so frustrated and worn out and tired and disappointment and discouraged. You name it. It all hit at once, and I just wanted to give up. Even after I cheered up, even after I calmed down, I was still debating about how to handle this overwhelming frustration I can’t seem to shake. So I started searching Psalms, and I found what I was looking for.

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Psalm 62

I wait quietly before God,
for my victory comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will never be shaken.

So many enemies against one man—
all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
or a tottering fence.
They plan to topple me from my high position.
They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
but curse me in their hearts. 

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him,
for God is our refuge. 

Common people are as worthless as a puff of wind,
and the powerful are not what they appear to be.
If you weigh them on the scales,
together they are lighter than a breath of air.

Don’t make your living by extortion
or put your hope in stealing.
And if your wealth increases,
don’t make it the center of your life.

God has spoken plainly,
and I have heard it many times:
Power, O God, belongs to you;
unfailing love, O Lord, is yours.
Surely you repay all people
according to what they have done.

Wait quietly before God. People may turn against me, but my God is my fortress that can never be shaken. He’s told me plainly over and over that He repays people for what they’ve done.

I want to run. I want to fight. But all I’m supposed to do is to wait quietly before God because my victory comes from Him. Sure, that may mean I need to make some changes. But that doesn’t mean I have to take it all on my own shoulders and make decisions on my own.

But what it does mean–for now? I need to remember where my hope is. Not in people. Not in the world. But in my God.

Are angry today? Frustrated? Lost and unsure of yourself or what you’re supposed to do? Instead of scrambling to make sense of it or to defend yourself or to find an answer, think about just waiting quietly before God. Just stand still and be open to what He wants, instead of just what you want.

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Lighthouse on Bolivar Island from Galveston Ferry - Galveston, TX

Even good soldiers get tired

Life can feel like a never-ending battle. Somedays, I think it is. I love the television show 24, and while I have never had a day as bad as Jack Bauer’s, I can identify with him because the storytelling is somewhat reminiscent of real life. You have good days; and you have bad days. You have days when you make progress, when forward momentum is possible; then you have days when you go backward, where it’s just a struggle to survive.

And I don’t know about you, but I get tired of fighting. I get tired of trying to stand up under the heavy weight of responsibility I have. And those days where no matter how hard I fight I can’t win, I can despair pretty easily, I’m sorry to say.

I was feeling so blue the other day, just tired and weary. On days like that I try to remember that God can do anything and nothing is too big for Him. But even as I was remembering how powerful God is as I was driving into work, I just couldn’t shake the worn-out feeling. I just wondered if I was doing what I was supposed to do, if I’m living the way I’m supposed to live, working where I’m supposed to work.

When I get tired and I feel like I can’t fight anymore, I start to despair and wonder if I’m going the wrong direction. And as I was driving, a song came over the radio that I’d heard many times. And when it released, it meant a lot to me, but that morning, it really struck me. The stong is “Strong Tower” by Kutless. And it comes from a verse in Scripture, and if you’ve ever heard the song, you know it’s powerful.

Lighthouse on Bolivar Island from Galveston Ferry - Galveston, TX

Lighthouse on Bolivar Island from Galveston Ferry – Galveston, TX

Proverbs 18:10.

The name of the Lord is a strong fortress;
    the godly run to him and are safe.

I don’t retreat. Like ever.

I rarely back down in situations where I feel like I need to be strong, and especially when it comes to Scripture. I don’t like conflict, and if I suspect someone wants to start a fight about it, I’ll generally back off. But when it comes to issues in life or at work or just in general living, I don’t falter.

I’ve always lived with a “good soldier” mentality for a Christian. 2 Timothy 2:3 says: “Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” And I’ve tried to do that. Good soldiers don’t complain. Good soldiers don’t give up. Good soldiers never run away.

But even good soldiers get tired.

Independence is a good thing. Not relying on other people is a good thing. But it’s not the best thing. I’m an independent person; I think I’ve said that before. But I have a terrible habit of trying to do everything all by myself. I have this deep-seated fear that if I ask someone for help, they’ll think I’m weak or that I can’t take care of myself.

But that’s not the case. Life is a battle, and if you belong to Christ, you are one of God’s soldiers. And we are called to do warfare, not with people but with the spiritual forces that run rampant in our world. We have to fight it every day, and not just the influences of Satan in other people but also in our own lives. And we can’t do it alone.

We need each other. And we need God. And on those days when the battle is just too much, God is a strong tower we can run to for rest and safety and healing. And if He didn’t expect to need Him, He wouldn’t have it available to us.

And I’m sure this is elementary, but it’s the simple truths that mean the most. And as I was driving that one day, listening to this song, I guess I just realized that it’s okay to step back and admit that I’m tired and tell God that I need help. I don’t have to power through every circumstance and every challenge and fight to the bitter end when I have no strength left. That’s not the way we’re supposed to fight. We’re supposed to rely on God for His strength. We’re supposed to remember where our strength comes from to begin with.

So don’t hesitate to run to Him if you need a break. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s good to remember that we can’t do everything. Step back and stop trying to fight. Get off the front lines. And just have a conversation with Him. Get our your Bible and start reading. Or listen to music that praises Him. And I guarantee you’ll find something that will encourage you and that will remind you that God really does know what He’s doing.

Sun over wheat - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God recognizes and welcomes people who need help

What do you look like when you’re looking for help? Do you get that blank, worried expression you see on husbands who are seeking peanut butter at the store and have no idea what aisle it’s on? Or do you play it cool?

When I’m looking for help, I try not to look like I’m looking for help. That’s probably silly, and it’s probably a pride issue. But I don’t like to look helpless even if I am. But there are some times when I know I look utterly and completely lost, but even at those times not everyone around me is willing to offer help.

There’s a big difference between recognizing that someone needs help and choosing to stop. 

Sun over wheat - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sun over wheat – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Nahum 1:7.

God is good, 
   a hiding place in tough times.
He recognizes and welcomes
   anyone looking for help,
No matter how desperate the trouble.

God is the sort of person who will help anyone who comes to Him. Satan wants us to think that God will eventually give up on us and that if we screw up too many times, God won’t help us anymore. He’ll wash His hands of us.

That’s not true. Nowhere in Scripture has God rejected a living, breathing person who turned to Him and asked for help. No matter what kind of trouble we get into in this life, no matter how badly we screw up, no matter where the consequences of our actions have taken us, God is always waiting to welcome us home.

Not only does He recognize that we’re in trouble. He is also willing to help us, eagerly anticipating the day when we get our heads straightened out and come to Him. Like the story of the Prodigal Son. God symbolizes the Father. He’s out waiting in the road, watching for the crazy kid to come walking back.

This passage out of Nahum is pretty interesting. If you have a chance, I’d suggest reading all of Nahum 1, but I’d recommend reading it in the Message (which is the version I used this morning). Nahum is one of those minor prophet books that you need to understand the context before the translation will make sense.

Nahum was a prophet that God sent to Nineveh. Nineveh was a pretty evil place. I’m not going to go into details, but Nahum wasn’t the only prophet God had sent there. And the reason God sent Nahum was to warn the people of Nineveh that judgment was coming and if they didn’t repent, they were all going to die rather unpleasantly. If you study ancient history, in all honesty, losing aspects of Ninevite culture wouldn’t have hurt the world that much. But God doesn’t take anyone for granted, and He doesn’t want anyone to die without giving them a second chance. That’s what Nahum was for.

In the Message, Nahum 1 starts out with the phrase, “God is serious business.” And that’s very true. That statement is followed by a long list of what God is capable of doing. How powerful He is. How mighty He is. How strong He is. The Creator, the Sustainer of everything. What happens when He turns His rage on people who defy Him?

And then we get to Nahum 1:7. “God is good, a hiding place in tough times. He recognizes and welcomes anyone looking for help, no matter how desperate the trouble. ”

What other god would give the people who’ve betrayed and hurt him a chance to come home? Not only a chance to come home, but the opportunity to be safe. Nahum 1:7 tells us just how deeply God cares about us, that He recognizes when we need help, that He welcomes us into a safe place no matter how much trouble we’re in. Even if it’s facing consequences of our own stupidity, God is waiting to welcome us.

So whatever trouble you’re facing, don’t hesitate to take it to God. And if you see someone who is in trouble, stop and help them. And don’t beat them over the head with their troubles. Welcome them into a safe place, like God does for us.

Cave in the mountains

The difference between a fortress and a shield

Do you ever feel like you need protection? I’m not really one of those people who prefers to sit back and wait for life to come to me. I usually race into conflict with arms open wide, trying my best to get everyone to get along. But as much as I prefer action, there are days when all I want to do is hide. On those days, I feel like the world’s weakest person because I just want to curl up in the darkness and block out the world and everyone in it.

That’s probably not wrong, but isn’t there a way to face conflict between people without getting hurt?

Cave in the mountains

Cave in the mountains - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

The passage for today is Psalm 18:1-2.

   I love you, LORD;
      you are my strength. 
  The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
      my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
   He is my shield, the power that saves me,
      and my place of safety.

I forget this really easily. I spend a lot of time fighting, if you will. Of course, that’s metaphorical. I’m not a soldier or a warrior in any stretch of the imagination, but I do end up in the middle of a lot of relationships. And the people who you love can hurt you more than anyone else.

In these verses, David calls God His rock. What does that mean? I mean, if you say someone is your rock, what are you talking about? I’ve always thought it meant that someone is stable and solid and unmoving. If I have a friend who is a rock, that friend is someone I can count on no matter what. But David didn’t stop there. God is our rock and our fortress. Okay. So God is both someone we can count on no matter what and someone we can go to for protection. But notice that He’s also our shield.

So what’s the difference between a shield and a fortress? Well, a fortress is a place you go to for protection. A shield is protection you carry with you.

This is where I get hung up. Because I think that I can run to God for protection until I feel better and then I charge back into battle again. But I leave my shield behind. And that’s why I get hurt again and have to run back for protection when I get hurt.

God’s power isn’t contained merely within a place of refuge, but He gives us the strength to go out into battle and He promises to protect us in the middle of conflict. We don’t have to run away and find a quiet place to recuperate. That’s nice sometimes, but we shouldn’t forget that God has offered to protect us as our shield too.

You have to trust your shield, you have to let the hurtful things others say hit the shield and not you. You have to let the lies that Satan throws at you hit the shield and not you. That’s what a shield is for.

For me, it’s not so much trusting my shield, it’s remembering to take it with me.

So when you wake up in the morning and you know that you’re going to face trials and difficulties, don’t try to do it by yourself. Don’t trust your own abilities to deflect the hurt that will undoubtedly come your way. Take a shield you. Trust that God will absorb the impact. Granted, you’ll probably still feel it. Even people who carried shields in historical battles still felt the impact of swords and arrows, but the pain didn’t linger. So even if you feel the impact, you won’t have to focus on the pain.

That’s what a shield does.

My office window

A refuge you can trust

One of the hallmarks of Kansas weather is storms. And not just your run of the mill thunderstorms. I’m talking monster tornado-spinning storms with hail like softballs and 80 mile per hour winds. In May, June, July-ish, any storm has the capability of becoming something terrifying. So that’s why many homes around here are built with basements. Because during a tornado, the basement is the safest place to be. Tornadoes pretty much wipe out everything on ground level, which is why mobile homes are so dangerous. But honestly, if you get a really strong tornado, it will destroy everything in its path. You can’t stop it, so you just have to get somewhere safe until it blows over.

Life has storms like that too, in a figurative sense. There are circumstances and situations in life that you can’t control, and the best option is just to hunker down somewhere safe and wait until the storm is over before you raise your head again.

Everyone needs a safe place, a refuge. And those places look different to different people. For some it’s in the companionship of a friend. For others, it’s a more public place. For me, it’s my home. My home, my office especially, isn’t the safest place during a Kansas storm because it’s on the second level, but during the storms of life, there’s no where else I’d rather be.

My office window

My office window - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

But what about the times when the storms you’re facing are too big to escape? What happens when circumstances and situations in your life have isolated you to the point where you can’t reach a place of refuge? It happens. I think it happens more often than we are willing to admit.

Well, for those points in our walk with Christ, we have Psalm 59:16.

   But as for me, I will sing about your power.
      Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love.
   For you have been my refuge,
      a place of safety when I am in distress.

This is one of David’s Psalms written while people were trying to kill him. He had nowhere to run. He had no safe place to be. He just had to keep moving and keep hiding and keep hoping that some day it would stop. But if you read the story of David on the run, you’ll notice that he doesn’t ever really stop and feel sorry for himself. He keeps moving. He keeps busy and active and focused on what he knew to be true — that God was in control and God would eventually work everything out. And when the really hard days came, David took refuge in God.

So how do we do that? Well, what makes a refuge safe? What allows us to feel safe in our refuges?

The answer is trust.

I trust that my storm shelter is going to protect me from a tornado. I trust that my house is a safe place for me to relax and be myself. Those of you who find refuge in friendships, you trust your friends. A refuge is a place you trust that will keep you safe and protect you from the distress of a storm in your life.

Trust is a tricky thing, though, because trust has to be earned. And if it’s ever lost, it’s hard to earn it back again. So maybe we don’t trust God because we feel like He let us down.

But did He really?

It’s inconvenient to go to my storm shelter. There are bugs. And it’s dark. But when the weather man says a storm is coming, he tells me to go there.

In our lives, God knows when trouble is coming. He knows the big picture, the big story, the whole thing from beginning to end. What would make you trust Him more? Would you trust Him more if He allows the trouble to come into your life without helping you prepare for it?

No. If He allowed difficult circumstances into our lives without helping us get ready first, then that would be reason to mistrust Him. But He doesn’t do that. He gives us only so much that we can handle with His help to start out with, and then when the real trouble comes, we’re ready.

He pushes us. He challenges us to grow and get stronger. Yes, a refuge is a place to hide. But you can’t stay there forever. Notice that David says that God has been his refuge. Not that God is or that God was. Has been. It indicates that he’s not hiding anymore.

A refuge is a safe place, but it should also be a place where you recharge your batteries so you can go back out into the fray and face life with fresh energy.

I trust God. I have for a long time, and I can say that He’s never let me down. He challenges me daily, though, and challenges aren’t easy. But they’re necessary if I want to keep growing. And on the days where I just need to be, He’s there. He understands. He’s always ready to comfort and heal and help when life has overwhelmed me. But He loves me too much and has too many plans for me to let me stay there.

Haven Sunrise

My BFF is a blazing ball of hydrogen gas?

What does mean God to you? Is He some great spirit in the sky who grants wishes when you reach a certain level of perfection? Is He some distant intellect who created everything and then left it to rot? Is He your homeboy, someone you chill with and shoot the breeze with after work? (Louis Giglio has a talk about this option that you should see.)

I think Christians, American Christians specifically, have a skewed misconception of who God is and how He works and what He does. We Americans with our entitlement mentality have the feeling that God owes us something if we obey. And if He doesn’t answer our prayers, well, He must not exist. Or if He does exist, He doesn’t care, so why bother? And the rest of Christianity that isn’t stuck in the performance trap treats God (and Jesus) like some casual acquaintance they can punch in the shoulder when they greet each other.

I can’t tell you which perspective is more wrong because they’re all wrong.

How do you describe God? How do you explain Him? If you know how, I would gladly hear your take on it because words fail me when I set about accomplishing that kind of a task. So instead of me fumbling around trying to find the right words, I think I’ll let Scripture take care of it this morning.

Haven Sunrise

Haven Sunrise - Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 84:11.

 For the LORD God is our sun and our shield.
      He gives us grace and glory.
   The LORD will withhold no good thing
      from those who do what is right.

The Bible often uses metaphor to describe things that we can’t understand in their entirety. Metaphor is a powerful writing tool that enhances a story or a manuscript because it helps to communicate a concept even if the actual fact is too big for us to grasp.

Think about that first statement: For the LORD God is our sun.

I took this image on Christmas Eve 2011. It was 20 degrees outside, and I had made the mistake of assuming the sun came up at 7:00. So I got up at 6:00. Well, if I would have Googled it, I would have known that the sun wouldn’t come up until 8:00. So I was outside in my simple coat and my Crocs for two hours. Yes, I was frozen. I actually had to come in at one point because my right foot had gone numb. But after I ran hot water on it until the feeling came back, I went back outside. It took a hot shower and two cups of tea to get the feeling back into the rest of me after that.

But I noticed something. I live out in the middle of nowhere, as evidenced by the photo. There are no lights. I have yard light and the stars and the moon at night. And I have the sun during the day. But until the sun comes up, my world is pitch black. And it gets cold out here in winter. Like I said, it was 20 degrees. But once that sun came up, even though it was freezing, I felt warm because of the sunlight.

Is the metaphor becoming clear? God is my sun.

I think that’s a good way to put it. In the darkness, He brings light. In the cold, He brings warmth. He is the center of my universe. My whole life revolves around Him, or it should.

But this verse doesn’t just identify God as the sun, it also calls Him our shield. And those two terms aren’t usually synonymous.  If you’re a sun, you’re blazing hot and powerful and unrelenting. But a shield is quiet and confident and steady. And God is that way too. He’s a shelter and a refuge, a safe place to go in times of danger where nothing can hurt you if you take cover under Him.

And God doesn’t just light our paths and protect us from harm, He gives us grace and glory, according to this.

And you realize that He doesn’t have to do any of this, right? Unless you think you can walk up to the sun and demand your rights? Unless you think you can throw your arm around the sun and talk irreverently about what you think is wrong with the world? If you tried to do that, you’d burn up. Can you be best friends with someone whose very presence can turn you to ash?

Well, yes. Because Jesus made it possible. Jesus bridged the gap between us and God, welcoming us into a relationship with God. But we can’t forget that. We can’t forget that Jesus is the mediator and without His sacrifice, we could have nothing to do with God, not because God is limited but because we are. God is our heavenly father. He loves us, and He tells us to ask Him for what we need. But I think we forget our place sometimes and in trying to understand God, we present Him as Someone Who is like us — and He’s not. It’s not up to God to become like us; it’s up to us to become like Him.

So the next time you present a request to God, think about Who He is. Our sun. Our shield. Strong enough to bring light into the darkness but compassionate enough to protect us. And remember to approach Him with respect, not in terror but in humility, understanding that you can’t understand everything.

I’m not all right but I’m still peachy

Does God have to hit you over the head with a tw0-by-four on the rare occasion to get you to pay attention? He does that to me an awful lot. I think He does it to help me remember that I don’t know everything and that I’m still very young.

Yesterday I didn’t really go into my thoughts on the verse of the day because I didn’t want to get emotional before I went to work.

Today, since the verse of the day is basically talking about the same thing, I’m going to write down what I’m thinking about it even if I end up crying about it becuase I’ve learned not to ignore things like this. When God is obviously telling me to deal with something, I need to deal with it and not ignore it.

Psalm 18:1-2

1 I love you, Lord;
      you are my strength.
 2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
      my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
   He is my shield, the power that saves me,
      and my place of safety.

What do you do when you feel threatened or scared? What do you do when you get upset about something that’s happened in your life?

If you’re anything like me, you hide it. There’s something inside me that hates displaying any sort of weakness to anybody. I know it’s prideful, but it’s my first instinct. Something upsets me–makes me feel like crying–and I automatically shut that part of myself down and ignore it. Like taking all those emotions and shoving them down deep until I can function without really feeling them.

But I think that’s a lie I tell myself. I still feel the emotions I’ve hidden, but they come out in different ways. I get snappier. I get sharper with people. I can’t focus.

I live in denial in a way, I guess. I don’t deny that it happened; I just refuse to think about it. And that’s not healthy.

It’s not managing my emotions. It’s hiding from them. And that’s not healthy.

When I’m threatened or scared or upset about something, I run away from it and bury myself in diversions. I don’t actually face the problem.

What this verse today (and the verse yesterday) tell me is that I’m looking at it all wrong. I shouldn’t run away from the things that upset me. I should run to God with them.

I need to run to Him and tell Him everything that’s bothering me without letting my pride get in the way, and He will take care of it. He’ll protect me. I don’t have to be strong because He is strong for me.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
      my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
   He is my shield, the power that saves me,
      and my place of safety.

I can take my sadness to Him and He won’t wonder why I’m sad. I can take my weakness to Him and He won’t think less of me. He’ll just listen. He’ll just be. He won’t try to fix anything or explain why I shouldn’t feel the way I feel. He’ll just love me and let me be sad, and I think that’s what I need. I need to feel safe being sad, to let myself admit that it’s okay to not feel all right about things.

There’s a song called “I’m Not All Right” by a group called Sanctus Real. I was thinking about it just now. There are so many Christians out there who think that we have to be happy all the time and that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be sad because it’s a bad witness. And that’s foolish. Even the great heroes of the Bible mourned and grieved when someone they loved died or when something terrible happened. As a follower of Christ, we are always to have joy, but being joyful doesn’t mean we always have to be happy.

I’m sad. I’m sad that Grandma Bea died. I know that we weren’t close, and I know that I probably shouldn’t be as upset as I am. But I’m still sad. I don’t really know why. It was expected. I knew it was going to happen, and maybe it’s more that I’m sad that time is passing faster and faster every day and there’s nothing I can do about it. I just know I’m sad and being sad is okay for now.

So I’m going to be sad. And I’m going to grieve. But I won’t stay that way. Because God is my refuge and He is also my Healer. And what I don’t understand, He already figured out before He made the world. That’s why I’m always peachy, even when I’m sad.