Sunday, May 20, 2007
LILIES IN HARD GROUND
But Hezekiah was too proud to show gratitude for what the Lord had done for him, and Judah and Jerusalem suffered for it.
Give thanks to him, bless his name! For the Lord is good.
Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
The evil you planned to do me has by God's design been turned to good, that he might bring about, as indeed he has, the deliverance of a numerous people.
Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your re quests be made known to God.
My brothers, consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way, for you know that when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure.
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
(2 Chronicles 32: 25, GNB; Psalm 100: 4-5, RSV; Colossians 3: 16- 17, RSV; Genesis 50: 20, JB; Philippians 4: 6, RSV; James 1: 2, GNB; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18, RSV; John 14: 27, GNB; John 15: 11, GNB; Luke 24: 52-53, RSV; Acts 16: 25, RSV; Hebrews 10: RSV)
I was amazed to see how many references there are in the Bible to the word 'praise'. Together with accompanying words like 'bless', 'exalt', 'thank', 'glorify', 'honour', 'magnify' and 'extol', there are over five hundred verses, the majority of which are encouraging us to praise our God. The sheer magnitude of the messages should be overpowering, but I knew my own gratitude to God fell sadly short. The high peaks of my life, yes, they were Spirit-drenched, I knew, but the valleys and the plains? These 'Godless' cloud-heavy plains weren't anything to be grateful about, were they? My mind traced down from the peaks of my life to the specific valleys joining them. I peered through the fog with the eye of faith. They were a unified whole of opposites and contrasts, all revealing the mighty touch of God to the eye of faith, no matter what my senses felt about it.
So where was my gratitude? My life held fulfilment, growth and much joy. Even my senses told me I was mostly very happy with it. But my gratitude to God for it, even the peaks, seemed to have become mislaid, diverted, related in some way to my satisfaction with myself and my life. A suspicion lurked just below the edge of my consciousness, but gradually I drew it out. I had been siphoning off, for myself, the gratitude that should have been given to God.
Failing to acknowledge the source of those strengths within me -- the abilities, the care, the thoughts that came, was indeed folly beyond folly. By failing to point out to others the source of my strength, inspiration and love, I had been, maybe, en couraging them to admire the flowerpot instead of the flower within. And they suffered because of it, unable to see that the strength within me was just as available to them also. The fragrance of humble, unselfish trust hadn't been getting to me, through me, to those God wanted to bless. So, praise on the plains and in the valleys, as well as on the peaks, is the outward expression of inner trust that keeps our eyes on the Father.
Oh wind! Blow upon my garden, let its fragrance be wafted abroad. You are a tree 'neath the breath of God, well-watered, and firm beneath the sod. Strong and healthy your spirit grows, each one different, in highs and lows: each one different, but in the plan I've planted you in my garden of man.
The breath of my Spirit blows around you each day, strongly or still, but come what may you've only to bend, and joyfully sway. Bend your proud back and happily nod, as my Spirit brings over you rain, sun or cloud. The way to survive is to bend, not to break, to go with my wind and allow it to shake you loose from your pride, and your other endeavours by which you had thought to weather all weathers, right all wrongs, and bring people to me; mend broken hearts, save the drowning at sea.
A truly proud streak, and I love your straight back, your stretching ambitions, but see where you lack? I alone can do my work, but through vessels sound. The way to help me, is only found in flexible trust of all that I bring, with praise in your heart that helps you to sing.
As you bend and sway 'neath my Spirit this day, I am making you into a wonderful way by which others may shelter, gather food and find peace.
You're my inspiration of fragrant increase. I love your deep yearnings to do things for me, but all I want is for you to be a thing of beauty right where you belong, breathing my air and growing strong.
Trust me to make of you all you could dream, because you and I are a part of a team. I do the work as you thankfully see that the rain, cold and clouds are as useful to thee as the summer and sunshine, the heat and the bees; all help you to grow to be one of my trees.
Don't take any credit for your beauty of leaf, but give it to me, your climate and chief. Be thankful and grateful, and glorify me. Let others be glad to encounter a tree.
It was that night in the quiet of my [cell] that I made the total surrender, completing what had begun... eighteen long months before: 'Lord, if this is what it is all about,' I said, 'then I thank you. I praise you for leaving me in prison, for letting them take away my licence to practise law, yes -- even for my son being arrested. I praise you for giving me your love through these four men, for being God, for just letting me walk with Jesus!
With those words came the greatest joy of all -- the final release, turning it all over to God as my brother Harold had told me to do. And in the hours that fol lowed I discovered more strength than I'd ever known before. This was the real mountaintop experience. Above and around me the world was filled with joy and love and beauty. For the first time, I felt truly free, even as the fortunes of my life seemed at their lowest ebb. [Fortyeight hours later... an order was being prepared to release Charles Colson from prison immediately...] Jack said, 'I kind of knew [the Lord] would set you free today.' 'Thank you, brother,' I said, but he did it two nights ago.'
Charles Colson, Born Again
That is why we must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time. When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected), he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along -- illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptations -- he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing he means to make of us.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Many of the 'praise' perspectives of the more successful churches seem to mask an inability to develop a theology of suffering and an unwillingness to embrace the cross of Christ and its consequences. Western culture-Christianity views success, good feelings, comfort, material excellence, health and overall joyous prosperity as the mark of God's approval, and therefore the mark of God's friendship and presence. If things go well, we feel close to the Lord. If successive failure or disaster accompanies our efforts, we wonder what rebuking word God has for us. He seems so far away... It is a far cry from biblical reality.
John Smith, Praise or Pain?
Roll the burden of cares of thy life's way upon the Lord. Cause it to go, the Hebrew says; a push will do it. Cast thy care, hurl it -- so the word is there. Hurl it with a forceful act of will: it is not enough to think of doing it. Do it... The burden has not come of itself. It is a gift, a trust. If we deal with it as we are told we may, we shall find rest unto our souls...
These words touch more than illness of the body. If only we allow them to sink deep into our being, if only we refuse forbidding feelings and believe that even to us this grace is given, we shall indeed find rest. In that rest we shall climb. The unrestful cannot climb. They are too busy adjusting and readjusting their burdens to have breath or strength to spare for such ascents... The joy of the Lord is your strength. The saints are full of it, even when cast down and oppressed by circumstances. Love and joy breathed from them, and everybody felt they had a blessed secret to impart... 'Joy is not gush: joy is not jolliness. Joy is simply perfect acquiescence in God's will, because the soul delights itself in God himself... rejoice in the will of God, and in nothing else. Bow down your heads and your hearts before God, and let the will, the blessed will of God, be done.'
Amy Carmichael, Gold by Moonlight
Paul said: 'But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort'... Paul saw the ultimate secret of Being -- the truth that because of who we are in Christ we can be totally content, irrespective of outer circumstances... All the things of the world, whether we call them good or bad, merely serve as vehicles of God's grace and truth. These vehicles are wearing out, as God has promised they would, so we should not be too concerned about their good and evil appearances. What is important is that they get us to God's Life, not in the hereafter, but in each moment of our daily lives.
Bill Volkman, The Wink of Faith
When Christmas came, both of us felt sadness about being locked up, separated from our families.
Late Christmas Eve, Willie shared the doubts he had gathered in his heart. . . 'I don't understand how God could allow this to happen.' 'Big Willie, I know your thoughts, I'm depressed too. But... Paul was in a dungeon with his ankles in stocks. He couldn't walk around as you and I can in this cell... We have much for which to be thankful... We don't have anything materially, but we have the greatest possession on the face of the earth -- Jesus Christ. And one day we're going to be joint heirs with him!'... 'We are lucky, aren't we?' he said. Like the Apostle Paul we prayed and praised God with our voices while tears washed our faces. It was a very special time as the depression gave way to joy.
Harold Morris, Twice Pardoned
During the time of prayers for healing I encourage people to 'dial down', that is, to relax and resist becoming emotionally worked up. Stirred up emotions rarely aid the healing process, and usually impede learning about how to pray for the sick. So I try to create an atmosphere that is clinical and rational while at the same time it is powerful and spiritually sensitive...
When we are out in the marketplace we cannot worship aloud; nevertheless, God hears praise and thanksgiving in our hearts and sends his Spirit. Back in 1982 a friend... wrote me a note in which he described his experience of the relationship between worship and effective healing prayer... 'It's happening, John! Six out of the seven things I've prayed for in the past five days for my family in the way of healing have occurred within two minutes!... I now realise what my mistake was: by just jumping in and praying for healing without worshipping God first, I was actually taking him for granted.'
John Wimber, Power Healing
'I am learning never to be disappointed, but to praise,' Arnot of Central Africa wrote in his journal long ago... I think it must hurt the tender love of our Father when we press for reasons for his dealings with us, as though he were not Love, as though not he but another chose our inheritance for us, and as though what he chose to allow could be less than the very best and dearest that Love Eternal had to give... But I do not find that this position, that of unbroken peacefulness and inward song, is one which we can hope to hold unassailed. It is no soft arrangement of pillows, no easy-chair. It is a fort in an enemy's country, and the foe is wise in assault and espe cially in surprise. And yet there can be nothing to fear, for it is not a place that we must keep, but a stronghold in which we are kept, if only, in the moment we are conscious of attack, we look... unto... Jesus.
Amy Carmichael, Rose from Brier
Suffering is all too real at the level of our senses. Our emotional responses to all human suffering -- be it our pain, loss, separation or limitation -- are valid, and need not be suppressed. These responses are God's way to remind us that we are earthen vessels with his treasure in our inner being. At that inner level we can rejoice in faith, even though we are hurting and crying on the outside. But as we operate at this faith level, we recognise the outer appearances as illusion, for they have no effect on our true inner selves in union with Christ...
God turned the adversity and evil of the next five years into adventure and good for our entire family. The nightmare of rebellion which manifested itself in [our son] Scott's life in riotous living, drugs, run-ins with the police and verbal abuse of the family seemed like it would never end. But we ultimately saw that the low road Scott had chosen was a major part of God's redemptive plan for opening the eyes of the whole family to true reality... his rebellion was no more of a tragedy than Christ's crucifixion -- both were wonderful blessings in disguise . . . the resulting revelations of truth were well worth the temporary pain.
Bill Bolkman, The Wink of Faith
Father, sometimes I know you're so close and it is easy to praise you for the evidence that you are working within me and through me. Thank you. I know I'm in your will. And often I am amazed at the evidence of your work in the lives of those around me, for whom I pray. I bask in the sunshine of your blessings. My growth is easy and natural, centred in you. I praise you and thank you for doing this within me.
But now life is a struggle again, and there seem so many burdens to weigh me down. My heart is sore. I am tired. I don't know which way to turn first. Yet I praise you, my Lord, for the experiences of these past days. I trust that they are all part of your plan to use me to bless others. I trust you, Lord, that they are necessary - - in fact, vital -- for your purpose to be accomplished within me and through me. I give you the problems, the temptations, the festering hurts. I lift them up and throw them down at your feet. My hands are free, free to bless you. In my imagination, I lift them high in joy and wonder and praise, for I would become a praise- filled person,trusting you to use even these overcast days for your glory. All is well. I am yours. The sunshine of your love still lies behind the clouds. And your care for me is beyond my wildest imaginations. I bless you, my God.
Enter the day ahead with joy, determined to be available for Jesus to live his life through you. Relax to its hardships working on you, trusting God to mould you and carry you through them. The climb can be tough, but take each event as from the hand of God and praise him, leaving the results in his hands. Then watch for the signs of the lilies in the hard ground.
Rowland Croucher ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys, (Albatross/Lion) chapter 28.