Monday, January 15, 2018

Grace for the “No”

 

[Photo of a very disappointed young child]


Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it
[the thorn in my flesh] away from me. But he
said to me, “My grace is sufficient for
you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
—2 Corinthians 12:8-9

As a young child, I remember how hard I cried whenever my parents said, “No!” to me. I held out hope that perhaps they would change their minds if I just showed them how miserable they were making me by not allowing my friend to stay overnight, or to get the sweater I really wanted, or to accept the invitation to go swimming.

Much of my adult life, I spent sulking or feeling sorry for myself when God didn’t answer “Yes” to my reasonable requests for a coveted award, or a Christmas trip home, or even for a baby of my own.

Just lately, in the “golden” years of my life, I have learned that when God says “No,” He has a much better plan— even though it might not seem that way at the time. Most times, that “No” signifies that he will fit me with extraordinary grace through means I would never have imagined.

In the Bible story recorded in in John 11, sisters Mary and Martha learned this difficult lesson from Jesus Himself. They had sent for Jesus because their brother Lazarus was dying. Yet, Jesus waited two more days before going to them. In the meantime, Lazarus died. Jesus promised them they would see the Lord’s glory through this, but they still grieved and criticized Him for not coming sooner to heal Lazarus.

The story ended even better than they would have ever imagined. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead for the display of His power and sovereign will. Their brother was alive and their Lord had shown Himself to the crowd that had gathered. He was indeed glorified through this act of love and grace.

I would encourage you to do what I am learning to do—to be content with God’s will and to watch and wait for the ways He reveals Himself in His “No” answer to our prayers. May we see His amazing grace demonstrated in our lives, as we trust Him and learn to accept His answers!

 

 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Janus

 

[Photo of The Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie, PA]


“The Lord will watch over your coming
and going both now and forevermore.”
—Psalm 121:8

The name for the month of January comes from the name of Janus, the Roman god of doorways. This god had two faces: one looking forward and one looking backwards. As we step over the threshold into this new year, we certainly have a better view of the year behind us than we do of the one ahead.

We constantly read in the Psalms that we are to consider the Lord’s works and see all that He has done. This good advice is illustrated many times in Scripture.

Samuel, in a story recorded in 1 Samuel 7, met with the Israelites at Mizpah to confess their sins and cry out to God for deliverance from the Philistines. Here Samuel took a stone and set it up, naming it “Ebenezer,” saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

At this threshold of a new year, we should look back long enough to see how the Lord has helped us through the year just past. I like to make a list of the high points. Then, I take note of how impossible it would have been to meet the challenges and enjoy the blessings without the direct intervention of our Lord.

Looking forward into the new year presents a bit of a harder task. And, lest you get into too much daydreaming, as I often do, let me warn you of the dangers here. We cannot possible know what lies ahead of us in the new year. As much as we would like to plan it out, we don’t have that luxury. We need to remember that God controls the future. We do not.

Nevertheless, we do need to consciously and volitionally trust God with what lies ahead. We often will not know what the next day will bring. Yet, we should not live in fear, or presume life will always work out according to our plans. If we belong to a Sovereign God, we know that we can rely on His wisdom to guide us and His love to watch over us.

I pray that we will know more about how to live in the way of trust, to live in peace with our future, even while we do not know what it will bring. We can depend on the One who knows every day before we get to it and the one who will bring light to the pathways of our lives. As the Psalmist has committed himself, recorded in Psalm 119:105-106, let us also say:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.

______________________

1 Note: The photo at the top of this devotional of The Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie, Pennsylvania, was taken by photographer, Pat Bywater, December 26, 2017.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Disrupted!

 

[Photo of Mary and Joseph talking]


“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but
it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
—Proverbs 19:21

Mary and Joseph were planning a wedding. The initial approval of parents and the pledge that would forever bind them together had taken place. Now Mary could prepare for that important date they had ahead of them.

But, the angel Gabriel, coming to her with an unheard of announcement, completely disrupted the wedding plans. She would have a Baby by the Holy Spirit. Not only that, they would have to travel to Bethlehem, some 90 miles away, just about the time the Baby would be due. Plans disrupted!

Mary and Joseph were planning a trip home to Nazareth from Bethlehem. They must have been excited about introducing their families to the Newborn, and getting into a “settled” life as newlyweds.

But, an angel came and told Joseph that, in order to protect his family, they would have to go to Egypt for awhile! Plans disrupted!

In all of these events, Mary and Joseph responded to God’s plans by obeying and adapting their schedules and dreams. From the very beginning, they seemed to submit willingly to God’s mysterious will. Mary even responded to the angel, as recorded in Luke 1:38:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

I must admit that I have much more trouble adapting to disrupted plans than Mary and Joseph seemed to have. If the weather gets bad, and friends are unable to make it for dinner, or cousin Jake gets sick at the last minute and the family can’t get together for pizza and games, I’m disappointed. If I felt assured that I had the new job for which I had applied, and then I heard that someone else got it instead, it would take me several days to move on from my disappointment. Maybe you respond to disruptions in the same way.

When we stop to remember that we, like Mary and Joseph, no longer should live for ourselves, but rather for the God who has called us, we can begin to live in the place of His blessings, protection and usefulness to the Kingdom. I think of the verses in 1 Corinthians  6:19-20:

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Lord, help us to realize, like Mary and Joseph did, that since You called us, our lives will never be our own again. Help us to understand that we have a new loyalty, a new responsibility, to do Your will above our own, and a gladness and eagerness to obey, in order that You will be glorified. May Your will be done on Earth, in us, as it is in Heaven. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.