The devotionals and articles I’ve written share some of the ways I’ve sensed God through the years. He’s always wooed me with the wonder of nature—revealing Himself through creation.
My prayer is that through my reflections, you’ll see Him—not me. It’s Him who stands before you, His attributes visible, His love unguarded, and His grace abundant. He longs to shine His light upon you and show you Himself, as He truly is.
Morning Stars Sing
God’s biblical accounts of creation stun me. Silence me. Bowed before God whose magnificence strips me of every vestige of self, my questions waft away like ash in the wind. My demands wither and wane. In awed reverence, I worship the sovereign Creator whose every origination, whether beast or being, bears His glorious mark.
Awed silence is also, oftentimes, my response in the face of creation—towering redwoods standing as sentries at the forest’s gate or dawn’s vibrant hues awakening and stretching across the morning sky to embrace a new day. The artistry of the Master imbues my soul with wonder. Speechless, I partake of His glory.
My silence is born of humility—reverence for the Creator of the universe—my Creator. But my silence stands in stark contrast to those who witnessed the genesis, those who were there when He “laid the foundation of the earth,” and “enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth, it went out from the womb.” The exaltation of those witnesses could not be constrained. No. Instead of awed silence, “all the sons of God shouted for joy,” and even “the morning stars sang together” (Job 38:4,7,8).
For just a moment…
Close your eyes, block out the sounds of the world, and imagine the morning stars… In the stillness of pre-dawn, millions of stars glimmer overhead, a vast array of twinkling splendor watching over the earth below. Suddenly, the hush of the morning shatters as one by one the heavenly body overcome with joy at the grandeur of creation, can no longer contain it’s praise for the Creator. A sonorous melody crescendos from the Kingdom of God as the morning stars join together extolling the resplendence of the King. Their song reverberates throughout the earth and soon all of creation is singing and shouting praises of joy to the Creator.
Our best imaginings only hint at the glory of that moment. Nothing in our human experience comes close to the jubilation of that day.
Although, every once in awhile, in the still of the moment when creation has silenced me with awe, I think I hear a trailing melody. I hear a harmony accompanying the summertime song of evening crickets, or the tender coos of mourning doves. Notes and chords adrift on the breeze stir my soul and awaken my longing for this God of creation, my Heavenly Father. And I wonder—who sings that distant song that beckons me? Is it the song of the morning stars?
All of creation still glorifies God and bears His imprint. Even though the prince of darkness was granted rule over the earth, his best efforts can’t begin to overshadow God’s majesty.
So quiet your mind, open the eyes and ears of your heart, and behold His glory…
Circle of Life
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” —James 1:2-4
A cacophony of cackles shattered the afternoon silence, followed by the moaning trill of a lone hawk. The commotion came from a highpoint on our property. Just as I got up to follow the sounds, the birds swooped low beneath the trees in front of me. The hawk carried a gray squirrel in his talons while five crows jeered and jabbed at his prey, hoping to scavenge a meal. Finally succumbing, the hawk dropped the squirrel.
Hawk and crows parted ways leaving the squirrel dead at my feet. The bushy gray tail fluttered in the wind, but the body lay lifeless having been torn from belly to back by the hawk. The gruesome sight pierced my heart and questions bubbled forth—questions I dared not ask. Instead, I quickly found a shovel and buried the squirrel, unwilling to let either the hawk or crows have their way.
This “circle of life” never fails to disturb me. And questions nagged…
Several days passed before I allowed myself to consider why I felt unraveled. I called the questions forward and considered them one by one. Where was God? Had He turned His back? Why didn’t He protect? Why does He allow such atrocities? I soon realized the questions had nothing to do with birds and rodents and everything to do with humanity.
Where is God when the victim is a child rather than a squirrel, when the predator is a human rather than a hawk?
Satan baited a hook with doubt. Would I bite? No. I turned from his lure, allowing my questions to drift downstream. In faith, I let them go.
I don’t pretend to understand this darker side of God who allows Satan to rule as prince over the earth. Others, who are wiser and more studied than I, have written volumes attempting to explain His mysteries. As for me, I must choose, again and again, to trust the sovereignty of an omnipotent God whose thoughts are higher than my thoughts and whose ways are higher than my ways (Isaiah 55:9). However, that is not a choice I’ve always made.
There was a time when Satan caught me with such questions—a time when my own suffering seemed senseless. In my pain, I turned away from God and took the enticements Satan offered. Instead of burying a squirrel, it was my own head I buried in the sand. Numb and lifeless, I simply existed.
But a day came when I could no longer ignore the word of God firmly rooted in my life since childhood. During a retreat, God touched the small remaining tender spot in my hardening heart and I prayed a prayer that was to change the course of my life. I prayed that I’d feel again…
Slowly and gently, God answered my prayer. I felt love again. I felt joy. And yes, I felt pain. The effects of the trials I’d run from had compounded over the years, and the suffering felt unendurable at times. I was that victimized child, preyed upon by a sick and tormented human, and the wounds seemed as though they’d never heal.
Oh, but God’s glory is unfathomable! It’s the treasure hidden in the trials we endure. His plan of redemption through Jesus Christ offers us a circle of life. Just as Christ was born in a manger, died on a cross, and then cheated death by rising again, we are offered a circle of redemption: from life to death, to new life through Christ.
Our lives in Christ become a series of concentric, redemptive circles. Over and over, through His blood shed on the cross, He takes the pain of sin and offers to replace it with love, liberty and life. Rather than succumb to the doubts Satan casts, we can remember that life is but a circular journey—a journey that leads to eternity where we’ll witness the full revelation of the glory of God.
“For from of old they have not heard nor perceived by ear, neither has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.” (Isaiah 64:4)
“Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him. For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)
The day was clear and searing. The winds of the day before had blown away a confusion of clouds and haze. As dusk descended, shades of sapphire draped the horizon. Stately trees stood silhouetted against the resplendent backdrop while shadows skittered into hiding with the setting sun. The darkening canopy pressed close and I listened for whispered secrets, but silence sounded loudly. Although the day was clear, clarity remained elusive. It had been a day of watching and wondering—a day of waiting.
That was yesterday.
Today, I took my Bible and wandered out to the garden, that place where I’m so keenly aware of my partnership with God. I tend the soil, plant seeds, and provide food and water. But it’s God’s cycle of seasons and the rising and setting of the sun that grow the seeds into foods of sustenance. I cannot do it without Him. And He does not do it without me. We work together in the garden.
I sat in the weathered Adirondack chair and considered this majestic God who graces me with His partnership and whose displays of glory surrounded me. Again I waited and listened, wondering if today He’d choose to reveal His mysteries. An audience of one, I watched the rising of the morning sun and the shadows that danced once again.
With the sun, clarity dawned.
Answers to questions I’d been asking of God for several days crystallized in my mind, shimmering assurances for my insecurities. I opened His Word and sought confirmation. Were these answers from God or were they the wild imaginings of a creative mind? There in black and white, in the inerrant Word of God, my answers were confirmed. It would be a day of revelations.
In Paul’s paraphrase of Isaiah 64:4, he tells us that God has prepared for those who love Him revelations of “things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man.” Paul spoke of those who love God, and Isaiah spoke of those who wait for God. God opens the eyes, ears and hearts of those who love Him and wait on Him. We can anticipate knowing things we’ve never before known—such is the mystery of God as revealed by His indwelling Spirit.
God’s glory surrounds us; we see Him in all of creation. But sometimes the most obvious lessons are withheld from those who lack eyes that see or ears that hear. Jesus revealed the Father through parables of mustard seeds and soil. Those seemingly benign objects of nature hold the glories of God.
I long for moments when God speaks His wisdom to my soul, when He reveals His splendor in the language of my heart—through the first shoot of a seedling or on the wings of a dove. I’m learning to set aside margins of time in which to simply watch and listen and wait, time when I “cease striving and know that He is God” (Psalm 46:10).
His revelations cannot be cajoled; they come in His time and in His way. But we must partner with Him in this endeavor, awaiting His revelations with hearts of love, fertile and prepared.
And when He so deems, clarity dawns.
“So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever…that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty…” (Joshua 4:7,24)
It was a weekend to remember.
A foundation of friendship was built. A foundation that’s endured and a friendship that’s become an extravagant display of God’s love for me—His love through the love of another.
We stayed the weekend at our family cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains amidst towering redwoods and lush ferns. It was October and the coastal weather was beautiful. We spent hours talking, laughing, and sharing our hearts’ passion—our love for God and His Word.
She listened as I shared my abiding theory that my fear of snakes dates back to Eve’s encounter with the serpent in the garden. And I listened and learned as she, my friend and mentor, taught me that marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the church. Together we searched the scriptures for affirmation of our beliefs, both the ridiculous and the imperative. It was a weekend to remember.
Occasionally, I’ll pull those memories out and dust them off. When I do, one moment stands out against the others.
We took a short hike up a steep and winding grade. Winded, we reached the top and crossed an open, grassy field and found a path that led down the other side of the incline. As we stepped out of the clearing and onto the forested trail, we stopped together, awed by the magnificence before us.
Regal redwoods stood guard, their branches a canopy of protection over the mysteries below. A shadowed coverlet of intricate lacework blanketed the canyon floor as sunlight danced and dappled through the trees. The only sounds heard over the scampering of the forest’s creatures were our own whispered words of wonder.
Such grandeur breeds reverence.
My friend leaned close and quietly prompted, “Tell me something you’ve never told anyone before.” Childlike conspirators, we longed to preserve the moment.
Tinkling giggles shattered the spell when I could think of nothing I hadn’t already told her. But the question itself preserved the moment—a moment indelibly marked on the walls of my mind and heart. For in that moment I knew God’s love. He is, among other things, a friend who desires the intimacy of shared confidences. He is a friend to be trusted.
In my album of memories that moment serves as a spiritual marker—a memorial to the might of God’s transforming love. Not unlike the stone memorials of old built as reminders to future generations of God’s goodness.
But today, under the new covenant, we no longer build monuments of stones as testaments of God’s work and power in our lives; instead, His Spirit through our lives bears proof of His glorious touch. Peter, in his first epistle, tells us that the church or the body of Christ, are “living stones” who “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light…” (1 Peter 2:5,9).
Like stones, solid, strong, and enduring, so can be the relationships between the members of the church—living proof of a people redeemed and healed by the blood of the Lamb. Our stories will become markers for future generations, telling of God’s gracious love and the salvation of His people.
My friend and I built a foundation that weekend—a friendship founded on the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. A friendship that God has used to “call me out of darkness and into His marvelous light.”
It was a weekend to remember.
And I am a “living stone” proclaiming the excellencies of my loving Heavenly Father.
Scarred by Sin
“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
While vacationing several summers ago, I combed a southern California beach in search of interesting rocks and shells. Among other treasures, I picked up three sand dollars. The first of the round skeletal shells had a dime-size hole broken through the middle. The second shell also had a hole, but one that had broken through just the top layer of the sand dollar. The third sand dollar was still perfectly formed, unbroken.
I took my treasures back to my towel and pulled my sketchbook and pencils out of my beach bag. While I’m not a great artist, I do love drawing—I see things through the process that I’d never see otherwise. As I drew rough sketches of each sand dollar, I noticed that the two broken shells were more interesting than the perfect shell. Through the holes in the broken sand dollars I could see the interior of the shell where fine lines and membranes created beautiful patterns.
I smiled as I likened the sand dollars to people—it’s often those who’ve been broken by life’s circumstances that bear a unique inner beauty. I thought too that the perfect shell was a good representation of Christ—unbroken by sin, perfect. Often feeling broken myself, I thanked God for His encouragement through the shells I’d found. Perhaps my own brokenness would one day lead to an inner beauty as I walked obediently with my Heavenly Father and conformed more closely to the image of His Son.
At the end of the day I carefully wrapped the sand dollars in paper and tucked them into my pencil box for safekeeping.
Recently, I felt compelled to find those sand dollars. I was preparing to share my testimony with a large group of women at a women’s retreat. As I wrote out the thoughts I wanted to share, I became bogged down by the sins in my past—both my own sins and sins committed against me by others. Both triggered feelings of shame that I thought I’d allowed God’s soothing balm of grace to heal. Satan taunted me with feelings of inferiority and doubt. Who am I to share with these women? I wondered.
Then I remembered the sand dollars.
I found them exactly where I’d put them three years earlier—in my pencil box. I unwrapped the delicate shells and placed them on the countertop where I’d been working. I looked at the intricate design of each shell, although similar, each bore unique marks. I picked up the perfect shell, my icon of Christ, and noticed something I hadn’t seen before. While the shell was perfectly shaped and unbroken, it did bear deep grooves or scars around the outer edge—places, undoubtedly, where the sands of time had left their mark.
I held the scarred shell and waited for the lesson I felt the Holy Spirit weaving in my soul. Within moments I understood. Who was I to stand before these women and share my story? I was a child of God, forgiven and cleansed by the blood of His Son. Although wounded by sin, I’m healing. The scars I bear testify to the glory of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ.
Christ, although perfect, also bears scars— the scars of sin—our sins taken upon Himself as He hung on the cross. While Satan tempts us to believe that we’re broken beyond repair, or too broken to forgive, his gibes are pure deception. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).
As I shared my testimony a few weeks later I prayed that the women to whom I spoke would see a unique inner beauty in me—the beauty of Christ shining through the brokenness of my life. And I prayed that they’d see my scars—the wounds of sin healed by the wounds Christ bore on my behalf.
A Portrait of Love
“I have loved you with an everlasting love…”
When we think of a mother’s love we each conjure our own picture. Perhaps we recall the love of our own mother or think of the love we feel for our children. Or maybe the picture on the canvas of our minds tugs at the lonely corners of our heart, places that the love of a mother never reached. Several years ago, God replaced the picture in my mind with a beautiful portrait of a mother’s perfect love—His everlasting love.
The picture unfolded during a Palm Sunday worship service in the middle of a conference I was attending. The traditional service took me back to the church services of my childhood. Hymns written hundreds of years ago by the saints of old were sung and the low moan of an organ accompanied the reverent lyrics. The service culminated in remembrance of Christ’s blood, shed for us.
Conference faculty, pastors and laity from various denominations, served communion in ceremonious silence, passing the elements row by row. As I raised my head from my prayerful stance to accept the tray of bread passed to me, my eyes met the brush strokes of the Master Artist. I saw a mother several rows ahead of me. Her gray curls and stooped shoulders revealed her advanced years, as did the trembling of her hand as she reached for a crust of bread—Christ’s body broken for her. Next to her sat her son, a man in his forties, trapped in a body broken by cerebral palsy. His drooping head and spastic movements belie his keen mind and tender heart. He was there as a conferee. His mother was there to attend to his needs.
I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me, calling me to pay attention. I watched the pair, mother and son, for a few moments. Upon first glance, the picture seemed self-explanatory—a loving mother caring for her son. I wondered, as a mother myself, what heartbreak must ensue as you watch your child broken by life.
It occurred to me that maybe God wanted me to encourage this mother. I’m reluctantly growing accustomed to following God out of my comfort zone and approaching strangers when I feel Him leading. So I again bowed my head and asked Him, Lord, do you want me to encourage her? He whispered His answer to my heart. I want you to see Me.
Anticipation and awe commingled as I again raised my eyes and took in the picture before me. For I knew God was about to reveal to me another facet of Himself.
This time the portrait revealed the love of a mother. Unconditional love. I saw a long life dedicated to nurturing the child God had given her. I saw years of service I could barely imagine. I saw the heart of the Artist. Hues of heartache and sacrifice were splashed across the canvas. Unconditional love was the theme of His work. And the portrait was signed with the blood of His Son.
Again the Spirit whispered to my heart. This is how I love you, with the sacrificial, everlasting love of a mother. Just then the elements reached me again, this time a small cup representing the ultimate sacrifice—the blood of the Son of God. A sacrifice made on my behalf, on behalf of the mother a few rows ahead of me, on behalf of her son, on behalf of the other 400 or so conferees worshiping with me, on behalf of all of humanity.
I took the cup and drank, the portrait of a mother’s perfect love, God’s love for me, blazing in my mind and heart. And I remembered, with a heart humbled and uncomprehending, the perfect sacrifice, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Out of the Whirlwind
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?’” – Job 38:1
It was a morning of illusions. Trick mirrors cast deceptive reflections. I watched a tiny green and brown tree frog leap across my deck only to realize it was just a withered oak leaf cartwheeling in the wind. My cat nibbled at his food behind a large fern but as he scurried away the long rat-like tail that followed revealed the animal’s true identity—a baby opossum, seemingly unaware of his nocturnal nature.
I observed these occurrences while working at an outside table. I was writing about the wind. With lofty hyperbole I worked to capture an image of God. I thought I saw Him in the monarch rising and falling on the drafts and in the swaying blossoms of the buckeye tree. I was certain that I smelled His sweet fragrance swirling around me, that of honeysuckle and gardenias. Yes, God was in this place, revealing His love through the magnificence of His creation.
The crinkling sound of fine paper drew my attention to the table. The pages of my open Bible fluttered in the wind—the living, breathing, Word of God. I turned my gaze back to the screen of my computer, delighted with the metaphor. The pages fluttered again and a breeze of unease stirred my soul. I looked at my Bible and then at the place on the deck where I’d seen the “frog”. I stopped writing and prayed: Lord, I’m not seeing what I think I’m seeing this morning. What do You want me to see?
Unsettled, I walked back into the house.Within moments I found myself facing a nagging temptation. Such is human nature—marveling at the wonders of God one moment and tempted by the flesh the next. The problem was that I’d allowed this particular temptation to settle in for a few days. I’d actually entertained this rude intruder rather than immediately turning away. Oh, but how sin entices—another deceptive illusion.
I wandered back outside and felt more than saw a change in the wind. Something was different. The wind felt brooding and the sky seemed a trace darker. I listened. Where earlier I’d heard only the sounds of creation as the breeze rustled thousands of leaves overhead, now I heard sirens. Low and whining, the sirens came from all directions. The air was tinged with smoke. Three planes circled nearby, actually crossing our property at the farthest corner. I walked to a clearing where I observed the planes. I could see the markings of the California Department of Forestry on the underside of their wings. Smoke rose on the horizon.
The Spirit stirred my soul with words of knowing: His wrath is in the wind. And the words of Deuteronomy 4:24 came to mind, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” A solemn shroud draped itself across my soul as a prayer of repentance tumbled through my mind. God was indeed revealing His love through the magnificence of creation, but not in the way I’d first perceived. Instead, the wind carried the wrath of a jealous Lover. This God who will have no other god before Him burned as I allowed another to woo me while at the same time espousing words of grandeur about Him.
Like Job, God corrected me out of the “whirlwind.” I’d chosen to see only what I wanted to see. I’d written words that I wanted to read. I’d placed temptation in my pocket waiting for an opportune time to take it out and succumb to its allure. The fire in the distance had nothing to do with me. And it had everything to do with me. The smoke on the wind spoke of His power.
Mystified by this unfathomable God, I approached Him reverently, silently. I turned away from sin and turned back to Him. I saw what He wanted me to see rather than the illusions of my own mind.
I saw Love, fiery and passionate—a Love beyond my comprehension—a Love to be revered.
“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.” — Hosea 2:1
Often, during times of suffering, the landscape of my soul feels desert-like—parched, barren, and lonely. Winds of angst whip and my clarity is obscured. Emotionally, I wander without purpose wondering how I lost my way. Where am I? Is God here? And the prevailing doubt that always follows me into the desert: Does He really love me?
Several years ago, while vacationing with a friend following a time of deep loneliness, I found myself in that emotional void. I let my guard down with God and repeated the question I’ve asked so many times: Do You really love me? Instead of the condemnation I half expected, I heard the gentle whisper of the Spirit in the depths of my soul. Look around you… I looked up from the book I’d been staring at and took in my surroundings—the stark beauty of the Arizona desert. Rock outcroppings jutted from the earth and cacti stood, arms raised heavenward, against the majestic backdrop of rugged mountains.
The grandeur of God’s creation was enough—a reminder not only of His power but of His love. His providence of beauty always speaks to my soul. Reassured, I whispered a prayer of thanksgiving and then returned my attention to the book on my lap. The first sentence I read caused my heart to stir. It was a scripture quotation from the book of Hosea: “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly.”
It is a moment I will remember all of my days… I looked from the book back to the desert landscape and I waited. I sensed God had more to say. He had wooed me—allured me—led me to this desert place both figuratively and literally. He would speak tenderly to me. And He did. The words of love and assurance the Spirit spoke to my soul that afternoon have never left me. They were words marked with love, mercy, and grace. God opened the floodgates of His love that afternoon and washed away my every doubt.
He is the Lover of our souls–the One who follows hard after us sometimes even leading us into the desert—barren terrain where we thirst for relief. He meets us there, arms outstretched, ready to quench our every need. We are His unfaithful bride wandering away from His love and He is our faithful, pursuing, and ever loving Groom.
Choosing Heartbreak — Appeared in Discipleship Journal Magazine
Why should we make the costly choice to care?
“Let my heart be broken with the things that break Your heart, God.”
I whispered the familiar prayer, the founding prayer of World Vision, as I took in my surroundings. I’d arrived in the city at the end of the business day and, having lost my bearings amid a maze of one–way streets, found myself trapped by rush–hour traffic in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district.
Expensively dressed executives filled the sidewalks, leather briefcases at their sides, cell phones to their ears. Rarely making eye contact or smiling, harried men and women navigated through the crowd, touching only when accidentally pushed—a mass of individuals.
Then I noticed others mixed into the throng. A shabbily dressed derelict wandered aimlessly, mumbling unintelligible words. A woman, her face worn and dirty, sat against a building with a ragged dog at her side and a cardboard sign that spoke her plight. A young mother shuffled through the crowd, her baby and earthly belongings in a cart, the weight of the world on her stooped shoulders.
The juxtaposition startled me. The successful and self–sufficient contrasted with the downtrodden and lost. A veil of grief draped across my soul as God answered my whispered plea. The pain led me again to prayer. “Father, what are You calling me to do? How can I help?” The Holy Spirit breathed Jesus’ familiar words into my conscience:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.
—Mt. 25:35–36, 40
I looked out my car window and pondered Jesus’ words. Just then my cell phone rang, interrupting my thoughts. My husband’s anxious “Where are you?” brought me back to the task at hand—meeting him for dinner. We’d planned an extravagant weekend together, shopping at wonderful stores, dining at some of the country’s finest restaurants, and attending the theater. I forgot heartbreak for the moment.
A Collision of Desires
As I approached an elegant department store the next day, I encountered a homeless man sitting next to the doorway. Once again God answered my prayer. I hesitated, and questions pricked my conscience: Am I being a faithful steward of the money God has given me? Is there anything in this store I really need? Would I rather use my money to help this man? The answer to each question was no. I experienced a moment of conflict as my compassionate heart and my selfish desires collided.
Then I made a choice—an embarrassing one. I hardened my heart. I stepped around the man and walked into the store. This time, instead of forgetting the heartbreak, I chose to ignore it. Throughout the remainder of the weekend I joined the city’s mass of individuals, averting my eyes and reaching out to no one.
In essence I said, “Thank You for answering my prayer, God. But I don’t like the answer.” Although I liked the noble idea of being heartbroken for God, I didn’t like the pain or moral conflict that ensued. So I invoked my God–given freedom of choice. I determined that I’d enjoy my weekend rather than allowing “the least of these” to intervene.
Fortunately, that isn’t the end of my story. At a conference a few months later, I listened to the speaker, Jan Johnson, talk about allowing the things that break the heart of God to break our hearts.
I listened intently, knowing God was nudging me, calling me to conform more closely to the image of His Son. The nudging has since turned to nagging as my persistent and loving Father pursues me and asks me to make difficult choices, choices that reflect His heart rather than mine.
Fasting from Pain
Consciously allowing our hearts to break goes against not only our natural tendencies, but also against the grain of our culture. We’re bombarded with messages of comfort and instant gratification. Myriad distractions lure us from embracing pain. Television programs, movies, books, websites, and malls offer hiding places—places where we need not heed God’s beckoning to share in the suffering of impoverished people.
Bible teacher Beth Moore suggests we can “choose to fast from poverty and oppression” but warns that if we do, we’ll “never have a heart like God’s.” We’re steeped in a culture that encourages this reverse form of fasting, this abstaining from pain. We participate in the fast by averting our eyes from the needs of others. Hardened, apathetic hearts are the result.
Try as I might, I can’t justify my own frequent fasts from others’ pain, my wanderings into places of distraction. Nowhere in Scripture do I see Jesus on this fast. Instead, I see Him seeking out those who hurt, weeping with them, and serving them with a heart of love and compassion. Jesus’ willingness to bear others’ brokenness is radical and counter to the culture of our world.
Jesus prayed that though we’re in the world, we would not be “of the world” but would be set apart, sanctified by truth (Jn. 17:16–17). Our willingness to endure the ache of a heart broken by need sets us apart and demonstrates the truth of God’s love to others.
Breaking the Fast
One evening, not long after I committed to let God give me a heart like His, I stood in front of my television watching horrors unfold in India after a severe earthquake rocked the country. In tears, I witnessed haunting images of people enduring suffering beyond my imagination. After the news report, I turned off my television and sighed a prayer for comfort for the people of India.
Then, for the next two days, I ignored the television and let my newspapers languish in the driveway. I didn’t want to feel that agony. I didn’t want to share the suffering of my heavenly Father. I wanted to ignore the news and the pain.
When I realized what I’d done, Satan taunted me with my failure, attempting to convince me I’d never change. But I didn’t succumb. Instead, I confessed my weakness and gratefully accepted God’s grace. Then I caught up on the news and used the internet to track down agencies that offered tangible opportunities to help the people in India. I took a small step toward change.
When we choose to submit our hearts to God and “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Mt. 6:33), our focus begins to change. Instead of concern for our comfort, we gain the loving perspective of our Father and become more concerned for the welfare of others.
The point, however, is not just broken hearts. We must allow the pain to move us to action. The gnawing heartache becomes a spiritual marker reminding us to reach out and serve in the name of Jesus Christ. In fact, not doing so means we’ve chosen not to serve Jesus Himself. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25 is clear: An identifying seal of the righteous is the simple charity they extend. But to the wicked He’ll say, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Mt. 25:45).
James 2:24 teaches, “A person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” An outpouring of service not only evidences authentic faith but is also a natural consequence of that faith. As our relationship with Christ matures, we will choose a heart like His. We’ll willingly—even unconsciously—begin choosing to display our faith through works.
Our acts of service will be as varied as the situations we encounter. Our call may be the literal fulfillment of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor (recently, a neighbor was stricken with pneumonia and greatly appreciated my offer of a meal and a place for the children to stay), or we may search out specific opportunities (volunteering at a shelter or becoming a big brother or sister to a lonely child). Perhaps we’ll choose to sacrifice an extravagant weekend in the city for a weekend spent demonstrating God’s extravagant love to the street people in that city. The possibilities are endless.
Sustained by Comfort
Humanity is groaning all around us. Need is plentiful, and pain is abundant. Once we allow God to break our hearts, how do we keep that heartache from weighing us down under a blanket of despair?
Our grief need not overwhelm us, because we’re assured that “just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” Paul taught that there is hope for those who suffer with others. Just as we share their suffering, we also share their comfort – 2 Cor. 1:5, 7
Christ proclaimed, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt. 5:4). Blessed includes the idea of happy. In this paradoxical statement, Jesus promises happiness to those who mourn, happiness found in His comfort. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit—the Comforter—Christ applies a soothing balm of solace to our grieving hearts. We exchange our mourning for the blessing of happiness.
The Comforter brings a wellspring of encouragement and refreshment through God’s Word. Scripture is laden with promises for those who share the sufferings of Christ—promises of comfort, hope, and joy. Wrapped in the embrace of God’s assurances, we find ourselves, like Paul, praising the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3).
And His compassion is infinite.
Yes, Lord, “let my heart be broken with the things that break Your heart.”
Jesus Said No? Appeared in inSpirit Magazine
A few years ago, I took a walk with Jesus. I wandered through the gospels and followed him for a day. A shy observer, I placed myself in the background where I watched and listened. After a while, sensing his welcome, I grew bolder and actually stepped into the scenario. I wondered if I’d make the same choices he made. I soon found out.
Jesus’ day bustled with activity. I liked that–I related. He traveled, he taught in the synagogue, he cast out demons, he healed Simon’s mother-in-law, he hung out at Simon and Andrew’s house, and then after sunset, he healed and cast out demons from those who gathered at Simon’s door. We’re told that the whole city gathered at Simon’s door! (See Mark 1:21-39.)
I felt energized by Jesus’ productivity and wasn’t fazed when he rose before dawn the following morning. I’d likely have done the same. However, my patience waned as he sought a secluded place and spent time praying. Pride pulled me back to the purposeful work of the day before. I understood the importance of communion with the Father but–the crowd called.
I wasn’t alone in my impatience. Simon and the others found Jesus, “Everyone is looking for you,” they told him. I think we all agreed, the people were calling for Jesus and he had a responsibility to respond, didn’t he? I was certain he’d return to the city–I would have.
Instead, Jesus told his disciples it was time to move on. “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” Jesus’ response caught me off guard. It differed drastically from my own inclinations. I realized I would have reacted to the demand of
1the moment. I would have assumed responsibility that wasn’t mine. I would have returned to the city.
In essence, Jesus said no. Plain. Simple. No. For someone who’s spent a lifetime saying “Yes,” often to my own detriment, the
realization that even Jesus occasionally said “No” changed my life. Jesus understood what I so often missed: If he automatically reacted to the felt need of the moment, he might miss his heavenly Father’s perfect purpose for him. In actuality, if Jesus had returned to the clamoring crowed, if he’d said “Yes” to them, he’d have said “No” to his Father’s will.
I wondered how often I’d done that–said “Yes” to something I wasn’t meant to do only to then inadvertently say “No” to God’s purpose for me. I wondered what I’d missed. And I wondered how to determine between the good things that call for my attention and God’s best for me. I knew I’d find the answer back where my patience had grown thin–in Jesus’ time of seclusion and prayer.
I admit I sometimes feel prayer is more passive than productive. That’s a humbling admission–for I know prayer holds power and mystery beyond my fathoming. But as I’ve followed Jesus’ example and practiced the discipline of prayer, seeking a secluded place and conversing with God, I’ve learned that what I say isn’t nearly as important as what I hear. What I hear is the voice of God whispering to my soul, a voice I sometimes miss amid the noise of everyday life. And the voice of God is anything but passive.
Scripture doesn’t share the intimate details of the conversation between Son and Father that early morning. But we do know that Jesus left his time of solitude with a clear sense of purpose. “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” The prophet Isaiah penned these words: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21). Jesus listened for that voice and listened well.
Not long after my walk with Jesus, I had the opportunity to apply this listening principle while considering several requests: Would I join the steering committee for a new Sunday school class for women in our congregation? And would I occasionally teach the new class? Would I lead a Bible study? Would I help write curriculum for small groups in our church? The requests came within days of each other. With each request the words, “Yes, I’ll do it,” were almost out of my mouth before I could catch them. As they say: old habits die hard.
But instead of automatically reacting, I prayerfully considered each request. I conversed with God. I reminded him of the passions he’d placed in my heart and the gifts he’d given me. I told him that each of these requests felt like a good fit and seemed worthy of my time. I told him I was excited about these opportunities.
Then I listened. Much to my surprise, the word “No” breezed through my mind and heart. And I recognized the voice I heard.
Plain. Simple. No.
Unlike Jesus, I didn’t immediately come away from my time in prayer with a clarified sense of God’s purpose for me. In fact, I left feeling sort of purposeless. But as I’ve continued conversing with God and practicing my listening skills, as I’ve waited on him, I’ve watched his perfect plan for this season of my life slowly unfold.
A few years ago, I took a walk with Jesus. I wandered through the gospels and followed him for a day–and to my surprise, I heard him say “No.”