Holding onto Faith

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The Israelites often lost faith that they belonged to God and that He would provide for them. They had a long history of God’s care – rescuing them from their slavery in Egypt, excluding them from many disasters that He brought upon the Egyptians, passing over their first born when all the Egyptian first born were taken, providing food and water in the desert and on and on… But still, when the going got rough they would forget that God had been there for them in the past, and they would lose faith in God to work out the current circumstances. It grieved God’s heart.

I sometimes do that myself. There are so many situations in which God has protected me, but I do not always remember when I am in a tight spot. It is good for me to count my blessings regularly so that I will remember God’s faithfulness when times are difficult.

There are times when God’s direction seems unclear and I wonder if God is still leading. It may be that He is testing me to see if I will remain steady. God may also be waiting for me to take care of things I know I should do but have not done yet before He gives me new opportunities.

In any case, God wants us to hold fast to the faith that He is near and will not abandon the plan He has for my life and yours.

God does not forget us.

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy
Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us
through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great
priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a
sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled
to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed
with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,
for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10: 19-23

Practicing Faith

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The wee hours of the morning are times when I am most likely to be fearful. It is in the darkness that my imagination can run amok and my faith in God’s sovereignty is weakest. Recently I found myself worrying about a friend and recognized the next morning how little faith I had practiced during those hours of the night.

I did not get up and look for Bible passages that could have restored my faith and peace in God. I did not consider the person’s ability or their relationship with God to see them through. I did not pray earnestly. I did not pray for God’s will to be done. I did not sing one of the many hymns I know. Each of those those things would have been practicing faith and would have brought joy to the heart of God and peace to my heart. Instead, I worried.

I love the story in Acts 16:25 about Paul and Silas praying and singing in prison. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” This was after they had been beaten and their feet had been fastened in stocks in an inner cell.

This same Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:9

Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25

A story was shared with me recently about a group on a mission trip who paused to pray before going out to the work site each day. The leader prayed that God would keep them as safe as He wanted them to be. What a wonderful way to practice faith by praying in essence, “not my will, but your will be done, Lord.”

Harboring Resentments

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Several times recently I heard warnings about the danger of harboring resentment.

The first example was when Aaron and Miriam spoke against their brother Moses, resenting his high place with God. They thought they were pretty good themselves, and they could see faults in Moses, so why did he have such a high place? Their resentment resulted in grave consequences from God, which brought them back to appreciating the places God had so generously given them in his service. It was Moses’ plea to God that saved them from more permanent discipline. (Numbers 12)

The second example was King Saul’s resentment of David. Saul had lost his kingship because of his disobedience to God’s commands. Twice he did what he could justify as being right instead of doing what God had said to do. So, God chose another king, David, a lowly shepherd. But Saul didn’t accept his consequence and step down; instead, he spent the rest of his life fighting against David and ultimately God. (I Samuel 13-19)

Then I read about how the Israelites refused God’s direction to go in and take the Promised Land. Perhaps they resented that it was going to take some effort on their part and the odds did not look good from a human perspective. They were afraid. They completely disregarded that the land was theirs by the promise of God. As a result, they spent 40 years in the desert. (Numbers 13 and 14)

These were all circumstances I could relate to: 1) resenting others by comparing my life to theirs, 2) justifying my action and then resenting the consequence, 3) resenting/refusing the effort it takes to claim a promise of God.

After so many references relating to resentment, I have to believe it is something God has in mind for me to take a serious look at. This morning it came to me that even my resentful thoughts will affect my relationships – with God or others and most likely both.

These verses in Proverbs 16:1-3 KJV offer hope and direction for me:

“The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits. Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.”

God is able to change my heart, my spirit, my thoughts, my actions. My part is to give them to Him.

Encouraging Others

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The wind is blowing the light snow horizontally across the field behind my house. The birds come and go at the feeder, sharing the seeds among themselves. The wind chill temperature is in the single digits and the forecast for the next several days looks like the cold and snow will be around awhile.

During the winter, I like to hike to keep healthy, but this kind of weather does not call me outside. I remind myself of the benefits of getting out, and call others who will put on an extra layer and make the effort that I am reluctant to make alone. I am glad for their encouragement.

I ask myself, in what ways might I be an encouragement to others? Caleb and Joshua from Numbers 14 come to mind.

The twelve Israelite spies, including Caleb and Joshua, went into the land they were promised by God to see what it was like. Ten of them saw the impossibilities, the strength of the people living there and their fortified cities, instead of God’s promise to give them the land. Only Caleb and Joshua kept their eyes on God instead of the people they would have to conquer. Although they were in the minority, Caleb and Joshua encouraged their people to stand on God’s promises.

(Joshua and Caleb) “said to the entire Israelite assembly, ‘The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.’” Numbers 14:7-9

I could encourage people to trust in the promises of God to overcome whatever circumstances they may be in. We may look at our challenges and be overwhelmed rather than looking to the Sovereign God and trusting Him. Whatever our situation, it is not too big for the Lord.

Jesus said, “”With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 What encouraging words!

I pray to keep my eyes on the Lord and encourage others to do the same.

Ice Beneath the Snow

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Hiking with friends on a cold winter day, a light snow covered the ground. We soon discovered that under the snow were patches of ice, making our footing unstable. We slowed our pace, uncertain of our next steps.

There were places where the hiker before us had scuffed the snow allowing us to see the icy patch so we could step around it. We kept our eyes to the ground more than usual that day.

A friend once cautioned my habit of rushing about with, “Slow and steady wins the race…” It has come to mind more than once when I needed to remember it.

Thankful for these words from Ephesians 5:15a and 20:
“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise… always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Not a Kid

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After school one day, I took three siblings to the park to play while their mother tended to another child. We got to playing tag on the playground equipment. Yes, I said we.

Laughing and running about, I felt as carefree and agile as the children. To avoid being tagged, I jumped from a platform, thinking I could make it across the rope net below. Instead, I landed in the net, quite unharmed, but thoroughly entangled. One of the children looked down at me and scolded, “You are not a kid, Ms. Miller!”

I have told this story many times, laughing at this comical picture of myself, and grateful for the happy ending. I remembered it this morning, and wondered about the spiritual application it might hold.

Of what spiritual behaviors do I need to be reminded that I am not a kid?

Jesus said to become like little children in humility. So I am free to be like a child when it comes to humility.

But His brother James encourages our growing to maturity in perseverance and wisdom.

Thank God for the truth of a child, whose wisdom applies beyond the playground. It is a spiritual reminder that I am not a kid anymore and I need not display spiritually immature behaviors such as pride, or giving up easily, or poor judgment…. God is so faithful to help me turn it around, when I ask. My strength is in the asking.

“And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” Matthew 18:3-4

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:2-5

Gratitude

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God does on occasion, and more often than I would like to admit, adjust my attitude of ungratefulness by providing experiences that change my view of my circumstances.

This was the case for the Israelites in Numbers 11 when they were ungrateful for the manna that God had provided them on their desert journey from slavery in Egypt toward the Promised Land. They complained about the lack of meat. So God provided meat – so much meat that they were soon sick of it, some of them to death.

I appreciate this reminder that a lack of gratitude may very well lead to circumstances that motivate me to be grateful, when I could have chosen to be thankful to begin with.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:16-18

In God’s Eyes

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Recently I heard self-esteem referred to as “knowing who we are in God’s eyes.” I have come to value this understanding of self-esteem.

I had always thought about it differently, thinking of self-esteem as how we see ourselves. But we can be mistaken about how we see ourselves.

Our self-esteem is sometimes taken from the reflection we see in the eyes of others. But we can misread what we see in the eyes of others. And they can be mistaken, too.

God, however, makes no mistakes. He created us – for himself. In God’s eyes, we are precious. In God’s eyes, we are worth dying for, not because of some special trait we hold or some special act we have made, but because he loves us and wants a close relationship with us.

“You (God) created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:13-16

”But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:14-15

I love this picture of who we are in God’s eyes.

Not Mine

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Children often learn the concept of ownership very early, using the words “my” and “mine” quite liberally. I recognize that attitude in myself even in my advanced years, and have given some thought to it recently, especially as it pertains to relationships.

To say you are my friend (or any relationship) is not equivalent to ownership. You are not mine. You belong God. You are not mine to change or mold into my vision of perfection. You are God’s. You are His to lead and guide according to His purpose, not mine.

I admire the “not mine” attitude of John the Baptist in John 3:30. His followers were concerned that some were now following Jesus, to which John replied, “He must become greater; I must become less.” John’s joy was in Jesus’ success.

May I be less ownership oriented in my relationships so that the Lord can become greater, not only in my life, but in the lives of others.