What does it really mean to live by the verse, "All things work together for good"? It means on certain days, days like today - you turn on the projector of your life, and you allow it to run - clipping along with images of past people, conversations, & events. You relive choices you made, paths you didn't take, for reasons of logic, or fear, or cowardice. And you reflect. You get down in the mire and think as the projector whirs along, inanimate & efficient. You review it all - the good and the bad. Your eyes never close, and your head never turns. Then the whap, whap, whap of the last reel let's you know that you've caught up to "now." And you understand. Truly understand. The mistakes, the victories, the heartbreak, the hope - all have led you to right here, and right now. They have created the essence of you. The "sadder, but wiser" yet simultaneously, the "blessed and highly favored" version of you. You also see the hand of God at work. The guidance, the gentle nudging, the course correcting, and protecting. You have true hindsight, and realize you are seeing your past the way God sees your entire lifeline. We are the sum of our choices, but God sees where each choice will lead, and how He can orchestrate it for our good. However, like the benevolent parent He is, good does not always equate happy. It just means for our benefit. And knowing His sovereignty, no matter how you muddle the circumstance, is the best way I've found to live by the verse, "All things work together for good."
It is all well & good to have faith when the sun shines. It's effortless to believe in God's promises when Life is your friend. But at some point - there will be darkness, we know not when or how. But when it does arrive, for it always arrives, that is where faith is truly stretched & tested. It will be an inaudible whisper, tugging at the back of your mind... "Did God reallllly say...." The first lie, the oldest lie, uttered in staggering confidence by the original gaslighter. That kind of Darkness loves nothing more than the company of your mind. Your doubts are sweeter than any flower's nectar, fueling his very life force. I am here to remind you, and also me, yes, He really did say. And so, when the voice comes - an enchanting whisper in the Darkness, Steady your shaky hands, strengthen your resolve. Then answer with a bold & self-assured voice: "It may be Dark right now, but Light is coming. It is all well & good." And it is.
If a sunrise is a whisper, a gentle promise of the day that will be - Then sunsets are a Jubilation! of the promise that was kept. Each morning, the inky darkness is slowly invaded by pale yellow and pink and just a hint of orange. They appear together, breathless and ready to relieve the darkness. A fresh, clean slate firmly in hand. If you look close enough, you can just make out the writing on the edge of the slate: "Today can be whatever you decide it will be." And then we go on, living our lives, making choices - some good, some bad, but none insignificant. Because at the end of the day, the bold streaks of orange and red, and magenta burst across the horizon, shouting in nature's language, "We have done it!" Another day is complete. And then, the darkness arrives, and the Sunset prepares, by handing the slate over to be cleaned once again. Sunrises promise to appear, and Sunsets promise to celebrate - it is up to us what we do with the in-between.
Writer's Block feels like standing in the middle of a wood, where a thousand paths diverge all around. You can't see past the initial idea, and if you choose one, you may turn yourself around, and end up down another - the beginning & the end making a strange chimera of ideas. I suppose the point is, I have much to say, but not the words to complete them. Maybe another day. The important thing is that I showed up to the woods today, and entered in.
I have a cat, he's a very sweet cat Henry is his name. He never causes trouble, he never even meows. Just a teeny, tiny "Eh!" is all he ever says. That is, unless he's on his way to the vet, and then the yowling comes deep from his soul, and cuts through my heart. But, this is not about his yowl, this is about his teeny, tiny "Eh!" When caught in an everyday moment of distress. I have another cat, he's a very...different cat Rooney is his name. He was found outdoors, malnourished and alone. We took him in but, he's not used to cats. He doesn't know how to BE a cat. He's learning to play, and even to cuddle, but he just doesn't GET that other cats are his friends. Especially Henry. Henry loves everyone. But Rooney does not love everyone. Nearly every day, Rooney chases Henry, and not in the fun way, and then Rooney gets in trouble. I say his name, and he looks sheepish, "I've done it again." This last time, I was fixing dinner, and I heard that teeny, tiny, "Eh!" and I spun around. Rooney was ready to pounce. I said his name (with LOTS of authority) and he ran off. Henry looked at me, grateful. Then I realized, Henry hadn't shouted, he hadn't yowled, or panicked, he just quietly said, "Eh!" and trusted that I would hear him, and fix the problem. And I did. And then I realized - This applies to me, too. It doesn't take shouting, it doesn't take panic, It just takes trusting that the One who can solve my problems is always, ALWAYS, listening. May we all have the faith of Henry.
When I'm in pain, the physical kind of pain, the "Sweet Lord Jesus deliver me" kind of pain I like to play a game. It's not really a game, it's just a way to occupy my brain in the depths of that pain. Perspective, if you will. I ask myself, "Would you rather?" as in, "Would you rather be in THIS kind of pain?" and I focus... OR and then I think of a comparable pain I've clearly lived through, and say "Or THAT kind of pain?" and then I remember... And then I decide which pain I prefer. That's the end of the game, but while I'm busy deciding, the pain is subsiding. And that's what I'm thinking of today. (P.S. I'm really okay. I've been having my foot worked on and today was a treatment. The most pain is during treatment. I've lived through it before, and Ibuprofen is a gift from the Lord)
Maybe it's just me... or maybe you've felt it too. When I get an idea, a wonderful, marvelous idea - it is all the cliches. A lightbulb! A spark! A mind worm I simply can't shake. I feel like a genius! a trail blazer! A friend to Einstein & Tesla & Shakespeare all wrapped into one. But then... When I begin to breathe life into this idea, when it becomes more than just a lightbulb! a spark! Suddenly... my company changes to Larry, Curly, and Moe. I'm a buffoon! an imposter! and surely, someone else can do this better than dumb, unimaginative me. But... This idea! This spark! This mind worm that simply won't shake, wasn't given to just anyone... It was gifted to me, or to you, Yes, you...with your very own wonderful, marvelous idea. And so, What I would like to say, to both you, and also to me, is the same brain that conceived this idea - is the only one who can bring it to life. What are we waiting for? Einstein & Telsa & Shakespeare are gone, but then again, so are Larry, & Curly, and Moe. And haven't we always been told anything worth having is worth working for? SO Go forth you, and go forth me Let's bring our wonderful, marvelous ideas into this world! How do you know what it is? Why, so simple... It's the lightbulb! The spark! It's the thing that's missing that only YOU or I can provide. I know just the thing...don't you?
Some would say today is Groundhog's Day But naturally, like anyone - in the know - I realize that it is really Bill Murray Day. And on Bill Murray Day I think of Bill Murray, (naturally) and how much joy he's brought to my life - through laughter, and yes, even through tears (comedians are great at drama - timing you know). But then I thought, how sad & funny that my very good friend, (Bill Murray) has no idea we're friends. 😦 He knows not that he has traveled with me, through my life - the uPS and DOwns. In my own Groundhog Day - Bill Murray is a townsperson, moving blithely along, clueless as to his impact on my every day life. (Alright, not every day, this is just a metaphor) And then I thought: I wonder how many other Bill Murray's there are (just one, but stay with me) walking around, impacting lives, never knowing they have a whole - secret world - of fans cheering them on. Not super fans, not stalker fans, just regular folks, wishing them well. (I know there are haters of Bill Murray, but just move on quietly, this page of verses is not for you). And then finally I thought, (who knew Bill Murray was such a deep topic?) What if we could tell our friends, near and f a r, famous or family, how much they meant to us? If you feel you absolutely must, you may use a separate example other than Bill Murray (but I don't know why you would). Whatever you do, be sure to tell your Bill Murray (or equal substitute) you love them, and that you wish them a lifetime of repeated happiness (in joy, not in a time-loop) in exchange for the positive impact they have made on you. Bill Murray Day should be a day of gratitude (solemn nod). I think he would like that, he might even say, "So I got that going for me, which is nice." That sounds like my friend, (Bill Murray) to me.
At the base of the mountain I gazed upward, toward the invisible peak - for it was shrouded in clouds and a mist of uncertainty. I gazed upward at the rocks - at the difficult path ahead. I gazed upward, at the sheer scale & impossibility. But then - I felt a nudge from behind - So gentle, that it was almost a whisper personified. "I am with you." And so, I took a step. A shaky step. I reached out my hand to begin the climb, But paused - "I'm scared." The gentle nudge moved me forward - "I am with you." I grabbed the earth, I took the step - I began the climb. It went well at first, But then - I stumbled. Panic set in and I nearly let go - But then - from beside me, guiding my hand, a voice so soft it was like a caress personified. "I am with you." And so, I continued the climb, Making progress, falling back, gaining ground, Feeling scared & brave & accomplished all at once. This continued on, for what seemed like ages. Until - One day, the mist enveloped me, and I passed through it to the other side. As I reached the top, I finally experienced the reward of my life long struggle. a view so - magnificent- that it overwhelmed my senses and rendered me speechless. Until. A voice so familiar, it was like Love personified. I gazed upward toward the source, My soul shining in recognition. "Oh! I know you... You were with me always."
“Don’t try to figure out what is happening. Simply trust Me and thank Me in advance for the good that will come out of it all. I know the plans I have for you, and they are good.”Jesus Calling, Sarah Young
“Where is hope to be found? In five life-altering words: “I am with you always.””New Morning Mercies, Paul David Tripp
Now Ornan turned and saw the angel; and his four sons who were with him hid themselves but Ornan continued threshing wheat.1 Chronicles 21:20, NJKV
For a couple of years now, I have been doing journaling after reading devotionals and my Bible. I don’t talk about it a lot, because it feels inauthentic to talk about something I feel like I should be doing anyway. It would be like saying, “Hey guys…I ate food today! Isn’t that impressive of me??” But, as I said in my previous post, this past year has been a year of re-evaluation, and maybe I need to talk more about things that mean something to me, and less about things that don’t.
Anyway, that small pre-cursor to say that not for a long time have the words I have read in a group of devotionals dove-tailed so smoothly with a Bible verse that was so completely applicable to my current state of mind; which was anxious and worried. I had just watched a YouTube video that had me nearly nauseous from a wave of worry. Now, I’ve been doing a LOT better about overcoming my anxiety (and a whole lot of that is thanks to the devotionals and journaling) but this one was a real doozy. I couldn’t even finish the video, but instead, decided to try and calm my mind with some reading.
As fate (or faith??) would have it, I read the passage about David wanting to number Israel – and how the Lord punished his sin of pride by offering David 3 options, and David chose option C – a three day plague. Now, to us in 2021, a 3 day plague doesn’t sound bad at all, right? Well, this was an old testament biblical plague, and they don’t do anything small.
SEVENTY THOUSAND people died in those three days.
I cannot even fathom the carnage. David even lamented to the Lord, “Why punish these sheep? What have they done? Instead, let my iniquity be on me and my household!” (My paraphrasing). Gotta say, I’m with you on this one, David. A leader of the people commits a wrong-doing against the Lord and the sheep are punished? How is that ever fair, whether now, or in Biblical times. But – this post isn’t about David, or any person in authority who does something wrong.
This is about the sheep he references. The people just living their lives and then BAM…plague. In my modern mind, I can really understand where the minds of the people may have been at during this three days of absolute death and horror. The rate of death must have been so abundant and so fast, that they may have been stepping over the bodies of friends or family. How in the world could they have coped, or worked, or done anything but weep uncontrollably every day of those three days? Did they know it was only going to be three days? Did David send out a decree or warn anyone? I have no idea, but that would have been a nightmare of a press release to draft.
But, again, let’s narrow our focus to the hero of the story. My new hero. Ornan the Brave. In verses prior to the one I shared above, it reads:
And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it. As he was destroying, the Lord looked and relented of the disaster, and said to the angel who was destroying, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” Then David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, having in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. So David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell on their faces.”1 Chronicles 21: 15-16
There is a lot happening here. David and the elders are in sackcloth, which is a coarse garment, usually made of goats hair, and symbolizes mourning or penitence. They are justifiably freaking out, and what does Ornan do? Verse 20 tells us that he turns and SEES THE ANGEL, most likely with his sword still drawn, and his sons, also completely justifiably, run and hide. But Ornan….Ornan the Brave just shrugs and says, (obviously my conjecture) “You know what? I don’t get what’s happening here – but I’m gonna trust that the Lord has this – and that He’s with me always, and that it’s gonna turn out for my good.” – and Ornan KEPT ON WORKING, and he was right.
The plague ended at his literal doorstep, and David came calling and paid him 600 shekels of gold by weight for his property (which is nearly $600,000 in today’s money). AND Ornan’s little abode became the site of the future temple of the Lord that Solomon would build during his reign.
All of this for a humble man who looked at an angel with a drawn sword and said, “I’m not going to worry about this, or even attempt to figure it out. I’m just going to press on, and believe that the Lord will work it out for my good.”
What an encouragement this story was to me. And I hope it is to you, too. There are obvious parallels we can draw to today’s world, but I hope the main takeaway is one of trust in the Lord’s timing, and his protection under the most horrific circumstances. I would say unfathomable…but somehow, after 2020, that’s the wrong word choice.
Now, of course within those seventy thousand people were many other Ornan’s. People who trusted the Lord, and who died anyway. Why did that happen? It happened because Life is unfair, and it’s been unfair since Eve and Adam took that first bite of the fruit they had no business eating…it’s been unfair since Cain first took a stone and murdered Abel ahead of his time. Since that point… good people die before bad people, and people who are perfect and sunny and too good for this world are taken too soon. It happens because of Sin with the capital S. And Sin is here to steal, kill, and destroy. And the thing it would MOST like to steal, kill, and destroy, is our faith.
As I was writing this, it also dawned on me that Ornan and his moment of complete trust occurs in chapter 21, verse 20. Perhaps this is a subtle sign that this should be my go-to verse for the year 2021? This is the year that no matter what the circumstances, no matter how much everyone around me is (COMPLETELY JUSTIFIABLY) freaking out, I should keep doing the work that the Lord has laid on my heart. But I should also do it with the renewed fervor of a man who has just seen an angel of the Lord with his sword drawn and said,
“Meh. Not the craziest thing I’ve seen today. God’s got this.”