To Hear That You're Heard
BY GABRIELLA FECHER
“But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.”
“God, do you hear me?”
The words were whispered as I sat in my car, enveloped in a swathe of darkness that was only broken up by the dim light of the clock on my dashboard. I had just received news that I never expected nor wanted to hear as I was driving home that night. For some reason, my reaction was to just pull over and go numb.
At some point or the other, we’ve all said those words. Maybe they were whispered into the night sky like mine were; maybe they were shouted in desperation. Maybe they were never audibly spoken, taking the form of thoughts that circulated around our own minds. In those moments, we’re craving some assurance that the Triune God— Creator of all, the Good Shepherd, Lion of Judah, Alpha and Omega, Prince of Peace— is there, sharing the space with us, acting as a Father who notices and cares. We want to know that He, in fact, meant it when He said that He would never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), or when He said that we wouldn't be forgotten by Him (Isaiah 44:21), or that His eye is on those who hope in His steadfast love (Psalm 33:18). We want to know that He meant it and that He meant it for us specifically.
The idea that a God of such magnitude would meet with us in the fear, grief, shame, etc. doesn’t make sense. And yet, the Psalmist wrote, “But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19). It even says that He “inclined” to hear the prayer (Psalm 40:1), demonstrating not only a willingness to engage with us but a positioning of connection.
It’s significant that He hears. However, it’s just as significant that He also speaks. And, when He does, we have to be ready to hear the answer…because He has one. His answer to that question always reminds us who He is, inviting us to see His hand, hear His Word, and trace His heart. When we effectively hear His answer— an ever-needed reminder of His presence and control in our lives— our response isn’t passive. Interestingly, the word “hear” throughout the Bible is often translated from the Hebrew word, shama (also spelled shema). It appears over a thousand times in Scripture, and always points to an active form of listening. In fact, shama is also translated as “to obey.” The correlation cannot be overlooked. When God speaks, we have to not only believe that He is speaking— and speaking to us specifically— but we also have to do something with what He says. When, for example, the Scripture says that “not one word has failed of all his good promise” (I Kings 8:56), we have to believe that that statement was not an isolated truth for the Israelites; it’s a statement that is just as true for us. And, from there, we have to faithfully apply that truth as a guide, a stronghold, and an encouragement in our daily lives.
The thing about faith is that it can’t be boxed into our comfort zones. It doesn’t come on a silver platter with a nice cup of coffee and a pastry. It’s more like a push into vulnerability, making it impossible to lean on our own understanding. It’s as though the wall that we are leaning against is stripped away from us, and we’re forced (or, rather, welcomed) to change position, orientation, and support. Faith is surrendering the need to see because we know that He is good, true, and faithful to His children. He doesn’t just give us confidence in situations; He is our confidence, promising to equip us (2 Timothy 3:17) and give us rest (Matthew 11:28). His very presence is the epitome of comfort and strength when we can’t even formulate the words beyond the initial question, “God, do you hear me?”
He knows the loneliness you feel in a crowded room, the hurt that hides behind the crevices of the blinding smile you show the world, the fear that is masked by steady calculations and a pretense of control. He knows when you have poured yourself into building a safety net that— in reality— is but a cage that keeps you locked into a narrative or situation that was never intended to be a “forever home.” That night, He knew the news before I did, and He also knew that I would break from it. And what a beautiful thing it is that He knew.
We aren’t able to effectively hide our own brokenness, nor do we need to. The Omniscient God is an Omnipotent One. And, incredibly enough, He’s also an attentive Father who will reassure us that He’s heard every word when He meets us alongside the road in the dark.
Setting Our Sights on God's Grace
BY JORDAN MAYER
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
(1 Peter 1:13)
When learning how to ski, one of the first things to learn is to look where you want to go. As a beginner, the tendency is to look down to see what your skis are doing. But to build any amount of confidence and balance, you have to keep your eyes looking ahead. As if by magic, you soon realize that your body will naturally follow the direction that your eyes point.
In Peter’s first letter, he has much to say about what we set our minds upon.
When skiing difficult terrain, an experienced skier doesn't simply ski down and hope for the best. Rather, they have already mapped out the “line” or route that they are going to take. By doing so, they can see the obstacles ahead, know where to make their turns, and see where the trail ends up. In short, they are prepared and have a plan.
In order to set our hope on the right thing, we first need to prepare our minds. Trials will come. Lies and mistruths are sure to arise. The devil, himself, is said to prowl around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:9). Satan is a liar and a father of lies (John 8:44); he will use any means necessary to get us off the path and shift our eyes off of Christ. In Ephesians 6:12, we are reminded that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of evil. We are under attack and the enemy is on the move. How crucial, then, that we prepare and ready our minds. Peter uses the word sober-minded. We must think clearly, seriously, and be singular in our focus.
Having prepared our minds, Peter now says to “set your hope”. The word “set” implies an active, intentional action. There may be a great many things that vie for our attention or capture our interest. And we all have a natural bent toward choosing the wrong thing. Even as believers, our sinful flesh wages war inside us (Romans 7:23). But, because of Christ and the work of the Spirit, we now have the ability to choose the right thing. If we walk by the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).
New skiers often suffer from something called target fixation. Your eyes get locked in on an obstacle, such as a tree or another skier, and before you know it, you begin heading right for them! It feels as if a magnet is pulling you in their direction, but really the issue lies in looking at the wrong thing. Rather than focusing on what you’re trying to avoid, the solution is to keep your eyes fixed on where you want to go.
Peter calls us to be intentional about what we set our minds on. Likewise, Paul says "to set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth" (Colossians 3:2). We must fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
Remember that it was this same Peter who called out to the Lord to beckon him out onto the water. With his eyes fixed on Jesus, Peter walks across the water as if it were merely a wet floor. But as his gaze shifts, and he begins to notice the crashing waves and the swirling winds, he begins to sink. He cries out and the Lord saves him. Peter did not have perfect faith, but he had faith. I am thankful for a God who is always ready to pick us up when we are sinking, who promises to forgive and cleanse us when we confess our sins before Him (1 John 1:9).
If you have experienced this amazing grace of God, let us endeavor to set our hope and fix our eyes fully upon it. How easy it is to let the cares of the world consume our thoughts and shape our attitudes. But Jesus calls us to something greater and more glorious. For we look not to things seen, but what is unseen. We look past what is transient and look on to what is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).
But perhaps you read this and have never known what true hope looks like. Instead hope has been elusive, and life nothing more than one discouragement or disappointment after the next. But hope is not a passing feeling or pipe dream. Do you realize that the God of the Bible is called a God of Hope? He not only wants to give you hope, He wants you to abound in it, to be filled with joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13). Because of Jesus' death and resurrection, you can be born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3)! It is a hope that does not put us to shame (Romans 5:5).
This hope is the hope we cling to in this life, one that allows us to rejoice with joy inexpressible in the face of trials. And it is the hope we long for as we await the day when Jesus returns in glory.
On the Wings of Dawn?
BY JOYCE PELLETIER
"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast."
This week I want to continue the reflection on Psalm 139:7-10.
As a child of God, I should know the Spirit is always with me, yet when things get challenging and things seem to go from one thing to another, you begin to question things. As time goes on and I keep my trust in the ever-present Holy Spirit, things work out as they should.
I’m a strong believer that God does great things in our lives. The answers may seem at times, to not be in sync with our understanding. However, when I learn to surrender and hold back my assumptions that I know the answer, I learn to step aside, take a breather, and then I can watch what God does. It’s a humbling thing to think we know the way to go, when in essence, we don’t have all the facts. That’s when we hang on to truth that the Holy Spirit of God lives in the hearts of the believers. I need to rely that maybe the Spirit hasn’t revealed himself in a given situation, I still believe He is wherever I am.
At Easter, Jesus rose from the grave. He returned a short while later to bring His Holy Spirit to live within us. There is a song I’ve heard recently, that has become one of my new favorite verses; “He will never stop fighting for me.”
Truth be told He’s always at bat for us. He’s got my back; He knows what is best for me. I don’t need to wonder where He is. We don’t have to seek where His presence is. He is deep in our hearts.
I struggled impatiently recently waiting for a decision for the eye surgeon to do the cataract in my left eye, which is giving me stress. When I read, I have double and triple vision. He wanted me to return to my Optometrist to see what is going on and if it can be fixed another way.
I am very impatient when I think I know the answer, but that does not necessarily mean I know what should happen. I want it over and done with. So, over and over again, God allows things that embed in my heart the right way to go. Even if I do know the answer, I need to go through the process, so that I can learn other things that I seem to push to the wayside. It’s the patience I learn when I have to ‘wait!’ What I probably don’t know is that there are things I don’t know, that need to happen before it’s my turn for the answer to happen.
It’s going through this process that I look at verses 9-10. 9 ‘If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.’ I’ve not arrived, I know that God has me in His care and I have much to learn about His timing. As the words state, I will rise on the wings of the dawn and His hand is ever there to guide and protect me.
May His hand be on your heart every step of your journey in this life. Grab ahold of what He wants to teach you. May each new sunrise bring His truth in all things.
Open My Eyes to Your Word
BY JORDAN MAYER
“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
This past Sunday, several members of our church community got up to speak the words of Jesus in Scripture. It was truly a profound experience. As I listened, I had two thoughts come into my mind.
First, I was reminded of Scripture’s power, especially the power of it spoken aloud.
I think of Jesus during His temptation in the desert. As Satan attacks Him with his lies, Jesus responds with God’s Word. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 3:4). “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 3:7). “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 3:10).
In Ephesians 6, Paul outlines the various elements of a Christian’s armor. We are clad in the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the readiness of the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. But notice, only one offensive weapon is given. It is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).
The Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It trains us in righteousness and equips us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105). It does not return void, but accomplishes its purpose (Isaiah 55:11).
This was the same Word spoken on Sunday. Think about that. The very words of God Almighty were heard aloud in that room. And they are there before us each time we open our Bible.
As I sat there, still and quiet, hearing God’s Word spoken, I also felt convicted. How often do I just bask in the light of God’s truth? How often do I simply sit under the weight of Scripture?
I find I am sometimes too quick to pick up a devotional or page through a commentary. Do not misunderstand me, devotionals, commentaries, and various Christian books are all wonderful resources. We are truly blessed by the abundance of Christ-exalting, biblically based literature available to us. But I have found, in my own life, a hidden danger of making these supplementary resources the default and primary focus of my quiet time.
If I am being completely honest with myself, the root is often one of laziness. As I hit a roadblock with a particular passage, how tempting it is to just reach for the commentary to ease my frustrations or to abandon the effort altogether with a straightforward, perfectly packaged daily devotional.
Simply put, Scripture can be downright hard to read. But Paul actually goes a step further. In our own strength and apart from the Holy Spirit, Scripture is actually impossible to read, in the sense of being able to truly understand and apply it. Listen to what Paul says to the Corinthians:
“These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)
No one can know the thoughts of God other than the Spirit of God. And it is the Spirit of God that has been given to us when we believe upon Christ as our Lord and Savior.
We can carve out the time in our schedule, find a quiet place to read, and open the pages of our Bible, but what happens next does not rest in our own abilities. It is solely a work of the Spirit to know the thoughts of God. Praise God for the Spirit’s help!
As John Piper puts it, “One of the greatest privileges of having two good eyes is that we can read God’s word. But there is another set of eyes that have to be opened if the glory of God’s word is to shine in our hearts — namely, the eyes of our hearts” (John Piper, The Shepherd, the Host, and the Highway Patrol).
So, we have set aside a time to read. We have found a solitary place. We grip the sword of the Spirit tightly in our hands. Here lies a critical moment, a crossroads of sorts. In many ways, reading God’s Word is an act of faith. Will we pursue God’s Word in our own strength, by the power of our own reasoning and mental faculties? Or, will we submit our minds and surrender our will to the power of the Spirit?
Often, my defeats in my quiet time are linked to my failure to properly prepare, namely to pray for the Spirit’s guidance in helping me understand God’s truth. So now I pray.
Lord, open my eyes to behold wondrous things from your law (Psalm 119:18). Teach me wisdom in the secret heart (Psalm 51:6). Do not let me go from this place without being changed and transformed by your truth, renewed in my mind and thinking. Not my will, but your will be done in this time. Lord, I trust you, by your Spirit inside me, to reveal what it is you want me to see in your Word. For it is you who gives wisdom, and it is from your mouth that true knowledge and understanding come (Proverbs 2:6).
Word of Mouth and Word of God
BY JORDAN MAYER
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
(2 Peter 1:16)
When I travel for work, I like to find new places to eat. Scratch that. I like to find good new places to eat. This can be a challenge as there is never a shortage of mediocre restaurants. But I have found that one of the best strategies for finding good food is to ask a local. Usually, the places they offer up are small, hole-in-the-wall joints. Most do not look like much from the outside. There is no flashy website or giant billboard advertisement. But inside, you find friendly staff and an authentic menu that tastes like a good, home-cooked meal.
You see, these kinds of restaurants do not need to rely on elaborate marketing campaigns or expensive advertising. They simply build a loyal customer base that freely, and often passionately, shares their experience with friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers on the street. Any marketing guru will tell you that word-of-mouth remains a lucrative and powerful strategy for business. It is free advertising built on the personal and positive experiences of loyal customers.
In a similar vain, the message of the Gospel has been entrusted to the followers of God. It is to those who believe that God commands to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).
In Peter’s second letter to the churches, he recalls the manner in which this Gospel was preached. It was not a carefully crafted tale, a polished script, or a fanciful myth. It was simply the honest testimony of men, led by the Holy Spirit, who spoke of what they saw.
To craft a convincing story, one will usually employ the most convincing witnesses. But rather than reveal himself to an impressive circle of religious or political elites, Jesus surrounded himself with fishermen, tax collectors, and sinners. It was women who were the first heralds of His resurrection, even though a woman’s word was given little weight in their society. If the truth and message of the Gospel was merely a cleverly devised myth, it did not employ, by worldly standards, very convincing messengers or witnesses. But so the Bible teaches that God uses what is foolish and weak according to the world to reveal the powerful work of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:26).
The apostle Paul makes similar remarks in his letter to the Corinthians. Paul was no great orator. In fact, he was not very impressive at all. He did not speak with fanciful words or illustrations, but simply preached the crucified Christ. For the Gospel rests not in the power of its messengers, but in the message itself. Paul writes the following:
"For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." (1 Corinthians 2:2-5)
This should encourage us in our own efforts to share the Gospel. We need not worry ourselves with sounding impressive or using the right words. We can't save anyone; we merely point them to the One who can. But we are promised that God will supply us the right words at the right time (Luke 12:12). We also don't know where people are in their faith journey. Perhaps you are preparing the soil, or planting the seed, or watering the ground. But it is God that provides the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). For the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
Peter also reminds us that Scripture is our greatest authority, the ultimate source of truth, and the primary witness to the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. The testimony of men is important, but the testimony of God is greater.
There were many false teachers in Peter’s time that sprouted up within the church. They secretly and sneakily planted destructive seeds of heresy, motivated by greed. They denied the return of Christ and promoted a false freedom in practicing sin. They too testified, but they were testifying of that which is false.
In the midst of lies, Scripture stands as truth, the absolute Truth . For it is like a lamp shining in a dark place. Wherever it shines, the light makes clear what is true and what is false. On its own, the testimony of men is a fickle source for truth ,as it can be so easily swayed and twisted. And yet, grounded in the truth of Scripture, our testimony can point others to the glory and majesty of Christ.
Think of Peter and the wondrous things he beheld on that mountain. Think of your own life and the wondrous things you have seen God do. We are all a living testimony to the truth of the Gospel and the power of Christ.
And we can join in with the Psalmist in saying, “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.” (Psalm 66:16
What's on Your Mind?
BY JORDAN MAYER
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
Have you ever picked up stones along the beach or riverbed? As you turn one over in your hands, you'll find the surface remarkably smooth and rounded. Though a small child might think it a special kind of rock, it is merely a product of the environment it has been exposed to. Over the course of days, months, and years; the water and tiny sediment slowly wear away the rough surfaces and sharp edges. By a nearly imperceptible process, the stone is shaped and molded until it looks and feels like all the others.
Though we might not realize it, our minds face similar pressures. Like the winding channels that are formed by flowing water, ideas can take root in our minds to form thought patterns, behaviors, and habits. This is what Paul alludes to in his letter to the believers in Rome. There is a danger for followers of Christ to be inwardly changed, yet outwardly indistinguishable from the world around them.
The danger is not so much overt, but convert. We may be wise to a sudden bold attack, but less likely to notice a slow and methodical advance.
Jesus warns of false prophets who would appear as wolves in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15). Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), even quoting Scripture in his efforts to tempt Jesus (Matthew 4:6). And Paul warns the Colossians of false teaching that has the appearance of wisdom (Colossians 2:20-23).
Though the root of the issue was as relevant in Paul's day as it is today, the results of modern technology ensure constant and immediate access to myriads of voices vying for our attention. From the TV screen in our living room, the computer in our lap, or the phone in our pocket, there is a near endless supply of messages eager to broadcast into our lives.
But we need not resign ourselves to a life of conformance and compromise. And yet, our minds cannot operate in a void. To remove one thing requires another to fill its place. In emptying ourselves of worldly wisdom, we must fill up on the wisdom from above, namely God's Word. If we want any hope of combating the corrupting influence of counterfeit truths, we must look to the genuine article.
So what are we filling our minds with on the daily? Do we suppose that a brief exposure to the Word on Sunday’s is enough for the spiritual warfare of the week? Are we sometimes naive in thinking that a small dose of God's Truth is all it takes to withstand the onslaught of lies and mistruths to which we are exposed? Does only a little Scripture a day keep sin and the devil away?
But the issue lies in the framing of the question. It is not a question of how little of God's Word we need, but rather how much. We are to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). We must meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). We must store it up in our heart (Psalm 119:11). Like food for our body, Scripture is the sustenance of our soul. We need it daily, consistently, and constantly.
And we must remember that His Word is living and active. It discerns the thought and intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12) in order that we may discern His. As we take it in and meditate upon it, through the power of the Holy Spirit, it will begin to work in our hearts and in our minds, transforming and renewing them in the knowledge of truth. The more we read, the more we take on the mind of Christ.
Today, this week, this month, and this year; let us all endeavor to plumb the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33).
Blessing in the Wrestling
BY JORDAN MAYER
"And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, 'Let me go, for the day has broken.' But Jacob said, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.' And he said to him, 'What is your name?' And he said, 'Jacob.' Then he said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.' Then Jacob asked him, 'Please tell me your name.' But he said, 'Why is it that you ask my name?' And there he blessed him."
Two and a half years ago, I moved into a role at work that, frankly, I was ill-equipped for. I had no prior experience or background to draw from as I stepped out into the unknown. What I didn’t realize at the time was how It would reveal my own desire for control, my deep-rooted need to cover all the angles and have a clear path forward. In many ways, that aspect of my life was one I walked mainly by sight and not by faith. Through reading Scripture, I have found there is much to be gleaned from those who have faced similar struggles, but have experienced God showing up in mighty ways.
Following the Great Flood, Scripture zeroes in on a particular man named Abraham. God speaks to Abraham and provides a series of blessings that would not only bless Abraham and his family, but all the nations through him (Genesis 12:1-3). As the story continues, God’s blessing is passed on to the successive generation, beginning with Abraham’s miracle son, Isaac. Later on, we are introduced to Isaac’s two sons, Jacob and Esau.
These two men could not have been more different. Esau was a man’s man, literally coming out of the womb like a hairy cloak. He was a skilled hunter and a man of the field. Jacob was...less impressive. He was a quiet man and preferred to hang around the tents. If Esau was the muscular, high school football star, Jacob was the scrawny kid with his nose in a book. But while Jacob might not beat Esau in a wrestling match, he could certainly beat him in a battle of wits. The name Jacob means "he takes by the heel", but it carries the connotation of "cheater" or “deceiver”. He certainly lives up to this title.
On one fateful day, Jacob finds his chance to elevate his position. Exhausted and hungry from a long day in the field, Esau comes in and begs his brother for a bowl of stew. Jacob, seizing his opportunity, proposes a trade: his stew for Esau’s birthright. I’m not sure which is more shocking, Esau’s flippancy toward his birthright or Jacob’s cunning in trying to take it. But take it he does, after making Esau swear by an oath.
Jacob wouldn’t stop there. Time and again, Jacob would resort to a variety of schemes and deceptions to get what he wanted, even tricking his own father to procure his blessing. In his wake, he leaves a series of broken relationships with his brother, father, and uncle.
Yet, such as life, the check comes due. Upon freeing himself from his uncle’s tricks, Jacob is ready to return to his land. But what awaits him is a brother he wronged some twenty years prior. As Jacob’s entourage approaches, Esau receives word and goes out to meet him…accompanied by 400 men!
Jacob is justifiably fearful of his brother’s intentions. But in typical Jacob fashion, he dreams up another scheme that might deliver him out of another sticky situation. He sends an elaborate train of gifts on ahead in the hopes that it might appease his scorned brother.
But in the midst of his scheming, we begin to see a shift in Jacob. Recognizing the desperate nature of his circumstances, he offers a humble prayer to God for deliverance. Little did he know what God had in store for him.
That night, with his confidence shaken and filled with fear and dread, Jacob has a strange encounter with a man. This man, as he would learn, was none other than God himself. As the hours pass, the two become locked in a wrestling match. But it appears to be a stalemate. With the light of the dawn and Jacob refusing to yield, God makes the first move to end the match. He delivers a painful blow to Jacob’s hip.
But as the pain radiates from his dislocated hip and his muscles ache and strain against his heavenly opponent, Jacob still refuses to let go. He yearns for God’s blessing. He has nothing left to hold onto, so he holds onto God.
Weak, wounded, and now walking with a limp, Jacob comes out a changed man. He is transformed.
Firstly, God gives Jacob a new name. No longer is he “deceiver”, he is now called Israel. He has spent his life struggling with men, but now he has striven with God. For all of Jacob’s faults, he was persistent, yet not always persistent in the right things.
Captured by awe, Jacob calls the place, “Peniel” (face of God). He knows full well that it was not a fair fight. God could have easily struck him dead yet chose not to.
Jacob’s awe over his encounter with God finds similar footing in his encounter with Esau. Jacob had cheated Esau out of everything and yet, here stands his brother with tears in his eyes, running to embrace him. Jacob expects condemnation, but instead finds reconciliation.
In describing all that he has to Esau, Jacob credits it to the God who has dealt graciously with him (Genesis 32:11).
When the two brothers part ways, Jacob (now Israel) erects an altar which he names “El-Elohe-Israel”, or “God, the God of Israel”. No longer was God merely the God of his fathers, He is Israel’s God.
Jacob's faith was by no means perfect, either before or after these divine encounters. But these experiences served to grow his faith in ways it could not have otherwise. Jacob had lived a life full of schemes and deceptions, relying primarily on his own wits to obtain what he wanted. But in the end, his transformation came in recognizing what God had already provided. He didn't have to fight for God's blessing, He was blessed.
Do you feel stuck in the patterns or circumstances of your life? Are you having trouble surrendering control? Remember that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us, one who is never afraid to do what is required for the good of His children (Hebrews 12:6-7). Sometimes that means wrestling us to the ground in order for us to realize that He has always been with us and for us (Deuteronomy 31:8), that He has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).
As the saying goes, it is in coming to the end of ourselves that we find a new beginning with God. This is true when we first step over that line of faith and equally true in our daily surrendering and submitting to His good and perfect will. There is blessing in the wrestling because our wrestling can lead us to God. Jacob may have gotten a bum hip, but he limped with a stronger faith. So too can we.
He Has Always Kept Track of Me
BY JOYCE PELLETIER
"You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain."
I’ve been journaling since I came to know Jesus. He always knew me! He knew before I was even conceived and that his plan for my life is perfect. He will know me all the rest of my days on earth, then onto Heaven when we will meet face to face.
I love Psalm 139. I don’t reflect on it often enough, but God always calls me back from time to time to some important truths.
David admits in Psalm 139:1-6 “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me, and you know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” David knew that God knew him. He continuously failed, but turned back to God.
Let’s just look at these words for now. If you are like me and journal, then these words give us great starting points for our writing. No matter what we are going through, God is clear, that He knows us completely and is always with us.
A good starting point is to write a reflection on this question. How do I know God knows my every thought, action, and troubling struggles that I face daily? Think about 10 years ago! Where were you then? You hopefully will be able to write a lot. If you don’t keep a journal, then tell God verbally what you have been through.
I recently came across a journal that my mom wrote. It was her very first and only journal she kept. At Christmas of 1988, I had a strong conviction that I should get her started with her journal. I suggested to her that this was for her, no one else. She should just write as if God is the only one interested in reading it. Don’t hold back anything. Let it out.
Mom did an amazing job in her journal. It was in transposing this journal for my children to read, as well as myself, that I saw a different person than the one I knew and loved. I used to pass onto her the devotionals that we were finished with, and she read every one of them.
Mom struggled with a number of insecurities in her life. She was an alcoholic. At the time of this journal, she was still drinking, but I believe she wrote before she had a beer in her hand. She mentioned numerous times that Bible reading was on the top of her daily to-do list. Each time she shared this, she mentions how faithful God was in seeing to her needs. Mom was raised in a church-going family; but when she married, she stopped going to church. In the time of this journal, she returned to the truth of the Word. This journal revealed her positive nature in accepting wherever she was in life.
In her original Bible from the 1930’s, the print was extremely tiny, and one that I could not read without a magnifier. I had purchased a Living Bible as it was much easier a read. In her old Bible, I found quotes that were from her original copy. How important those words hold true to her later years.
I was so encouraged by her writings. She stayed with it (not every day), but I have 5 years’ worth of sporadic writing and she wrote about all her physical problems and her positive nature was to remain to God. In 1993, she began the journey of Alzheimer's Disease and never wrote again. But in all that, God knew her and now has her with Him forever.
This journal healed any old disappointments I had with my relationship with Mom as I finally understand her. With the blessing of finally delving into her writings, God showed me that I finally know my “Mom” and what a healing blessing that was for me this past Christmas. I am forever grateful for this.
BY JORDAN MAYER
"So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience."
A few weeks ago I came down with the flu. Though the symptoms themselves were no picnic, the most debilitating part was the lack of sleep. For about a week, I struggled to get even a few hours of rest each night. Sleep began to feel elusive, and night time became a source of stress and anxiety at the thought of another sleepless night. No matter what I tried or how badly I wanted to sleep, nothing seemed to work.
Isn’t it interesting how desperately we need sleep, and how quickly our bodies break down when we don’t get any? But as much as our physical bodies need rest, it is dwarfed by our soul's need for spiritual rest.
The Bible introduces us to the idea of Sabbath rest, beginning at the beginning when God rests from His work of creation. This sweet melody of rest plays throughout Scripture and finds its crescendo in the work of Christ on the cross. Just as God’s work was complete in creation, Jesus provides a perfect and complete sacrifice, and He ushers in a lasting rest.
Contrasted with Jesus’ work on the cross is the works of our own hands. Even our best deeds are like filthy rags before a perfect and holy God (Isaiah 64:6). Try as we might, we all fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23).
But, there is hope. Hebrews reminds us that this blessed Sabbath rest still remains. God is extending an open invitation to partake of the rest that He secured on our behalf. It begins by recognizing and acknowledging that our works will never be enough. Like the frustration and anxiety of another sleepless night, our tireless works can never commend us to God. But the good news of the Gospel triumphantly declares that they don’t have to! When we accept Christ, we are able to lay our works aside to experience the peaceful rest of the Savior.
The first night I finally slept through the night, I felt immense relief and joy. In a small measure, it reminds me of what it feels like when we surrender our lives to Christ. The endless toil and the constant working to be "good enough" finally ceases. In the midst of the breaking waves and swirling winds of our restless soul, Jesus lifts up His hands and says, "Peace. Be still."
For us who know Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, we can rejoice in and look forward to this eternal rest. But the rest that Jesus offers is not only a future promise but a present day reality. We can experience Sabbath rest here and now.
But to experience and appropriate His rest, we are called to strive. The Christian life is one of action; faith is active, not passive. We must hold fast to the hope set before us (Hebrew 6:18) and with confidence draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). We must lay aside every weight and run the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). So too, we must strive to enter the rest that God provides.
This striving is not a return to our own works, but rather a resting in the completed work of Christ. It is the active application of the Gospel in our lives. It comes in the daily decisions we must make to decide where we will find our rest. Sabbath is not about what we can do, but resting in what's been done.
So where are you finding rest today? Is it in Jesus, or something else?
Are you seeking your rest in career fulfillment? In the absence of family drama? Do you look for it in a pain free life, or try to find it in leisure or alone time? Is your rest found in your circumstances or is it present in spite of them?
Wherever or whatever you find yourself seeking rest in, Jesus is calling after you today. Come to the Savior, lay all else aside, and find rest for your soul.
"'Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.'” (Matthew 11:28-30)
The Missing Piece...
BY MARY SPENCE
"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 NIV)
You know how all the pieces of a puzzle have various shapes?
Some pieces are edge pieces... some have arms or "knobs" and some are indented or have "holes". It strikes me how like the pieces of a puzzle we are in our community.
I was sitting with a friend recently talking about how God arranges people in our lives for a certain time or place. How God will use the most unexpected people in our lives to help us move forward to the next level. How just the right person comes alongside you and offers support, advice or help. Not unlike a jigsaw puzzle. All our pieces are perfectly designed to fit together. In areas where we have a lacking or a deficit God places just the right "piece" alongside us. Where their "knob" fits exactly as it should in our life. And in those places where we have a gifting He will bring along just the right situation for our gifts to be used. I find such comfort in the knowledge that in His perfect plan each of us has a piece of it; that we will be used in our unique shape and gifting to be a part of the larger plan. As we each intersect with one another we begin to complete the puzzle if we are faithful and obedient and respond to His call.
Each of us has our own role to play, our own place in the divine tapestry...Just as in a puzzle where you can't see the complete picture until each piece is in place. As all those differently shaped pieces fill openings we can begin to see the larger picture unfold.
However, if even one piece is missing the image is not complete. We begin searching high and low for the missing piece. It's just not complete without that one lost piece. For without that one specific individual piece to complete the picture it is incomplete. Just as how Jesus searches for the lost one; He looks high and low, until He finds that one soul who was lost.
So if you are feeling lost or disconnected today, I encourage you to reach out. Get back to church, call a friend or accountability person. Or find a place to serve, to bless someone else, because your piece is important in someone else's puzzle.
We thank you for our various giftings and that you have a specific individual plan for each and every one of us. That we are each a vital part of you wondrous plan for this world. We are grateful for your everlasting love for us and that you have a personal interest in each of our lives. Guide us each day Heavenly Father to submit to your wonderful plan and move when prompted or to hold our tongue until your timing is right. Give us the wisdom to know when it is your will and not our will. We pray for discernment and patience to wait on you and your timing. In your precious son's holy name. Amen.