If you’ve ever wondered if God hears your prayers. He does. “But the angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer.'” Luke 1:13a
Have you ever thought of what that means? Some of us may remember it was the title of a popular TV series in the 80’s. There was a family that experienced the ups and downs of life, growing into teenagers, and working through relationship issues. Doctors have also been known to describe a throbbing pain in a child’s leg as, “growing pains.” According to the Mayo Clinic, “there is no evidence that growth hurts…and, there’s no specific treatment” (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/growing-pains/basics/definition/con-20029782). Hum, let’s think about this, “no evidence that growth hurts.” Growth always has some sort of ache with it – a heart ache, a muscle ache, growth in aging, or a recovery period, but there’s an ache of some sort. I’ve never experienced an ache that did not hurt. There are different levels of hurt. As I type that I am visualizing the chart they use in so many ER’s in hospitals with the faces on it, and each face represents a level of pain. I mean really – if I am in pain I certainly do not want to study a chart, pick out what level mine is, and then have a discussion about it! The evidence is – whether our pain is on a level of 1 -10, it’s ours, it’s felt, it’s real, and caused some sort of interruption in our life.
Whether our pain is related to a separation, or loss of a relationship there is some pain. And the pain is associated with growth, what did we learn from it. Our pain could be from training our bodies to be in better shape. Our muscles will ache from training and developing them. We can’t be marathon runners by sitting on the couch, it requires effort, and growth. Mile by mile, step by step, ache by ache. If we suffer an injury that requires a rehabilitation period, there is pain. The pain is the growth that we gain by doing our exercises, and teaching the muscles to work again.
So what about growth in ourselves, as people. We all start as babies, and as we grow there is pain. Learning to walk, we fall. But then, get right back up and begin again. Bumps, bruises, and all. We learn to ride bikes: fall. Get up and pedal again. Scrapes, scratches, and all. Throughout our lives we continue to grow, yet what happens if we were to shrink back, or refuse to grow? What would happen if a child was learning to ride a bike, fell, and then never got back on the bike to try again. If an infant learning to walk, fell, and then never tried again? Would the parent ignore the pain, and allow the learning process to remain undone? No. Would the parent encourage them to keep going amidst the setbacks, scratches, bumps, bruises, mishaps, and mistakes? Of course! If we as humans encourage our children to grow, to persevere, to endure, why would we think that our Heavenly Father, God, would want us to remain as infants? Hebrews 6:1b, “Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding.” To become mature, to grow, and as Paul shares “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on…” Phil. 3:12. As we grow, and experience our growing pains, may we not shrink back, stop, or give up. But, “Instead let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes, so that we may know what His will is for our lives.” Eph. 4:23, Ro 12:2.
So friends, let us move through the growing pains, blossom, flourish, and GROW!
Not too long ago I thought I was on a road, a path, that God had for me. I didn’t expect it to be easy. Then one day, the road came to a dead end at the edge of a forest. In front of me were massive trees, too numerous to count. As I look at them I try to see where the opening is, the forest is so thick and filled with trees, plants, and bushes that there doesn’t appear to be an opening. My eyes move back and forth in an attempt to find one opening; an opening that would be the way in which God wants me to go.
Occasionally there’s a glimmer, so I attempt to take one step, but then another dead end. To the right I see another glimmer, I move that way only to be stopped again by thick bushes. As night falls I ask, O Lord, please let me see the tree thru this forest. The tree is on the path on which I am to go. If I’m moving I’ll feel secure, feel like I’m doing something, going somewhere, making progress. But, as I sit my mind tells me: you’re stuck, it’s hopeless, reflect on your life to see where you took a wrong turn. As night falls, the darkness feeds the fear by wrapping a dark, thick, cold blanket around me.
But, as I look up into the night sky I see the stars – too numerous to count. The sparkle and brilliance of white that glows around each one. It is then as I sit in front of the forest, wrapped in the blanket of night, my God whispers to my soul, “In spite of the dead end, I am still in control, and have everything all worked out (Ro. 8:28). In spite of the unknown that lies before you, I still know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you, plans for a hope, and a future (Jer. 29:11). In spite of storms that life has brought and will bring, it is the wind and waves that obey me (Mk. 4:41).” And at that, I embrace the night’s blanket until my God opens my path in the forest, and I become what He has planned for me.
Today’s lesson by Kay Arthur in Faithful Abundant True, is titled “Living by Faith.” That is quite the topic that she masterfully did in four pages.
Let’s first ask ourselves what does that even mean, Living by Faith? Last night I had a conversation with a friend about books we are reading. She is reading one by Oswald Chambers, and I on George Muller. Both were great men of faith, and accomplished great things by their faith in Christ. If you are looking for an easy read, one that is engaging, and reflects faith in action, I recommend “Answers to Prayer from George Muller’s Narratives” by George Muller. George Muller, did not work per se, he and his wife opened and oversaw many orphanages, and relied solely on the grace of God to provide all of their needs, and financing, for the orphanages. Now that’s faith. This time period was before all the fundraising events, telethons, bumper stickers that touted sayings, auctions, and technology. There was no tweeting “check out our new place, and deposit your donations at X bank, or on X website,” no Facebook post that said, “share if you agree,” no Instagram to share a picture, or Pinterest to “pin the orphanage sites and activities to a board.” The time period was in the late 1700’s – 1800’s, let’s think about that. As I sit here and think about that – my faith, doesn’t compare. Now don’t misunderstand, all the sites I mentioned are good and the reach is limitless, I use all of them. And, like most, the apps are on my phone so I can have access at all times of the day. Goodness, as I just typed that, there weren’t even cell phones! I am old enough to remember when there were no cell phones, only land lines, and the now extinct, rotary phone.
In the ever changing, and evolving world we live in – to live by faith is it easier, or harder? And, what is faith? Well, let’s go to the foundation of our belief system God’s Word, in Hebrews 11:1 we have a definition – “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” NLT. Even Google defines faith as, “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Let me give you an example, this happens EVERY day, and I will venture to say we’d all be in agreement, every morning no matter where you are in the world, we know the sun will rise, and at night the sun will set. And, after a few hours we know the sun will appear again, and the cycle continues. On days that are gloomy, rainy, overcast, and full of dark clouds – we hope we will see the sun again, and after a few days, what happens? We see the sun! Did we doubt, we may have joked about not seeing it again, but deep down what did we know? The sun was always there, it was just covered by the clouds. That my friends, whether you realize it or not, is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen – the assurance about things we cannot see. That is. Faith. So we all have it to some degree. Hebrews 11:6 says, “It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” NLT.
So, in this world where we have struggles, troubles, problems, and setbacks how do we keep our faith? In those times when the sky is gloomy, and the sun is hidden. In what, or whom are we putting our faith in? Instead of looking around, let us remind ourselves that just as the sun rises and sets, there is one that is Faithful and will guard us. 2Th. 3:3. May we mirror the words of Hebrews 10:39, “But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved” NLT. When you have faith in God, He will honor that. It may not be in our own terms, or desires, winning the lottery, making a six figure salary, or no guarantees that we won’t get sick, but one thing we can rely on is – Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive ALL that he has promised – Heb. 10:36 NLT. Friends, as sure as we know the sun rises and sets daily, may the Son also rise and set, on our lives as we grow in faith.
Does God ever seem to be hidden from you? Like the game so popular with little ones, you feel like you only counted to two, and He was already hidden so well that even a full military scale search couldn’t locate Him. At that point – do you throw your hands up in the air and waive the white flag? Or do you call in for help; friends, family, Sunday School class members to help pray for whatever need we have? We search at a 30,000 level view – yet wonder why at such a high view we cannot find Him.
His word even says, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you.” Jer. 29:13-14a NLT. Yet, each time we seem to miss him. Most of us want to see the big picture, what’s next, what does our future hold? And, in all of that we miss the now, the today, the moment at hand. I fall into the category of most of us. Daily I have to remind myself – only focus on today, and for a type A, extrovert, go-getter, there-in lies the challenge. I was at a local park one day, and during my walk I kept seeing something out of the corner of my eye move, yet I was so focused on my to-do list in my head, and talking with the person I was with, I couldn’t see what was right next to me.
In a game of hide and seek – I remember many times being the one hiding and so quiet that the person searching walked right by me. Maybe even looked into the place of hiding, standing only inches away that you can feel their breath on you, only to turn and walk away! You think – what?!? How in the world could they not see me? I am right here!! I love playing hide and seek with my grandchildren because it’s the giggles that give it away. But, when it’s my turn to hide, I am quiet, and still, yet they are never from my eye shot. Even though they cannot see me, I can always see them. If they go too far in their search I strategically move myself to another place where I can see them, and if need be react quickly. Never out of arms reach, or hidden to the point of not seeing them. If they give up – I may make a noise to reengage them, the chuckles and laughter are almost too much for me to contain! The search begins again, and this time with success. You see it’s when the search is done wholeheartdly, with purpose. And, if they get frustrated and cry out I make myself known, and come out to them. If you have children, or grandchildren, you know what I’m talking about and probably even have your own stories and memories. I am chuckling at the memories as I type these words!
To top it off – most of the time when I make myself known. They were right there, I was right next to them, but they didn’t see me. Now, if we do that with our own loved ones. Why do we doubt that our Heavenly Father would do anything different? He’s right there. He’s in the moment. The moment may be filled with: joy and laughter, hope, frustration, fear, worry, anexity, or sorrow and saddness. But, in them all, unlike in the game of “Hide and Seek” we don’t have to count to a particular number and then say, “ready or not, here I come” God is always ready for us to come as in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord isn’t slow about his promise as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” NLT He is there, not at the 30,000ft view, but in the details. Right next to us saying, “I will be found by you. Those who search will surely find me.” Jer 29:14a & Prov. 8:17b NLT.
The next time we feel like God is hiding, let us look wholeheartedly, He’s right there. If we look close enough we will see Him; because He always stands out! Just like the picture. If you look close enough, what do you see?
Are you suffering? Most people hear that question and equate it to being ill, so if you are healthy you may say, no. But what about if the question was, do you have any struggles, troubles, problems, setbacks, or dealing with a loss of some sort? Ahhhh, now we are getting somewhere, most people would respond with, yes. Those are all forms of suffering. In the study, Faithful Abundant True, Kay Arthur talks about her suffering the loss of a relationship with her oldest child who has shunned her. Some of you can relate to that, and I will say I am ever thankful that I have not experienced that, and hope I never do. For those of you that have, my heartfelt prayers for a reconciliation. You see, when we hear of another person’s struggle we then compare it to ours to see who has it worse off, and if ours is greater, then we dismiss the other person’s to having no problems. Not so. To each of us our struggles, troubles, problems, setbacks, and losses are very important.
A struggle that is common in each person’s situation is, how do we handle it? Do we hide, run away, shrink back, or lose hope? Or, do we keep forging on, keep believing, and keep doing, staying focused on the end goal? I once heard someone say to another who was going through a hard time, “I would help you out, but I know you won’t take it?” I had to cock my head, wrinkle my eyebrows, and thought, are you for real? And, to echo the slogan of Nike – Just do it. My thought was they really didn’t want to help otherwise they would have just done it. My old pastor once said in one of his sermons, “Your neighbor is anyone in which you see a need, and you have the means to help them.” Please don’t get me wrong on this, helping is not always giving money. It can be sitting and listening, having coffee together, sending a card, helping them by cleaning their house, or bringing a meal over, there are several ways to help someone that is struggling. So how do you handle your struggles, troubles, problems, setbacks, and losses? Because one thing we can be certain of is, they will come. Maybe not today, but they will come; “when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” Jas. 1:2NLT. Notice the words in the verse “when troubles come your way,” when – did you catch that? So the question is how do we handle them?
Kay has us look at Hebrews 10: 35 & 36, we are to have confidence, and endurance. Those two things can be very difficult in the midst of a struggle. How do we keep our confidence and endurance when things look bleak? We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, Heb. 12:2. But, how do we do that? A long time ago I was sitting in a Sunday School class, and a woman was speaking, who is now a dear friend of mine. She passed out index cards, and taught on the Standing Stones from the book of Joshua, she said, “ok on the card write down major events in your life that looking back you know, it could only be the hand of God that got you though.” Some events on my card were – with only $99.00 in my checking account, I moved out of the house I was living in and got my own apartment; with no car of my own when I moved out God placed people in my life that allowed me to purchase a car; removed me from a bad relationship; and moved me from one job to another when I thought all hope was lost. There are many more, but if God would do those things for me, why would he stop now? You see God is not a man that would lie, or a son of man that changes his mind. When he speaks, he acts. Num 19:23 NLT. And, it is by faith we are to walk and live as it says in Heb 11, and rest in the promise of Isaiah 43:18b-19a., “it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new, see, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness.”
So hang in there, don’t quit the fight, keep enduring, keep moving forward, pressing in because as Kay say’s “The ‘after’ tells us their suffering was in the past. Everyone did not experience the same thing. Remember that, dear one, we all suffer but it is in various ways.” Arthur. The words from Mandisa’s song Overcomer ring in my ears, “You’re an overcomer. Stay in the fight ‘til the final round.” So put on your boxing gloves, lace them up, hit your hands together, bounce up and down on your toes, look at your struggles, troubles, problems, and setbacks, and in the words of the lion from the Wizard of OZ, say – “put’em up, put’em up!”
May God touch your life in such a way today that you find yourself tickled, from the inside out! Just like Hank, my youngest grandson!
Our word for today is non-negotiable. Do you have a non-negotiable in your life? If you have any boundaries, or beliefs, you may find some non-negotiable’s. What is a non-negotiable? It is something that is not open to discussion. Something you stand firm on, and won’t move, compromise, or change. No amount of persuasion will change your mind. Some people have more than others, and some have none. That is a bit scary to me to have zero non-negotiable because, the question is what do you stand for? There’s a saying, if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything. Let’s allow that to roll around our heads for a moment.
We can find non-negotiable’s with God, for example the most popular set of non-negotiables’ can be found in the Book of Exodus chapter 20. Come on, you know what it is – The Ten Commandments. The reason is clear why He instilled the Ten Commandments in verse 20, it “will keep you from sinning.” Yet, like the Israelites we too compromise, reason, and make adjustments to the Commandments. Yet, thankfully God does not give up, or change His non-negotiable. The non-negotiable today we will reacquaint ourselves with is what God, himself, said in Hebrews 2:2a, “For the message of God delivered through angels has always stood firm.” NLT. I love how different versions use synonyms for “stood firm.” The NASV says, “proved, unalterable.” The NIV, “was binding.” NKJV, “proved steadfast.” HCSB, “legally binding” (bold and italicizes mine). What is the non-negotiable that will align with all the versions? Even today laws are ever changing, guidelines change, rules are compromised, and boundaries are blurred in an effort to conform to our desires. But, one thing remains, God is not a man that he should lie, or a son of man that he should change His mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act, or promised and not carried it through? Nu. 23:19 NLT. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed; “a child will be born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end.” Isa. 9: 6-7a. NLT.
As Kay Arthur points out, the author of Hebrews reminds us in chapter 1 – 2:3, it is Jesus that is the non-negotiable. God is the one that laid the foundation of the earth and the heavens. He is the Father to His Son who sits at the right hand of God. His throne is forever and ever. Christ has the greatest title, one that was, and is, given to no one else according to Heb. 1:5, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son.” In the words of Kay, “it will never change…through Jesus’ death for your sins, you were forever freed from Satan’s power…your sins – past, present, and future – were paid for in full.” Paid in full – that’s a non-negotiable I’ll take. You?
Let’s grab our tennis shoes, water bottles, and towels – we are headed to the gym with this lesson! Like any aspiration to lose weight, or get fit we have a goal, an idea of what we want to look like in the end, and how long we want it to take to get there. Kay titles the lesson – are we listening? (p. 12) But, I will change it to “Stay focused” in order to reach a goal, there is a determination, a drive, a destination. What do we do when we want to lose weight – go on a diet, read the books, follow the plans, hire a trainer, or join a group. But, what about when we want to grow closer to God, learn more about Him and His ways? What do we do? Some may go to church – only on Sunday’s sit in the pew, listen, and then leave after an hour or two. What happens to the rest of the week? Would your diet/fitness plan be successful that way – a one day plan, for an hour or two? I’d say no.
If our diet/fitness plans won’t work – the question is; why do we think that will work with God? Is it more to make us feel good, or even look good to others? To make a difference, to know God better – like any plan we have to read His word, and like following a trainer’s instruction – we must follow God’s instruction. Is it easy? Is following a personal trainer’s instruction easy? Yet, which are we more prone to follow? A personal trainer is hired to help us get into shape, and look great! Isn’t that God goal with us too? 2 Timothy 3: 16-17 says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teach us to do what is right.” NLT. Personal trainers, get right to the core of our eating habits; like God’s word cuts right to the core of our beings, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Heb. 4;12 NLT.
Let’s rely on the personal trainer of our souls. The one that knows, the past, present, and future of our lives, wants only the best for us, loves us unconditionally, and does not give up on us. Ladies, the price for our personal trainer was already paid on a cross over 2000 years ago. So let’s start up the treadmill, crack open our hearts and minds to receive His instruction, and get ready to walk, and run, as we grow and learn in this study. Don’t give up because, “the benefit and blessing you receive will be according to your commitment, your disciplined faithfulness, and perseverance.” Kay Arthur. p.12. Time to break a sweat!