#ShareYourStory: Learning to Put Faith before Fear

By: Cuqui Gorman

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV

Cuqui and NickIn 2003 my three-year-old son started having seizures…and our world turned upside down.

Fear and frustration dominated my life. There was no medical reason why he was having them, so I took it into my own hands to try and figure it out. I became obsessed with documenting every little action, environmental factors, food consumption …anything that could be triggering his seizures. My sole focus was on this situation, which caused me (unknowingly) to neglect the emotional needs of my two other children.

One day, sitting amid countless pages of documentation containing no answers, I literally fell to my knees. In that moment I prayed in a way I never had before, a way that was raw and true.

That was when I realized that I could not do this on my own; heck, I couldn’t do anything on my own. I honestly and completely surrendered this burden to God. After an exhaustive, but cleansing cry  a strange feeling of peace came into my heart.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Although I didn’t know what the outcome would be, it was as if this huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

A week later my son’s seizures stopped as abruptly as they had begun. In fact, he never experienced another seizure. (He is now 17).

This experience taught me quite a lot:

  • First and foremost, to PRAY! especially when it’s hardest to do.
  • LET GO, LET GOD. Surrender your troubles and fears to God.
  • BELIEVE. There is now no question in my mind or heart that with God, all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)

This trial also strengthened my belief, perhaps as only love for our children can do.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24

I also learned that worrying about what might happen is a waste of precious time that you will never get back.

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

Luke 12:26

If the outcome is unknown, put your faith in front of your fears.

Meet Cuqui Gorman:

Cuqui 2

I am a mother to three awesome kids and married to an amazing man. I am a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. I love to be active and to play outside!

#ShareYourStory on Faith Runner:

Yes, I’d Like to Share My Story.

The Biggest Lie I Ever Told

Got your attention, didn’t I? True confessions always do.

While the nature of my reveal is far from salacious, it is dangerous. Here goes:

“I’m a pretty good person.”

Seriously? That’s it? Big deal.” If that’s your response then read on, friend. The truth in this case is a life-or-death matter. You see, this lie creates some eternity-sized problems.

Compared to What?

The first problem is the standard I’m using to measure. Whenever I judge myself to be a pretty good person it’s because I am looking at others and judging them to be “less than” me.

We tend to judge others’ weaknesses where we are strong.

We tend to judge others by their actions, while we want to be judged by our good intentions.

After all, I rationalize, I’ve never committed murder. I go to church on Sundays and Bible study on Thursdays. And I really try to do the right thing in this life.

But this is the warped perspective of a pride-filled sinner, not the holy view of a righteous God. Sin is rebellion against God. Actions are the symptom; the disease is a heart problem. For that reason God looks right past these outward signs into our hearts.

God knows that yes, I attend church on Sundays, but he also sees when I spew green venom on my family trying to get to there on time. He knows that I can spend more time checking out fall fashions in the communion line than offering thanks for the gift I’m about to receive. And he has heard me mentally critique the sermon like it’s my job. So is that really the gold standard for keeping the Sabbath holy?

When you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

Romans 2:3

 Here’s another problem. I like to compare myself to the world, preferably hedonistic Hollywood. But those in “the world” by definition don’t know Jesus yet; I do. And I have attended enough Bible studies to know the law and God’s standard of righteousness.

God holds each of us accountable to the truth we have been given.

You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Romans 2:22-23

A Rebel’s Heart

You’ve heard a fish doesn’t know it’s wet? Because it has only ever lived in water.

Well, that’s how I sometimes view my relationship with God; I don’t remember not knowing him, even though our relationship has evolved over the course of my life.

Yet sometimes, rather than feel grateful for this gift of faith, I hunger for the delight and ecstasy of diving into the water for the first time, the chance to relish wetness in the way you do when you are parched.

The risk of being raised knowing Jesus is taking this sacred gift for granted. And the result is being surprised by sin.

I backstroke along, confident in my ability to swim and my knowledge of the right path…until I tumble over a waterfall and the world falls out from under me.

I am not sure I have experienced deeper grief than when confronted by an area of sin to which I was blind. It evokes the guttural heart cry of Isaiah:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah 6:5

The Truth

There is no one who is righteous; not even one.

Romans 3:1

If this is the truth — I am not a pretty good person, but a woefully sinful one — then I am hopeless; humanity is doomed.

And yet isn’t Christianity good news?

Fortunately the greatest truth ever told has the power to dispel my lie:

For only when you recognize your sinfulness, your complete inability to “be good” (even when you want to be) will you yearn to fully submerse yourself in the Living Waters (John 4), to be washed clean and covered by the righteousness found only in Jesus:.This righteousness is given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe.

 

And that makes for one happy little fish.

 

 

What’s Your Story?

If you’ve walked with God for any amount of time you’ve encountered him and experienced his goodness, his grace, his instruction, his refinement or simply and most powerfully, his love.

When you share your story with others you invite others to know God, and to tune their hearts to hear his voice more clearly.

That is my motive with every post I write. And after doing this for several years I’ve developed a deep desire to make ours a two-way conversation. I imagine the stories that each of you has and how much they could enrich other readers.

So will you take the dare and share your own story with me? Maybe it can become a stand-alone post. Maybe we’ll use it in a roundup of anecdotes.

Just take a moment and ask the Lord what story he would have you share. Trust that if something comes to mind there is someone he has in mind who needs to hear it.

The prompt is simply this:

Share a story of your walk with God, and how he helped you grow, change or draw closer to him.

You can use the form below to get the process started. I’ll follow up by email and help capture your story in a way that you feel good about.

This offer is open-ended so you may come back to it at any time.

 

Yes, I’d Like to Share My Story.

 

Need a Little Encouragement?

Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you. Mark 5:19

And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. John 15:27

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble. Psalm 107:1-2

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. Psalm 145:4

Divine Nature

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Romans 1:20

One of the most important questions we must be able to answer as Christians is that of exclusivity, how we can claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation. It often comes in the form of a question like this:

“What about people who have never heard the name of Jesus? Are they to be condemned?”

God answers this question in the above verse from Romans: Every single human being, as a part of creation, is equipped to recognize the Creator in creation itself and through nature alone is able to come to some understanding of his attributes. In fact, John suggests we can come to know Jesus himself when he writes:

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

John 1:3

My husband and I  just enjoyed a wonderful weekend on a lake in the mountains of Virginia with friends. As I read this passage it inspired me to tune in to the beauty of our surroundings with an eye to the attributes of God in our current setting. Here are some things we identified.

Ever-Changing 

The first thing that came to mind is how dynamic nature is. Even as you notice a majestic tree in full bloom its beauty is changing. If you come back to it in a few weeks its leaves will no longer be green, but brilliant hues of red, orange and yellow. A few weeks after that it will stand bare, stoic and angular, its frame laid bare by the changing of the seasons…only to be renewed again with the burst of spring. And yet each year the tree is new and unique.

We too are not who we once were. The cells in our body die and are replenished constantly. So we are comprised of different cells today than when we first began.

The great Impressionists painted the same scenes over and over again, illustrating how they were transformed by changes in light, the movement of the seasons and subtle shifts in the landscape itself.

How glorious heaven must be as the Creator Himself eternally morphs, evolves and reveals new dimensions of himself, all worthy of worship.

Complex Simplicity

We are able to comprehend nature because of its simplicity; for example, enjoying the refreshment of a drink of water. And yet, the more we investigate and discover, the more complex we find every element of nature to be, both in and of itself and in how it interacts with the rest of creation.

From the time I was a child I wondered how ants perceived human beings. Are we merely a shadow to them? Do they discern a piece of our foot and consider it to be the whole, unable to see or process what is behind the flesh?

So it is with God. We come to know him in nature, through the person of Jesus and by the indwelling of the Spirit, and yet we are incapable of ever comprehending the fullness of who He is.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55: 8-9

Multi-Sensory

Nature’s colors, sounds and textures present themselves independently and in relation to one another, creating a rich tapestry.

To experience nature is to engage all of our senses, what we see animated by what we hear, enriched by what we feel and together creating what we experience.

And so it is with God. He engages all of our senses and our minds. God is wild and uncontainable, invoking our wonder, fear and excitement as we make space to experience who he is in all the ways that we are invited to know him: in nature, through personal reflection, through loving others and through the love of others.

Soul-Satisfying

To be still and observe nature replenishes and renews our souls. It is why we watch sunrises and sunsets, hike trails, walk along beaches or sit on the dock of a lake and tune our senses to what is happening around us.

It is the same with God. In fact, he encourages us to practice this very habit:

Be still and know I am God.

Psalm 46:10

As we quiet our souls and learn to be, we invite the Lord to refresh and renew us, and reconnect to the peace found in synchronizing with his eternal rhythm.

Eternal

Nature is destructive but never destroyed. Forests burn. Earthquakes flatten. Droughts eradicate. But never wholly. The ashes fertilize new life from the remnant, and there always is a remnant.

God is fierce. He is constantly refining and renewing what he has created, bringing forth something richer, stronger and more like him.

So that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:7

It’s Sunday. Take time to be still today and take in the sights, sounds, textures and fragrances of your Creator. Invite him to reveal a new aspect of himself to you through his creation.

And consider whom you can invite to join you. This is perhaps one of the simplest, least threatening ways to invite another to come to know God.

But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.

Job 12:7-10

 

Pray with Purpose

purpose of prayer

I’ve become a student of prayer lately, seeking to understand and expand its place in my walk with God.

For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:8

If it’s true that God knows what we need before we ask then the obvious question becomes:

Why Pray?

God uses prayer to change our hearts and our hearts’ desires. 

In Exodus 32 Moses prayed to stay God’s vengeance on the Israelites, who had forsaken God and his law by worshipping a golden calf even as Moses was on the mountain receiving that law on their behalf.

The conversation went something like this (Exodus 32:9-14, The Message):

God said to Moses, “I look at this people—oh! what a stubborn, hard-headed people! Let me alone now, give my anger free reign to burst into flames and incinerate them. But I’ll make a great nation out of you.”

Moses tried to calm his God down. He said, “Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength. Why let the Egyptians say, ‘He had it in for them—he brought them out so he could kill them in the mountains, wipe them right off the face of the Earth.’ Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people! Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them ‘I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I’ll give this land to your children as their land forever.’”

And God did think twice. He decided not to do the evil he had threatened against his people.

At first blush it appears that God is having a temper tantrum and Moses’ prayer helps calm him down. But that’s not consistent with God’s character. Viewed through the lens of who God is, this exchange becomes not about our unchanging God, but his desire to change Moses.

As Moses not only interceded for, but learned to love the stiff-necked, hard-hearted people he had been called to lead, God refined him as a leader, making him stronger, bolder and even more humble, thus equipping him for the challenges ahead.

What to Pray?

God is quick to answer prayers that glorify him in the world.

I will do whatever you ask in My name, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

John 14: 13-14 MEV

Recently I’ve been praying for reconciliation of a broken relationship. Moments later I sat down to my Bible study and the first thing I read was a direct response to my prayer. The next morning at church the sermon was about how we, as followers of Jesus, are called to take the first step to pursue reconciliation when someone has harmed us…because that is how we rescue and restore that other person to a right relationship with God, and it is what it looks like to love others as we love ourselves.

Similarly, a friend of mine has been struggling in her marriage, feeling anger and frustration over her husband’s shortcomings. Persistent prayer led her to shift her focus: She began praying for God to search her heart, to show her where she was contributing to the strife. And lovingly, he was faithful to do so, convicting her of her own negativity, and guiding her with specific steps she could take to improve her outlook and well being before seeking to remove the splinter from her husband’s eye, so to speak.

One of the most profound experiences of God’s presence in my life came at one of the lowest moments of my life. It was a time when I deeply needed to feel his comfort, in the same way that an embrace from a loved one brings consolation in grief. I poured out my heart need as I fell into a restless sleep, and when I awoke at daybreak, the first thing my eyes saw was a cross glowing outside the window on the house across the way. Later, in the full light of day, I tried to discern what had created the optical illusion, the moonlight glowing off the brick perhaps; it didn’t matter. I had received exactly the assurance I needed when I needed it.

These encounters with God through prayer are so faith-affirming and joy-filled, how can we experience them more often? There are a couple of things that I’m finding to be helpful:

  1. Practice. The more I pray the more attuned I become to experiencing God’s response.
  2. Others focus. The more I pray intentionally for others the more God creates in me a heart for the unloved and even the unlovable, and helps me to see each person as he does, an infinitely precious child of the King.
  3. A goal of relationship. When the goal of my prayer is a closer walk with the Lord or a closer relationship with others, especially for the sake of reaching them for him, those prayers seem to get answered in the most miraculous of ways.

Ask and You Shall Receive

Here’s the other thing: Just the act of asking God opens our hearts to receive his answer. 

Have you ever received unsolicited advice? Chances are you either resented it or didn’t even hear it. I think the same is true of prayer.

The reason God invites, implores and prompts us to pray is because by the very act of asking we adopt a receptivity to God’s presence, seeking his perfect wisdom and will for our lives.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7

Want to read more on prayer? Check out Can You Hear Me Now?Our Daily Rhythm #1 or Peace is Data-Free.

Freedom is a State of Mind

I am learning a lot lately from a friend who by conventional definition is living in bondage; yet he has claimed power and freedom in a way that inspires and instructs me, because it transcends his circumstance. His choice to live purposefully calls to my mind similar lessons from the Israelites, Joseph and Paul.

Captive

Although God led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, they continued to live with a captive’s mindset. They even fantasized about their days in bondage: “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out in the desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Exodus 16:3)

To embrace the freedom God offered came at a price: they needed to trust and obey him:

To fear the LORD you God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees….” (Deuteronomy 11:12-13)

We tend to view laws and rules as restrictions of our freedom, not gateways to it; but God’s laws lead to freedom as they lead away from the bondage of sin. We need look no further than our own lives to know that greater freedom is found in:

  • relationship with God than in seeking satisfaction in the world
  • nourishing gratitude over comparison (i.e., covetousness)
  • speaking life over giving voice to gossip, deceit and mischief
  • seeking peace within relationships rather than tolerating discord
  • offering forgiveness rather than bearing the burdens of anger and resentment

The God “who brought you out of Egypt” reminded the Israelites that to walk with God is to experience his goodness in abundance:

But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. (Deuteronomy 11:11)

What thoughts, ideas or mindsets hold you captive, deceive you into victimhood or keep you stuck? Will you invite God to transform your mind so that you may “be confident that you will see his goodness in the land of the living”? (Psalm 27:13) 

Capitalize

I wrote about Joseph earlier this year (Big Dreams); he, like my friend, rejected a captive’s mindset. For “while Joseph was there in prison the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” (Genesis 39: 20-23)

Joseph did not wield power over his fellow prisoners; instead he was a servant leader, extending himself to help them in times of trouble, including the baker and the cupbearer. Yet even when they forgot him, God was with Joseph. Joseph held onto that truth and resisted despair by trusting the Lord’s timing and purpose.

Joseph capitalized on his situation to be who God called him to be…not at some future date, but right then and there, and each day after throughout his life.

What situations, circumstances or forces of opposition restrict you?What are you waiting for? Will you trust that God is with you, and step out in victory to walk through this day and each day knowing that the Lord works all things for good for those who love him? (Romans 8:28)

Captivated

Paul miraculously transcends imprisonment, brutality and persecution by embracing his identity in Jesus, proudly describing himself as:

a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News.

Romans 1:1

He explains the paradox of his situation this way:

For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.

1 Corinthians 7:22

Paul began life as Saul of Tarsus, a scholarly and devout follower of the Law, who later repents of persecuting followers of the Way and becomes not only a follower of Jesus, but one persecuted relentlessly for his beliefs, a veritable slave to his faith.

Yet even when the doors of his earthly prison cell were opened miraculously, Paul chose continued imprisonment as an act of love for the guard who arguably was both his enemy and persecutor. (Acts 16:16-40)

Paul wrote half of the New Testament, mostly behind prison walls. He shows us by example that freedom (and bondage) are a state of mind. In dismal circumstances Paul suffered joyfully for the opportunity to extend Christ’s love to others and to use his suffering for God’s glory.

Paul lived in the knowledge that freedom is found in a relationship with Jesus, who accepted the death penalty in our place, and through his resurrection broke the chains of sin and death for anyone who accepts his free, yet priceless gift.

Will you invite Jesus to reveal his purpose, his promise and his great love for you, so that you may experience the freedom he won for you right here, right now?

Will you pray that others in your life in bondage to thoughts or circumstances also will discover the freedom found in Christ alone?

 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Romans 8: 18-21

Power Walking

Reading the beginning of Deuteronomy feels like watching one of those movies where the narrator shows up in the final scene and tells you how all the pieces fit together.

Moses and the Israelites have almost reached the end; he’s about to die and they’re about to enter the promised land. And suddenly he is speaking to the masses, the children of the original cast, reminding them how the story began more than 40 years ago, and recounting the plot twists along the way. He’s tying up loose ends and telling them the lessons they need to hold onto once they (and he) cross over.

These lessons are as relevant today as they were then. They are lessons about walking with God, following him into the exceedingly good places and avoiding losing our way.

Lesson 1 – Stand on the Promises of God.

Moses begins by recounting how God fulfilled all his promises:

  • God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:7: “To your offspring I will give this land.” Moses reminds them of God’s words:

See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

  • God promised relationship, “The whole land of Canaan, where you know reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:8 )

Throughout his speech Moses refers to God as “The LORD our God,” “The LORD your God” and “The LORD, the God of your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 1:6, 10, 11).

  • God also promised Abraham: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky…” Moses reflects the exact language of that important promise saying to Israel:

“The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky.” (Deuteronomy 1:10)

Lesson 2 – Faith Walks; Fear Stops.

Jesus warned us that “in this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) And he asks us to walk the hard road: “Take up your cross and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Both are scary.

What we learn from the Israelites is that we can either walk in faith or let fear bring us to a standstill. Back in Exodus the Israelites were hemmed in; Pharaoh and his soldiers were closing in behind while the Red Sea posed an immutable obstacle in front of them. Understandably, “they were very frightened.” (Exodus 14:10) In Hebrew the word for “very” is m@`od, which means exceedingly…in other words really, really frightened!

And yet…they didn’t let fear paralyze them. They stepped into the sea…before it parted.

Fast forward 40 years; they are standing on the edge of the promised land. But the enemy this time is in front of their eyes…and BIG…so big that the Israelites lose sight of God.

Moses sees their fear: “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you will fight for you as he did in Egypt, before your very eyes.” (Deuteronomy 1:29-31)

He further encourages them with a beautiful image of God’s love adding, “You saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place. (Deuteronomy 1:31)

But they freeze. As they lean into their fear, they lean away from God…which results in their worst fears being fulfilled:

You rebelled against the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country. The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah. 

Deuteronomy 1:43

Lesson 3 – Remember How You Got Here.

Over and over again in the Old Testament God instructs the Israelites to tell their children stories of his faithfulness. In my recent post, Stories of Remembrance, I wrote of how these stories seed our children’s faith.

But such stories help us too; they instruct and remind our hearts that it is not in vain to trust the Lord.

Let’s Get Moving!

Applying these lessons to our own walks with God relies less on our feet and more on the Spirit in our step:

When you are afraid — even really, really afraid — will you allow fear to stop you, or will you step out wholeheartedly, trusting the LORD your God to go before you, confident in the knowledge that he is exceedingly good?

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love and sound judgment.

2 Timothy 1:7

Triple Dog Dare Ya

I would love to be the type of person God uses in miraculous ways in the lives of others.

Someone like the woman I heard call in to K-Love last week. She shared how God told her to pull into a parking lot and wait. She obeyed even though doing so caused her to miss the appointment she’d been rushing to. And then she obeyed a prompting to get out of her car and walk up to a stranger who had just pulled in in his truck, and tell him that God wanted him to know he was not alone…and never had been. It turned out the man had been in a crisis of faith and had been pleading with God to reveal himself. The truck driver told this woman that she was an angel sent to him, and, indeed, in that moment she was.

This morning I heard a story about Beth Moore traveling through an airport and being called by God to offer to brush the hair of an old man “humped over in a wheelchair; he was skin and bones, dressed in clothes that obviously fit when he was at least twenty pounds heavier.”

After much consternation she heeded the call. Once her task was complete, she received the blessing of learning that the man was returning to see his wife following open-heart surgery, and he had been worrying about how he would look for “his bride.”

Years ago I came across a woman who made a habit of saying to restaurant servers, “Before we eat our meal tonight we will pray; when we do, is there some way that we can pray for you?”

How faith affirming!

How miraculous these stories are!

“Oh Lord,” I whisper, “I want you to use me like that!”

As quickly as the words gush out I can hear God’s reply. “Really? Are you really ready to step out this boldly?”

My heart does a flip flop as I rationalize, “Well, I would be if it weren’t so risky…er, um, okay, so embarrassing.”  And I recognize that perhaps the problem isn’t so much God’s nudging, but my willingness to take the leap of faith. The truth hurts.

Playing it Safe

Untitled design (8)

How many times have I felt prompted to pray with someone — right then and there — and instead offered a meager promise of, “I’ll pray for you” instead?

Just the other day a friend acknowledged his struggle to believe in a higher power, let alone to trust that Jesus actually existed. I let his vulnerable admission float right by like a wisp of smoke, promising myself I’d find a better time to invite a discussion…soon.

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24

When God prompts us to speak into the lives of others, he’s not only working on their hearts, he’s working on ours too. If I fully trust the voice asking (God’s), and the reason (to invite others into a life-saving relationship with him), would I really hesitate over something as petty as potential embarrassment? I don’t think so; in fact, I don’t think embarrassment would be a risk if my focus was only on serving another person in a manner pleasing to God.

What Are You Waiting For?

I don’t know about you, but one of the ways I console myself when I wimp out in such situations is by rationalizing that I’m still maturing as a Christian. One day I’ll be ready for those epic “Beth Moore” moments…just not today.

The problem with that mindset is there is no promise of anything other than today, and there is no timetable for becoming qualified to follow Jesus boldly and bravely.

The apostles spent three years walking with him every day, yet they often missed the boat, sometimes literally. They argued about who among them was the greatest while the only answer to the question was being revealed on a nearby mountain (Luke 9). Peter stepped out onto the water quite boldly, but just quickly lost his nerve and found himself in over his head. (Matthew 14:22-33). And Thomas doubted that Jesus was resurrected until he touched his hands and side. (John 20:24-29)

But following his very first encounter with Jesus, Philip grasped that he was the Christ, and boldly invited the scholarly and more theologically mature Nathanael to come and see the Messiah (John 1:45). A mere criminal, justly crucified beside Jesus, became the first person to put the whole salvation story together, acknowledging Jesus as King and asking to be saved:

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23: 42-43

Do You Dare?

The bottom line is that we get to choose whether to play it safe or dare to spread Christ’s love with reckless abandon.

The truck driver could have laughed at the woman and called her a fool.

The old man in the wheelchair could have cursed Beth Moore for insulting his appearance.

And one of those waiters the woman offered to pray for could have derided her as a “Jesus freak.”

And perhaps those will be the outcomes, sometimes. But those are small risks when compared with the opportunity to lavish Christ’s love on someone who needs it desperately.

When we allow God to use us, as he did these women, we allow him to tell a beautiful story of serving one another in faithfulness to him and of the love that binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)

This week I will pray for God to embolden me to dare greatly (and I invite you to do the same). Who knows…the life we save may be our own!

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Stories of Remembrance

Throughout the Exodus God maintains a delicate balance as he raises up his chosen people.

First he seeks to be known, punctuating each display of his might and miraculous provision with, “Then you will know that I am the LORD.”

Second, even as the story unfolds in the back-and-forth struggle of God’s faithful love for a stubbornly faithless people (who bear a uncomfortable resemblance to us today), the Lord is intentional about archiving stories of remembrance for the generations to come.

After they cross the Red Sea and escape the Egyptians God tells Moses that when they reach the Promised Land, the Israelites are to consecrate their first-born sons, and the first-born of their flocks to the Lord as an act of remembrance:

In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Exodus 13:14

When he provides manna in the desert he again preserves a remnant:

Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’”

Exodus 16:32

Reflections on Remembrance

God does not wait until the Israelites’ journey is complete before instructing them to capture and share their stories. Our walks with God are never complete. We always are inadequate in our faith, and continually learning and growing in our walks with him.

Our children — and every child of God with whom we engage — need to hear about our journeys, perhaps even more so than the destination.

I tend to shirk this responsibility by leaning on the fact that I lead a pretty ordinary life. God moves in my life in ways that I find to be spectacular, but there is no parting of the sea or manna showing up on my front lawn. Will others be moved by my mundane stories?

The honest answer is, “Who knows?” Faith is a gift of God; it’s not the result of our works–or our stories themselves. God simply teaches us to be obedient in sharing what he has done and is doing in our lives…as it unfolds.

Finally God makes an interesting point of preserving physical signs. God told the Israelites to save some manna so they could show future generations God’s handiwork. This is a little tricky, but it got me thinking about what physical artifacts I can preserve.

Steps to Remembrance

So let’s get practical. If the faith of our children — and our children’s children — depends on these stories, how do we get about it in earnest? What can we do right now?

Here’s a list I’ve come up with; feel free to add your thoughts in the comments to this post.

  • Share your stories. My in-laws rode a tandem bicycle cross-country when they first retired. They arrived home with two storylines, one about the people and experiences they encountered, the other about God’s protection and presence throughout the journey. One of the stories I remember to this day was that they were almost out of water with miles to go, and my mother-in-law prayed from the backseat for God’s help. A few miles later  a random car rolled up, and a stranger offered them water bottles.

Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.

Exodus17:6

Practice spiritual discipline and talk about why. My sister-in-law used to read her Bible on her phone during her morning quiet time. Then she realized that to her children it looked the same as if she was perusing Facebook or reading email. So she reverted to her physical Bible so her children will see God’s Word in her hands each day.

When our children see us read the Bible daily, come to worship with us on Sundays or serve others as a family, it is good and right to talk with them about why we do these things and for whom.

Share God’s Word. My kids tease me about it, but I am shameless in pointing them back to Scripture on questions of right and wrong, problems they are facing or as an encouragement of their infinite value and worth. I write them letters about who they are in God’s eyes, personalizing the verses with their names. I text them verses weekly.

God speaks to us powerfully through his Word, reminding us of his truths, but the seeds must be planted in order to bear fruit.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Keep a journal; write in your Bible. When I study the Bible I make notes in my journal. An effective technique I’ve adopted recently is to read and and then answer three questions (Anne Graham-Lotz’s 3-question study): 1) What does it say? 2) What is God saying? 3) What is God saying to me?

This photo is of the Bible owned by one of the most passionate Bible teachers I know. BibleIt is testament to the truth that, “When your Bible is falling apart, you are not.”

Consider creating a priceless treasure for your children in your well-worn Bible, filled with the record of what God is showing you, even if it means leaving a broken down, dog-eared, highlighted and cross-referenced tome.

Make and preserve symbols of your faith. It took me a few minutes to even think of symbols equivalent to manna in my life, but I have them…so do you. One that came to mind is the wedding band I gave my husband for our 21st anniversary. I had it made because I had come to deeply treasure his faith leadership over our family. Since two of our four children are adopted from Korea, I had the band inscribed in Hangul with the citation “Joshua 24:15”:

As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

The ring serves as an instrument of witness for him on a daily basis, and one that I hope our sons especially will preserve and remember as they enter into their own seasons as heads of their households.

The message God teaches us throughout Exodus is to begin today to be intentional about the legacy of faith we are planting in our children.

As a result of Joshua’s bold witness, Scripture tells us he created a legacy of faithfulness:

Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.

Joshua 24:31

Big Dreams

In studying the story of Joseph we can see how — as he learned to use his gift of dream interpretation for God’s glory rather than his own — he received greater blessings than he ever could have dreamed.

He must become greater;

I must become less.

John 3:30

Dream 1: Serving Self

We meet Joseph as a teenager, just 17, the second-youngest in a band of brothers who call Jacob their father, the future tribes of Israel.

Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph, a generational sin that led to big problems in Jacob’s own family of origin, has put Joseph at odds with his brothers. Rather than seeking reconciliation, however, Joseph, full of self, plays both sides against the middle.

The first thing we see him do is bring a bad report about his brothers to his father. (Genesis 37:2). His snitching is rewarded with further favor as his father gives him an ornate robe. (Genesis 37:4)

It’s in this unhealthy family dynamic that Joseph has two dreams. The first dream is about 11 sheaths of wheat bowing down to the twelfth, and the second is about the sun and moon and 11 stars bowing down to the twelfth.

Why did God give Joseph these dreams if they were only going to cause trouble? Perhaps He offered them as a promise for the future, to encourage Joseph that the rejection he was experiencing in his family would not be permanent.

But this prideful young man has not yet learned discernment. Joseph appears to make no effort to understand God’s purpose or message, and instead takes full credit for his visions, rather naively sharing them with his brothers without considering how they might be received.

“Listen to this dream I had.” (Genesis 37:6)

The result is an ominous deepening of his brothers’ hostility:

“They hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.” (Genesis 37: 8)

By the next time Joseph heads out to the fields his brothers’ jealousy has reached a murderous pitch.

“Here comes the dreamer,” they mock. “We’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37: 18)

Far from bowing down to him, they put him in a place lower than themselves, literally, tossing him into a well.

Dream 2: Serving Others

The next time Joseph is given an opportunity to use his gift, he has matured into a strapping young man under circumstances that have humbled him and his dreams of grandeur. Imprisoned on false charges Joseph is learning to lean on the Lord and to use any earthly favor with wisdom.

“The Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” (Genesis 39:21)

This is quite a different Joseph. Now more others-focused, Joseph notices two of his fellow prisoners are having a tough time of it, and he shows concern for them asking, “Why are you sad?” The cupbearer and baker to the Pharaoh tell him they each have had a dream and want to understand the meaning.

Joseph responds, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” Tell me your dreams.” (Genesis 40:9)

This time Joseph readily acknowledges God as the source of his gift. He interprets each man’s dream, telling the cupbearer that he will be restored to his position and the baker that he will be executed.

Even knowing God is with him and has full power over his circumstance Joseph still struggles to trust God fully. Cupbearer is a high-ranking position in Egypt, and Joseph knows this man is about to have the King’s ear, so he implores him:

“When all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison.” (Genesis 40: 14)

Yet people and things of this world often fail to satisfy. We learn that “the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” (Genesis 40:23)

Dream 3: Serving the Lord

Two years later, Joseph is still cooling his heels in prison while the cupbearer is enjoying the blessing promised him in the dream, not once recalling the friend who helped him in his time of need.

The cupbearer may have Pharaoh’s ear, but God is sovereign over his entire being. He gives Pharaoh troubling dreams, first of cows and then of grain, the healthy ones consumed by the unhealthy ones. Pharaoh is desperate to learn the meaning of these troubling visions, and consults with magicians and wise men, but finds no satisfaction.

Finally the cupbearer’s memory is jarred, and he says, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings,” and tells Pharaoh how Joseph interpreted his dream so long ago.

Pharaoh brings Joseph out of prison and asks him to interpret his dream. Now Joseph thinks nothing of himself and asks nothing for himself. Instead all he can do is point Pharaoh to God:

  • “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” (Genesis 41: 16)
  • “God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” (Genesis 41: 25)
  • “God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. (Genesis 41:28)
  • “…The matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.” (Genesis 41:32)

Pharaoh cannot help but see God shining through Joseph. While he doesn’t know his God, he knows he needs Him. Pharaoh asks his advisers, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” Then he says to Joseph:

“Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” (Genesis 41:39-40)

And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph.

Genesis 41: 57

Interpreting Joseph’s Dreams

  • What gift or gifts has God given you?
  • Do you use your gift to serve yourself or others?
  • Do you still find yourself longing to receive some credit?
  • Are you faithful in seeking to use your gift for God’s glory, directing others’ praise to the source of all good gifts?
  • Are you focused on the gift or the Giver?

The truth for all of us is probably some mix of each of these at different times.

We know God’s desire is to use us, like Joseph, for the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:21)

 

Let’s pray that, like Joseph, God will help us grow in wisdom and virtue in how we steward the gifts we’ve been given:

Today, Jesus, we surrender all we have to you.

We ask that you grow the seeds you’ve planted in each of us to create a rich harvest. As we become less, Jesus, you become more in the eyes of others. May even those who don’t know you see you and be drawn to you as you radiate, unencumbered, through each of us.

May we use the gifts we have been given for your glory, and may you multiply the power and the blessing of those gifts to your good purpose: the saving of many lives.

We ask this in your name, Father. Amen.