Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Like a Nursed Child

Psalm 131
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high.
I do not occupy myself with things 
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul
like a child who has just been nursed, with its mother;
like a nursed child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

Does my version of this psalm seem surprising? Yes, your translation most likely says, "weaned child" - but did you know that "a child who has just been nursed" is much closer to the original Hebrew?

Having nursed seven babies, I find it easy to visualize this scene. The psalm portrays a picture of a baby that is completely satisfied, relaxed, and at peace. The baby's hunger for milk has been stilled, it has enjoyed the feeling of being held closely, and is now drowsily and contentedly lying in its mother's arms. The baby feels loved and has not a worry in the world.

This is exactly what God desires for us in His presence. So often we call God "our Father," and rightly so, but God also created woman in his image. He wants to be our El Shaddai, our All Sufficient One. Literally translated, El Shaddai means the "Many Breasted One." He wants to nourish us and satisfy our needs just like a mother feeding her baby: "Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river... you shall nurse... As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you;" (Isaiah 66:12+13)
Psalm 131 is a beautiful reminder that God is not a taskmaster but instead longs for us to be completely satisfied in Him. God is willing and able to bless us in this way, but we are required to play an active role. We are to learn to calm and quiet our souls.

When I nursed my children, there were some rare times when they refused to drink. I could have milk in abundance, but if they chose not to drink, they not only missed out on being filled, they also forfeited the comfort and peace nursing affords. In the same way, God does not force Himself upon us.

So, before we can rest in His presence, we must make an active decision to strive for that which is pure, letting go of all else. "So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow into salvation - if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good." (1 Peter 2:11+12) Peter is presenting the believer with a choice: feeding on corruption and self-absorption or hungering for the things of God. In the same way the psalmist reminds us that he has had to choose between the worries and ambitions of this world, or setting his hope in the Lord, who promises to take care of our every need both today and every day to come.

Once we have chosen to lift up the Lord and find comfort in His greatness, let us drink!
Nursing takes a great deal of energy, time and attention for babies. They are rarely content with little sips. My newborns usually spent 30 minutes nursing, eight times a day. (While I learned to multitask!) When I looked down on each of my sweet babies, so intent and eager to fill themselves with wholesome milk, I often prayed, "Lord, make me always long for you and your ways like this baby is longing for milk." Practically speaking, this means taking the time and effort to set our focus on the Lord through prayer and meditation on his Word. We then learn to see ourselves through His eyes, which takes away our sinful desire to look good for others by means of slander and deceit. Longing for "pure milk" also entails deciding to believe God's promises instead of the worries which threaten to overpower us. Sometimes it even means wrestling with a difficult question until we come to the point of saying, "It is all yours, Lord. Your ways are perfect and good."

Then, and only then will we know by experience how the psalmist felt when he wrote this psalm. Then our soul will be like a nursed child.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Out of Season

"You are a fanatic!" Alexandra yelled, towering over me and pointing her index finger right into my face. Five-hundred pairs of eyes were focused on us, wondering how this drama would unfold, as she just turned away angrily and stomped out of the packed university dining hall.

In an attempt to share my faith with fellow students I had made it a habit to sit beside someone else for each meal. My strategy was to involve my peers into conversations in order to find out what their questions in life were. Then I would present Jesus as the answer. This time it definitely did not go over too well. Should I stop?

The Apostle Paul challenges us in 2.Tim 4:2 to preach the word and to be ready in season and out of season. What does it mean to preach the word out of season? My family enjoys eating many kinds of fruit, pomegranates being one of our favorites. When pomegranates are in season, this fruit is readily available in most grocery stores. Since they are out of season right now, you can search the produce aisle as hard as you want, you will have to wait for the next harvest to ripen. This principle is also true in evangelism. when we preach the word out of season no immediate fruit is to be expected. The time for a person to respond might not have come, yet - at least not in a positive manner...

I have countless examples of having shared the gospel "out of season". If God had used my efforts regularly to bring about instant fruit, I probably would have proudly published an instructional manual for you to imitate my method. Instead, let me share with you my most devastating "out of season" experience:

During my junior year I applied to the Gideons to come and distribute Bibles at my high-school. Responding to this invitation they came early one morning and gave each student a green German New Testament. I had eagerly anticipated this day and was greatly encouraged to have these fellow believers join me on my mission field. Unfortunately the other students did not share my enthusiasm. As I walked into my classroom I was taken aback to see a big tower of Bibles stacked on my desk. "We know this was your doing", one classmate mocked, "and we want nothing to do with it!" Two boys decided not to add their Bibles to the pile. Instead they they demonstratively stood in front of me, tearing up their N.T.s, one page at a time. This day, which had started so marvelously, had turned sour rapidly. All day I looked at my Bible stack, knowing that it was not me, but the Lord they were rejecting. At the end of the school-day I began gloomily piling all the New Testaments into my book-bag, when suddenly a hand reached over and grabbed one. "You never know, I might have need of it one day", Friebel decided. I have no idea whether this young man ever opened his Bible and found the treasures inside - I pray that his season will come.

Do you remember the girl in the dining hall? Following her angry criticism, Alexandra's season came surprisingly soon. Two weeks after the explosive episode I had the privilege of praying with Alexandra as she and I knelt down together in my apartment.

When sharing the gospel, we are not responsible for the outcome. Our only charge is to obey God's call to tell people the Good News, even when it proves to be "out of season". The rest is up to the Lord, who does not let his word return void, but lets it accomplish its purpose. (Is. 55:11)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Out of the Mud and Mire

"I feel as if you have thrown me into the mud!" Car rides are often times when I can be "alone with God", even with six kids in tow. On this trip to the library I brought my complaint before Him.

For the past two years I had enjoyed the wonderful fellowship and support of a local congregation called New Covenant (NC). Going to church was my greatest joy. Each Monday I started counting down the days until the next Sunday. Suddenly God removed all this as my husband announced one day, "Next week will be our last service at NC. I have taken on the pastorate of another church in town." I was surprised by the depth of grief this news evoked. In fact I cried every day for seven months straight.

Don't get me wrong - there were some wonderful people at this church, but this congregation was made up of 6 - 15 attendees, most of whom were well past retirement age. With a brand-new baby, a two-year-old and a four-year-old, as well as three older kids, I usually did not last long in the service. Squirms or colic quickly got the best of the little ones and we spent most of our church time in the unheated Smurf-blue nursery. I felt abandoned, even worse, cast out by God from the Christian fellowship I longed for. In my sadness I tried to focus on the Lord, pleading with Jesus to help me through this lonely time. I did not realize how often I just cried out, "Jesus!" until my two-year-old started mimicking me.

So here I was on the way to the library, feeling like I was sinking deeper into the mud. On arriving, Ashley, a friend who had recently moved back from California, greeted me excitedly, "I just found the most wonderful church: when you walk in, you immediately know you are home - it is called New Covenant." My church! "Lord," I prayed between gritted teeth, "You are rubbing that mud in my face, now! Please give me some kind of encouragement."

Little did I know that God was already graciously answering this plea: Four days later a lady from NC delivered a prayer blanket which another church member had made for me. This kind sister had not only crafted this blanket, but had also prayed for me while she was knitting. More meaningful, even, than the blanket was the accompanying card which read, "Sometimes flowers have to work their way through a lot of mud to find the sun." God had heard my grumblings and he had answered! He saw that I was deep in  the mud and gave me hope that I wouldn't be there forever.

So, does God throw us into the mud? Job certainly thought so when he moaned, "God has cast me into the mire!" (Job 30:19) But Job also realized that God is at work, even when we feel abandoned: "on the left hand, when He is working, I do not behold Him; He turns to the right hand, but I do not see Him. " (Job 23:9) Job knew that God would bring good from his suffering, "He knows the way that I take, when He has tried me I shall come out as gold." (Job 23:10)

God definitely used this situation in my life and was hard at work during a season when I assumed that He just did not care. My heavenly father would never send me away like my earthly father did (see my post from Dec. 2015: "God pierced the darkness on Christmas"). God brought me to a place where I felt cast out by Him in order lead me to the truth: "whoever comes to me I will never cast out." (John 6:37b) I realized that my circumstances were not the mud, but rather the lies I believed about God. In learning to trust in His goodness, this flower had found the sun!

"I waited patiently for the Lord, he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. He set my feet on the rock, gave me a firm place to stand." (Ps. 40:1-4)