How a Smelly Fish Can Rescue Us

What wisdom is this?

My children hopped into the minivan and answered the weekly question.

“What’d you learn in church today?”  They know I’ll ask; talking about church lessons is what we do every Sunday afternoon.

So my daughter tells me the basics: Jonah and the big fish.

Her sister fills in the peripherals about eating crackers shaped like fish and other sea creatures for snack and we praise their teachers’ creativity.  Then she holds up storyboard cutouts she made with construction paper and markers.

Here’s Jonah (he looks remarkably like a Veggie Tales character).  Here’s the fish.  Here’s the ship.  Here’s the island. 

She holds them up for display and, in my mom-way, I praise her work and notice the details.

They finish off the story together about hearing God, about disobedience, about forgiveness, about God’s grace.

Mostly, it’s normal Sunday fare, the retelling of a story they’ve heard, read and seen a hundred times at least.

Yet, my eight-year-old stops me there breathless as we sit in the idling minivan while Dad drives us home from the church building.jonah2

“Mom,” she says, “what if the whale was God’s way of rescuing Jonah?”

What if it was part of God’s plan, a salvation mission, a blessing, a large, smelly, hulking mass of grace out there in the middle of the sea on a stormy night?

I’ve heard grown men and women finally come to that conclusion about Jonah, but this child of mine thinks it through slowly.

Because he was out in the middle of nowhere.  And sure the fish was smelly and he could have been digested, but he’d never be able to swim on his own to land.  He would have drowned.

God sent a fish to save Jonah’s life.

That’s what she concludes.

Not just his physical heart-beating, breath-filled, flesh and blood life either.

That fish gave Jonah the time, the opportunity, and the reason to repent and declare:  “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9 NIV).

Yes, it says it right there in the Bible that I open later as I sit at my kitchen table and ponder this child’s wisdom:

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17 NIV).

The Lord provided that fish, just as much as manna in the wilderness for a wayward nation, and a ram in the brush for Abraham to sacrifice, and loaves and fish to feed a hungry crowd of more than 5,000.

Miraculous provision and mysterious grace–that’s what that fish was.

Sometimes the grace we encounter is just such a mystery, salvation disguised as circumstances that reek with stench and leave us sitting in the darkness day after solitary day, maybe even as circumstances that seem to vomit us out onto the shore.

Jonah saw the provision of the whale as the unmistakable evidence of God at work.

We don’t always see.  We might not know the end result, the reason, the whys and wherefores of this and that.

Perhaps, like Jonah, God disciplines and redirects us.  Perhaps, He simply redeems the evil and downright difficult circumstances of a fallen world, protecting us and delivering us in the end.

Perhaps we won’t know all the ways He’s at work in our lives.

Why didn’t we get that job or promotion? 

Why not this relationship?

Why this illness?

Why was I stuck in this traffic jam and late for the appointment?

Why this brokenness?

Can we always see the reason for the big fish?  No, not always.  Yet, we trust that it’s there, a purpose or plan, and we’re just too finite-minded and near-sighted to see it.

We can stop beating the sides of the beast in hopes we’ll be released right out into the middle of the sea….and instead start praising God from the belly of that whale, thanking Him that even when we don’t see the reason or the destination, He’s in control and He’ll take us safely to the shore.

That’s what an eight-year-old teaches me on a Sunday afternoon drive home from church.

What wisdom is this?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Ask Me Anything: Seeing The Impossible

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people”
Ephesians 1:18, NIV

When Hagar ran off into the wilderness with her son for the second time in Genesis 21, she ended up wandering in the Desert of Beersheba. She was a homeless single mother, without friends, caring for her boy in unfamiliar desert territory and running out of supplies.

Her circumstances were desperate.askmeanything8

Placing Ishmael under a bush, she walked away so she wouldn’t have to watch him die. “And as she sat there, she began to sob” (Genesis 21:16 NIV).

It’s in the impossible situations where God is often most visible.

So it was with Hagar. God visited with her once again and asked:

“What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink” (Genesis 21:17-19 NIV).

Just like His question, “Where have you come from and where are you going,” this new question, “What’s the matter, Hagar?” shows that He was concerned about her. He knew where she was and what her circumstances were. Not only that, but He opened her eyes to see the deliverance He had prepared for her.

Nothing about Hagar’s circumstances changed. She was still a homeless single mother, short on provisions and without friends or direction.

It’s possible that God miraculously placed a new well nearby where she sat. Scripture simply says “God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”

It could also be, though, that the only thing that changed was Hagar’s vision. Blinded by impossibilities and overwhelmed with despair, Hagar had given up when a well was so close. God revealed to her grace and provision that she simply hadn’t seen before.ask-me-anything-lord_kd

In the same way, God miraculously gave supernatural sight to Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6:15-17.  Surrounded by an impossibly large enemy army with horses and chariots, the servant cried out in despair, “Oh no, my lord!  What shall we do?” Clearly, they were doomed to defeat. Yet, Elisha assured his anxious friend:

“‘Don’t be afraid . . . those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’  And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:15-17 NIV).

Suddenly their odds of winning didn’t seem so impossible anymore, yet their reality was unchanged. Those heavenly defenders had been there all along; the servant simply hadn’t seen them.

Pray that God will open your eyes to His provision and plan for you.

Sometimes we feel that our circumstances are too impossible even for God.  We forget that He is the God of creation, who spoke the sun and moon and all of the earth’s creatures into existence out of nothing.

God hasn’t stopped being a creator God. He can create something out of nothing.  He can place wells where there has been no water.  He can create a heavenly army to deliver you when you are defenseless.

Remember that, “With man this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27 NIV). You can trust that the God Who Sees you will know what you need exactly when you need it.

Taken from Ask Me Anything, Lord,© 2013 by Heather King. Used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 49501. All rights reserved. www.dhp.org.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Unreasonable requests, unreasonable grace

I looked at the sign on the door and asked my daughter if she wanted to change her mind.

That is to say, I asked her again.

I’d been asking her for a month after receiving the pamphlet about two historical day-camps in our area, visiting living history sites and creating projects like Indian pottery and a windmill.

My oldest daughter asked me to sign her up right away.

My middle daughter declined just as quickly with a brief “no thanks” and a determined shrug.037

But we stood there and looked at the sign on the door on day one of the first camp: Spots still open for future sessions in the other location.

So I asked again and once again she shook her head with an emphatic and decisive “no.”

Until the next day at 11:00 a.m., just two hours before camp started for the day, when she inched over to me and whispered: “Mom, I’ve changed my mind.”

She needed help overcoming foolishness, stubbornness and fear, help with redirection and what to do next, help figuring all this out and making right what was wrong.

And she was willing to ask me for it, to trust me with her problem because it was just too big for her after all.

My mom’s heart broke for her because I love her, that’s why.  Even if it was her own choice and the mess of her own making, still I felt that stirring of grace.

I knew what it took for her to stand at my feet and confess truth.

I knew because haven’t I stumbled to the feet of Jesus with mistakes and failures covered in a right-awful mess time and time and too many times again?

Hadn’t I hung my head so low and cried because I knew it was my own foolish fault and how could I expect grace so undeserved?

But that’s what grace is: Unearned, unmerited, undeserved, poured out all over us never because we’ve racked up enough good behavior points to cash in for a blessing.  Given because He loves us, simply because He chooses to give.

So, I told my daughter I couldn’t promise anything, but I’d ask about her joining in the next camp.

She was so bold.  She asked, couldn’t she after all just join in the camp that was taking place that day AND the next one in a few weeks?

I was too embarrassed to even ask for anything so unreasonable when I called the official number on the phone and left a voicemail message. I inquired about open spaces in the next session and left it at that.

Then we packed into the car and drove almost an hour for day two of the first camp session and walked in with my oldest daughter.  The lady manning the sign-in table saw me and realized I had left the voicemail message about the girl who changed her mind.

And she asked:  Would my daughter like to just join the class today so she didn’t miss out and then do the one in a month, too?

My daughter nodded, I signed the form and she was in.

Just like that.

But I paused a moment with this girl of mine before sending her into that classroom for the day.  I looked into two bright blue eyes and said—“Look what God did for you” and then I cried my way right out of there.

Because God had showed her this abundance of grace, more than I had even dared to ask for.

It was unreasonable grace.

But then, isn’t all grace really “unreasonable?”

The prophet Isaiah wrote:

I will comfort you there in Jerusalem as a mother comforts her child (Isaiah 66:13 NLT).

and he says:

I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers (Isaiah 65:24 NLT).

I consider this today when I’m thinking of need and not God’s promises, thinking of trouble and not His strength, thinking of what’s wrong and not how He loves me.

Hadn’t God loved my daughter enough to surprise her with this grace?  Hadn’t it been a shocking gift, so generous, so much more than I was even bold enough to request?

And God loves us like that. He comforts us like a mother comforts her child, not just with a hug and a tissue for the tears.  No, with intervention and provision, without remonstration or annoyance, but with so much compassion.

He doesn’t just answer the prayers we pray…but those we can’t even groan out, those we aren’t brave enough to put into words, those we’re sure are too much to ask and the ones we don’t deserve answered.

Reasonable?  No, not at all.

But grace, yes, grace the way God gives.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Recalibrating the Measure

I had been wooed by the digital display and the sleek design, but I should have stuck with the tried and true older model.

The new scale promised to be scientifically accurate because of some high-quality triple sensory design. It could track the weight gain and loss of two different people by storing the weigh-in results in its memory.

So I brought it home from the store, opened the package, read the instructions, dropped it down on the floor and stepped on. Then I scowled.

This didn’t seem right.

I tried again a few days later and then after a few more days, I tried again.

According to this handy dandy super scale, I was gaining about a pound a day despite snacks of yogurt and granola, exercise sessions and water.

I could rail about the injustice of the world or blame the metabolism shifts in my 30s, but how could I argue with such a scientifically accurate device?

Finally, I carried out two scales from the cabinet: The old one with the tiny arrow that scalescrolled through the numbers and eventually landed on a miniature line and the new one with the flashing white numbers against a black display.

They were different.  A lot different.  I pushed the digital one around a bit and stepped on and off a few times.

I’d been using a faulty measure.

What else am I using as a faulty basis for my thoughts and emotions, my plans, my faith?

A.W. Tozer wrote: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

This, after all, is our foundation, our measure by which we weigh the world, and the filter through which we understand our circumstances.

But it’s not just what we think that matters, certainly not what we say.  We can confess:

I believe God is faithful.
I believe God can provide.
I believe God forgives me.
I believe God is all-powerful.
I believe God is with me.
I believe God will never abandon me.

All that sounds good and right.  We say what we’re supposed to say.  Sing the words we’re supposed to sing.

We might even think we mean it.

But sometimes we’re really looking at the world through circumstances and emotions.  Slowly, without changing what we’re saying, we’ve still changed what we believe.

The Israelites wandering around the wilderness outside of Egypt professed belief in the God who had led them out of slavery.

When Pharaoh’s army chased them to the edge of the Red Sea, however, they complained: ”Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (Exodus 14:11).

When they realized they could no longer shop at the Egyptian grocery stores, they whined:  “you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3).

And when the desert diet proved restrictive, they remembered: “The fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” (Numbers 11:5).

They said they believed in God and His miraculous power, but, as Kelly Minter writes in her study on Nehemiah:

“whenever the Israelites faced difficulty in the desert they chose to believe something false about God.  Three of the biggies were that he had abandoned them, withheld from them, or wouldn’t meet their needs” (p. 125).

It is Nehemiah’s prayer, centuries later, that reminds the people of the truth:

You did not abandon them in the wilderness
because of Your great compassion….

You did not withhold Your manna from their mouths,
and You gave them water for their thirst.

You provided for them in the wilderness 40 years
and they lacked nothing (Nehemiah 9:19-21).

But in the middle of the wilderness, with Egypt behind them and the unknown ahead, without a meal plan or a guaranteed buffet, Israel believed false things about God.

And I get that.

It’s hard to see the truth when our eyes are shut tight to the wonder of God or our bad attitude is crowding out the glory from our field of vision.

We’ve decided we’re stuck.
We’ve determined to feel unhappy.
We’ve felt cheated and gypped out of what we really want.

So we just rack up more and more circumstantial evidence, cementing what we feel.

And we believe it.  God can’t use this situation.  God abandoned me here.  God is withholding from me.  God can’t rescue, save or provide.  God doesn’t know what He’s doing.

That’s false evidence, a faulty measure, a shaky foundation.

Today, let’s pray for God’s eye-opening grace, for His perspective, for a reminder of His goodness, for revelations of truth.  Just like Nehemiah did, let’s recount the goodness of God rather than letting our dissatisfaction or hurt determine what we see and what we believe.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

When Numbers Lie

Numbers.  Too often, it all comes down to numbers.

I have no intrinsic attraction to math and statistics don’t send my heart aflutter.  It’s just that I’m so frequently bound by whether it all adds up on paper.

Like when your husband rattles off all the expenses over the next few months: Car repairs from where a deer collided with the bumper, swim lessons, glasses, household repairs….

It’s no fun to scratch it all into your notebook paper and plan the budget that stretches and stretches until you just finally have to admit you just don’t know and you understand that the numbers need to add up, but they just don’t and that’s all there is to say about that.

And the trust and the confidence and the peace you had just yesterday disappears in that moment when column A is greater than column B.

Oh, it’s not just budgets truly.  It’s squinting your eyes up tight and running the figures in your head to decide whether this ministry is effective in a cost-benefit ratio kind of way.

Is all that effort worth this result?

It’s glancing at another and evaluating her worth based on her Facebook fans, Twitter followers, blog subscribers, and the number of women in her Sunday School class.  We calculate the math of comparison.  She is > me.

It’s listening to the report from the doctor and letting the statistical probabilities define your faith and constrict your expectation of a Mighty God.

It’s math.  It’s just math.  They are numbers we use to try to structure our world, form our decisions and guide our lives, and we say, ‘The numbers don’t lie.’

But sometimes they do.

Or at least perhaps they just miss an important part of the equation.  We too often leave out the God-factor.

God: Providing in ways we don’t expect at the time of our need.
God: Determining value not based on numbers and what we accomplish for Him, but simply because of obedience to His calling.
God: Doing more than all we could ask or imagine; yes, even doing the impossible.
God: Using the least of these and the smallest of all to perform His great work.
God: Multiplying loaves and fish—whatever is not enough—into more than enough to feed a crowd of thousands.

In 1 Chronicles 21, King David decided to take a census of all the fighting men of Israel.  He wanted to do the math.

The counting wasn’t the sin.  Census-taking wasn’t a sin.  Running the numbers wasn’t a sin.  At other times in Scripture, God himself calls for the occasional counting up of all the people.

When it’s God-initiated, sometimes math is what we need, if only to show off His glory.  He asks us to take poll our resources so we can see what little we have and how it’s never enough on its own, but always enough with Him.

Or perhaps He asks us to do the math and realize how much we’ve been blessed and how much more we can give to others.

But God didn’t tell David to take a census in 1 Chronicles 21.  David knew it.  The commander of David’s army knew it.

Instead, Scripture says, “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1 NIV).

Isn’t that so true with us?  It’s Satan accusing us of ineffectiveness, using the numbers as proof against us.  It’s the Accuser keeping a tally of the times we fall and again we fall and again we fall.  It’s the Prince of Lies telling us God can’t provide, the numbers don’t add up; this time it’s hopeless.

In The Daily Message, Eugene Peterson writes, “David substituted statistics for trust.

Oh, how often this is me, scribbling figures on a pad of paper or the back of an envelope: If this plus this equals that then this….  Then I scratch it all out and start again.

Evaluating, comparing, adding up, subtracting….I do it all day after day, always trying to substitute statistics for trust.

But in one of those verses that I return to over and over again, God says:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths. Proverbs 3: 5,6 (HCSB)

Don’t rely on my own understanding.

Trust in God instead.

We may not know how God will provide, or why He calls us to do what seems so insignificant, or how He expects us to give out of our need, or whether we’ll beat the statistical odds.  But that’s the God factor, the unknown value that we can’t ever fit onto paper, but that is always more than enough.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Where Does it Hurt?

The man collapsed in front of our house.

We didn’t know at first, but it was an unusually cool day in early summer and our windows were open.  We didn’t hear him fall off his bike, hit the ground, or cry out in pain.

What we heard was a voice asking, “Sir, are you okay?”

Hearing that, I glanced out the window and saw the stranger sprawled across the road, his feet still hooked onto his bicycle.  Rain had just started to fall, so I grabbed a jacket, umbrellas, and a blanket and joined the Good Samaritans who had stopped to help.

We did what we could: called 911, covered him to protect from the chill and held the umbrella to block the light rain.

Mostly, though, we tried our best to rouse him.  Did a car hit you?  Do you feel pain?  What’s your name?  How can we help?

Where does it hurt?

That’s the question we returned to so often.  Other than some scrapes on the hand and a small cut to the head, nothing was obvious.  No matter what we asked, how often we asked or how loudly we raised our voices, though, he remained unresponsive.

The chief arrived in his truck with lights flickering.  He placed his hands on the man’s shoulder and picked right up where we left off, “Sir, what’s your name?  Where does it hurt?  Can you tell me what’s wrong?”

Still, there was no response.  So, they loaded him into an ambulance and carried him off to the hospital.

Sometimes when we feel broken and hurting, it’s easy to identify the source of the pain.

We’re hurting because of a broken relationship, death, abuse, job loss, financial crisis, ministry struggles . . .  A physician could hold up an x-ray of our life and instantly reveal the brokenness.  It would light up on the screen showing the exact location with a line of fracture showing how far and how deep.

Maybe we’d even have a therapeutic solution at the ready to make the brokenness heal over time.  A bandage here, a cast there, a medicine or treatment . . . and then we would be whole again.

But there are times when we just hurt.  We feel inexplicable sadness.  We know we are broken, but the x-rays remain unclear about where or how.  Or, perhaps instead of showing a clear-cut fracture, they reveal shattered fragments in a hopeless messy state.

We ask each other all the time, “How are you?” and mostly we say, “fine” or “good” in an off-handed way.

What would happen, though, if one of us said, “I’m sad and I don’t even know why.  I’m feeling broken, tender, easily bruised.  My eyes fill with tears at the slightest provocation.  I’m like an endless source of emotion, just spilling all over the place and I don’t know how to turn off the spout or clean up the mess”?

That would be a conversation stopper.

There’s beauty in a God, though, who knows when “I’m fine” really means we’re not. We can’t fake it with Him.

Nor is our brokenness a mystery.  Maybe we ourselves don’t even understand our sadness, but He does.

When God first met with Hagar, the servant of Abraham and Sarah, as she ran into the wilderness after being abused, He asked her, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:8).

Then He paused for her answer, and she had a reply at the ready.  “I’m running away from my mistress.” Simple as that.  Clear and precise brokenness and He ministered to her, giving her promises for her future and instructing her to return home.

Yet, when she desperately fled into the wilderness a second time years later, God asked, “What troubles you Hagar?”

Without a second of pause  . . . without her answer . . . without her breaking into tears and pouring out a confusing response of hurt and pain that just couldn’t explain it all, God kept talking, “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is” (Genesis 21:17).

He asked because He cared.  Yet, knowing her crisis and her pain, He already had a ministry of provision and comfort for her at the ready without even needing for her to explain it all.

When you face this brokenness too hard to explain or describe, remember that you can bring it to him without a word.  He knows.  He cares.  And He is working to comfort and restore you.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it
(Psalm 139:1-6)

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King