Finding a place at the well

We’re preparing for company and my son loves company.

He is a host extraordinaire.  At the first mention of upcoming visitors, he  cleans up his room and then grabs Clorox wipes,  the broom,  and wood polish and heads for the kitchen.

He’s five.

But he’s a five-year-old who loves to entertain guests, and he has mastered some basic essentials of hospitality:  create a clean space, set out games, and provide snacks.  What more could you need?

When I told him last  night that we’d be having company this weekend, I should have been prepared for an early morning wake-up from this boy who needed to  clean his room right this second.

Yes,  it’s 7:30 in the morning and we’re still getting kids ready for school and yes, mom would like some time with a cup of tea first.  But his room was messy and the company was imminent (as in arriving in the next 48 hours).  He does not want to  be unprepared for his guests.

There’s a beautiful moment in Scripture when Abraham shows a similar attentive hospitality. Genesis 18 says three strangers came by and that:

The LORD appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1 CSB).

Not just a guest, an unexpected divine guest.

I’d probably lock the door for a few minutes and toss dirty dishes into the oven, clean clothes back  into the dryer, and paper piles into closets before actually welcoming a surprise stranger.

But Abraham is so gracious,  so inviting.  He brings water for their feet and leads them to  a place of rest under the shade of a tree.  He asks Sarah to  bake bread,  prepares a meal , and then serves them a picnic feast of fine foods.

He makes the most of this moment with the Lord.  He is hospitable and attentive.  He is not rushed or stressed about all he isn’t getting done.

The Lord simply appeared.  And Abraham invited Him in.

What  needs to change in me so I can be more  hospitable to the Holy Spirit?  More attentive and considerate of His presence?  More responsive and inviting?  More willing to  sit and fellowship with Him?

I consider the challenge of this because sometimes you sit down for a quiet time, and the Lord feels….quiet.  You read.  You pray.  You copy down the verse.   And then you are done.

But other days you sit down for some time with Jesus and He invites you to linger because His presence is so strong. So you have to choose.  Do we rush Him along or settle in at His  feet?

Abraham chose to welcome the visitor.

His son Isaac did even more.

Yes, Abraham had set up camp and the LORD came to Him, arriving without invitation or planning or pursuit on Abraham’s part

But Isaac purposely set out to dwell in the Lord’s presence, making not just a one-time visit, but a long-term decision to abide..

Genesis says:

After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi (Genesis 25:11 ESV).

Beer-lahai-roi–that ‘s “the well of him that liveth and seeth me.”  That’s where God called out to  Hagar in the wilderness and He rescued her son by providing this same well to  quench Ishmael’s thirst.  Hagar called Him the “God who sees me” and the “One who looks after me. “Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi” (Genesis 16:14 ESV).

Hagar’s time there was temporary, but  Spurgeon writes:

“Isaac….settled there and made the well of the living and all-seeing God his constant source of supply….Let us too learn to live in the presence of the living God….Happy is the person who lives at the well, with abundant and constant supplies near at hand” (Morning and Evening).

Of all the places Isaac could have  brought his family and made his home, he chooses this holy place, this sacred site, and he settles in.

Could this be me?

Could I be like Abraham, ready, yielded, excited even by the  Lord’s visits?  Am I prepared? Am I ready to clean rooms,  make meals, and rest under a shade tree all in God’s presence simply because He showed up and I want t o be with Him?

But could I also be like Isaac, seeking out this same presence day by day?   Choosing to settle near the well of God’s supply, dwelling with Him and in Him, knowing that this well of His presence will not and will never run dry?

And that’s the best part.  On days when Isaac felt  weary, dry, worn out, stretched thin, stressed, or just had the blahs, he could go  to  the well and drink deeply from the well, dipping the cool  water over  and over if needed, all because he lived day in and day out by the well of His presence.

Soul-Suffocating: When Good Things Become Bad Things

Most of the children in our town don’t watch the Christmas parade from the sidewalk.  They are proud participants in the parade itself.  Almost every child ends up on a float of some kind, for church or school, daycare, ballet, karate, Scouts, band, or chorus.

It’s the moms, dads and grandparents who wave from the sidelines.

Two years ago, my oldest daughter rode all the way down the Main Street of our town, pulled behind Cinderella’s carriage.  Mostly her view of the parade itself was limited to either the folks lining the street or the few floats before and behind her in the line that she could see.

It was enough.

After we had climbed into the car and turned the heat on full blast to thaw the chill we felt deep in our spines and down through our toes, she asked a question that had apparently been on her mind during the whole parade route.

“Mom, there were Boy Scouts in the parade, right?”

“Yup.”

“So….does that mean there are GIRL Scouts.”

I sucked in my breath.  “Yes, absolutely there are Girl Scouts and yes, they are totally wonderful and great and fun.  But you can’t do everything, my love.  Some things we have to let go.”

Even good things can become bad things.  Like when your five-year-old child wants to do ballet, piano, Awana, theater, Girl Scouts, gymnastics, horse-riding and anything and everything else represented by a float in our town’s Christmas parade.

We’re soul-suffocators, too, cramming so much into our lives we don’t have room to breathe.

And it’s not just time.  It’s things, and media, and noise, and friendships and just about everything that’s not necessarily bad, but which ultimately crowds out room for Jesus in the heart that’s supposedly His cozy and welcoming home.

I’ve grown sadly familiar with the phrase, “Everybody else ….” or “My friend has…” and “The other girls at school watch this TV show…”

Sometimes, I’m not just listening to this mantra, I’m the one delivering the whiny sermon to God.

“If others can have this, couldn’t I?”  “If she can do this, it’s okay for me, too, right?”

We’re sold by the advertisers and the infomercials and wooed by the parade of life that incessantly marches past good causes and activities and projects and the latest and greatest in home kitchen gadgetry.

And sometimes God asks us to lay it down.

These aren’t “Issacs,” we’re talking about, the areas of radical obedience that require us to trust and exercise extreme faith.

As Kelly Minter writes in her book, No Other gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols, “before Abraham could ever offer up the child born of the miraculous, he first had to offer up the child born of his flesh” (p. 128).

Obedience to God begins with Ishmael.

Long before Abraham’s heart-wrenching journey to the mountain where he lifted his knife over his beloved son Isaac, Abraham had to let his other son go: Ishmael—the baby boy of Abraham and the maidservant Hagar.  For 13 years, Ishmael had been Abraham’s only child and while it turned out that he wasn’t the heir of promise, still he was loved.

And when Sarah demanded that her maidservant Hagar and the teenage boy, Ishmael, be thrown out into the wilderness, Abraham begged God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” (Genesis 17:20).

Our prayers echo his at times.  “If only you’d bless this, God!”  “If only this would be okay with you.  Isn’t this great and good and wonderful and won’t you bless it?”

We ask God to bless or at least tolerate our “Ishmaels,” those good things that aren’t holy things or the extras and objects of our affection that have never been part of God’s plan or design for us, but that we love and hold on to so very tightly.

Or maybe our Ishmael is the way we’ve tried to force God’s promises into being, impatiently rushing ahead of God’s timing and doing things our own way.

Kelly Minter reminds us, “He has grace on our Ishmaels, and yet he is unwilling to allow them to ever take the place of Isaac.  No, what is born of flesh can never substitute for what is born of the Spirit” (p. 127).

That’s no less a step of obedience than the radical sacrifice of Isaac.  It’s the letting go of Ishmael.

It’s submitting to Him our habits, our committees, our involvement, our activities, our parenting, our expectations for our kids, our relationships, our spending, our eating, our five-year-plan for our lives, our ministry, and the way we are pursuing His call.  Even if it’s good or right for others, even if it seems necessary or like it will help us reach his promises faster, even if we love it…we let it go if He asks.

We’re holding out for God’s best here; not missing out on the promise because we’re distracted and satiated, tired out, filled up, and content with everything else–everything less.

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

Weekend Walk, 01/14/2012

Hiding the Word:

It’s a scary world, isn’t it?  I read this morning of an Italian cruise ship that took on water and listed completely to the side, blocking the life boats.  They were rescuing passengers via helicopter and hoping to evacuate everyone.  As of now, dozens of people are still missing.

These travelers went on a vacation, a pleasure cruise, and ended up riding the Titanic.

Sometimes our life changes that rapidly.  We wake up fine.  By lunch, our world has twisted and contorted itself into knots of fear.

At other times it feels like we’re trapped on a sinking ship and even the life boats are under water.

This week, I’m meditating on verses that may not change circumstances, but help us to control our run-away thoughts and overwhelming terrors in any situation we face.  These verses build on the passage from last week, so I’ll list them all together here and bold the new section for this week.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  (Philippians 4:4-9)

We continually (and perhaps with great effort) choose to rejoice in the Lord.  We deny anxiety and take every situation to God in prayer, being sure to give Him thanks.

We tighten the reins on our unruly thoughts and demand that they focus on what is true and right, pure, lovely, admirable . . . We don’t dwell on hypothetical horrors, the hidden monsters of what-ifs.

We think on what is true: God is faithful.  He is compassionate.  He is powerful.  He is love.

Then, yes then, “the God of peace will be with you.”

Weekend Rerun:

Nothing Too Difficult
Originally published 04/14/2011

“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what He had promised
Genesis 21: 1 (NIV)

Last week, I stood in the checkout line at the grocery store with a week’s worth of food for my family all lined up on the conveyor belt.  I assured the cashier that I didn’t need my milk in a bag; it seemed like putting her through extra effort just to take the plastic bag home and recycle it.  “Not really,” she said, “What is a really big pain is people who bring 15 or more of those reusable bags and make me put cold stuff in one, cleaning stuff in another, bread and eggs separate.  Now, that takes forever.”

I nodded my head with understanding and sympathy.  Meanwhile, I was praying under my breath that she wouldn’t notice how my groceries were carefully categorized and organized as they headed to her scanner.

  • Heavy things first.
  • Nonperishables.
  • Cold items with meat and poultry separate.
  • Non-food items like cleaning supplies and personal care products.
  • Produce.
  • Bread and eggs.

What can I say?  I like my groceries bagged a certain way.  But, I don’t leave this to chance or pester the tired Wal-Mart cashier to organize my purchases for me.   No, I like to help things along.  Truly, I am trying to be considerate of the girl getting paid so little money to incessantly scan and bag during her entire work shift.  Organizing all my items saves her some time and effort.

But, there’s also something else.  I don’t believe that she would do it correctly if I didn’t categorize the items for her.  I don’t trust that she knows not to put my cereal with the yogurt or that my laundry detergent shouldn’t sit next to my chicken.

I don’t believe.  I don’t trust.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether I fully trust and believe in the professional skill of the girl checking out my groceries.  But, my unbelief and lack of trust seep into other areas of my life that should be in the hands of our thoroughly trustworthy God.  It’s a slow drip, drip, drip of anti-faith that I ignore until suddenly I’m drowning in a sea of uncertainty and gasping for air in a flood of my own making.

I pray for things and then make plans and decisions based on God NOT answering my prayers.

I lay at His feet my anxiety and concerns about situations and then snatch them back up later when His answer doesn’t come quickly enough.

I hover over His shoulder and share my opinion on the kind of job He is doing in my life.  Are you sure you want to put the pasta in that bag, God?  Don’t you think the cheese would be better next to the butter, God?   I think you could provide a bit better for me if you changed this about my job.  Don’t you think I’ve waited long enough, God?  Surely there’s a more efficient way of doing things.

I pester and nag and “help” and act like a know-it-all back seat driver.  Abraham’s wife, Sarah, had her moments of grasping for control just like I do.   She helped things along a little bit, made “suggestions” (demands), and pressed ahead with plans without considering consequences.

To be fair, Sarah waited years for God to fulfill His promises and patiently trusted that God would give Abraham a “son who is your own flesh and blood” (Genesis 16:16, NIV).  It may have even been thrilling and easy to believe at first.  A promise from God, a child, the deepest desire of her heart seen by Almighty God and assuredly in her future!  Surely she headed to the wilderness version of Babies ‘R Us and set up a registry just days after Abraham came home and told her what God had promised. Faith is easy when the promises are fresh.

But then nothing.  No pregnancy.  No baby.  Promises faded away.  Questions arose.  Cultural expectations weighed heavy on her.  Just about a decade after the original promise, Sarah’s faith finally buckled under the heavy weight of circumstantial evidence mounting up against God.  He hadn’t done what He had promised.  No baby was coming.  Sarah’s biological clock had ticked and tocked out and she clearly needed to step in and help God out a little bit.

And so the trouble begins.  A second wife for Abraham.  Conflict and abuse between Sarah and Hagar.  Runaway maidservant.  Ishmael born, son to Abraham, but not the child God had promised.

Thirteen years after Ishmael’s birth and about 24 years after the original promise, none of Sarah’s involvement, ideas, or attempts to help (or control) the situation had yielded results.

Yet, in all this time, God’s plans never changed.  His intent from the beginning was to birth an entire nation through Abraham and Sarah and He was willing to let Sarah reach the point of impossibility, of clear human failure, before fulfilling His promises.  She was past menopause, now 90 years old.  There was simply no possible earthly way for Sarah to bring forth the promised heir.

That’s what unbelief would say.  That’s what lack of trust would claim.

God is so gracious to us in our weakness, though.  He certainly was with Sarah.  He visited with Abraham again and reiterated the promise, this time with an added clarification—I believe it could only have been for Sarah’s benefit.  He told Abraham, “I will bless her (Sarah) and will surely give you a son by her.  I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her . . . your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.”

Did you notice that subtle new bit of information in the promise?  The first time, God said that Abraham would have a son and heir.  This time, He clearly said to Abraham, “You know Sarah, as in your wife Sarah?  She will have a son by you.  Together.  Nobody else needs to be involved in this.  Just you and her.  Got it?”

And there was a promise for Sarah in this, too, a special notice by God, who called a childless woman in her 90s to be the Mother of Nations.  As kids we sang the silly song, “Father Abraham, had many sons, and many sons had father Abraham.”  Why don’t we ever sing about Sarah?  After all, the poor woman had to give birth to the promised child at 90 years of age with no epidural.  I think she deserves her own song!

Abraham and Sarah were nothing without God’s miraculous involvement in their lives.  “Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth.  When I called him, he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many” (Isaiah 52:2, NIV).    Like Abraham, it is God’s blessing on us that multiples our lives into bounty and fulfillment.

Therefore our testimonies are not that we have accomplished much or attained great things in our own strength and ability. If Sarah had produced the promised heir through surrogate motherhood, fertility treatments or even naturally while her body was still ripe for childbearing, then there would have been no need for God’s personal touch.

As Beth Moore wrote, “If Isaac’s birth says anything at all, surely it says that nothing is too difficult for the Lord.”  That’s the question God asked Abraham while Sarah stood laughing in her tent over the promise of pregnancy in her old age.  “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14, NIV).  Isaac’s birth proves God’s possibilities even in impossible situations.

In Genesis 21:1, it beautifully says, “Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what He had promised (NIV).  And so He will for you.  God will do what He has promised.  And when He does, when He so graciously delivers you, He will receive all the glory and give you a testimony of miraculous provision so that others may believe and trust in a God for whom nothing is too difficult.

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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.

 

Women Warriors, Part II

When I was about ten or 11, my mom marched me past the shelves of Sweet Valley Twins books in the teen section of the library and led me to the literary classics section with Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Jane Austen.  She waved her hands over the greats and said, “These.  You can read these.”  And I did.  I devoured them. I fell in love with them.  I studied them in college. I taught them to high schoolers.  To this day if you say Macbeth to me I’ll light up like a teenage girl in love and 15 minutes later you’ll emerge from a lecture on soliloquies.

Later, when I was 12 or 13, we visited my great-uncle Henry’s farm, something we did only infrequently.  He walked us around to see the cows in the fields and we took a tour of the old farm house with Aunt Mary and creaked along the floor boards from room to room.

Aunt Mary discovered that day that I was a bookworm.  So, in her enthusiasm to share her own love of reading with me, she handed me a pile of books that she had finished and was eager to pass along to someone else.

I thought I had received a great treasure that day!

And then I opened one book and learned what a Harlequin romance novel was.  She probably didn’t even realize how young I was and how those books weren’t really a good fit for me.

To this day, I don’t read romance novels.  Not the ones you can buy from the racks at the grocery story.  Not the Christian ones where the girl loves God and falls in love with a guy that loves God.  Not any.

Sure I have opinions on the matter.  I have principles guiding my decision that God has laid on my heart, all of the whys and wherefores that make that particular genre off-limits for me.

But, do I think the eleventh commandment is Thou Shalt Not Read Romance Novels?

Nope.

Do I think you are doomed for all time if you like a good clean Christian romance?

No way.

Maybe God has told you that other things are off-limits.  Something you eat, watch, read, or do that isn’t clearly wrong or covered under a Biblical commandment, but that God has personally convicted you about.

God has given us so much freedom and yet that doesn’t mean anything goes.  Paul wrote, “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

This principle covers more than just what shows we watch on TV or what books line our bookshelves at home.  Some of us God has called to be stay-at-home moms and some to work outside the home. Some to have large families.  Some to be one-and-done. Some to adopt.  Some to home school.  Some to choose public schools.

What happens when I impose on you the calling God has given me?  Then we have explosive battles of criticism and condemnation.  We have legalism where we add mandates to Scripture and make everyone else obey the instructions God personally designed for us.

Oswald Chambers wrote: “At first, Jesus Christ through His Spirit has to restrain you from doing a great many things that may be perfectly right for everyone else but not right for you.  Yet, see that you don’t use your restrictions to criticize someone else.”

How then do we navigate these explosive relationships where even the most innocent remark or most God-directed decision becomes the atomic bomb in the next World War Women?

Allow for the Calling of Others

In Part One, I reminded you to Do What You Are Called to Do.

But, there’s another side to the story.  We also need to let others do what they are called to do.

What if we allowed for differences, not just in opinion, but in calling?  Not differences in doctrinal truth or the very clear mandates in Scripture, but differences in style, taste, gifting, personality, ability and weaknesses.

In Genesis 26:2, God told Isaac, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live.”

Decades later, God said to Jacob, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there” (Genesis 46:3).

Don’t go to Egypt.  Do go to Egypt.

Does it seem like God can’t make up His mind?

But consider that Isaac and Jacob were different people, in different circumstances at different times.  God’s calling for each of them was uniquely appropriate.

What if Jacob had never traveled to Egypt because he felt that God’s command to Isaac must carry over to him, as well?  He would never have seen his long-lost son, Joseph, again.  No reconciliation.  No 400 years of the Israelites in Egypt.  No slavery—yes—-but also no deliverance.  It’s highly possible that Jacob and his remaining sons would have died off in obscurity as the result of famine.

Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  Peaceful relationships in this world aren’t always possible and that’s the ugly truth of it all.

But, we need to do everything we can to cultivate peace even in disputed territories where landmines of personal opinion dot the fields.  Sometimes that means we stay-at-home moms need to go out of our way to encourage the working moms we know, to pray for them, to help them out if they need it and not to exclude them from our activities and friendships.

Sometimes that means letting petty jealousies and misinterpreted comments and too-sensitive feelings fall to the ground and instead choose—sometimes it’s a difficult choice—-but choose not to be offended.  Choose to put on thick skin.  Choose to let comments pass by unanswered.

Sometimes we need to keep some opinions to ourselves.  We must put down the protest signs and banners about issues that God doesn’t clearly address in Scripture.

If God has told you to go to Egypt, then go.  Pack up your bags and take the first plane out of here because you need to live in obedience to God.  But don’t condemn those who are boarding a different plane also in obedience to Him.

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.