Lessons from the Theater, Part One

For those reading Lisa Harper’s book, Stumbling Into Grace, along with my small group, today’s devotional will match up with her thirteenth chapter, “Putting Down the Pen.”

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It was January when the director called me and asked me to work on the music for a November production of Hello, Dolly!  She was planning that far in advance.

Now it’s November and the past few weeks for my husband, who was in the show, and for me, supporting behind the scenes, were busy and exciting, rewarding, hectic and a whole lot of fun.  But it’s done.  The curtain closed. The final bows taken.  The set stashed away in pieces.

Still I have theater on the brain.  So, this week, I’m sharing some devotional thoughts borne out of the long involvement with a great show.

Lesson One: God Will Complete Your Story

For the characters in a story like Hello, Dolly!, the happy ending is assured from the beginning.  When they sing that final song, everyone has their job, their love, their relationships restored and their future seems assured of success and happiness.

They do, after all, live happily ever after.

For us, though, the easy resolution to all the conflict in our story may seem elusive.  It doesn’t always appear like the Author of our life is wrapping it all up with a nice tidy bow.  And it sure does take a lot longer than two hours to fix all of our life’s crises.

In fact, so much of the time we might feel like we’re in stasis.

I’ve felt this way recently.  It seems like so many of the areas of my life are in some holding pattern.  Just waiting.  Waiting for an answer, a provision, a direction, a progression.  Waiting for God to shout, “Voila” and finally reveal what’s behind the curtain.

Maybe you’ve also felt impatient for the resolution to your story.  Maybe you’ve felt uncertain that God is ever going to fulfill your desires, provide answers, or allow you to move on.

In fact, it’s easy to begin feeling like God started writing your story and then abandoned you for other projects.

Yet, God’s Word promises us that God, “who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).

While ultimately our final curtain call doesn’t come until we’re standing before Christ in heaven, He’s carrying us “on to completion” every step of the way.  Even when we feel like we’re standing still or taking two steps back, He’s really moving us forward.

So, when we feel the hopelessness of a bleak unpromising future, we can remember that God doesn’t intend to abandon any of us along the journey.  He doesn’t grow bored with our progress and forget to complete our story.  Instead, He declares, “I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”  (Jeremiah 29:11).

That’s why when God met Hagar out in the wilderness after she ran away from her abusive mistress, He didn’t just ask her where she came from. Instead, He asked, “where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:8).

From the beginning of His conversation with her, He showed vested interest in her future destination.  Abandoning her out in the wilderness was never His intention.  So, He directed her steps, told her to return home, and promised her blessing in the birth of her son, Ishmael.

He promised her a hope and a future.

In the same way, when God called out to Moses from the burning bush to talk about the oppression of Israel as slaves, He said, “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).

God didn’t just intend to rescue them and then leave them to their own devices.  “You’re free!  Now happy life!”

Oh no, from the beginning of the Exodus story, God clearly told Moses that they were headed out of Egypt so they could travel to the Promised Land.

God had a plans for Israel, plans to give them a very specific hope and a future.

For Abraham, the destination of the Promised Land was the same, but God didn’t give him all the details in advance.  “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you'” (Genesis 12:1).

Yet, even though Abraham didn’t know the final destination in advance, he could be assured of one thing.  God had a plan. There was the promise from the beginning that God had a land in mind just for Abraham and his family.

In her study, The Patriarchs, Beth Moore notes: “When He tells us to leave one place as He told Abram, He has another place for us to go.  God may not reveal the destination for a while, but we can rest assured we’re never called out without being called to” (p. 15).

If He’s called you out, He’s called you to a place of promise.  And He’ll be faithful to complete your story, carrying you forward on this journey even when you can’t tell you’re moving.  That’s because He has a plan to give you a hope and a future.

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 © 2011 Heather King

Live Long and Forget or Prosper

Not long ago, I wrote these words in a message to a friend, “Middle school was an absolute nightmare for me.”

Oh, it so was.  I had great friends; it wasn’t peer pressure or mean girls that made it so miserable.  Yet, those were difficult years for lots of reasons all piled together forming one mountain of middle school angst.

Most of the time, I forget those preteen emotions.  They have little presence in the workings of my everyday mind and heart.  Yet, just occasionally I am reminded of them.  Although it takes some purposeful recollecting, and although the pictures are unclear, almost as if they happened to someone else—yes, I do still remember.

Joseph knew more than most of us about enduring hard times and living through moments he’d rather forget.  Narrowly escaping being murdered by his brothers, he had instead been sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, tossed into prison and left there—not for days or weeks, but years and years.

Time passed and Joseph was freed, even elevated to power in a whirlwind of activity.  Now second in the land, lesser only than Pharaoh, he married and had two sons.  The names he chose for them have made me pause.

Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”   Genesis 41: 50-52

Manasseh, God has made me forget.  In some ways, through the sheer distance of time, we cannot remember the details of the past clearly.  Sometimes that’s God’s grace, that our past of pain grows hazy in the light of present blessing. 

Yet, do we ever forget, truly forget, all our trouble?  Did Joseph?

Surely he was now in a foreign land, an adult and no longer a teenage braggart annoying his brothers. No more following sheep in a field; now he managed a world power.  His life seemed totally broken off from the long-ago upbringing by a doting father. The coat of many colors probably wouldn’t have fit over his frame any longer.

But did he forget?  Truly forget?

Not by the way he reacted to his brothers’ sudden appearance in Egypt, begging for food in the midst of famine.  Not as he spotted their faces in the crowd of travelers.  Not as he invited them to a personal audience.  Not as he conspired to see his younger brother and father once again.  Not as he returned their silver.  Not as he fled the room to cry in privacy after talking with them all once again.

Is it not so much that he forgot, but instead that he learned and grew, matured and transformed?  Through trouble, God had refined him.

Not Manasseh.  Not forgetting.  But Ephraim.  Being made fruitful in the land of my suffering

It seems so much less about a past wiped clean from memory and so much more about allowing God to work “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), even during those moments and seasons and years we would prefer to forget.

It is the treasure of God’s presence while in darkness, the discovery of fruitful grace in a barren land, the finding of fresh water for a parched soul.

So it was for Joseph’s brothers, who dug down deep into the sacks of grain they carried back from Egypt.  Suddenly their hands felt not wheat, but silver.  Secretly, Joseph had placed treasure in each bag.

Beth Moore in The Patriarchs wrote:

“In the midst of His unfolding plan, He’d buried treasures for them to unearth at times they least expected.  Do you feel in deep peril?  At great risk?  Your God has given you treasure.  Search for it.” 

We can stand at life’s blackboard and erase and erase and erase in attempts to forget.  Oh, could we just forget how we felt in that moment, how we went through that trial, how we hurt, how we cried, how we were afraid, how we were broken.

But we would miss the treasure hidden there.

When you find yourself in famine, dig deep for the treasure of God.  Perhaps God in His grace will cover over pain with forgetfulness, replacing memories of hurt with the blessing of intimacy in His presence. Yet, even more precious than forgetting is allowing Him to make you fruitful in the land of your suffering. 

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 © 2011 Heather King

The Lord is My Portion

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73:26 (NIV)

This morning, I was a woman with a plan.  I envisioned reaching new heights of productivity and speed, accomplishing my work goals for the day, getting in a quiet time, cleaning, exercising, checking off all of the phone calls and appointments on my to-do list—all with joy and energy.

And then.

Then, I used the last slices of bread for toast and lunches.  I used one of the last diapers to change my baby girl.   I pulled out the ingredients for my crockpot dinner and realized it’s pretty hard to make salsa chicken with tortillas when you actually don’t have any tortillas or cheese.

Change of plans.  I rushed around the house throwing into the diaper bag the supplies needed for a grocery store trip with children—goldfish crackers, notebook and crayons, books, juice.

Normally, I like to plan out my shopping trips the night before, pulling out all the coupons I think I’ll use and discarding ones that are 3 months out-of-date.  Then, I like to prepare my list while going about my day, making sure I’m not forgetting anything.

Not this time.  I grabbed my unorganized coupons, my car keys, my children, my bag of things to entertain them and off we went.  Shopping.  In the rain.  With sleepy children.  Without a list.

The worst part of this whole story is that I was just at the store yesterday.  I ran in just to get a gift and the milk that would help “tide me over” until my real shopping in two or three days.   And now I had to go back again the very next day.  I quietly prayed that none of the cashiers recognized me from yesterday as the crazy woman who can’t stay out of the Wal-Mart.

It’s one of my life dreams to shop just one time a week and that’s it.  Clearly, I’m not there yet.

But this impromptu shopping trip reminded me that time with God should never just be a once-a-week affair where we stock the shelves of our heart and live off the supplies for a while.

Instead, in the Lord’s Prayer, we ask Him to “give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11, NIV).

Today.  Not tomorrow or the next week.  Just for today, Lord, provide what I need.  In this moment, fill me up and sustain me.  Give me the encouragement and provision I need for the here and now in my life.

This daily dependence is something the Israelites had to learn in the wilderness between Egypt and The Promised Land.   In Numbers 11:5, they complained to Moses, “We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic, but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes.”

In Egypt, it was no big deal to swing by the farmer’s market for some fresh veggies and then pick up some fresh fish from the docks.

In the wilderness, however, they ate manna.  Lots and lots of manna.  It was bread from heaven, sweet, and miraculous.  God sent it every night, not so they could store it for the future, but so they could eat just enough for that day.  Exodus 16:21 says, ” Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away” (NIV).

At first, not all the Israelites obeyed God’s commands.  They tried to store some of the manna so they wouldn’t have to gather it every day.  Their goal was to make one shopping trip for the week, not daily excursions to the Wal-Mart.  But, the food they stored overnight rotted and was infested with worms.

Daily dependence on God.   It’s the overarching message of Scripture.

David wrote in Psalm 73:26:  “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (NIV).

Jeremiah wrote in Lamentations 3:24: “I say to myself,  ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him'” (NIV)

God is our portion.  He is more than enough for us in every situation, but we need to depend on Him for His presence, His encouragement, His strength, His provision, and His guidance daily, and even more than that–second by second.

Sometimes I think that my planning or my productivity can be enough, that in my own strength and ability I can make it.  But, that’s just when I have a day like today, when all of my well-laid plans and my confidence in my self are destroyed.

All I can do is place my to-do list, my perfect plans, my work schedule, my bank account and bills, my kids all at His feet and ask Him to “be enough.  Lord, I am not enough for any of this, but You are my portion and the strength of my heart.  So, I depend on You today and You alone.”

Then tomorrow, I’ll go to Him again . . . and the next day  . . . and the day after that.  Because this Christian walk of ours is a daily journey of dependence on God.

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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.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

This is the Way, Walk in It

“Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it'”
Isaiah 30:21

Last night, my husband asked me to consider and pray about something that would be a huge faith step for me.  I told him I had already prayed about it.  It was all written out in my prayer journal and I had already told God that I would obey once He provided financially.  To which my husband very gently reminded me that I had just written these words that very day: “As I’ve meditated on obedience, I’ve realized that healing, deliverance, blessing, and provision come as we obey—not before we obey.”

Oh, yeah, I remember writing that.

Then I told God that obeying is fine, but this step of obedience didn’t really make sense to me because it doesn’t quite fit my plan and doesn’t fully work out on paper.

To which God once again reminded me of the Israelites and their journey out of Egypt.

The Israelites had a plan when they left Egypt.  They marched out of captivity in battle formation because they expected God to take them via the quickest route between The Land of Goshen in Egypt to Canaan.  Along that route, lived the battle-ready Philistines.  So, the Israelites envisioned a few quick fights, about a month-long hike and voila—Promised Land!

Yet, Scripture says:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.  (Exodus 13:17-18, NIV).

Not only did God take them the long way around, He took them to Horeb where they received the 10 Commandments and Horeb is about as far from the Promised Land as you could get.  Taking this route surely didn’t make sense to the Israelietes, but God did this for their blessing and benefit.  He knew that if they faced war, they would quickly give up and head back to slavery.  What looked like a total failure of God’s GPS system ultimately determined the success of their journey.

The people never questioned God’s strange directions, though, because they had visible evidence of His plan. They were guided day and night by pillars of cloud and fire, showing them exactly where to travel and when to move.

Now, at first I was feeling a little bit short-changed in this whole deal.  They get massive, unmistakable, highly miraculous pillars of cloud and fire and I get a still small voice to direct my steps.  How is this fair?

In her book One in a Million, Priscilla Shirer puts it this way:

Wouldn’t it be nice for God to come down and linger over the person we are to marry or the building where our new job awaits?  Wouldn’t it be great to know for sure this house was the one we should put an offer on because God’s cloud hung just over the roof line?

Yes, that would be great!  I’ll take one order of miraculous and totally unmistakable evidence of God’s will with lots of specific details please!

While the Israelites had pillars of cloud and fire to guide them, the disciples had Jesus in human flesh to teach and direct them.  Yet, even Jesus told His disciples, “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7, NIV).  Francis Chan writes in Forgotten God: “When the disciples heard that two thousand years ago, I’m sure it was hard for them to grasp.  How could it be better to trade a human Jesus–a man they could talk and eat and laugh with–for a Spirit they couldn’t physically see?  Thousands of years later, I think most of us would also choose a physical Jesus over an invisible Spirit.”  Jesus is so clear, though, that it is for our good that we are given the indwelling and ever-present Holy Spirit to guide us.

So, we really haven’t been short-changed at all.  We have the Holy Spirit with us always, a constant Guide, Advocate, Comfort and Counselor.  Jesus promised we would receive “another advocate to help you and be with you forever—  the Spirit of truth . . . you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you (John 14:16-17, NIV).  I know His voice because I have spent time in God’s Word and time in God’s presence through prayer.  I’ve heard His voice before and walked with Him in obedience.  I double check to make sure what I am hearing lines up with Scripture and ask: Is it consistent with God’s character and with what He has been teaching me and can it be confirmed by others in my life?

Then, when He calls me to obey, even when I don’t understand all the details or how it will all work out, I must, as the hymn says, “trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”

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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.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King