For those of you who are walking through a difficult season right now this excerpt from A Praying Life by Paul Miller might be exactly what you need.
People of faith live in the desert. Like Abraham, they are aware of the reality of their circumstances but are fixed on hope. Paul describes how “in hope (Abraham) believed against hope” (Romans 4:18).
The hardest part of being in the desert is that there is no way out. You don’t know when it will end. There is no relief in sight.
A desert can be almost anything. It can be a child who has gone astray, a difficult boss, or even your own sin or foolishness. Maybe you married your desert.
God customizes deserts for each of us. Joseph’s desert is being betrayed and forgotten in an Egyptian jail. Moses lives in the Midian desert as an outcast for forty years. The Israelites live in the desert for forty years. David runs from Saul in the desert. All of them hold on to the hope of God’s Word, yet face the reality of their situations.
The theme of the desert is so strong in Scripture that Jesus reenacts the desert journey at the beginning of his ministry by fasting for forty days in a desert while facing Satan’s temptation. His desert is living with the hope of the resurrection yet facing the reality of His Father’s face turned against Him at the cross.
The Father turning His face against you is the heart of the desert experience. Life has ended. It no longer has any point. You might not want to commit suicide, but death would be a relief. It’s very tempting to survive the desert by taking the bread of bitterness offered by Satan – to maintain a wry, cynical detachment from life, finding a perverse enjoyment in mocking those who still hope.
God takes everyone He loves through a desert. It is His cure for our wandering hearts, restlessly searching for a new Eden. Here’s how it works.
The first thing that happens is we slowly give up the fight. Our wills are broken by the reality of our circumstances. The things that brought us life gradually die. Our idols die for lack of food.
The still, dry air of the desert brings the sense of helplessness that is so crucial to the spirit of prayer. You come face to face with your inability to live, to have joy, to do anything of lasting worth. Life is crushing you.
Suffering burns away the false selves created by cynicism or pride or lust. You stop caring what people think of you. The desert is God’s best hope for the creation of an authentic you.
Desert life sanctifies you. You have no idea you are changing. You simply notice after you’ve been in the desert awhile that you are different. Things that used to be important no longer matter.
After a while you notice your real thirsts.
The desert becomes a window to the heart of God. He finally gets your attention because He’s the only game in town.
You cry out to God so long and so often that a channel begins to open up between you and God. When driving, you turn off the radio just to be with God. At night you drift in and out of prayer when you are sleeping. Without realizing it, you have learned to pray continuously. The clear, fresh water of God’s presence that you discovered in the desert becomes a well inside your own heart.
The best gift in the desert is God’s presence. We see this in Psalm 23. When you go through “the valley of the shadow of death,” He is right next to you. The protective love of the Shepherd gives you the courage to face the interior journey.
When you don’t receive what you pray for or desire, it doesn’t mean that God isn’t acting on your behalf. Rather, He is weaving His story. Paul tells us to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians). Thanksgiving helps us to be grace-centered, seeing all of life as a gift. It looks at how God’s past blessings impact our lives. Watchfulness alerts us to the unfolding drama in the present. It looks for God’s present working as it unfolds into future grace.
Watch for the story God is weaving in your life. Don’t leave the desert. The best is yet to come.
Excerpts taken from A Praying Life by Paul Miller
In the book of Exodus we read about Moses and his great deliverance of the Israelites. After the Israelites left Egypt they wandered around in the wilderness for forty years waiting on God to lead them to the promised land. While they were in the wilderness, the Israelites started to complain about how Moses saved them. They were slaves back in Egypt but compared to just wandering around in the desert with no food, the slave life in Egypt was looking pretty good! We read in Exodus chapter 16 that the Israelites started grumbling and complained to Moses, “We had meat in Egypt but then you had to go and lead us out so that we could starve out here in the desert!”
Of course, there was no food in the desert. How were they to survive? Why would God lead them out of Egypt only to bring them to a desert? Don’t we feel like we’re in the wilderness sometimes? We feel like God leads us somewhere only to abandon us. I know this feeling quite well.
Media- you’re everywhere. You’re so loud that it’s deafening.
You’re deafening our ears to hear truth,
blinding our eyes to see direction,
yet somehow amplifying our mouths to speak opinion…
to speak our views or judgements we’ve formed from you, Media,
with our deafened ears and our blinded eyes.
We have become like overly pompous horses.
We appear grand, strong, powerful, galavanting the great wild world,
yet with bridle and bit in mouth, our stance is directed by someone else.
By something else.
It’s you, Media.
What is truth anymore?
We’ve taken this guiding light and altered it to fit our perception of reality.
But that’s not truth.
We seem to have lost what truth is.
We no longer seek it earnestly, instead we settle for being led by uncertainty.
What happened to education? Where have all of the books gone?
We no longer thumb through pages of factual information,
rather settle for a comment feed without any rationalization.
Where do our convictions lie? I can’t seem to find them.
What was once an internal voice of logical process
is now a methodical scroll thumbed thoughtless.
Our hearts seem to be led by self-righteousness, no longer led by love.
Our words led by “likes,” as if that were ever enough.
We are affirmed by our “friends” and motivated by a “follow,”
all of which returns void when what we post is hard to swallow.
So we settle in for hate and slander, all done through our words.
So gratified in our voice, finally being heard.
But what have we accomplished? What’s been made better?
We still live in a virtual world, filled with friends who are fair-weathered.
We have to put down our devices and stand up with our back bones.
Get out of this world’s vices and find our way back home.
Because home is where we left it, where we lost all of our hope.
Where we chose our own knowledge, our own truth, when He warned us, “No, don’t!”
Now we’ve let the enemy in, and he’s running all amok.
And we’re all just looking for hope again, with no such luck.
We’re crying out to leaders; we’re giving them the blame.
But they’ll never be able to hear our cries, because our hope has a name.
Jesus is our hope, the way, the truth, the life.
Watch as He’s running after us, His forever, eternal bride.
So Media, I’m using you now, to accomplish some good.
To remind a hopeless people, that their pain is understood.
I’m unplugging the deafened ears and removing bridle and bit.
To no longer be guided by the world and constantly listening to it.
For my hope, He has a name, and His father suffered great loss.
They both know our feelings of pain, for their pain involved a cross.
And right now ours does too, a crossroads of sorts.
Do we buy into this Hope? Or stand idle with abhor.
If we want to go to battle in this never ending strife,
We must make sure we are standing behind lines worthy of our lives.
The fight we choose will be costly, no matter which side.
So we must be sure we choose wisely and set aside our pride.
I have chosen to seek the Truth, while He may still be found.
I want to have eyes that see and ears that hear, when the trumpet sounds.
If curiosity has sparked, a twinkling in your eyes,
ask me all your questions but tell me no more lies.
This Truth for you is free, for the price has far been paid.
So rest assured you weary heart, do not be dismayed.
For what Hope did for me, He’s also done for you.
And where Media, you confuse us, our Hope, you will speak Truth.
Our Savior will come through.
Taking hold of that Hope,
Pain in this life is a given.
It is unavoidable.
It will happen.
It is a foolish endeavor to attempt to avoid it touching our lives. Seasons of pain come and go. Sometimes the season is short but sometimes those seasons seem endless. Sometimes the pain is of our own doing, a consequence of a rebellious spirit. Other times, we are blindsided by life and we find ourselves in the crosshairs of a fallen world.
What do we do when we find ourselves in a season of unrelenting pain and hardship? If pain is inevitable, then there must be some kind of help out there for the afflicted, some Divine provision for a hurting soul.
Maybe we need to change our understanding of pain and it’s purpose in our lives. Sometimes it just helps to know something has purpose.
What would happen if we saw pain as a tool? Then recognizing how that tool is used in our lives would be hugely significant.
Let me explain.
If pain is a tool, then we need to recognize whose hands hold the tool.
If the tool finds its way into the hands of the enemy, we can be sure that it will be used to cripple us, maybe even destroy us. We know the enemy wants to steal, kill, and destroy. John 10:10
But, if the tool finds itself in the hands of a loving Father, then we can be assured that the tool will be used to chisel and shape us into something beautiful. We could then claim Romans 8:28 with absolute certainty. We could know beyond any shadow of a doubt that, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Armed with that assurance, we could stand up under the weight of any pain.
We don’t often have a choice as to whether pain enters our lives or not, but when it does, we do get to choose whose hands will hold the tool.
Choose your carpenter wisely.
Have a great week,
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
Yesterday was a first of an upcoming year of firsts. In January, my mom went home – to her real home. So this was my first Mother’s Day without a mom, without my Mama. I really wanted to just move on past the day and pretend that it wasn’t Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way so I just kinda muddled through the day.
I was so blessed to have precious friends send sweet texts throughout the day. One even made the most amazing cake to let me know that she was thinking about me. I was blessed to have most of my children with me but, and I hate to admit this, I just wasn’t feeling overly grateful for the blessings that were around me.
This morning a sweet friend said, “You made it through your first ‘first’. You did it.” She knows what she’s talking about because she has walked this same road. She knows that there will be many “firsts” this year. As I left her house to head home, I started thinking about how much I don’t want to just make it through the next year of “firsts”.
As I drove, I began to become so aware of my ungrateful heart. God had so lovingly surrounded me with loving friends and family and I had just neglected to recognize it. But then He brought a precious memory to my mind. I want to share it with all of you, especially any of you who, like me, have a year of “firsts” ahead.
Back in January, early on a Monday morning, my Dad called to let me know that he thought Mama had just had a stroke and she was in the ambulance on her way to the hospital. We had made several trips to the hospital over the last few months. Her health had been declining and her body was worn out. I remember that my only prayer on the way to the hospital was just that God would be merciful and that her suffering would not escalate even more.
When we got to the hospital, she was on a respirator and was heavily sedated. We were told that she had had a catastrophic brain bleed. After a few more tests and much prayer, the decision was made to remove the respirator. That night, her family surrounded her as she took her last breath.
One by one, family left the room until the only two left were my son, Dalton, and me. His eyes were swollen and red and I knew his heart was crushed. I didn’t want to leave him in the room by himself so I just stood there, watching him out of the corner of my eye. My own heart was so heavy as the finality of what had happened sank in.
But as we stood there in that dark, cold room the most amazing thing happened. All of a sudden, Dalton’s eyes grew wide and his whole face lit up. “Mama, just think what she’s seeing right now…can you imagine what she’s seeing right now!” It was as if God had cracked the door to heaven just enough to allow us a tiny glimpse of what the real reality was. The whole room seemed to light up.
His words washed over me like a river of healing water as I was reminded that the empty shell lying in the hospital bed was nothing more than just that, a shell. But my Mama, well, she was face to face with her Savior. No more pain. She was free. And maybe, she was even dancing.
The reality of what death is for those of us who belong to Christ had escaped me for just a moment. But my son’s words reminded me that the truth is, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8)
Who was I to want anything else for her?
So, as I drove home today, I realized that I, again, had lost sight of the truth. I confessed my ungratefulness to my Father and asked that He renew a right spirit in me. I told Him that for the rest of my year of “firsts” without my Mama, I was going to celebrate her year of “firsts” with Him. I was going to just imagine what she was seeing and how she looked now that she was fully healed.
I also had to smile because I’m pretty sure she is rearranging all the furniture in the Mansion and telling the angels what to do.
Have a great week!
Yesterday was a big day for the family. Dalton, child number 3, graduated from The University of South Carolina. Three Marlowe children down, one to go. To make things even more special, Robert, whom I claim as one of my own was also graduating.
Because we are so academically oriented, we all headed to Columbia for the momentous occasion. Actually, that’s a lie. We mainly get excited over these kinds of things because it gives us an excuse to get the families together and, well, eat. And, because it wouldn’t be right to celebrate the occasion without actually attending the graduation, we decided that it was only appropriate that we go.
Certainly picture taking is also an important part of such occasions, not as important as food, but important all the same. The problem is that none of us are good at:
A. Actually taking the pictures
B. Posing for pictures.
I think this is because there are so many of us and out of the entire group, there are only a few who know how to focus for longer than 60 seconds. Well actually, that’s probably not true either.
Thank goodness for my daughter in law. If it weren’t for her, there would be very little documentation of family events. Sadly, I think we have started to wear off on her somewhat. She is the one standing on the far right. Obviously, she is struggling with the whole focus thing, too.
Special thank you to my friend Julie, Robert’s mama, for capturing our dysfunction.
So, after the trauma of the picture taking with the Coker family, we all were so worn out that we decided to take one of the shuttles from the Horseshoe to the Colonial Life Arena. That was also an experience, but not one we will delve into right now. Once inside, we had to sit in the nosebleed section because all the good seats were taken. My guess is that either everyone else decided to wait and take pictures after graduation or they are better at taking pictures than we are.
Once in our seats, we all sat politely and waited for the ceremony to begin. Philip fell asleep. Twice. People were asked to behave respectfully and not holler so as to not drown out the name of the graduate following their child; most were courteous, some were obnoxiously not. I, myself, was so distracted by the fabulous artwork on the top of the graduates’ caps (Remember we were in the nosebleed section) that I almost missed my own son’s name being called out.
The soon-to-be graduates were assured that they were ready to take on the world – to change it. We were all told the same thing when we graduated. Do you remember? I remember. So much value was placed on that simple piece of paper I held in my hand. And it is valuable. But it is not in itself able to empower anyone to change the world. What will cause change is found in the heart of the one holding the diploma.
To Dalton and Robert I want to say that I’m so proud of the hard work and dedication that brought the two of you to this moment. But this moment, this degree, is not what you should ever allow to define you. Instead, see it as the catalyst through which God will direct your steps - for His glory. Don’t let your main ambition from this point forward be to earn lots of money and be financially set for life or to attain a high job status or even to be impressive in man’s view. Instead, make it your life’s goal to, “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
One day, all the finances accumulated and all the accolades bestowed by man will be left behind and you will stand before the One who created you to do great things that He has already chosen for you to do. He has given you all the gifts and talents that you will need. Use them selflessly and wisely. Remember that God’s view of greatness is different from that of the world’s. While the world looks at the outward appearance, God is looking at your hearts.
Make Him proud. I have no doubt that you will.
Love you both. You too, Hunter.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
If you never felt pain,
Then how would you know that I’m a Healer?
If you never went through difficulty,
How would you know that I’m a Deliverer?
If you never had a trial,
How could you call yourself an overcomer?
If you never felt sadness,
How would you know that I’m a Comforter?
If you never made a mistake,
How would you know that I’m forgiving?
If you never were in trouble,
How would you know that I will come to your rescue?
If you never were broken,
Then how would you know that I can make you whole?
If you never had a problem,
How would you know that I can solve them?
If you never had any suffering,
Then how would you know what I went through?
If you never went through the fire,
Then how would you become pure?
If I gave you all things,
How would you appreciate them?
If I never corrected you,
How would you know that I love you?
If you had all power,
Then how would you learn to depend on me?
If your life was perfect,
Then what would you need me for?
The day after Jesus’s crucifixion was the Sabbath day, a day of rest. Can you image how strange that day must have been? I wonder if those who loved Jesus just sat and starred at each other in dazed silence. Picture the confusion.
There were some who were not resting. The religious leaders, wanting to cover all their bases, asked that the tomb be secured. They needed to make sure that Jesus’s body stayed put. Pilot gave permission and the tomb was sealed and guards were posted.
I just recently watched the movie Risen. I watched the religious leaders looking on as the Roman guards anchored the stone and placed the seal on it. I smiled to myself and thought, “Well, good luck with that!”
Because I know how that story ends.
It's 6:00 a.m. and I'm really tired this morning. But how tired must Jesus have been? He has not slept. He has been beat, spit on, and accused falsely.
Let's walk in His shoes as we go about our day today. Let's be keenly aware of what was done for us.
At 6:00 a.m. Jesus is standing before Pilot listening to their lies as they yell for His death.
In the next few hours, Jesus will be sentenced to death, mocked and flogged beyond recognition, and then He will drag His cross to Golgotha.
By 9:00 a.m., He will hang on the cross for the next 6 hours as the insults and mocking continue, as soldiers cast lots for His clothes, and as a criminal is promised salvation.
Around 3:00 p.m. today, Jesus will cry out, "It is finished."
He has paid our price. He has bought our freedom. Don't let anything distract your heart and mind today. Remember what was done on your behalf and live like one who has been spared simply because you are so loved, not because you deserve to be.
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