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Daily Thoughts for January
By Patricia Norman
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"For 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). Imagine, God plans to give us success this year; to give us enthusiasm, expectation and a perspective of the excellent in life. "How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!" (Psalm 139:17). Thank You for Your concern for our physical and spiritual well-being, God. There isn't a moment that You don't ache for our victory in life. May we always believe this, even on the dark days. And let us remember that, with You, anything is possible this year.
God has created today for us: "This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24). This is the day of more opportunities to serve Him by helping those He sends us. We are to rejoice in it--anyway--and know that He gives us strength for the day and its various challenges, for God never purposely gives problems He cannot help us through. It would be against His nature. It is a blessed day of salvation for all who love God. God has already weighed everything that will happen today in just and loving Hands and Heart. "His compassions fail not...They are new every morning..." (Lamentations 3:22,23).
The sublime book of Job does not answer the question of grief but it enables us to better understand the reasons for the sorrows that touch every life. The question is not the why of evil and anguish, for that we can never answer, but the how: how is it accepted and how is it overcome? It is in this life and on this earth that we join the battle and win the victory. "What is the meaning of all this?" is the afflicted heart's challenge to the Man on the cross. The meaning was found when He arose on that golden resurrection morning to give us a new translation of love and life, and a blessed hope.
We are servants for Jesus. Sir Wilfred Grenfell wrote: "The service we render to others is really the rent we pay for our room on this earth. It is obvious that man is himself a traveler; that the purpose of this world is not `To have and to hold' but `To give and to serve.' There can be no other meaning." In Mark 10:45 we read, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." There is a story about the man who rushed to the church door and asked if the service was over. The wise usher replied, "The worship is over, but the service is only beginning."
"I'm sorry." Only two words, and yet how irresistible they are. It takes nothing away from us to say these two words, yet what grief they save. Someone said love is never having to say we are sorry, but sincere love is going to a person and telling him or her that we are sorry for what has happened, even if we are the one wronged. When we are angry with someone, it might help to visualize Jesus washing the feet of Judas, the one who betrayed Him. Only holy love could do such a kind act. We sometimes feel that justice is our due when someone has wronged us, but somehow God always balances the scales of life.
"For He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:14). How easy it is to become discouraged and to hate ourselves, but God has placed us in our circumstances and surely He realizes our weaknesses. Even if others chide us for our lacks, He will not condemn us. Verse 8 of this psalm encourages us: "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness." Let us give thanks again and again for His patience with us. Despair is Satan's cherished tool to pry open the hearts of those who belong to God. God's instrument is hope which in turn gives us assurance.
There's an extraordinary verse in the book of Esther, "...Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14 RSV). God knows the right time and place for us to be born, and He wants us to make use of our talents and our strength right where we are. He doesn't want us dreaming of other times and places and what we could have done there. It is His providence that sends us certain people at certain times, and He doesn't want us to lose these opportunities to help. If our circumstances are unusual, then He has given us unusual abilities to meet them. If we can remember this, then it will help us to have the courage to meet the whoevers, whatevers and whenevers in our life.
"So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up" (Mark 1:31. What a wonder this is! Jesus cured Peter's mother-in-law instantaneously, and "the fever left her and she began to wait on them" (v.31). What a grand visual this is for the tired and discouraged wife and mother who has had a chaotic day. Our reassuring and responsive Jesus helps quickly and affectionately. He wants us to tell Him when we are so tired we want to get off the edge of it all and run away from our necessary responsibilities. So He comes and takes our hand and lifts us up. Thank You, Jesus!
We have a Father Who loves us more that we can possibly understand. If we remember this as we go about our daily tasks, our hearts will be lifted and our sorrows lightened. One of my favorite hymns is â€œHe Lifted Me.â€? Yes, He lifts us above the pettiness and noise of the world to give us His view of the lovely mountains and the eternity He has prepared for us through His life and death. "Hell makes its moves on the checkered squares of human existence, but all its moves are on heaven's own chessboard" (Anonymous). Remember, we are on our Father's Board!
There are several verses in the Bible that encourage us to be content with our lives: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4:11b); "If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that" (1 Timothy 6:8); "Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread" (Proverbs 30:8); "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8). Whittier has said that contentment is "The harvest song of inward peace." Let us sing His praises for all He has given us.
Disappointment! How do we deal with it? We've often heard the expression that man proposes but God disposes, but too often in ways that we don't expect and don't want. "`Mother,' said little Bobby, bursting into the house all out of breath, `There's going to be the deuce to pay down at the grocer's. His wife just had a baby girl and he's had a `Boy Wanted' sign in the window for a week.'" We put our "Wanted" signs out for all to see and then have to back off and accept what is God's choice for us, for only God sees the end from the beginning; only He has the magnum opus of our life.
If we actively pursue happiness, it eludes us; if we go on with life and try to make others' lives more pleasing, then we become happy. In some translations of the Bible the Beatitudes are prefaced with "Happy are...the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers," etc. Jesus didn't give us a new philosophy to live by because He Himself lived by the philosophy of the Old Testament. The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and there is as much love and mercy in the one as in the other. Jesus simply reminded us of the principles that give us happiness, which in turn translate into peace of mind.
J.R. Miller, one of the outstanding Christian writers of the 19th century, made the statement, "To me religion means just one thing: Jesus and I are friends." This is delightfully simple. One of the most appealing verses in the Bible is John 15:15: "I no longer call you servants...Instead, I have called you friends..." Jesus then tells His disciples that all He has heard of His Father He has made known to them. What better way could Jesus prove His love for them other than dying for them, also? Jesus is our best Friend, and He wants us to share with Him all our big and little problems, because that's what true friends are for.
"Your heavenly Father knows..." (Matthew 6:32). There is a beautiful story about the visitor at a school for the deaf and dumb. He wrote questions on the blackboard for the children, and one was: "Why has God made me to hear and speak, and made you deaf and dumb?" The little ones were stunned by that terrible "Why?" Finally one little girl rose and, with tears streaming down her face, wrote on the board with firm lines, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight!" Even so, Father! O, that we might have the faith of the little ones!
In the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30) the servant asked the owner if he should uproot what he thought were the tares. The owner replied that the man should let them grow together until the harvest. The lesson is explicit for us: we cannot possibly know who is the wheat and who are the tares. God alone is the Judge of minds and hearts. If ever there was a tare that tore mankind, it was Judas, yet Jesus washed his feet and showed him every courtesy in a supreme and final effort to save Judas from himself. We are not weed-less ourselves so we cannot grub up or sift through others' gardens or fields--or garbage, even!
"All at once an angel touched him and said, `Get up and eat'" (1 Kings 19:5). God is concerned about our physical welfare. Elijah, discouraged and feeling he had failed, went into hiding from Jezebel and Ahab. But God understood and He sent an angel to refresh Elijah with food and sleep. How wise is our God to know our needs. He comes to us in our moments of vulnerabilities and strengthens us for future usefulness. In John 21:12 we read the poignant invitation of Jesus inviting the disciples to "come and have breakfast," not alone but with Him who had lovingly prepared the meal for His tired friends. What a gracious gesture!
"...Every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:2b). It may seem unfair that those who are already bearing fruit will be pruned, but only God knows what needs to be removed at what season of our lives so that we may bear more fruit for Him. Even the most saintly have sinned and come short of God's glory. He can see the beautiful and yet unnecessary blossoms developing that will hinder the growth of the fruit of the Spirit. The Vine-dresser uses the pruning-knife of trial and affliction that the branch may bear even sweeter fruit. â€œThe fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulnessâ€¦.â€? (Galatians 5:22).
"You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn north" (Deuteronomy 2:3). We move in small circles that become lusterless, but the logo of the Christian life should be a spiral, not a circle. Boredom is contrary to the Christian life, for God leads us up and forward. There are three traits among many that should get us off the mountain of monotony: 1) growth, or a going forward; 2) enthusiasm, or eagerness for this gift of life; 3) enterprise, or a plan for our life. Sometimes we need to "turn northward," to take a different direction in life, to regain our zeal. God will let us know when that time comes.
"You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand" (John 13:7). Sometimes events shatter our comfortable existence and life forces us to trust in something that makes absolutely no sense. Faith is the only glue that holds together our fragmented hearts. We must know without a doubt that our Father views the summation of our life with the eye of His omniscience. When our world seems to be crashing, He whispers to us, "Trust that I know what I am doing, and that you, too, shall know in My good time." Thank You, Father!
There is the story of the farmer who placed on the wind indicator on his barn the words, "God is Love." A friend asked him, "Do you mean that God is as changeable as the wind?" "No," replied the farmer, "I mean God is Love no matter which way the wind blows!" God is Love. He is the very principle, substance, character and essence of cherishment. To cherish is to treasure, to place a value on what we esteem. The Father placed such a high price on His creation that He sent His beloved Son to die in our place that we might live eternally. On days when we feel that God has deserted us, let us remember this.
"There is a time for everything..." (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Often we wait until it's too late to hold the hurting person in our arms; to offer encouragement; to bring flowers to the sick; to say "I appreciate you" to a dear one; to write a note to someone who is literally dying of loneliness. We can't wait until we have the time or it is convenient for us. We must meet that person's need in their time, not ours. It's too late to bring flowers and praise at the funeral. Today is the day of cheer and hope, love and approval. It takes such little effort to say, "I love you." Go!
The teacher asked Johnny if the world was round. He answered, "No." "Is it flat?" "No." "If it isn't round and it isn't flat, then what is it?" "Daddy says it's crooked!" This is a humorous and innocent response from a child echoing his father's cynical evaluation of what the father feels to be a warped world. But Isaiah 40:4c (KJV) assures us: "The crooked shall be made straight..." The original sense of the word crooked in this verse meant knoll or an unevenness of surface. It isn't the windings of life or the winds of strife that destroy us, but the contortions and distortions that we bring upon ourselves. Unfortunately, we then blame others for our own lack of insight and foresight.
The pearl has a strange beginning. When a foreign particle penetrates the mantle of the mollusk, the shell-secreting cells attach to the particle and build up concentric layers of pearl around the invading material. Here is a grand spiritual lesson, for we all confront affronts every day. Who is not irritated by distractions, perceived insults, phone calls at inconvenient times, a knock at the door in the middle of a gripping passage in our book, etc.? The next time someone or something invades our world, let us evaluate it not as an infringement but as a fringe benefit that becomes a pearl of opportunity to help.
Disraeli said, "Life is too short to be little." It is also too short to belittle. Sarcasm is Satan's language, not the Christian's. Scathing wit is sword-play, but it is a double-edged sword that finally turns on the perpetrator. Jesus said those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword (Matthew 26:52). There's no doubt that sarcasm is wit, but we should never have our little joke at another's expense, such as the following: "You say you never have a quarrel with your wife?" "Never. She goes her way and I go hers." A rule of our tongue always should be: will what I say help or hurt that person?
We forget that God is the source of our material and spiritual good. How tempting to assert, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me" (Deuteronomy 8:17). There are many physically and/or mentally disabled or those who are unemployed through no fault of their own. We take our health and our jobs for granted and say, "I worked hard for this, and it's mine." We could wake up any morning and find ourselves sinking in the same boat with others who would give their all to "have it all" as we do. Thank You, Father, for our daily bread, and forgive our ingratitude and presumption of Your good gifts.
"Faith is not a sense, nor sight, nor reason, but a taking God at His Word" (Evans). There is a priceless promise in His Word that assures us of His presence: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you..." (Isaiah 43:2). The important word here is WHEN. God won't promise help before we need it. It's useless for us to worry about obstacles in our path before we reach them. We fret that we don't have "dying grace" when we are in good health, in the middle of duties, when we should be thinking about life. Let us take Him at His Word that He will give us grace as the waters of affliction flow over us and cleanse us.
God placed wings on the backs of the feeble birds and they protested, "Must we be burdened with this weight?" The Lord smiled and asked them to wait a week. The next day a strange thing happened: a force lifted them heavenward and the birds found themselves flying and floating, and enjoying a sensation they had never felt before. When the week passed they reappeared before the Lord and the birds humbly acknowledged the wisdom of their Father. "These very wings which we hated so much and ridiculed enable us to soar into the loftiest heights." From A Legend.
"Marriage should be honored by all..." (Hebrews 13:4); "Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding" (John 2:2). Jesus was not an ascetic who kept aloof from the people's joys or their sorrows. It is significant that He chose a wedding with which to open His ministry. Is Jesus telling us that religion is not to be a gloomy and desperate experience, but a fulfilling and enriching involvement, just as marriage is to do the same? He turned the water into wine, thereby giving His friends a luxury and an enjoyment. Every day He gives us luxury, too: His grace.
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