God at Work

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

I had planned to move on with David, but God has done so many things in this past couple of weeks, I feel I must share His amazing movements in our lives.

About a month ago, the only remaining activity I could do with my mother was to push her in her wheelchair out in the garden area. We looked at the trees, the fountain, the flowers, and occasional birds that would flit by. About half way around I would stop, sit down and talk a bit or sing a hymn or two.

         

One day, when she hardly said more than two words, I sang “In the Garden.” When I started into the chorus, she mouthed the words, “walks with me, talks with me.” How precious to me. It was one of the hymns she had been playing in May on the piano. Thank you, Lord.

Each week she grew less responsive. A week ago Monday, I could hardly get her awake in her wheelchair. Her head just hung down. We walked in the garden and she gave only minimum response. The workers noticed her energy was diminishing.

On Tuesday, we learned of the death of my husband’s oldest brother and made hasty plans to travel to Atlanta. 

 Our son and daughter were able to go as well. It had been a long time since we were back to just the four of us. We were able to begin planning Mother’s memorial service if she should pass soon. God’s perfect timing.

Do you see how He was providing and weaving His way among us? On the way back home, the nurse called to report Mother couldn’t sit up.

You know about our last moments from last week’s blog. I truly believe she was waiting for me. Within fifteen minutes of being with her, she passed. Thank you, Lord for intervening and giving me those last moments to wipe one tear from her eye.

As we made plans for the funeral, everything fell into place. When I looked through her Bible to find favorite Scripture verses, I discovered a note from a former class member who talked about how helpful her teaching had been.

Remembering all the fruitful, happy years of her life helped diminish the months of fretting, the weeks of heartbreak. Thank you, Lord. 

The day of the funeral, the minister mentioned that he would use a few verses at the burial site. I hadn’t specified but was thinking about Psalm 23 since I had been blogging verse by verse several weeks ago and had read some of those to Mother. But I hated to say it at the last minute to upset what he had prepared. Wouldn’t you know? He read the 23rd Psalm!

All the way to the end, I saw the hand of God moving and ministering to us.

Though I’m prone to being emotional, I actually did pretty good through all of this. Then this morning (Sunday) in our church service, the pianist and flute player played the most beautiful arrangement of “In the Garden.” Can you believe they chose this old hymn on this particular day? But, as I listened to the beautiful music, the Lord gave me one last remembrance of our time in the garden and a reminder of how “He walks with me and He talks with me” weaving His spirit through my life.

May you watch for Him at work in your life as well.

~Joyce ~

 

Norma Watkins, My Mother

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

We will pause on our journey with David and playing on his harp to remember Norma Watkins, my mother, playing on her piano.

You have walked with me over these past months as I agonized over decisions and effects of the aging process. Mother began rapidly declining the past couple of weeks. Last Saturday I went to see her for the last time. Her breathing was labored. The nurse encouraged me to keep talking to her. “Hearing is the last thing to go,” she said. I talked, read Scripture to her, and sang the old hymns she had played for years. Somewhere in those moments she quietly slipped out into eternity.

She had a wonderful life and packed a lot into those 96 years. Yesterday, I wrote my memories to be read at her funeral this Saturday. I always thought of her as an active, fun-loving person, serving her family, her friends and her Lord. She played the piano at many of the churches she joined and they were many, for we moved often through the years due to Dad’s work. She taught piano lessons as well. When she wasn’t playing piano, she sang alto in the choir along with Dad who sang bass.

She led children’s choirs and taught children’s Sunday school classes. I fondly remember her flannel graph stories. They launched me into a love for God’s Word and the many characters of Scripture. Who would have imagined that one day I would write books about them? She taught youth and later, adult classes.

Mother was the quintessential homemaker of that era, cooking delicious meals every night, keeping a spotless house, sewing, washing her clothes and hanging them out to dry. She loved and served her husband and only child. She loved having parties with friends and usually had a round of funny action games to entertain them and send them home laughing.

When two grandchildren came along, she became Mimi and loved playing with them. Her true love died twenty years ago. Those years were filled with seven great grandchildren. She sang in my senior adult choir, wrote skit and drama scripts, and taught her class of senior women up into her 80’s. From basketball in high school to tennis in her 70’s, she remained active and full of life.

In retrospect, I realized what an influence she was on my life, passing along music, teaching, writing, and caring for family. What a legacy of serving God and her family. She was instrumental in leading me to the Lord. What more could I ask?

Mother circled a verse in her Bible where Jesus said, 

“I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one shall snatch them away from me.” John 10:28 (TLB)

Next to it, she wrote, “What a promise!”

And so, I offer up this blog today in honor of this wonderful woman, my mother, Norma Deane Watkins. She’s basking in the glory of heaven.

~ Joyce ~ a grateful daughter

Preparation Put to Use

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Among the preparations we thought about last week in David’s life, one was his ability with the harp. (See David’s Preparations)

Even though David was anointed to be the next king, Saul still sat on the throne. However, things weren’t going well for King Saul. The Spirit of the Lord may have come upon David in power, but

…the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. I Samuel 16:14

Whoa… wait a minute! How can there be an evil spirit from the Lord?

God doesn’t emit evil, but evil spirits are subject to God’s control and operate only within divinely determined boundaries. Saul had been disobedient and was suffering the consequences of his actions.

Saul’s attendants notice how upset and despondent he had been, so one servant made a suggestion.

“Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit comes upon you and you will feel better.” I Samuel 16:16

Saul agrees.

“Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.” I Samuel 16:17

Great idea! Now who is a good harp player? In God’s wondrous providence, one of the servants knows of David. Don’t miss these little coincidences that often come in Scripture. (Or “God incidences” as I like to call them.) The servant says,

“I have seen a son of Jesse who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. [Maybe he’s heard the lion story.] He speaks well and is a fine looking man. And the Lord is with him.” I Samuel 16:18

 Saul agrees to the plan, sends for David, and is pleased with him.

Whenever the spirit of God would come upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him. I Samuel 16:22  

I’m thinking of ways God prepped me. I grew up, an only child. From time to time, I would teach my imaginary friend how to make a bed, set the table, or how to print her alphabet letters. I seemed to have an innate desire to teach. As a teenager, I served as president to our girls’ mission group, leading and organizing.  Years later, I could see how God used my teaching instincts and leadership qualities to teach in public school.

Both of my grandmothers played the piano and one played the accordion and clarinet. My mother and father “dated” by practicing violins together. Dad also sang solos; mother played the piano and later the organ for church. Singing together as a family became a common practice.

Is it any wonder, then, that I became an elementary music teacher?

Do you see how God prepares us for what is ahead? No doubt you’ve seen that in your life as well.

Who would have thought that harp playing would be an entry into the palace for David?

And where will sling shooting preparation take him next?

~ Joyce ~

David’s Preparation

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

How thrilling for David to be anointed as king by the prophet Samuel. (See David, a King?) But wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall to hear the family discussion about what took place that afternoon with Samuel, especially comments from the seven rejected brothers?

Alas, the next day, back to the regular routine. David goes to the sheep fields as usual. I wonder if scratches his head saying, “Did I just imagine being anointed? And king, of all things?”

But we see no coronation, no crown, no throngs of applauding well-wishers. No, the actual “kinghood” will come later—much later. That’s why I put a question mark after last week’s blog.

While we’re waiting, let’s see what’s going on. These will be days and even years of preparation.

Prep 1 – We’ve already observed some of the songs David has written and the care of his sheep. We discover that he also carries a small harp-like instrument with him. It could have had only five strings strung tight between a Y-shaped branch. Some harps were known to have as many as ten strings.

I can imagine him using his harp many hours to calm the sheep and settle them in for the night. (Much like we use music in our cars and homes.) The harp, no doubt, provides an accompaniment of sorts to his songs.

Prep 2 – We have no milk-toast song writer here, though. David also has the job of fighting off wild dogs or other fierce animals. In fact, we learn later on that indeed, he fights with a lion. The lion attacks one of his sheep. He not only frees the sheep from the lion’s claws, but he grabs the hair of the lion and knocks it out with his rod. Another time, he encounters a bear.

        

Seems to me that he is one brave soul to attempt such things, putting his own life in danger to protect his sheep.

Prep 3 – When the sheep are occupied during a day of grazing, I imagine David getting in a little sling-shot practice. Perhaps he places stones of varying sizes on a big rock and tries to hit them with one shot at different distances. He may use the sling along with his rod and brute force on wild animals, too.

 

Besides harp preparation, fighting fierce animals, and becoming a sling shot expert, another part of David’s preparation is spiritual.

Prep 4 – We’ve already seen spiritual depth developing in the text of his songs. Now, after his anointing by Samuel, we are told that,

…from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. I Samuel 16:13

This will become his greatest source of strength. He will use these preparations and arise to use the gifts God has given him in order to become a mighty force in the life of Israel. 

Next week – David will receive an “invite” to the palace. 

~ Joyce ~

 

David, a King?

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Last week, we saw how the people of Israel longed for a king, “like the other nations.” (See Saul the King) Saul was chosen but proved to be disappointing.

The Lord told Samuel the prophet,

“Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” I Samuel 16:1

Samuel meets Jesse (grandson of Boaz and Ruth) along with seven of Jesse’s sons. Of course, Samuel is eyeing these young men as potential candidates for the next king. He particularly notices Eliab, the oldest. Samuel thinks,

“Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” I Samuel 16:6

But the Lord says,

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7

               

Thoughts of Saul no doubt enter Samuel’s mind. 

Eliab, the oldest son, doesn’t pass the test. (But don’t forget Eliab’s name. We will encounter him again much later.)

Jesse parades son number two, Abinadab in front of Samuel. He shakes his head.

“The Lord has not chosen this one either.” I Samuel 16:8

Samuel checks out son three, Shammah. Then son four, five, six, and seven, but it is still a no go. So Samuel asks if there are other sons.

“There is still the youngest, but he is tending sheep.” I Samuel 16:11

In other words, “Just David.” Samuel says they won’t sit down until he is brought in. Now this is one of those times when, while the story moves right on in the next verse, we have to remember that a good bit of time passes while someone runs out to the field, finds David, and sends him running back a considerable distance.

When David finally arrives, he is described as ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. In Hebrew, this can also mean”goodly” features, that is, quality as well as moral goodness.

Now maybe he was “ruddy” all the time, but he sure would be reddish after that big run! The most important thing about this whole scene is that the Lord speaks to Samuel’s spirit and says,

“Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. I Samuel 16:12-13

What a high point this must have been in David’s life. An indelible memory to call up from time to time.

I think about my own call to profess my faith as an eight-year-old. Or the moment in my bedroom after my freshman year in college when the Lord revealed Himself in a powerful way to me, or the many times He spoke to me in sermons, Scripture, through others, or during prayer. Or the moment that became the summit of God’s call to write.

Ponder some times when you have felt the “power of the Lord.”

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

 

 

Saul the King

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

We have been following young David the shepherd boy for a while with songs (or psalms) that he may have first composed on the hillside. Great things are ahead for David, but before we get to that, let’s take a look at what else was going on in Israel at the time.

Samuel was the people’s adviser and spiritual leader, serving as the last judge of Israel. He had seen them through many battles with neighboring towns and particularly with the Philistines, but now, the people wanted, no, they demanded to have a king!

Samuel’s heart was broken. He felt rejection, but the Lord said to him,

… it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. I Samuel 8:7

Samuel told the people of God’s warning of the fallacies of kingship, but they cried all the more to have a king. They wanted to be “like other nations” who had kings. Here they had God Himself as their king. Their hearts were not in the right place.

At times in our lives, we may continuously reject God’s leadership even though He strives with us. At some point, He may give us over to our selfish desires until we learn lessons from our actions.

God relented and told Samuel,

“Listen to them and give them a king.” I Samuel 8:22

Who would it be? Well, there was…

…Saul, an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others. I Samuel 9:2

Saul got the job! For a while things went okay. In fact, Samuel told Saul that a procession of prophets were coming.

“The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. I Samuel 10:6

Saul led the men in battles to protect his people as well as others. He ended up reigning for forty-two years, but little by little, we discover that though Saul may have been a head taller than the others, his heart was not as big as his head. Maybe another way of saying he was big-headed!

        

In one incident after another, Saul failed to follow the leadership of Samuel the prophet, and thus failed to follow the commands of God.

Eventually, Samuel told Saul,

“You have acted foolishly. You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. I Samuel 13:13-14

How sad when the Lord blesses someone richly, but they take matters into their own hands instead of seeking the Lord’s will in their lives. Samuel constantly warned the people that they must turn to the Lord, but they were busy pattering after Saul who sought after his own will.

The Lord was ready to lead Samuel to anoint another person. 

Next week, quite a surprise for our young shepherd boy!

~ Joyce ~

 

What Is Man?

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

We started Psalm 8 last week, (How Majestic Is your Name), but with my wandering down memory lane, we barely got started. Let’s move forward.

David sat for his quiet time at night on the hillside. His eyes turned toward the spacious night sky. When he considered the majesty of God, he felt like a nobody.

What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:4

David wondered why in the great scheme of God’s creation that He would care about a measly young shepherd boy. Still, he did feel that God cared for him. So much so that God put mankind in charge of his creation.

        

You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. Psalm 8:6-8

We are told in Genesis that we are created in the image of God. We’re not talking about external image—hair, eyes, or two legs. No, I believe God created us in the image of His nature. It is His nature to create and then care for what He has created. He gave that task to us as well.

David understood that well as a shepherd. He felt honored to be given the task. To participate, as a subordinate in God’s rule, was a gift, not a right.

You have made man a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. Psalm 8:5

How do we think these thoughts through in our day? Most of us do not tend herds, birds or fish. We can do our part in keeping our water ways clean of debris and waste materials. 

But, consider that besides animals, God also created people. He cares for us just as he does the animals, and in His image, He expects us to care for others, too. He desires that we point people to Him. In so doing, others will proclaim along with David…

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:9

What is man? Or woman? We are creations of God, made in His image and given the shared task of caring for the world and everything in it including the people He puts in our paths. Who will cross your path today? Be ready with a caring heart.

~ Joyce ~  

 

 

 

 

 

How Majestic Is Your Name

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

During our Sunday morning service, we had three separate prayer thought reminders on the screen followed by a quiet times of prayer. One thought was something like, “While you pray, praise God for who He is, not just for what he has done.”

Hmm, that takes extra thought. It is so easy to fall into thanking Him for a number of things He has done, both in our personal lives and in the world, but just praising Him for who He is requires more. Adoration, we call it. It might start like this—”I love you Lord. I praise you for being…”

I couldn’t help but think once again about David, the shepherd boy of the 23rd Psalm. I imagined him sitting on the  hillside in the evening, the sheep in the fold, the night sky beckoning him to think about the creator of the starry array. He likely said,

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Psalm 8:1 

Majestic. That was the word that came to my mind during our worship service as I began my prayer of adoration.

David goes on to consider how small he is compared to the heavens above him.

When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him. Psalm 8:3-4

 

How insignificant we can feel when we take in a starry night in a wide open location. Or a great wild field. 

My mind goes back to vacation trips as a child when we went to visit Grandpa and Grandma on the farm in Missouri each summer. I realize it wasn’t Disneyland, but I loved those trips—shucking the dried corn to feed the chickens, playing with the kittens when they they came out from under the porch, and taking rides on Grandpa’s tractor. Those were real treats for this city girl.

One day, I would go over to the fence and sing to the cows. They stopped and looked at me. I had an audience! So I sang and sang to them and they stared right back. I smiled with delight.

Sometime during the stay I would walk out to the field and just stand and look at the wheat as it blew in the wind like golden waves. Everything felt spacious and earthy. I could sense God’s presence. It was one a few times in my life when I snapped an imaginary camera in my mind to capture and hold on to a particular moment.

Well, look at me. I didn’t even get to verse 4 and I’ve used up all my self-appointed word count. We’ll get back to David’s hillside wondering next week. Just know that he begins and ends this lovely Psalm with…

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:9   

~ Joyce ~

 

Walking on Water

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Several months ago, we talked about the feeding of the 5,000. Let’s look at the wild adventure of that evening and on into the night.

The day had been long and exhausting. Jesus taught and healed many. How many? Well, out of 5,000, you can only imagine. Then came the great miracle of blessing the five loaves and two fish with the disciples organizing and helping feed the crowd.

Jesus tells the disciples to push out in the boat and meet him on the other side. He opts to walk up a nearby mountain. For what?

After he dismissed them, he went up on the mountainside by himself to pray. Matthew 14:23

Many times in Scripture we see Jesus going off alone (a rare delight) to pray. I always think, if Jesus had the need for prayer, most assuredly I do too.

        

While He’s refueling himself, the boatload of disciples are a good ways from shore. The wind begins to blow across the water and soon, it is so strong the waves beat against the boat. The howl of the wind, the rocking of the boat, and the slaps of water in their faces cause great alarm for these twelve sailors.

Sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 A.M., the fourth watch, one of them suddenly points out toward the water and shouts, “Look!” They see a figure coming toward them and it’s on top of the water. 

“It’s a ghost!” one of them cried out in fear. Matthew 14:26

Jesus, who is walking toward them—yes, walking ON the water—yells out to them over the wind and waves.

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Matthew 14:27

Impetuous Peter jumps up and calls out.

“Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” Jesus said.

Peter does three positive things. He gets out of the boat in faith, walks on the water, and keeps his eyes on Jesus. However, things go downhill when he takes his eyes off Jesus.

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Matthew 14:30

Jesus rebukes Peter for having little faith and doubting.

In some ways, it seems that he actually demonstrated amazing faith, but Peter still has much to learn about trust. Jesus grabs his arm; they get in the boat, and the winds die down. The disciples fall before Him in worship. They say,

“Truly you are the Son of God!” Matthew 14:33b

Did they not already know that after their incredible journeys with Him? After the day they had just spent with Him? 

But their eyes had never been blind. Their limbs not withered. While they absorbed the teachings, they weren’t in fearful places. But this time they experienced fear themselves. It was personal. Greater fearful times were ahead. This was training ground for learning to trust more and more.

Lord, help us keep our eyes fixed on you. Build our trust in the storms-of-life training ground.

~ Joyce ~