Nehemiah – Praying Leads to Opportunity

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Last week, we found Nehemiah weeping, mourning and fasting over the devastation of the wall in Jerusalem. Four months later, he continues praying about the matter and senses that God is leading him to do something about the crumbling wall.

There’s a gigantic problem with this calling. Nehemiah is cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia, a high and prestigious position. Only the king could grant such a request and the king’s already listened to complainers back in Jerusalem and commanded that all rebuilding stop. Double whammy! 

Nehemiah faithfully performs his duties to the king, perhaps even serves as an adviser in certain situations. He dare not point blank ask the king for permission to leave for an extended time to build a wall that the king himself  has already put to an end.

It’s hard for Nehemiah to be cheerful everyday when his heart is aching. One day as he serves the king, Artaxerxes asks him,

“Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” 

Fear strikes Nehemiah, nevertheless he draws in a deep breath and takes the plunge. 

“May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad when the city where my forefathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 

There, he said it. He holds his breath wondering how the king will respond. What comes next is more than he could have hoped for. The king asks,

“What is it you want?”

Hardly able to believe how this opportunity has been dropped in his lap, he shoots up one of those quick prayers. You know the ones, “Help me, Lord.” His face is flushed, his breath shallow, but he pushes forward.

“If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city of Judah where my fathers are buried so I can rebuild it.”

“How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” Nehemiah 2:1-6

“Whew!” I wrote in my Bible margin. Have you ever had an opportunity open up suddenly, one you’ve been mulling over for some time? You may have asked, “Is this really happening?”

Keep in mind that Nehemiah has been praying about this for four months. God provided the opportunity and Nehemiah took the plunge!

Oh the things He has for us when we go to Him in earnest prayer.

Can you share one of your aha moments?

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Life Verses – Hope and a Future

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

For several years, I taught elementary music in public schools.

Singing all day every day eventually paid a toll on my voice, so I backed down to teaching part-time. Still, my voice just couldn’t hold up, so I retired from teaching.

At various churches, I had directed children’s choirs. A position became available to lead and coordinate children’s choirs part-time. My voice could manage these small doses once a week.

After nine years, I considered retiring from that position as well. Working and rheumatoid arthritis had worn me out. Meanwhile, the Lord had begun moving me in a new direction—writing!

Any life change, positive or negative, is a challenge full of hesitation and questions. Is this really the way the Lord is leading? Am I in His will?

One Sunday, in the midst of these “ponderings,” the front of the church bulletin read:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

A few weeks later, I heard a radio preacher teach on this subject with Jeremiah 29:11 as his text.

The day came to take the big step. I sat in church with the resignation letter in my sweaty hands. Part way through the service, up popped the scripture for the day on the big screen. Of course you can guess what it was—Jeremiah 29:11.

I smiled and thanked the Lord for this affirmation.

 He has plans for all of us, wonderful plans, if we only seek His face, whether we’re headed to college, deciding on a mate, considering a job change, dealing with a difficult relationship, trying to make a decision, or yes, considering retirement.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Jesus taught us to ask, to seek, to knock and: it will be given, you will find, and the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9) Pray for it, friend!

~ Joyce ~

Life Verses – Wait on the Lord

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Another life verse:

but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles… Isaiah 40:31

This verse became a mainstay for me when we were going through a long ordeal with our son. By “long”, I mean years. My strength waned often as we tried many avenues, only to run into stop signs.

I really prefer the King James Version which uses the word “wait” instead of “hope.” When we hope, it does require us to wait and anticipate, but the message the Lord kept sending me was that I must wait on Him. Wait on His timing.

Waiting is not something most of us do well. We want it today or this week or this month, but waiting for years is a big stretch, especially when coupled with one heartbreak after another.

And so, we hope in the Lord as we wait, trusting (ooh, there’s that word again), trusting that the Lord will renew our strength.

The promise comes next—”They will soar on wings like eagles.”

In the midst of all this waiting and hoping, I did a good bit of study about eagles. Quite interesting creatures. When they are ready to fly, they go up to the highest point they can find and wait for just the right draft of wind. Then they spread their wide wings and soar on the down draft with perfect ease.

It’s a lovely picture, but I knew we had a ways to go before we could soar.

Late one night, I sat (praying) in the dark on the steps leading up to our second floor. Above our front door was a horizontal piece of glass. From my vantage point, I could look out the top glass to see three street lights.

As I sat meditating, I couldn’t help but think of the three crosses long ago that stood at Calvary. I thought about God’s willingness to sacrifice his own son on the cross for our sin. In that moment, I knew that God understood my pain and cried with me. 

Thankfully, the Lord performed a miracle in our son’s life. He turned himself over to the Lord and continues to grow deeper in his faith today as a grown man with five (yes, 5) children!

…but those who (wait and) hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.

May you find the strength to wait and hope and soar on wings like eagles today.

~ Joyce ~

Life Verses – Trust in the Lord

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Continuing the the thought of “life verses” from last week (Life Verses – Off to College), perhaps you have read, or memorized, or claimed this as a life verse:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. Proverbs 3: 5-6

Oh, how many times have I leaned on my own understanding? Thinking something over and over, chewing around on it, worrying about it.

Instead of taking it to the Lord right away and trusting him with it, I leaned on my own understanding.

After my husband served as a Minister of Music for several years in our town, he received a call to consider another church. We were very happy at our church, our children were well established in school and with their friends. To top it off, my parents had just moved to our town. All was right with my world.

Jim suggested that we may not know if the Lord was leading in a new direction unless we at least visited the other church. The date was set for the visit, but everything within me cried out, “No, no, I don’t want to go!”

I spent hours worrying and stewing over the possibilities. One day, I walked down the hall to our bedroom and noticed, as if for the first time, the little wooden plaque that hung at the end of the hall. It read, “In all your ways acknowledge him.” 

The word ACKNOWLEDGE stood out like a neon sign to me. I fell to my knees, acknowledging God, realizing that He knew best. I confessed that I had done everything but acknowledge Him.

 

When we recognize and acknowledge God, we put ourselves in a place to see the shallowness of our own understanding. We realize our need to trust Him.

Then comes the beautiful promise—”He will direct your paths.”

So, back to my story. By the time the visit came around, I had reached a place of surrender. I fully expected that we would be moving.

We made the visit, but when got back in the car, Jim said he was disturbed by a comment the pastor had made and declared, “Well, we’re not going to this church.”

Why then did I have to go through all that? The Lord knew I needed to learn the lesson of trust, the lesson of being willing to surrender to His will.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.

~ Joyce ~ 

 

 

Prayer – Let’s Get Practical

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

It’s time to get practical about our praying.

Do you know what it is to turn everything over to the Lord? Allow Him to have the lead? Relinquish the control to Him? Pray fervently to know His will? 

Have you also experienced times when you took the load on yourself. Worried and stewed over it. Got frustrated, agitated, and consumed with it? Then finally realized you hadn’t even consulted the Lord about it?

Okay, time for a personal confession.

A few years ago, the Lord spoke to me in many concrete ways and lead me down the road of writing. While I had written a few Bible studies, devotions, and scripts, I had not written a book of all things!

Little by little, He kept moving me in that direction and even led me specifically to the Bible character who would star in the first book!

I traveled down that road one mile at a time, not knowing what would be next over the hill or around the bend. I learned dependence on Him, because I felt so inadequate for the task.

Unbelievably, I now find myself 37,000 words into book number three.

However, the writing world includes more than putting words on a page. Research and editing take a huge amount of time.

Next is the task of publishing which can take forever. All along the way, I fervently prayed about next steps, aware of my dependence on the Lord’s leadership.  

Do you hear the “but” coming?

But I came to the third tier—marketing! Whether one has a traditional publisher or a self-publisher, the bulk of the marketing is up to the author. “Get on Facebook,” the conference leaders would say. “Have a blog.” (Okay, it will soon be four years, once a week.)

“Get on other social media. Do interviews, speaking engagements. etc., etc., etc.,” as the King of Siam would say.

Can you tell that this is not my favorite leg of the writing triangle? I have admitted, no, complained of my dislike of marketing to any poor soul who would listen. I have fussed and wrung my hands over and over for months. 

Finally, I realized that I had taken this thing on by myself. It was all up to me. Worse yet, I realized I had not really poured myself out to Him in prayer. Instead of being the last resort, prayer should have been the first thing. When will I learn that lesson?

“But seek first his kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Do not worry about tomorrow.” Matthew 6:33-34 

God has led me not to worry over this right now, but to put my effort into book three about Matthew. In His time, we will deal with the marketing. “Forget the detour,” he said. “Get back on the road.”

That’s my practical application. What has he taught you lately in seeking Him first? 

~ Joyce ~

Peter – Walking on Water

            Searching His Word
                       Seeking His Heart

As we come to that familiar passage where Peter walks on the water, we must remember that he has come a long way in his experiences with Jesus.

Peter has watched Jesus heal many—the demon possessed, a leper, the deaf, the blind, a centurion’s servant, even his own mother-in-law. 

When Jesus sent the disciples out two by two to preach, He empowered them to heal. Excitedly, they came back to report in, but their report took a back seat as Jesus dealt all day teaching a large crowd. 

At the end of the day, this crowd of 5,000 was fed by two fish and five loaves of bread. 

After this miraculous feeding, Jesus sent the disciples out in a boat while He dismissed the crowd and stayed on shore to spend quiet time in prayer.

After meditating for a while, Jesus looked up to see a storm brewing. The disciples’ boat rocked back and forth in the wind and waves. In His humanity, Jesus walked to the shore, but the divinity of Jesus took over and He walked on the water toward the boat. 

When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 

At this point, spontaneous Peter sprang into action.

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

“Come,” Jesus said.

That was all he needed. Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. Yeah, Peter, you did it!

Uh-oh, here comes the “but.”

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

Happens to us all, right? When he saw the wind, he took his eyes off Jesus. How often have we done that? We get all hyped up about doing something important, even something spiritual, and walk toward Jesus, but then get distracted. We begin to doubt. We lose faith. The very things Jesus told Peter.

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:26-31

Jesus caught sinking Peter and they climbed in the boat. In spite of Peter’s actions, two things happened;

… the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 

We can feel for Peter and say, “At least he tried.” That’s true, but my take-away from Peter’s experience is remembering how I can get so entangled by distractions, that I take my eyes off the main source of my strength.

When we take His outreached hand, two things happen, the winds of doubt die down, and we worship Him in awe.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

What Color Is Faith?

 

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Faith. How many sermons, how many lessons or studies have you had on on this subject?

The usual definition of faith is given in Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen. (KJV)

Or if you prefer:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (NIV)

So we could say there is that element of “hope” where faith is concerned, not just wishing but hope that is sure and certain. Now to the question in the title—What color is faith? Let me ask you this—what color do you see here?

Blue of course, but as you see there are different shades of blue—navy, aqua, true blue, sky blue. So it is with shades of faith. Hope is one shade of faith.

When Moses and the children of Israel were in the desert, they had an episode of victory over an enemy. The victory went to their heads and they felt emboldened to complain (as did their forefathers) about the manna, Gods’s very provision for them. Not only that:

…the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Numbers 21:4-5

Direct blaspheme against God could not be tolerated. God chose to send venomous snakes among them. When the snakes bit the people, many died. Finally, they came to Moses and confessed that they had sinned. They said,

“Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” Numbers 21:7

Moses did pray and God asked Moses to do a strange thing.

“Make a snake and put it on a pole; anyone who has been bitten can look at it and live.” Numbers 21:8

Strange. Making images of people or animals had been strictly forbidden. This required great faith on their part and trust that Moses had this thing right.

Ah, another shade of faith, namely “trust.” Sure enough, if they were bitten, Moses lifted up the bronze snake and if they looked at it, they lived.

Fast forward centuries later to a night when Jesus had a private conversation with Nicodemus, the Pharisee. In the conversation, Jesus said, 

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, [that detestable, deadly snake] so the Son of Man must be lifted up, [on that detestable, deadly cross] that everyone who believes  in him [truly looks toward him in faith] may have eternal life. John 3:14-15

Thus the deepest shade of faith—belief. And Jesus offers, not just life from a snake bite, but eternal life. 

So there’s our shades of faith—hope, trust, belief. In keeping with our recent theme of gazing, not just glimpsing at God, I leave you with another quote from Tozer:

“We learn that faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the Triune God.”

~ Joyce ~

 

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

As I write this, my husband and I are having a get-away 50th anniversary celebration in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One feels a certain serenity in these beautiful Smokey Mountains, a sense of the majesty of our great Creator. 

We came here several times through the years and often brought youth groups to conferences. Now here we are—full circle. We tend to reminisce on such occasions. I’ve considered how faithful the Lord has been to us in these years through many productive times and in those difficult life challenges.

Great is thy faithfulness, oh God, my Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee.

Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not. As thou hast been, thou forever will be.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

I came across an article the other day that so fit this topic. It came from the Glendale Star (a newspaper, I presume.) When I picked it back up, I smiled when I saw where it took place. Note the location.

A small congregation in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains built a new sanctuary on a piece of land willed to them by a church member.

Ten days before the new church was to open, the local building inspector informed the pastor that the parking lot was inadequate for the size of the building. They would not be able to use the new sanctuary until the church doubled the size of the parking lot.

Unfortunately, the church had used every inch of their land except for the mountain against which it had been built. In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to move the mountain behind the church.

Undaunted, the pastor announced Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had “mountain-moving faith.” They would hold a prayer service asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to provide enough money to have it paved and painted before the dedication service.

That evening 24 of the 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for three hours.

We’ll open next Sunday as scheduled,” said the pastor. “God has never let us down before, and I believe He will be faithful this time, too.”

The next morning there was a loud knock on the pastor’s study door. When he opened the door, a rough-looking construction foreman appeared.

“Excuse me, Reverend, I’m from the construction company over in the next county. We’re building a new shopping mall and need some fill dirt. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that mountain behind the church? We’ll pay for the dirt and pave the area free of charge, if we can have it right away.

The little church was dedicated the next Sunday. There were far more members with mountain-moving faith on opening Sunday than there had been the previous week.

~ Joyce ~

David – Trusting

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

David is on the run with Saul in hot pursuit. Saul doesn’t like the women singing, “Saul has killed his thousands and David his tens of thousands.”

At first, Saul thinks he will get rid of David by getting him to enemy lines and letting the Philistines do him in through battle, but that doesn’t work—David is too good of a soldier.

Saul pursues David himself, trying to track him down. But that doesn’t work either, for David finds out that Saul knows his hiding place. David moves on and Saul finds his new hiding place, but David finds out that Saul has found his next hiding place. Well, you get the idea.

One day, David is in the back of a cave, unbeknownst to Saul. Saul just happens to have “the urge” and goes into the mouth of the cave to relieve himself. (Don’t you just love the real life aspect of Scripture?) David could easily come up behind Saul and kill him in one fell swoop, but David honors both the man and his anointed position. Instead, David cuts off a small piece of Saul’s robe.

As Saul is leaving the cave, David goes out and calls to him.

“My Lord, the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He said to Saul, “This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my own hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, “I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the Lord’s anointed… I cut off this piece of your robe but did not kill you. I Samuel 24:8, 10,11

Saul was striken by what David had done and said.

Saul wept aloud.”You are more righteous than I. You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. I know that you will surely be king.” I Samuel 24:16, 17, 19

David trusted the Lord to provide and indeed He did.

Last week, I was in such turmoil. With mother in the hospital  a second time, should I go forward with my own surgery, knowing I wouldn’t be able to take care of her? So many were encouraging me to go on. I could see no way to do this. But once I turned it over in God’s hands, He provided the right people in the right way, and with his perfect timing. 

Once I released it, I felt such peace. I still couldn’t see how the timing was going to work out, but He knew. I was admitted at 11:30 and mother was released at 7:00 that evening after I was settled in and when my daughter could get there to take care of mother. He has provided caregivers for us both. I am reminded again of one of my favorite verses—Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

~ Joyce ~


 

The Lord Doth Provide

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Bear with me this one last week as I share the way the Lord has provided in this time of weariness and distress. (See  the last two blogs.)

Exhausted as I have been, somehow there has been just enough strength for the next day. One encourager  reminded me of this verse:

[God] gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who [wait or] hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:29-31

I drew from this verse years ago when we were having trouble with one of our children.” We had to hope in the Lord or as one translation says, wait on the Lord to renew our strength. Waiting is a hard thing.  It was a long time before we could “soar on wings like eagles.

My husband and I were at Music Week in Ridgecrest, NC. during that period. An outstanding pianist played for the evening concert. He played beautiful pieces in many styles with dramatic flourish, great precision, and flamboyant passion.

At the end, he asked us to listen reverently to the last piece and walk out quietly. He proceeded to play a simple, subdued arrangement of “‘Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” I sang the words in my mind as I listened to the lovely, gentle melody. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about the dilemma with our son. “Trust, wait, hope in me” I heard Him say. Oh how that hymn ministered to me that night.

It was still a few years before we could “soar,” but in His miraculous way, the Lord turned things around.

You will understand then, how I felt this past Sunday morning  when our church pianist and organist played a beautiful arrangement, coupling “Claire de la Lune” with “‘Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus” for the closing offertory. I closed my eyes soaking in once more those meaningful words.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus. Just to take Him at His word;

Just to rest upon His promise, Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er!

Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust Him more!

One reader received last week’s blog after coming out of ICU to a regular room. Another reader said she was sitting in an oncology office when the blog popped up on her iPhone and ministered to her. Others expressed gratitude as well. You see, God uses our stories to help one another with their stories. His timing is always perfect beyond our knowing.

I couldn’t let these works of the Lord go by without sharing them with you. Praise His holy Name! My mother is beginning to settle in at the assisted living place. Thank you for your prayers for us.

Next week, David marches into his own kind of battle.

~ Joyce ~