Whatever the Season

You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.” Psalm 65:9-13

We drove yesterday through lush agricultural land blanketed with grasses, dotted with sheep and cattle against the backdrop of the majestic snow-peaked “Southern Alps,” then sueded softer peaks, some splashed with gold. Vineyards and orchards spread like ordered tablecloths in the foothills, vines carefully pruned for a new year of growth and young trees adorned with crepey blossoms announcing upcoming fruit. Early spring has brought rhododendron blooms, glorious forsythia, and cheery bulbs, yet the river beds are still dry. The land is on tiptoe awaiting the full extravagance of summer’s bounty.

Whatever the season, my divine Farmer is at work, pruning, nurturing in seeming dormancy, pushing out and testing early growth, or bringing to full fruit through soaking rains and warm sun. He provides all that is needed however the climate in life changes, through waiting, sorrow, expansion of responsibility, test of faculties and virtues. He tends carefully to His own that we may be strong in His might and bear much fruit. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples… You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” (Ephesians 6:10; John 15:8,16)

Lord, let me welcome the seasons, put down deep roots of faith, and submit well to Your visits and honing. Overflow Your abundance through me. I am Yours to bear fruit that will last and bring You glory.

Beneath The Surface

And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’ So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” “Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.” Genesis 1:20-21; Psalm 104:24-25

It is true that in snorkeling, the slower I go and the longer I look, the more I see….and marvel. I never want it to end. The Great Barrier Reef is indescribably magnificent, its coral variety endless: large mounds patterned like brains and mazes and Greek key designs and sometimes blanketed with royal blue or purple, fan-like shelves, wavy tulips, sueded and chenille ruffles, orangey spikes, antlers white-tipped with ‘blossoms,’ salmony mounds with fingers, pink mounds with blooms, reddish smooth ‘shields’ with raised ‘hieroglyphics,’ domes that seem armored with scales, tubes with deep purple-blue centers, all sizes and shapes, from seemingly centuries-old to fresh new growth like pale green buds and sprays on a tree. Zig-zagged clam shells partly opened, nestled into the coral in all stages of age, are painted with fluorescent purple or yellow flecks on black. Ah, Lord, in wisdom You have made them all! This underworld, unseen by all but a few, is filled with splendid beauty, form and color beyond compare!

And the fish! Long narrow goldish trumpet fish with noses like blunt butter knives, black and white striped “sugarlips” with bright yellow mini-wings and thick yellow lips like clown paint, wispy yellow black and white designer-dressed angel fish that swim in pairs, swarms of skinny green pointed ovals, orange and white clown fish, schools of neon blue damselfish with a single black dot, elegant fluorescent yellow-with-red-stripes butterfly fish, greenish blue parrotfish with pink ‘beaks’ that chew loudly on coral, electric blue and black surgeonfish with yellow tails, lumbering humphead blue-green Wrasse with thick lips, sneaky dark barracuda, plodding heavy grey-camoflauged grouper, coral pink trout with blue dots, sand-colored rays with periwinkle painted spots, and bright blue feathery worms with silver and white antennae that bore into coral…. Majestic hues, movement, glory beyond description! Indeed, manifold and good are God’s works!

So in life, much is missed when we hurry and drive and skim the surface. Slowing down, diving deep in the Word, stopping to contemplate, watch, and listen is what brings the greatest insight into God’s character and ways. He has prepared a feast for our senses and soul; we need partake.

Mighty and marvelous Creator, drive me deep beneath the surface of life, away from the madding world, to plumb the depths of You and Your will. Pace me to linger with You, to gaze, to ponder, to meditate on facets of You I would otherwise overlook. You are worth my attention, and my praise.

Deep and Deeper

“Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, ‘Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes… And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’” Ezekiel 47:1,3-5,9,12

Issuing from God’s throne, His very presence, is living water for all. The Lord leads us there, and offers abundance. We can stand on the shore and survey the options for how far we want (and don’t want) to go, or we can get in with Him and start to walk.

River, Blue Pools, Mt Aspiring Natl Park, NZ

Why is it that I get complacent to hang around the shore and consider what my commitment might be, and miss out on tasting divine refreshment? Or am I content to wade in the shallows? They are lovely, and refreshing, and rather easy to enjoy- get a little wet and cool, but nothing uncomfortable, nothing to make me shiver, nothing extreme. Ezekiel’s vision from God here urges us to go deep, and deeper, with Him. It is there we really know the force of the water, there we are cleansed, there we are saturated. In the deeps we are forced to exercise strength, resistance, balance; after going in deep we have to adjust, change clothes, have a whole new appreciation for what a good soak can mean for our perspective, our faith muscles, our outlook. Full immersion brings lasting satisfaction. (Ephesians 5:26)

When I go to my God each morning, I dip my feet by opening the Word. Superficial skimming of a verse or passage is like barely getting our feet wet- check the box, dip the toe, maybe grab a pithy mantra for the day, and move on. But when we stay to read, reread, listen, digest, we go deeper, and the washing of the word begins to take effect. We are bid deeper: what does this reveal or magnify in my Lord? How am I to think differently and behave in response? The more time and attention I spend, the deeper I can go; the water begins to identify sin habits, open opportunities, change desires, and slough away terse reactions, impatience, selfishness, pride.

Oh God, thank You for bringing me to Your temple; lead me on to the river. Keep me going deep, and deeper with You. Have full sway with me, that my fruit be consistently used of You for feeding, blessing, and healing.

A Tale of Two Vines

“Son of man, how does the wood of the vine surpass any wood, the vine branch that is among the trees of the forest? Is wood taken from it to make anything? Do people take a peg from it to hang any vessel on it?  Behold, it is given to the fire for fuel. When the fire has consumed both ends of it, and the middle of it is charred, is it useful for anything? Behold, when it was whole, it was used for nothing. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it ever be used for anything! Therefore thus says the Lord God: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will set my face against them. Though they escape from the fire, the fire shall yet consume them, and you will know that I am the Lord, when I set my face against them. And I will make the land desolate, because they have acted faithlessly, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 15:2-8

We have all seen them, the dead brown vines that make a sad display of their lifeless tangle through otherwise lush trees or bushes. Sometimes they have died of natural cause, sometimes they have been poisoned or cut off from their root. In contrast, we marvel at green vines that come from a single stem, yet are supple with strength bearing clusters of rich fruit, wondering how such weight can be supported by something so thin. The secret is in the attachment of the vine to its source.

In this passage, God condemns the faithlessness, and consequent uselessness, of Israel. They had neglected and forsaken their true vine, cutting themselves off from the God who had prepared everything good in his vineyard for them. Their selfish pursuits and godless rebellion rendered them fruitless, worthless. But as Jesus describes in John, the one who abides in Him and His word will bear much fruit, to the father’s glory. Which will I choose today? (John 15:4-8)

My Vine, set my default to abiding in you- attached, clinging, drawing life. Guard me from worthless wandering, from attaching myself to what saps strength and poisons the soul. Nurture me with your truth and develop my fruit for your glory and the good nourishment of others.

Very Great

Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them. You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all. I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.” 
Psalm 104:1-2,5-9,13,19,24,33-34

It is a deep privilege to be able to observe and experience some of the vastness of Mighty God’s world. To behold swaths of His creation, edges of the earth, the infinite wideness of the shores He has set and holds in place, the majesty of myriads of stars like powder on black, the Southern Cross, is to see His “very greatness.” To gaze at rhythms of ocean waves, surging by some unseen power again and again, crashing with immense yet soothing sound on tumbled rocks and sand, is to contemplate His sovereign order. This expands my soul and brings me to my knees in worship as it does the psalmist.

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Father, Creator and Sustainer of all, keep me in this place of delight and awe as I go about my days. Beckon my eyes, my mind, to behold Your wonders wherever I am, to rejoice and sing praise and to bless You, Worthy One, continually.

Higher Vision, Deeper Concern

“We sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you—  for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.” 1 Thessalonians 3:2-12

Paul’s letters always reveal his heart, not only for the people he addresses but for the possibilities his great God can bring about in their lives. I am intrigued here that in referencing the Thessalonians’ afflictions, he never prays for those afflictions, but only for their faith and spiritual growth in and through them. The afflictions are a given; Paul’s yearnings are for them, that their faith be firm and growing. His comfort and encouragement in his own suffering is in learning of their steadfast faith, his joy and love overflows in prayers of thanksgiving and petition for their increasing love and holiness. Not once does he pray that suffering cease, that things get easier or more comfortable, that they be delivered from whatever it is they are enduring. His concern is the lasting, deeper work of the heart, which he knows is accomplished in the furnace of affliction.

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This gives great instruction for us in heightening our view of God and His ways, and our consequent deeper concern and prayers for ourselves and others. Is our first impulse to pray for deliverance from some pain or illness or difficult situation? For success and favor, for earthly acceptance, accomplishment, and reward? For a change of hard circumstances? If so, have we taken time to consider instead what God might be doing, what facets of His magnificent character He might be revealing through His sufficiency, guidance, lovingkindness, and power in weakness and suffering? Have we pondered what lessons He is sowing deep into the inner life through failure or delay or trial? Perhaps He is actually answering earlier prayers— for patience, for enabling, for faith, for reconciliation— by means that are beyond our imagining or desire, but are perfect and supernaturally ordered. Whatever His ways, we know they are good and trustworthy. (Psalm 119:68;145:17)

“Praise to the Lord Who o’er all things so wonderfully reigneth! Who, as on wings of an eagle uplifteth, sustaineth. Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been granted in what He ordaineth?” ~Joachim Neander (1650-1680)

Oh God, heighten my view of You and the significant, divine work You are about, always. Deepen my perspective, my concern for others, and my prayers, to look to and depend on You for the eternal, not the superficial. Increase my faith, establish my heart in holiness and likeness of You, and make these my deeper desires for others.

Lessons From an Axe Head

Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, ‘See, the place where we dwell under your charge is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan and each of us get there a log, and let us make a place for us to dwell there.’ And he answered, ‘Go.’ Then one of them said, ‘Be pleased to go with your servants.’ And he answered, ‘I will go.’ So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees.  But as one was felling a log, his axe head fell into the water, and he cried out, ‘Alas, my master! It was borrowed.’ Then the man of God said, ‘Where did it fall?’ When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron float. And he said, ‘Take it up.’ So he reached out his hand and took it.” 2 Kings 6:1-7

What an interesting little story God records for us here. Elisha is still rather new in his succession of the great Elijah, and God graciously continues to confirm him in the eyes of the people through small miracles.  God Almighty also shows us here that He cares about what we care about, and trains us to care with His heart. The man whose axe head came loose and fell into the water was now hindered in his work; additionally, he was more troubled not that he’d lost his tool, but that it belonged to another. God responds to both practical need and compassionate thinking. He wants us to think rightly and unselfishly, to care about others, not just our own agendas, and it’s as though He says here, “Yes! Your impulse is spot on! This matters because it belonged to someone else, and you should be caring about that.” One more thought: God can do anything! He Who raised Jesus from the dead can lift a heavy iron axe head from the depths of water, and can do what to us is impossible. (1 Peter 5:7; Matthew 19:26)

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All these acts our Lord works for us today. When He calls us to a new place or position, as we obey and walk ahead in faith, He kindly assures us we are in the center of His will. He trains us through sanctification to think as He thinks, to treat others as we should, and implants in us the will to act on new impulses. So often we have not because we ask not, and He is ready and willing and able to restore the broken, revive the dead, energize the listless, inspire the uncreative. He bids us to trust Him as Master and look to Him for our every need. What a God we serve! (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13;4:19; James 4:2)

Lord, may I never despise the day of small things, but instead marvel that You care about all that concerns us, and act so we see and exhibit Your power and glory. Sharpen my eyes to look for You, and my heart to trust You and thank You for every kindness. (Zechariah 4:10)