Promises with parameters

One recent evening, I extended my Grammie day[1] to help daughter Mary with the three kiddos through dinner and bedtime. My son-in-law, Justin, was away on business for the second straight week and I didn’t want her to succumb to mommy fatigue. The five of us enjoyed filling each other in on the day’s activities while we ate and then headed upstairs to begin the process of preparing for bed.

With PJs on and teeth brushed, 8-year-old Joshua went to his room to read while I clambered into 3-year-old Emma’s bed, book in hand, and settled myself between her and 5-year-old Lyla. Upon finishing the selected story, I carefully extricated myself from the lower bunk in an attempt to not bump my head as I’ve done many times before. Safely positioned next to Emma’s bed, I listened to her and Lyla’s sweet prayers, sang their requested hymn, Silent Night, then stood and reached for the light switch. The orderly progression of the tuck-in routine came to an abrupt end as the two sleepy-heads protested in unison, “I’m not tired, Grammie! I don’t want to go to sleep!!”

IMG_1572Knowing they were plenty tired and would go to sleep quickly if they gave themselves a chance, I replied, “You don’t have to go to sleep, but you do have to lay down and be quiet.” Further protests greeted my statement, which I repeated more sternly as I turned off the light and crossed the hall to tuck Joshua in.

I barely finished singing to Joshua when I heard the sound of boisterous laughter emanating from the girls’ room. I opened their door and said in my stern-Grammie voice, “Girls, you need to settle down!” Lyla, in turn, replied, “You said we don’t have to go to sleep!”

Technically Lyla was right, at least as far as her abbreviated quote went. However, she latched onto the part of my statement that appealed to her and essentially ignored my instructions.

Ah, selective listening. But children aren’t the only ones who engage in the practice, are they? In fact, we’re sometimes prone to pick and choose verses or truncate Scripture passages to make them say what we want them to say, conveniently ignoring the parameters surrounding the promises. For example, consider these beloved and oft-quoted verses:

  • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  • And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
  • But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
  • Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
  • If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
  • For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)
  • Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13)

I’m sure you can come up with other examples, but I’ll let these suffice for this post. In each case, I’ve bolded the promise, the part we like to quote, and italicized the parameter, the part we’d sometimes like to overlook. Yet we do so to our detriment. We need to ask ourselves:

  • Who is the promise for – believers, everyone?
  • What is required of me – believe, pray, humble myself, something else?
  • Is this a spiritual or physical promise, for this life or the life to come, or both?

Scripture is one grand story from beginning to end, the story of our covenant-keeping God, who chose a people for Himself and promised to be with them forever (Genesis 17:7; Revelation 21:3) And though He is gracious to give us numerous temporal blessings, He is most concerned about our spiritual welfare and fitting us for heaven (Romans 8:29-30); about having a relationship with us (Galatians 4:4-6), all for His glory (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

I knew if the girls obeyed the rest of my statement, “lay down and be quiet”, the desired result, sleep, would follow quickly. Likewise, God knows the parameters required for us to be transformed, to bring our desires and will closer and closer to His. By His grace, may we heed the full counsel of Scripture, trusting Him for the eternal outcome.

 

[1] I usually spend two days a week with my grandchildren. We call those “Grammie days”.

Rest

The weather in metro-Hotlanta isn’t supposed to be this nice on the last day of July. Don’t get me wrong, a break from the seemingly-incessant heat and humidity of the past couple of months is a welcome relief. But it’s certainly not helping my post-surgery frame of mind. Even though an operation to relieve carpal tunnel and trigger thumb wasn’t optional, a steroid injection in May gave me some flexibility in scheduling. Thus I chose July 25th, the heart of summertime. I reasoned the customarily-oppressive weather conditions would soften the blow of not playing in the dirt while I focused on recovering in time for the fall gardening season.

Yet here I am, a mere six days after being anesthetized, cut on and sutured, clamoring toIMG_3952 be outside pulling weeds and swinging my mattock on this glorious afternoon. Although a passing glance at the back of my hand belies last week’s trauma, a quick flip of the wrist reveals a palm more befitting the Bride of Frankenstein. Black stitches protrude from my bruised, slightly swollen flesh like tiny whiskers, while the surgical road map sketched out by my doctor, though fading, is still visible.

I reach instinctively. My hand quickly reminds me it’s not ready to lift or grip or even hug. And so I rest.

In spite of my whining, I am thankful to be on this side of the surgery, thankful to have awakened from the anesthesia[1], thankful to be home. The windows are open for the first time in weeks, allowing me to savor the breeze. From my vantage point at the kitchen table, I’m entertained by numerous birds of varying kinds – daughter Jessie refers to them as my twitter following – as they flit from feeder to deck to branch, some with hungry fledglings in tow. As I sit and reflect, my body is hard at work healing, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[2]

Making time to rest is challenging for wired-to-work me. I’m a list-making, check-it-off, don’t-slow-down sort. Yes, I’m like Martha by nature, but am called to become more like Mary. Commended by Jesus for having chosen the better part, she sat at his feet and drank in his teaching instead of bustling about with her sister.[3]

Be still and know that I am God.[4]

Taste and see that the Lord is good.[5]

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!”[6]

God ordained rest. He who needed no rest, set us an example from the very beginning, when everything was still “good”.[7] Then, at the appointed time, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.[8] Fully God, yet fully man, Jesus knew hunger and thirst and fatigue. He, too, set us an example, affirming man does not live by bread alone[9]; promising living water[10]; taking time to be alone with His Father.[11]

When I had carpal tunnel surgery on my right hand two years ago, Mom told me multiple times a day, “Don’t hurt your hand!” My reply, “I’ll take care of my hand, otherwise I’ll only be hurting myself.” This now-humorous litany is repeating itself. Being a doer herself and having undergone several surgeries, Mom knows how difficult it is to endure forced rest.

Lord willing, I’ll be off the disabled list soon, back to the garden in time to accomplish my fall-season objectives.[12] But when my health is restored, may I remember rest is not optional, especially when it comes to my spiritual well-being. If I don’t take time to seek His face[13], to listen for His still, small voice[14], I’ll only be hurting myself.

The One who lived a sinless life on our behalf that we might live with Him forever[15] bids, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[16]

Rest for our souls . . . the very best rest of all.

 

[1] I do NOT like to be put to sleep and my first thought upon regaining consciousness is usually something along the lines of, “Thanks, Lord, I’m still here!”

[2] Psalm 139:14

[3] For the full recounting of the sisters’ story, see Luke 10:38-42

[4] Psalm 46:10

[5] Psalm 34:8

[6] Mark 9:7

[7] Genesis 2:2-3

[8] John 1:14

[9] Matthew 4:4

[10] John 4:1-26 records the story of Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman by the well.

[11] Luke 5:16

[12] James 4:13-15

[13] Psalm 27:8; Psalm 105:4

[14] 1 Kings 19:10-13 tells of Elijah’s encounter with the LORD.

[15] Romans 5:1-11

[16] Matthew 11:28-30

Feed the birds

It had been a long time since I last owned a bird feeder.  For the past three years, my grandson and I have enjoyed watching the birds (and an occasional squirrel, including “Stumpy”, the tail-less one) visit the feeder at my daughter’s house. I’ve also delighted in helping a friend fill his many bird feeders, anticipating the flurry of activity that’s sure to follow. So, I decided I wanted one. My dad granted my wish and gave me a feeder for Christmas.

Not really knowing what to buy in terms of food, I selected a bag of Southern Regional Blend. The tag line on the bag said “Blended to attract Southern Songbirds” while another statement promised “25% sunflower plus safflower” seeds. A closer look at the ingredients list revealed millet to be the predominant ingredient, while a chart on the back indicated this particular blend would be eaten, and presumably enjoyed, by a range of birds common to our area, including cardinals, chickadees, and titmice.

I chose a location for the feeder where I could keep an eye on it from two key vantage points: the window above the kitchen sink and my seat at the table. I filled the feeder and awaited the birds’ arrival with joyful expectancy. It took a couple of days for them to notice the new food source, but one morning a red-headed woodpecker arrived, followed by several tiny chickadees and some titmice.

I mentioned my new-found hobby to my fellow bird-feeding friend who promptly shared some of his stash of the birds’ favorite food: black oil sunflower seed. I’ve gradually transitioned the contents of the feeder from the original blend until it now contains only that delicacy. The changeover along with colder weather and the depletion of their natural food sources has led to increased activity around the feeder. There’s also a broader variety of birds partaking of the feast, as several kinds of finches and sparrows as well as cardinals, doves and juncos have joined the species that originally frequented the feeder.

As I’ve watched the birds consume the food I provide for them, I’ve been reminded of the spiritual nourishment available to us. Just like the different components in the blend of seeds I originally purchased, there are myriad types of books to fortify us for our spiritual journey. Some in the self-help genre are little more than “filler”, like the millet, while devotionals and study guides written by learned theologians offer more nutritious fare.

But one Book surpasses them all. When tempted by Satan in the wilderness to turn stones into bread, Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4) As the black oil sunflower seed is highly favored by the birds, so should the Bible, the inspired Word of God, be our preferred source of spiritual sustenance. May we partake frequently of the feast He has so graciously provided.